SA Election in Balance

SA Election in Balance

sascaleofjusticeIn three weeks South Africans will likely reelect the ANC to power, but it will also likely be the last time.

Standing for a second term, President Jacob Zuma, wouldn’t have a chance in most any other open democracy. His playful life style and his list of scandals would doom any earnest candidate in any place but South Africa.

In fact in his last two political rallies he was booed, and people in the audience started throwing stones at cars.

So why will he prevail?

Twenty years since the end of apartheid memories of white rule during the oppressive years of apartheid still run strong. Apartheid began with the Nationalist election victory in 1948, and the insidious laws that began implementation in the early 1950s. That was more than 40 years of politics that was arguably worse than Zuma, today.

So it is remarkable to think that the ANC might not have the staying power that the apartheid regime had.

In 2004, the ANC won 70% of the votes. In 2009 it was 65%. I predict that this time it will be under 60%.

The ANC knows it’s in trouble. In fact, ANC candidates have pledged if they can wrest control of the Western Cape (Cape Town) – which is extremely unlikely – that half of all white civil servants will be immediately fired.

This play on racism marks the desperation of the failing ANC, and Zuma’s ineptitude in particular. It’s typical of banana republics like Zimbabwe, not of mature democracies of the sort South Africa can be.

It hinges on the belief that “you had your 40 years of oppression, we now get ours.”

To be fair ANC officials at lower government levels seem to be doing a decent job. It’s the heavies at the top like Zuma who are creating the aura of buffoonery. And the old adage that all politics is local is also a significant reason that the ANC is expected to win, again, this time.

But their support is dwindling, and with Mandela gone, and with the years clicking by, the end of the ANC can be imagined. The next national election will be in 2019. I expect the ANC will lose, then, unless the antics of their leadership change radically.

Or as many suggest, a palace coup takes place that ousts the old revolutionaries for the technocrats being produced, today.

The South African president is not directly elected by the populace, but by the lower house of parliament. The process is nearly identical to the election of America’s Speaker of the House.

A party convention that disapproved of a sitting president would likely be sufficient for that person to resign or face a humiliating election whipping by his comrades. The magic number being bantered around for Zuma’s survival is 60% or more of the May 7 votes for the ANC. Less, pundits say, and Zuma’s out.

It’s going to be close.

Jim filed this blog from Cape Town.

Beyond Wrath and Tears

Beyond Wrath and Tears

mandela and the worldNone but Mandela were able to get the presidents of the United States and Cuba to shake hands.

According to Reuters, a U.S. official implied it was a planned gesture of reconciliation in the spirit of Mandela’s legacy. As Obama walked from his seat to the podium to deliver his eulogy, he stooped briefly to shake Castro’s hand.

The day was marred by climate change. (Forgive me, that’s quite an exaggeration. But it’s true that throughout sub-Saharan Africa weather is increasingly severe as it is becoming at home.) Rain – heavy at times – competed with the aggressive vocalizations of the crowd in the stadium.

Obama was the most widely cheered. In stark contrast, South Africa’s president and his associates were so widely booed and jeered that the proceedings were interrupted.

And in a twist only explicable as South Africa’s growing frustration with Zuma and their increasingly corrupt government, the great and merciless tyrant from next door, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe, received thunderous applause.

The tributes at today’s Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela were given by arch enemies and celebrated virtually every political system that exists today in the world.

The first speech was appropriately given by UN secretary general Ban. The second speech was given by the AU Commission chairperson.

The third speech, and the first of six world leaders was given by President Obama.

Obama was followed by the president Rousseff of Brazil, Chinese vice-president Li Yuanchao, Namibia president Pohamba, Indian president Mukherjee and Cuban president Castro.

Obama’s speech was indeed grand, as many of his public speeches have been. He began poetically and gently as you would expect from this gentle academic, acknowledging the sadness which in fact may not exist at quite level commensurate with Obama’s speech.

He then moved chronologically through Mandela’s life, linking him with the life ways of Ghandi and King, taking up the shackles of the oppressed.

