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Category Archives: Africa

Day under the Egyptian Sun


As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.

Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???

Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?

Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?

Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.

Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?

Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.

So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…

Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president?  Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”

Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…

To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…

Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured.  Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government – yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…

Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.”  Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.

Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many are giving these events many terms; counter-revolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup.  What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.

 

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Reflections on the SADC Summit


A couple of nights ago, I attended an event hosted by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series (SAPES) Trust. The discussion brought together three panellists; Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa of ZANU PF, Honourable Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga of MDC and Honourable Jameson Timba of the MDC-T. Dr Ibbo Mandaza facilitated the discussion in which the panellists gave their personal reflections on the recently held Extraordinary Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit of heads of states and governments held in Maputo, Mozambique on the Zimbabwean situation. The Summit culminated in the issuance of a Communique whose recommendations are captured HERE.

Jameson Timba (Deputy Minister of Media, Information and Publicity and Member of House of Assembly for Mount Pleasant)

Mr Timba mentioned that the purpose of the SADC Summit was to discuss the Zimbabwean Situation in the context of the Global Political Agreement. Given that SADC are the guarantours of the GPA, they serve the role of a service station, when the GPA needs a push or boost. He explained that the reality is that Zimbabwe is facing a political rather than a legal crisis because the Constitutional crisis the nation is in could have been avoided had the wrong political decisions not been made in the first place. He said that the MDC-T went to the SADC Summit very confident that the 31 July date set for elections could easily be changed to accommodate the reforms agenda given that there is already precedent in our courts where the President has sought postponement of by-elections on the grounds that the state is ill-prepared i.e. the case of Bhebhe & Others v The State.

Jameson Timba: Picture Credit Bulawayo24.com

Jameson Timba: Picture Credit Bulawayo24.com

Mr Timba felt that the Summit went very well and that the final Communiqué that came out of the discussions expressed SADC’s wishes for Zimbabwe’s successful transition into a democracy through the holding of credible, free and fair elections. Mr Timba expressed his admiration for the President of Zimbabwe and his conduct at the SADC Summit.  In Mr Timba’s view, the President-unlike those who surround him- showed that he respects SADC, something which Mr Timba accredited to the President’s deep admiration of the regional body whose origins from the Frontline States during the struggle for independence represents a point of solidarity. He however expressed disappointment with some individuals within the President’s Party whom he said were constantly acting in bad faith. He cited the example of Honourable Patrick Chinamasa whom he said has shown bad faith in two instances:

  1. According to Mr Timba, on the Tuesday before the proclamation of the election date, Honourable Chinamasa was asked in a Cabinet meeting when he was going to present the Electoral Amendment Bill. He responded saying the Bill would be presented in the coming week meaning this week. According to Mr Timba, at this stage, Mr Chinamasa already knew that he was working on a Bill but that he had no intention of bringing it through Parliament but through the Presidential Powers Temporal Measures Act, which in Mr Timba’s view was an unconstitutional and underhanded manner of effecting electoral changes.
  2. Mr Timba also stated that the SADC Communiqué in Paragraph 8.5 says,

“Summit acknowledged the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe on the elections date and agreed on the need for the Government of Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond 31 July 2013 deadline for holding the Harmonised elections.”

Mr Timba emphasised that when SADC said government, it was referring to the whole inclusive government.  This then meant that the government of Zimbabwe (the inclusive government) in its entirety was urged to bring a case before the courts to remedy the situation of the election date proclamation. Mr Timba said that he was however disappointed that at 5p.m on Monday, Mr Chinamasa served him with papers in which he (Mr Chinamasa) filed an application to the Constitutional Court and made the President of Zimbabwe-Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC Party-Welshman Ncube, the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Arthur Mutambara and Jealousy Mawarire the Respondents. In the Application Mr Chinamasa asks for an extension of the election date to August 14. Mr Timba explained that this application is against the spirit of the SADC Communiqué. Instead of making the parties mentioned above respondents, they all should have been cited as Applicants, they should all have contributed to the application’s contents through their legal representatives’ interaction with the Minister of Justice and the application should have been unopposed (one without respondents).