Ever the equalizer, Obama referred to Mandela’s ascent during the time of “Kennedy and Khruschev” and then veering into the hyperbolic he compared Mandela to Lincoln for holding the country together “when it threatened to break apart” and completely ignoring the fact that Mandela himself had little to do with his country’s profoundly wonderful constitution:

“he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.”

Politicians have a clever way of stinging those listening to them (Castro and Mugabe, both of whom lead dynasties of power that have lasted longer than the life span of an average South African).

Obama then spent too long extolling Mandiba’s self-doubt and humility: “ “I’m not a saint,” Obama quoted him, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Politicians rarely praise someone without praising themselves.

Obama then explained Mandela’s greatness in terms of his family and closer friends, again a somewhat tenacious bend of history, as for whatever reason, Mandela’s pre-release relationships were rarely strong or lasting.

In a recurring theme in almost all Obama’s speeches that refer to another individual, and a message that I find tiresome but was not the least tiresome on the South African audience, Obama defined greatness in an individual as something to be manifest in the simplest of men and women: Mandela should be used as model for yourself.

Losing himself momentarily, Obama praised Mandela’s “rebelliousness” only to immediately pull back and remind the audience of his team work.

In what I consider one of his greatest and most revealing lines, and one I see as timely and hopeful, Obama said that Mandela “learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.”

It’s an insightful look into the mirror, and one tempered with humility.

Referring to “Ubuntu” which today mostly refers to a widely used computer operating system which like Linux is mostly free to African users, Obama worked its derivation as “the tie that binds the human spirit.” Non-violence, shared understandings, a sort of political Zen.

I don’t think Obama got it wholly correctly, and he certainly misused it as a lead into complementing Mandela for his work fighting AIDS. This may have been intentional, since it’s widely construed as one of Mandela’s greatest failings, his lack of wholly grasping what AIDS was and what South Africa should have done about it during his time.

Courageously embracing the fact that both Mandela and he above all represent victories in the struggles against racism, Obama said “Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle.”

He then quickly qualified the point that the struggles aren’t over, and while in the same remark he would once again chastise Cuba, Zimbabwe and China for their suppression of human rights, he began instead:

“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.”

That was when I applauded most.

The end of the speech was magnificent, painting a wonderful picture of a wonderful man and ending with the poem Invictus.

Ninety world leaders plus dozens other dignitaries attended the service. Six world leaders sat on the podium and gave eulogies: China and Cuba are communist. Brazil and India are democratic socialist about equally left of U.S. democracy. Namibia like South Africa is squarely democratic, both a bit right of the U.S.

Obama went first among them, and the applause was thundering. It was much less so for the five who followed.

Mandela almost joined the communist party in South Africa during his youth, and much of his training in the 1960s and 1970s was paid for by China in Tanzania. The Indian icon and revolutionary, Mohatma Ghandi, was close friends with the first Secretary-General of the ANC, John Dube. Their lives followed remarkable parallels in South Africa where Ghandi lived an activist life for more than 20 years.

During the days of the 1980s when the ANC was blacklisted as a terrorist organization, Cuba was a vocal and proud supporter. Travel to the west by ANC executives from Tanzania, where most were exiled, was arranged almost always through Havana by Cuba.

One of Mandela’s few progressive initiatives was to develop a trade alliance that included India to the east and Brazil to the west. This successful trade powerhouse is now beginning to wield incredible influence in the world arena. Brazil’s rapid economic growth in many ways mirrors South Africa’s.

South Africa was given stewardship of the German colony of Southwest Africa (later to become Namibia) by the United Nations after the Nazi collapse in World War II. Enormous international pressure on the apartheid regime granted some autonomy to Namibia that allowed apartheid to effectively end there just before it did in South Africa.

But in return for this autonomy, South Africa retained control and assumed sovereignty over Walvis Bay, the only effective port in the country. One of Mandela’s first actions as president was to return Walvis Bay to Namibia.