Chris Mutsvangwa (Member of ZANU-PF and former Ambassador of Zimbabwe to China)

He began his presentation by stating that he does not agree with the view that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, be it political, legal, constitutional or otherwise because to him the current situation is a mere disagreement not a crisis. He then went on to give a disclaimer stating that although he was in Maputo he did not actually participate in the discussions that took place at the Summit nor was he privy to the outcome until he saw the Communiqué when it was presented to the public. [This admission for me was particularly interesting having read THIS article in which the author complained that the President’s delegation was bloated].

Mr Mutsvangwa however explained the position of his party where the Summit was concerned. He said that the President went with the simple position that ‘THE’ Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe had made an order setting the election date as 31 July. The president had no option but to respect the order of the Court or else he would have risked being in contempt of Court, something that could cost him his presidential candidacy. According to Mr Mutsvangwa, the President’s hands were tied and he had no option but to proclaim an election date as provided for in the Constitutional Court Judgement.

Chris Mutsvangwa: Picture Credit- ZimbabweMirror.com

Chris Mutsvangwa: Picture Credit- ZimbabweMirror.com

Concerning the question of reforms, Mr Mutsvangwa stated that no reforms are going to take place and those clamouring for reforms should remember that these same issues have been under discussion for the past four years with no success hence what is the likelihood that they will be settled in a few weeks when they have failed to be settled in years. He stated that ZANU-PF in 1980 was faced with a similar situation where they had to go for elections in an imperfect environment with no reforms to the electoral law nor to the security sector yet they still won the elections. He explained that the issue is not about reforms but about the leader whom Zimbabweans want to vote for. He said that each party has to be creative in how it “deals with the imperfections of state craft.” Mr Mutsvangwa went on to say that refusing to have elections on the basis that the environment is not perfect is akin to  a pregnant woman  who opposes the course of nature and refuses to give birth to her baby after 9 months of pregnancy because she thinks the baby is not mature enough.

Mr Mutsvangwa addressed his partners in government saying that it is time government stopped ruling by arrangement but rather by the people’s choice. He went further to say that yes SADC issued its Communiqué but people must remember that SADC is not Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, it is just a club of states hence if Zimbabweans want elections on 31 July, SADC cannot stop that from happening.

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga (Secretary General of the MDC, Member of the House of Assembly Glen Norah Constituency and currently Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation)

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga began her presentation by expressing her disappointment with the way in which this nation has been subjected to blatant lies, abuse and distortion of information She stated that she was disappointed with the fact that Honourable Chinamasa who was negotiating on behalf of ZANU-PF was not at the SAPES discussion as he was the person who would have best explained the distortions coming out of some quarters of the press about the outcome of the SADC Summit. She felt that Mr Mutsvangwa’s representation of Mr Chinamasa was an act of abuse since Mr Mutsvangwa had no clue what took place having been “on the corridors” of the Summit.

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga: Picture Credit-The Independent.co.zw

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga: Picture Credit-The Independent.co.zw

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to give a detailed description of what transpired at the Summit as follows:

SADC was appraised with the situation of Zimbabwe which they understood to be that Zimbabwe was faced with a legal crisis in which there was a Constitutional Court judgement but that judgement juxtaposed to the practical realities on the ground would not be possible to implement. The Facilitator for the Zimbabwean negotiations, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa presented his report which came out of discussions held by the parties to the GPA on the 4th, 5th and 6th of June 2013. The facilitator’s report was therefore not challenged nor disputed by all three political parties i.e. ZANU PF, MDC-T and MDC.

Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga then went on to state where the parties seemed to have different positions and she explained them as follows:

President Mugabe’s position was that he believed that as long as there is no violence then an election can go on. He agreed with the need for media reforms and also stated that he has been a victim of the media’s unprofessional and unethical conduct several times but that within the given time there is nothing much that can be done about this. He also addressed the issue of the rule of law, in particular the security sector, acknowledged that statements by some heads of security departments were not acceptable nor appropriate but that they could be explained when one understands that these statements were made by people who shared the liberation struggle with ZANU PF and hence would feel protective over their ideals. He then requested that these Chiefs be treated gently and with such sensitivity as would take cognisance of their socialisation and history. On the election date he explained that his hands were tied and he had to make the proclamation because the Constitutional Court had ordered him to do so. According to Ms Misihairambwi Mushonga, the President never disputed the facilitators’ report, never said that the report lied or that the facilitator was biased.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then went on to explain that Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s contention at the Summit was with the dishonesty shown by some members of the inclusive government. He explained how Minister Chinamasa had withheld the truth from Cabinet about his plans to amend the Electoral Act through using the Presidential Powers instead of introducing a Bill for debate and inclusive input before both houses of Parliament.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga then explained Professor Welshman Ncube’s position; that he was concerned with the legal and political illegitimacy that would follow whatever government that would emerge out of the elections that would be held under the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

Ms Misihairambwi-Mushonga was pleased with the Communiqué, disappointed with some people whom she said were ill advising the President and hoped that the spirit of the Communiqué would be upheld.

Some interesting quotes from the discussion

“I am tired of this fixation of men on who is bigger than who which leads them into this bravado game where simple information is distorted and the truth withheld from the public.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“Chinamasa and others’ advice to the President on this elections issue is misleading, in fact it is treasonous.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“I hate it when leaders of this country behave like landlords and treat the people like their tenants. Leaders are just caretakers and the people are the real owners of all processes.” Jameson Timba

“For goodness’ sake no one owns this country.” Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga

“If anyone is not happy with the way we do things here and thinks there is a crisis let them come and I will fly them to Somalia so they can see what a real crisis looks like.” Chris Mutsvangwa

Conclusion

It was an interesting discussion and all the views presented here are the views as expressed by the panellists to the discussion. In the end Ambassador Mutsvangwa walked out of the meeting in protest over what he said was “utter disrespect” by Ms Misihairambwi- Mushonga of those who “delivered the country into her hands so that she could become a Minister.”

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Africa, Democracy, Governance, Zimbabwe

 

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10 reasons why June is such a special month


June is here. For some, it is the beginning of a new season, a chance to reshape their vision and see where they are with their new year’s resolutions-for what better time is there than the middle of the year  to take stock. June is the month of changeovers in real physical climatic terms. In the Northern hemisphere, their summer has begun while for us in the Southern hemisphere, our winter has begun. This month in history has recorded the number of things- some amazing, others tragic – that have happened/taken place shaping the history of my country, my continent and the world.

  1. I was born in this month on the 28th- the same day as Pope Paul IV (1476) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712)  one of the greatest philosophers in the world, Lamina Sankoh (1884)  one of the most famous Sierra Leonean politicians who advocated economic development of the black person and religious emancipation free from Western ideology , Chris Hani (1942) one of the most amazing brains behind South Africa’s anti apartheid struggle and leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of staff of the Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress.

    Image Source: http://urbantimes.co/2011/09/wake-of-liberty-4-bon-appetit-bon-voyage/rousseau/

    Image Source: www. urbantimes.co

  2. For women it is significant because in this month, on the 6th in 1872, that one woman charted the way for the development of one of the most fundamental rights that any citizen is able to exercise. Most of us take it as a given. Some of us do not even exercise it yet some people fought hard for it-the right to vote. Susan Anthony mobilised a group of women to test their status as citizens by voting in the same manner as men even though they were not legally permitted to. Although they got arrested and fined for it, that initial step paved the way for the recognition, FOR THE FIRST TIME, 34 years later of women’s right to vote.

    Susan Anthony-Picture Credit https://www.google.co.zw/search?safe=off&sa=X&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fpetridigs10-racism.pbworks.com%2Fw%2Fpage%2F16200046%2FSusan%2520B%2520Anthony&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fpetridigs10-racism.pbworks.com%2Ff%2F1173771502%2Fsusan-b-anthony-320x240.jpg&w=320&h=240&ndsp=22&tbm=isch&tbs=simg%3ACAQSHwkikYciWqMckxoLCxCo1NgEGgIIFwwh_1lRLmBU2NPk&ei=SKCoUZmrCejUiwLwrIDwDA&ved=0CAkQhxwwAA&biw=1517&bih=693#facrc=_&imgrc=nf53slOwf-fHGM%3A%3BANG0Z6pvcPlvIM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fs3.timetoast.com%252Fpublic%252Fuploads%252Fphotos%252F3912502%252FUnknown.jpeg%253F1366896518%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.timetoast.com%252Ftimelines%252Fwomens-rights-movement--25%3B640%3B480