The fact that a single world leader can command such tribute from such a range of ideologies and traditions is proof in my opinion that there are far better solutions to crises than war and that maybe the difference between these ideologies isn’t really as great as the proponents within each ideology may claim.

But listening to Obama carefully I realized that neither Mandela or he are capable of truly changing history. The gauntlet of demarcating important changes in history must just be too great a tax on the resources of the individual.

Mandela – and Obama – are artists, one revolutionary, the other an organizer. I wholeheartedly subscribe to their shared world view, one of enduring compassion and justice.

But the implementation of Mandela’s and Obama’s dreams must wait for less gentle souls. Judging from the impatience and enthusiasm of the South Africans applauding Obama, that won’t be long.

Ending Legacies

Ending Legacies

Background image by Justin Ng.
Background image by Justin Ng.
The ANC’s manifestos for what a free South Africa would be is far from what we see, today. Mandela’s vision of the ANC was far from what it was when he was released. White South Africans certainty that a black South Africa would self-destruct was dead wrong.

There’s a lot of myopia in South Africa’s most recent history.

In the rainbow of organizations that confronted apartheid — from the communist party to the almost identical but intensely rival trade unions, to the ANC to the Zulu off-shoots to the white ladies’ “Black Sash” – there were violent disagreements over what a new South Africa should be.

Ending apartheid was the only unifying force. I often wondered while working in a shared office in Johannesburg in the late 1980s and coming into contact on a daily basis with all these different political activists, that if apartheid ended quickly and abruptly, say by some or other group staging a successful coup, that all hell would break lose among the opponents of apartheid struggling for control.

All but white anti-apartheid groups also were unified in desiring a socialist society, one that was fairly tightly controlled from the top, and this was most represented by the certainty that South Africa’s mines would be nationalized.

The gold, diamond, coal and precious metal mines of South Africa is what gives it its wealth.

The communists and most of the trade organizations and radical youth groups also wanted to nationalize the banks. The apartheid government had essentially already nationalized the massive transportation system, so quite apart from equality for the races, education and health, nationalization was a fundamental core of the fight against apartheid.

But apartheid didn’t end abruptly with a coup, but with multiple years of negotiation albeit mostly in secret.

And today South Africa is one of the most capitalistic countries in the world. France, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are far more socialist than South Africa.

The country is also increasingly corrupt. No-bid contracts are the rule of the day for the current government, and that has led to a clique of new age business people that it is assumed either give huge kickbacks or equally valuable political support.

It has compromised the education of young children, the quality of infrastructure, and even the government’s own plans for home construction. This very rich country seems unable to improve the lot of its most oppressed, while its leaders become millionaires.

The country lost a decade or more in the fight and control of AIDS, as both Mandela and his successor refused to believe it was a sexually transmitted epidemic.

The youth of South Africa, those who are called “new borns” for having arrived after Mandela was freed, are understandably angry and impatient. The passing of Mandela will give them new strength.

I believe that one of the reasons South Africa flounders today is because Mandela carried no clear ideology with him into the new South Africa. Like Obama, overwhelmed at the helm of history making a radical change in course, Mandela became the Great Compromiser.

Keeping society at peace during such a serious change overwhelmed everything else. This is completely understandable. For if peace had not been maintained, a revolutionary period would likely have resulted in an even worse situation.

The country’s constitution is a magnificent document, but Mandela had little to do with it (and today’s problems rest squarely in not implementing it fully and well.) The lack of retribution and aura of magnanimity ascribed Mandela was really created by Desmond Tutu and others. The transference of real economic power that was tried in the late 1990s was instigated by the youthful agitators in the mines and the ANC, and by that time, Mandela was already gone.

One of the reasons Mandela did not oversee a major transformation of South African society is because he was a construct of others who were much more powerful than himself.

It’s fascinating today to read of white South Africans’ certainties that Mandela was a maverick operating outside ANC direction, while simultaneously listening to old ANC members claim how they groomed Mandela as their figurehead from the getgo.

The real truth is likely somewhere in between, in that compromise that is Mandela’s greatest and perhaps his only legacy.