    Susan Anthony-Picture Credit http://www.timetoast.com

  3. We commemorate so many important days, which are dear to my heart touching on many important issues affecting the lives of many African citizens such as protection of children, protection of  the  environment, ending child labour, addressing the plight of refugees, ending all forms of drug abuse and illicit trafficking as well as supporting victims of torture; with commemorations taking place on 1, 5, 12, 20 and 26  June respectively
  4. It is the month in which a number of countries celebrate national days of great significance. On the African continent a number of countries declared their independence from colonial powers in the month of June. These are the Democratic Republic of Congo on 30 June 1960 declaring independence from the Belgians, Madagascar on 26 June in 1960 from the French, Djibouti on 27 June 1977 from the French, Mozambique on 25 June 1975 from the Portuguese, and Seychelles on June 29 1976 from the British. Globally other countries also celebrate significant national days. For instance Sweden celebrates its national day on the 6th, the Philippines its Independence Day on the 12th, while the US and Finland celebrate their flag days on the 14th and 24th of June respectively.
  5. It is the month in which Robert F Kennedy was shot, on the 5th in 1968 and his death, combined with that of Martin Luther King earlier began a period in which the hope for reforms and lesser racial segregation of African- Americans that had been sparked seemed to take a backslide.

    Martin Luther King: Picture Credit newindependentwhig.blogspot.com

    Martin Luther King: Picture Credit newindependentwhig.blogspot.com

  6. June is the month that brought an end to attempts by megalomaniacs to control and rule the world. Napoleon’s tyranny ended with the battle of Waterloo in central Belgium, on 18 June 1815, ending 23 years of warfare between France and the allied powers of Europe. On June 28 1919-my birthday too, oh well minus the year-the Treaty of Versailles was signed signifying the end of World War I.  The end of World War II was earmarked by, among other things, the Battle of Okinawa, Japan in which he allied forces on June 21, 1945 defeated the Japanese who were keys allies of the German Reich under Hitler.
  7. To bring it closer to home June for me represents the sets of contradictions that make up the whole of my society. It was in June that land invasions, leading to the fast track land reform programme began. These invasions then led to the displacement of thousands of farm workers and predominantly white farmers. It built up into a food crisis with underproduction and underutilisation of the land leaving most farms derelict. It contributed to the economic meltdown that saw many Zimbabweans thrown into poverty. Yet for some-albeit few- that very same month represents the beginnings of black empowerment for they got the land that they had clamoured for since independence.
  8. It was on 27 June 2007, that central bank governor Gideon Gono announced his decision to print an additional 1 trillion Zimbabwean dollars to pay civil servants’ and soldiers’ salaries that had been by 600% and 900% respectively one of the most ridiculous decisions that began a pattern of inflation in which increases in civil servants’ salaries automatically meant increases in the cost of all goods and services. For some that decision was premised on quick gains as a means to an end-pay civil servants-get votes from civil servants yet for others (the majority) it had lasting effects- a destabilised economy and a fragile currency that we cannot use even up till today.
  9. June is the time I take to reflect on what being a hero means because it is the month when many Zimbabweans in 2008 sacrificed their lives for an ideal; an ideal that they had never experienced but hoped for and were willing to die for: Democracy. The death and devastation of the run up to the 27 June election “The Ides of June” as some call it remains fresh in the memories of many people. I remember those who lost limb and life, home and haven, peace of mind and sanctity of the body just so we could all live in peace with freedom and dignity.
  10. But among the doom and gloom, we celebrate Black Music Month, a tradition born in the US to celebrate African American music and culture-embracing the beat of the drum, the shakers, the marimbas, kalimbas and udus.

    Mbira instrument. Picture Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

    Mbira instrument. Picture Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Indeed, June is special.