“Real Change” remains a political banner. You can change the color of the president in both South Africa and the United States without altering where black people remain on the graphs of economy.

It’s a question that is being asked round the world, not just in South Africa.

But I admit it was a bad time, the early 1990s, to experiment with new social orders. The Cold War had been definitively ended with a victory of capitalism over socialism. It would be several more years before Hugo Chavez would be democratically elected to renew such experiments, and that hasn’t gone particularly well.

Mandela will forever be remembered, and rightly so, for peacefully transferring power from the oppressors to the oppressed. That’s remarkably important and a statement for the ages that retribution never works for any ideology, any idea.

He deserves the great honors that attracted. But the concept of a peaceful transition wears poorly when not enough then changes as a result.

The Cold War has ended. Overt racism at least is grudgingly ending slowly. The Great Recession is ending. From South Africa to the United States, there is an energy in the youth to bring to fruition the symbols their parents created as landmarks out of a terrible past.

It could be an exciting future. And if so, Mandela’s legacy of peaceful transition — and likely Obama’s too — will be an historic moment, the last moment of symbol, a turn towards substance.

On the Wings of a Dove

On the Wings of a Dove

.This month marked the last planned charter flight of presumed African Jews from Ethiopia to Israel, capping a generation’s long program that “repatriated” more than 40,000 Ethiopians.

(Some reports put the number as high as 92,000.)

Referred to as “aliyah,” the collection and immigration of disparate Jews from around the world into Israel is public policy, but is mostly funded privately. Once in Israel the state apparatus provides various educational and financial assistance.

The stated policy of Israel to provide citizenship and security to any Jew anywhere in the world is referred to as the “Right of Return” and imbedded in the entire raison d’etre of Israel.

Many impoverished around the world, however, wishing to invoke the Right of Return are unable to do so on their own. And many who are simply among the throngs of Africa’s impoverished who long to immigrate to someplace with a better opportunity, try to invoke the Right of Return with little evidence they are Jewish.

Avi Bram writing in Think Africa Press this week called the end of Operation Dove’s Wing “A page … turned in the history of Jews in Ethiopia. But despite what Israel may think, the page doesn’t mark the end of the book, but merely a new, uncertain chapter.”

The Ethiopians returned to Israel in Operation Dove’s Wing had to demonstrate seven generations of Jewish lineage to be eligible for aliyah. Over the last ten years large numbers of Ethiopians migrated to the town of Gondar where various Jewish agencies were supporting temples and Hebrew education programs.

But in the end as many as 7,000 Ethiopians claiming to be Jewish were left behind. Now that Operation Dove’s Wing has ended, almost all of the Jewish agency support is ending, although other NGOs to some extent may replace them.

But the dynamic of Africans wanting to be considered one thing or another, so that they can be brought to a better world, and then examined by a stated government policy to credential lineage, verges on institutionalized ethnicity if not outright racism.

In the case of the Ethiopian Jews, the four major programs in 1984, 1985, 1991 and the last ending this month, were funded largely from American, South American and European Jewish communities.

I witnessed the 1984/85 “Operation Moses” which was the first program in Addis, and it differed considerably from what I watched happening this month.

Back then the tarmac of the Addis airport was filled with white tents, El-Al 747s, and many professional Israelis, especially doctors. Busloads of very traditional Ethiopians would come onto the airfield, be examined and were often so naked that they had to be clothed as well before boarding the aircraft.

That operation, by the way, differed in many respects from subsequent ones. Technically these Ethiopians were refugees being bussed in from Sudanese refugee camps through the country they had fled.

The toppling of Haile Selassie, the last emperor, led to a very turbulent period in Ethiopia known as the Red Terror. Large numbers of refugees were sent into mostly The Sudan. The Sudan wasn’t kind to them, being one of the most anti-Israeli countries in the world.

So there was some real humanity in Israel’s program to bring those refugees into greater safety. To be sure, the ruthless dictator of Ethiopia at the time, Mariam Mengistu, had no love for them, and it was also a deft diplomatic effort of Israel that organized the exodus from Addis.

But that being said, I remember thinking from conversations with several Americans who were with me at the time and who were associated with the operation, that quite a few non refugee Ethiopians were squeezing into the mix that was being transported to Tel Aviv.

Regardless, everyone I saw looked like they desperately needed help. If not sick, they were certainly destitute. Contrast that today with the YouTube video of the last charter flight arriving Israel from Operation Dove’s Wing.

Part of the explanation for this difference is simply the good news that Africa has developed so rapidly in the last generation. But that’s the point of contention.

If these Ethiopians who were relatively well dressed and well, well-off, were being given this extraordinary boost of opportunity by now becoming citizens of Israel, while millions of their fellow countrymen remain certainly destitute and impoverished, is this fair?

Many analysts like Avi Bram question if it even well conforms to Israeli policy. But the question I’m posing is whether the Right of Return in today’s world is an anachronism that contributes to racism.

If not, how far back must history stretch to justify such policy. Should Norway facilitate a Right of Return to anyone demonstrating a Viking Heritage through the DNA testing that can now pretty well determine that?

We don’t need more separation in Africa, today, much less anywhere in the world. I applaud Israel for the remarkably humanity the state is giving people in need, but I wonder if the choice of who that humanity is given to is a moral one.

What does Egypt Mean?

What does Egypt Mean?

Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Karl Marx proclaimed a successful revolution was the dictatorship of the proletariat. As of today, the Egyptian revolution is the dictatorship of the middle class.

If ever there had been a truly democratic election in Africa – even including South Africa – it was the election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had trained in western institutions and democracy for years. And they won.

They won because the common Egyptian, the Egyptian of the lower classes, the less educated, the less likely to be employed, the more likely to have been oppressed or even tortured, had the vote. And they voted for the one thing that they had maintained through generations of oppression: their religion.

What’s specially ironic and intellectually stinging is that they were a movement of conservative Islam whose level of violence was low. That isn’t to say it didn’t exist (the horrible murders by the recently appointed Governor of Luxor stands as the example), but compared to Hezbollah, Hamas or the Joker fringes of al-Qaeda, they were choir boys.

Many contend that it was the old dictator, Mubarak, who made them so, crushing them when they misbehaved and rewarding them ever so slightly when they towed the line.

And like African movements across the continent, from the opposition in Zimbabwe to the thrice failed people’s movement in Kenya, they displayed generational patience unfathomable to us in the west. Learning the ropes, so the speak. Patiently waiting to achieve a democratic victory.

But .. All for naught.

The most cogent argument still founded on democracy being used by the supporters of the Egyptian coup is that the Egyptian constitution under Morsi had no feature to allow for impeachment, and that the mass demonstrations of the last several weeks against Morsi were sufficient to constitute impeachment.

Weak.

The second most cogent argument was that while Morsi was elected democratically, he has systematically dismantled government institutions based on democracy and was crafting a dictatorship for himself.

In my opinion this is true. He packed the legislature and tried to emasculate the judiciary, without any constitutional or legislative authority. He started muffling all opposition media. He kept interrupting the otherwise routine schedule of upcoming elections.

In other words, like every dictator before him, he was using democracy to end it.

But what is disingenuous by the opposition is to claim this while suggesting they aren’t now doing the same thing.

The middle class has at least for the moment come to power. This elicits great sympathy from us, because we are the middle class in America. But they did not come to power democratically. And they won’t stay in power democratically. If they remain in power, it will be through a dictatorship of the middle class.

General Sisi and his underlings have indicated there will be new “democratic elections” by the end of the year, and yet another referendum on a yet another “democratic” constitution.

But no sane person believes that Morsi or the Muslin Brotherhood will have much hope of being integrated into this process. They will be excluded.

And the regime will claim they are excluded “because they aren’t democratic.”

We’ve now created the most distinguished non sequitur of democracy: We’ve proved that democracy doesn’t exist.