 
 

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Of coups, rebellions & revolutions: CAR


They say history has a way of repeating itself. Ten years ago, the very same headlines we are reading today were topping most papers in the press. “Central African Republic: Rebel leader seizes power, suspends constitution” Irin News. Then;  the reaction of the African Union was the same; they ‘strongly condemned’ Bozize’s actions. The then Chairperson of the AU, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, said the coup undermined the continent’s efforts to achieve sustainable development.  After inordinate delays, in 2005, an election was finally held, legitimising the coup government. The formation of that government was immediately followed by the continuation of arbitrary arrests, denial of fair trials, use of excessive force by security agents, abductions, torture and physical abuse, the use of child soldiers, suppression of freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, and association-which had been the order of the day from the date the coup took place.

I look at the political history of the Central African Republic and wonder, “Have they now developed an unwritten rule of a maximum term of ten years of autocratic rule given that the currently deposed leader, Francoise Bozize, also ousted his predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse in the same manner in 2003 after 10 years of repressive rule.

A myriad of rhetorical questions keep floating in my head. What drives the poorest of the poorest, countries into so much conflict? Why can’t they ever achieve peace? Don’t they realise they need peace if they are ever going to have a stable economy? Why are they always fighting? Do the people of the Central African Republic deserve the leadership they keep getting? Does any of us on the African continent? Where are we going wrong as African citizens to keep getting leaders who do not hold our interests at heart? What are we doing wrong to keep getting these narcissist egomaniacs as the leaders of our countries?

The Central African Republic has been plunged into yet another unpredictable era of instability by the coup leaders. Will they be any better than the people they have ousted-only time will tell. The African Union has given this type of change of government a name, this change that usually doesn’t really change anything besides increasing the misery of the citizens. They call them unconstitutional changes of government. The AU condemns these types of changes, they impose sanctions on the leaders of these changes, they engage the leaders  in dialogue to try and facilitate transitions to democratic rule- but is this enough? Will it ever be enough?

The Central African Republic is not really a poor country. They have large deposits of uranium, gold, oil and diamonds. They have wide spans of arable land, stretches of lumber and abundant hydro-power.

Why, have they remained in the top ten of Africa’s poorest countries?

Could it be the good governance deficit; because if a leader who came to power through a coup in 2003 is also leaving through a military coup in 2013, then this must be a clear sign that even after 10 years there haven’t been significant institutional reforms to allow for legal and smooth transition of power?

Could it be the remnants of the war; given that the CAR has not had significant stability since its independence from the French in 1960?

But what fuels the conflict?

Is it greed, with different sides thinking that the only way to gain access to the wealth that this country has is through acquisition of power and political influence?

Could it be external influence? It appears the Central African Republic had its independence declared in 1960 yet the struggle for independence continues. Bozize began a reign of terror 10 years ago, a period that he began ushered by a strong backing from the French. Repression, authoritarianism, nepotism, corruption and underdevelopment were the order of the day, so one would stop and ask, why the French would commit their funds, their  troops and efforts to protect Bozize’s government, if democracy, good governance, development and prosperity is what they [as members of the European Union] want for the people of the Republic.

Franceafrique a friend calls it; the continued interference of the French government in the politics of its former colonies- a handpicking of leadership, a sponsorship of rebel groups to unseat “unwanted leaders”, a total disregard to the idea of democracy and good governance.

All I can say is “Cry my beloved continent,” as the peoples of Africa continue the struggle for true independence, for peace and for development.

Meanwhile the media is in a frenzy:

  • “Bozize ouster is latest power grab in Africa’s “phantom state” Reuters
  • “President Francois Bozize missing as Central African Republic capital seized by rebels” The Australian
  • “Francois Bozize flees CAR capital as rebels move in” Scotsman.com
  • “Francois Bozize, Central African Republic President, Overthrown By Rebels” The Huffington Post
  • “Looting and Gunfire in Captured Central African Republic Capital” Al Jazeera
  • “Central African Republic’s Francois Bozize flees as rebels invade capital” South China Morning Post
  • “Central African Republic: President Bozize flees Bangui” BBC News Africa
  • “Central African Republic rebels seize capital and force president to flee” The Guardian UK
  • “Britons told to leave Central African Republic after coup” The Telegraph

I wish they had had the same enthusiasm when Ghana had it’s smooth transition. As I said before, When it happens in Africa….