In America it doesn’t exist because money and other non-issue components drive elections, giving a distinct advantage to the rich. Democracy is supposed to be a debate of ideas, not bank accounts. Yet we see how quickly this gets muddled in America if a democatically achieved idea condones the advantage of money and other non-issue but controlling mechanisms like seniority and filibuster.

So democracy in America disadvantages the poor and weak. Advantage, upper classes. Same as Egypt. And by the way, the mechanism is the same:

In America so-called “democracy” may not be exclusively defined by money, but money is a principal definer. In Egypt democracy is now clearly defined by the military, and for the moment at least, the military and Egyptian middle class are allied.

And what begets the Egyptian military?

About a billion dollars annually from the U.S.

In today’s world, money is power and reigns, whether in the U.S. or Egypt. Those of us in the relative comfort of the middle class are OK with this, because we are rich enough.

But the poor and weak are not OK with this.

In Karl Marx’s time the “proletariat” was the poor and weak but undeniably the largest segment of society. As it remains today in Egypt. But in America today the “middle class” is the largest segment of society.

And in the globally connected world America has now if not imposed at least facilitated the middle class dictatorship in Egypt. Not directly, of course, because we are fooled by our own ideas. But by the very nature of capitalism, by the means by which we defend our own middle class, so must Egypt become.

This paradigm has but a single peaceful and morally correct outcome: that everyone become Middle Class. To the extent America, or Egypt, or Kenya or South Africa – or China – moves rapidly in this direction, there will be peace. To the extent societies don’t move rapidly enough in this direction, or reverse it, there will be war.

All hail the Middle Class. Long Live the Middle Class.

But don’t be hoodwinked by democracy.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Especially for my readers in Africa, I wanted to explain the absence of a normal blog, today. It’s Memorial Day in America, Monday, May 27, 2013.

The holiday is intended to honor the memories of U.S. soldiers who have died in action. It’s similar to the Remembrance Days celebrated in many parts of Africa, and like in South Africa, directed mostly to freedom fighters for independence.

America’s Memorial Day honors all dead soldiers, so in that regards our own revolutionary fighters are to be in our memory as well. But it began as “Decoration Day” right after the Civil War, following a petition by recently freed slaves (mostly who came from Africa) to honor the Union soldiers who had freed them.

After World War I, it was changed to “Memorial Day” and extended as an honor to all soldiers in all conflicts.

As a young boy it was a big red-white-and-blue festival. We decorated our little red wagons and bikes, just as we would hardly a month later for July 4th. And in those days we were remembering mostly the two Great Wars.

Since then my own personal regards for Memorial Day has diminished. The numerous wars my country has begun have mostly been unfair and unjust. And with the end of the draft when I was in university, the military has changed radically. It no longer represents society as a whole.

Today, the military is composed either of young men who can’t get any other kind of job, or who need the benefits once the service is finished, or avowed militarists. We need them both, by the way, but it has drastically altered America’s weapon users, and the military is today more easily manipulated by politicians than it used to be.

I do stop during the day and think of my relatives in the Great Wars. I think of the way the country ultimately came together to fight world tyranny. But in my life time, there is little in America’s wars to be proud of. They are mostly memories I wish we didn’t have.

Ancient Waterboarding

Ancient Waterboarding

Britain’s invitation this week to Kenya that it seek financial compensation from the U.K. for acts of torture more than a half century ago opens a topic that could be stinging to the United States.

Britain’s highest ranking diplomatic officer delivered to President Uhuru Kenyatta Tuesday a huge report documenting British torture during the Kenyan battle for independence in the 1950s, and invited Kenya to request financial compensation.

The report followed a British High Court ruling last October that allowed Mau Mau (Independence) war veterans to sue the British government for their torture in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the British government’s subsequent negotiations with hundreds of alleged victims.

In fact the release of previously sealed and top secret documents from the U.K. Foreign Office suggested there could be still living as many as 10,000 Kenyans due compensation.

The tedious process of negotiating individual claims began last year, and attempting to get out in front of what could have been an endless line of petitioners, the British government commissioned the report that was handed to Kenyatta Tuesday.

Quite apart from the tens of millions of pounds likely to be paid to the victims of Kenya’s insurection, the released secret documents, court case and Tuesday’s government commission report opens the gates to similar allegations from other foreign colonies.

The British report acknowledge Red Cross archives that documented widespread use of torture techniques including waterboarding and worse, waterboarding with kerosene.

Kenya reacted yesterday by demanding an official apology from the British government:

Britain should “offer a public and unconditional apology to the people of Kenya for all injustices and gross violations of human rights committed by the colonial administration between 1895 and 1963,” the Kenyan response says.

Note that Britain and Kenya right now are not the best of friends. In fact, Kenya has few friends in the world as the world awaits to see if its president and vice-president will stand trials as accused for crimes against humanity scheduled to begin in just a few weeks.

The British report and offer of compensation, however, seems completely unlinked to the UK’s current cold shoulder attitude towards its former colony.

And there is every concern in America that the British action sets a precedent that could severely impact the U.S.

If U.S. violations, including torture and unwarranted war, become issues for compensation, there could be literally millions of claims.

No formal reaction has been forthcoming from the U.S., although Voice of America broadcast this week a story admitting that the “The Mau Mau settlement would set legal precedent.”

The report did not elaborate as to whether it was legal precedent restricted to Britain or one that would be more global in nature.

And of course a number of other warring or former colonial powers would be just as vulnerable to legal attack as the U.S., mostly notably France.

Current American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are really little different from the European colonial actions in the past century.

The West has a distinct problem imposing its will. Perhaps a financial slap will bring western morality to its senses.

Borders and Blood

Borders and Blood

by Conor Godfrey
I’ve been accused of being a relentless Africa booster… this is almost certainly true.

To fight back, however, I am going to offer a scarier version of the continent’s next thirty years that has taken up serious mind share recently.

This idea will hopefully pass muster as a research topic, so I would certainly appreciate your feedback as I am just getting the full proposal together now.

From the late 90s to the present, we have seen tremendous agitation around African intra and inter-state borders.

I would argue that this started with the Ethiopia Eritrea war (1998-2000) and would include the escalation of civilizational conflict inside Nigeria and Mali, the 2006 Ethiopian and the 2012 Kenyan invasions of Somalia, and, of course, the separation of Sudan and South Sudan.

Dozens of conflicts—including many in the DRC—do not make this list because they did or do not fundamentally challenge the status-quo colonial borders.

You can quibble with or add to my list – that is not the point.

Before this decade the Colonial borders exhibited nigh unprecedented durability. Here is a list of African border changes post WW1… 90% of them were trades between colonial powers.

My point (or wild hypothesis if you will) is this… from independence to 2000, most African states did not possess the material capabilities to mount a sustained challenge to the territorial status quo; doing so requires states to centralize political control, neutralize domestic opponents that pose a threat to the state, and have the material resources necessary to take, hold, and administer territory.

As the U.S. knows well, this requires lots and lots of money (not to mention a professional military and a tolerant domestic audience).

For this entire period, states concentrated on papering over the inconsistencies built into their illogical creations, and, if hostile foreign action were required, they relied on cheap and effective proxy militias and other irregular activity rather than large-scale mobilization.

The Council on Foreign relations writes —not totally persuasively in my opinion—that keeping colonial borders gave African leaders “reciprocal insurance” against invasion, and that leaders were more concerned with arguing over who controlled state resources than fighting over borders.

So why are things coming apart at the seams (pun very much intended)?

This could, after all, just be a blip, a decade long aberration on an otherwise century long consolidation along the lines drawn on a cocktail napkin in Europe.

Here is what I think:

1) Differential Growth: The continent is booming, but not everywhere feels the love.

As some countries outpace their neighbors they will be tempted to acquire the military capabilities to favorably alter the territorial status quo.

Colonialism left hundreds of potential territorial flash points, and for the first time since independence, some African states can likely do something about them.

Differential growth also exacerbates tensions within countries.