 

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The tragedy of indifference


“A man should conceive a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.” – James Allen.

So what is the purpose of music?Is it just to entertain? Is it to bring society together? Is it to educate societies? Is it to paint narratives and stories of how societies evolve? To mourn, to celebrate, to express love, gratitude or anger? Is it all these things? Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure- the nature of a society is shaped by the things it consumes and values-music included.

This picture illustrates something very important; the marked difference in a society’s appreciation of an artist whose music addressed societal woes and tragedies and one, in my view, whose lyrics consist of nothing more than a cacophony of repeated phrases. Surely, a message calling for the respect of women ought to be a billion hits attraction, or does our society just not care for such ‘incidentals?

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Africa, Emancipation, Women

 

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When it happens in Africa


When it happens in Africa, tyranny and poverty is newsworthy; democracy and development isn’t. Is that the Western media’s interpretation of Africa and African-ness?

On 24 July 2012, the President of the Republic of Ghana, John Atta Mills passed away. He was 68. It is suspected that he died of cardiac arrest. He came into power through a democratic election which, albeit marred by some challenges, left the majority of Ghanaian citizens relatively satisfied with the meaning and significance of elections as a means of putting in place their leadership. Indeed Ghana’s political stability made it the country of choice for Barack Obama’s first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008. President Atta Mills will be remembered for his role in consolidating democracy in Ghana, strengthening institutional integrity and entrenching constitutional rule of law. That success could not have been more aptly expressed than in the success and swiftness of the transition that followed his death, reflective of the resilience of Ghana’s democracy.

A few hours after President Atta Mills was officially announced dead, Mr John Dramani Mahama, who was the vice president, took the oath of office as the new President of Ghana- in line with the principles of Article 60 (6) of the Ghanaian Constitution. A new President is set to be elected in December in line with the terms of the current Ghanaian Constitution.

The transition was one of the most significant achievements in the historic development of African democracies. Indeed many African states should draw the following lessons from the Ghanaian example:

  • Constitutional guarantees of transfer of power in the event of the death of the President are an effective way of preventing power vacuums which could lead to political instability;
  • The ability of a country to live by its constitution is one of the best guarantees for peaceful transitions; and
  • The respect of constitutional sanctity and rule of law is one of the best ways of ensuring peace and development in any country

Given the significance of this transition, I would have thought the international media would grow hoarse shouting about this very positive and amazing development on the African continent. One Gillian Parker of Time Magazine went to great lengths to relay this message, celebrating the fact that “although Mills’ passing was sudden, the encouraging sign was the smoothness with which Ghana’s democratic processes kicked into gear.” But for the rest of the BIG news agencies; news that a dead rat had been discovered on the doorstep of President Obama’s bedchamber would have made headlines above this amazing piece of news. For a whole day the news was mentioned as an aside with Atta Mills’ achievements for Ghana mentioned in passing and the swift transition, hardly celebrated for the achievement that it was.  In some reportage the smooth transition was even forgotten.

Those who remembered it chose to refer to it as an ‘unusual experiment,’ in my view a very cynical analysis of the uniqueness of Ghana’s stability despite the fact that it is located in a very tumultuous region. That clearly, at least to me, also reflected a selective memorialisation of the development of the world’s democracies. Here is why I say so, centuries of bloody civil wars, despotism and tyranny characterised Europe’s history before it became the so called ‘ideal democracy’ that it is today-varying of course from country to country. Indeed Africa can not emerge as a strong democracy overnight when it took Europe and America centuries to do the same. Hence as Africa goes through the transition of democratising its institutions, such efforts must be criticised constructively but not denigrated and belittled to the levels of ‘experiments.’

I am still asking myself why the international media was not as excited about this development as they are when there is a coup, an uprising, a rigging of an election or such other negativity on the African continent. Is it the role of the international media to relay only the negative developments on the African continent as the hallmark of African-ness and hence anything positive is not theirs to make noise about?  If that is the case then the Western Media should stop preaching the gospel of ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ media when they themselves are neither independent nor objective. Yes I may sound like a brainwashed Zimbabwean feeding into the Mugabe propaganda right now, but anyone who religiously followed the reportage on the crisis in Mali, the crisis in Madagascar and then the scenario in Ghana, with the same intensity as I did would agree with me that it seems the approach of the international media in reporting situations in Africa is to sing like a chorus from a song book every negative thing but mumble under their breath positive developments such as the  Ghana transition. What a farce!

I can agree with the solution proposed by a colleague of mine that African media (including us as bloggers) have the responsibility to champion positive African developments in the news and depicting to the world Africa as we know it and not as others tell us it is. And hence I am making my pronunciation with this blog that the Ghanaian transition was a groundbreaking event and deserved proper coverage from any self respecting, media house interested in fair reporting and an accurate portrayal of Africa.

 

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African women on fire!!!


2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics.

In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa. In June, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia became the first female and African Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after having served as a Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004. In June again, Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone was appointed as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the level of Under-Secretary-General.  She replaced Margot Wallström.  Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.

Whilst others do not celebrate her appointment given the political debates, politicking and struggles that characterised her election, it still remains fact that her election preludes a significant shift in African politics and in the history of the African Union (AU).

In my view Dr Dlamini-Zuma was a strong candidate not only because she had the requisite experience and skill having served as Foreign Affairs Minister for South Africa for 10 years between 1999 and 2009 and led a number of peace and security initiatives with the AU in Lesotho, the DRC, the Comoros and others but also because she represents a new paradigm shift as the first female Chair and bringing a new face to AU politics where Southern Africa is given its rightful place as an integral member of the AU. Previously it seemed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region was repeatedly sidelined, in what appeared to be legitimacy battles given that there was not a single representation of SADC at the inception of the AU then known as the Organisation of the African Unity as all the Southern African countries were still under colonialism and doubts about SADC sharing a common Pan-African vision given its population demographics.

While some people may choose to look at Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s main challenges as the new AU chairperson in country specific terms, for instance, resolving the conflict in Mali, in Somalia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as a woman I perceive her biggest challenge to be that of forging ahead a dispensation that addresses African women’s plight.

I am hopeful that should Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s vision for the AU be fulfilled, seeing as how it resonates largely with women’s agenda, then African women are going to be in a better position than they have been so far.  She articulates her vision with the following strategic aims (adapted from the Press statement by Mac Maharaj, spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma):

(i) To implement programmes supporting the AU Decade for Women (2010-2020);

(ii) To prioritise integration, peace and security and conflict resolution as key pillars of Africa’s developmental agenda

(iii) To consolidate the institution of the AU as a formidable, premier, Pan-African institution;

(iv) To reinforce the importance of NEPAD infrastructural development projects as an important programme of the AU;

(v) To focus on the youth of Africa in development programs;

(vi) To spearhead Africa’s continued advocacy for reform of the global governance architecture.

The AU has largely been about rhetoric, focusing on sugar coating a semblance of unity and Pan-Africanism at the expense of the most vulnerable members of its society, especially women. Hence despite the rape and mutilation of women in Zimbabwe, in the DRC, in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia the focus of the AU’s efforts have not been on giving these women an effective remedy but about reaching compromised solutions. Of course, the peace vs. justice debate had raged on and partially consumed the African continent. So never mind the scars that Omar Al-Bashir inflicted and continues to inflict on the bodies, spirits and minds of Sudanese women and children, and men for that matter, but the AU was prepared to protect him and rescue him from the clawing paws of the huge, ferocious and African-hating mammal called the ICC than afford justice to the individual women on the ground.

“Every man [and woman] must decide whether he [or she] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” (Martin Luther King) I hope that the former- creative altruism – is what Dr Dlamini-Zuma represents. The AU Chairpersonship requires a seasoned diplomat not a politician and certainly not a proponent of certain African leaders’ political ideological standpoints! Her statement to the press ignites hope in my mind;

“South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is, [ I] Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution.”

 

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