As globally connected and well endowed regions grow faster than other provinces inside the same country, resentments build and fuel long simmering separatist ambitions.

This narrative plays itself out most visibly today in Mali, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire, and to a lesser extent in Kenya and Uganda.

2) Resources: As mentioned in this post, Africa is massively under prospected and companies are racing to catch up.

A powerful country may have let unfavorable borders lie when no rents could be extracted from the disputed territory, but what happens when billions of dollars of oil and gas hang on a few lousy kilometers, and investing in a miniscule navy would be sufficient to enforce a fait accompli on the border?

There are a number of possible mitigating factors—colonial withdrawal, regional integration, economic integration, etc… — but I will save those for some future post.

This is worth getting right. I would hate to see a decade of phenomenal growth and progress undone in an orgy of territorial revisionism, and reasonable precautions could help stop spirals of security competition before they begin.

The Great Debate in Africa

The Great Debate in Africa

From left to right, Prof. Ole Kiyiapi, Martha Karua, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Musailia Mudavadi and Peter Kenneth. Not shown are two candidates who won a court appeal from having been disqualified: Mohamed Dida and Paul Muite.
It took them longer to get the babies and kissing spouses onto the stage, but the first ever, quite spectacular Kenyan presidential debate ended very much like most of America’s primary debates:

The crazies looked crazier, the ones who quoted scripture couldn’t quote GDP numbers, every pot called every kettle black, the smart drowned in their own moderation, none seemed to know all the words to the national anthem, the self-appointed media hosts deservedly lost control, and the winners are still winning and the losers are still lost.

Unlike America, though, polling this close to the March 4 election is now banned in Kenya, so it took outsider polls of little repute and no published evidence to proclaim the winners and the losers.

So I will.

The debate lasted 3 hours (see below for my cheat sheet onto YouTube) and I watched it from start to finish after just arriving Cape Town following two days of constant traveling while eating delectable fresh calamari and hake and Cape greens quickly and cheaply bought at the Waterfront’s Pick ‘n Pay, liberally lubricated with a local vineyard cab.

I know. How could anyone sane not watch sunset over Table Mountain because Uhuru Kenyatta was explaining how he would be president while being tried at The Hague for crimes against humanity?

Me. And literally thousands of South Africans, by the way, as local TV (SA2) carried much of the debate and this morning’s talk shows were filled with discussion about it.

The outcome of the Kenyan election is going to effect the entire continent. I really believe that the winners of last night’s debate, Prof. James Kiyiapi and youngster Peter Kenneth, have no chance of winning the election.

Forty million Kenyans watched the eight candidates debate live. It’s unlikely 10% of the voters were moved away from their predetermined vote, which is based on their tribe. But that’s the marvel of Kenya, being able to undo its misery precisely because it’s so pervasive: neither of the two major tribes are large enough to produce a majority.

So the 10% could matter. Although not as you might think.

If none of the 8 candidates gets a majority, which is becoming increasingly likely, then there must be a runoff election. And the losers in the first round will likely make alliances with the winners of the first round. “Endorsements” by those dropping out of the race actually then have a much greater impact than in the American election.

Raila Odinga, a Luo and the current prime minister, remains the favorite of the eight candidates. He is followed closely by Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu who is under indictment for allegedly having incited the violence that followed the last election in 2007.

The candidates I saw as winners, and I’m sure who were also deemed that by Kenya’s rapidly growing very youthful educated middle class, come from relatively small ethnic groups.

Kiyiapi is a Maasai. Kenneth is a mullato. Kiyiapi is one of the smartest Kenyans I’ve ever listened to, a college professor. Kenneth is quick and witty, and one of Kenya’s most successful and prominent businessmen.

The two were the most articulate. Both knew the facts (few of the remaining did) and both are left-of-center populists who would further tax the rich and redistribute wealth in ways to alleviate poverty.

There was actually not a lot of disagreement among any of the candidates regarding policies, whether that be taxation or redistribution, education or security.

And that’s because the aggrieved poor in a developing country can simply not be ignored. They can’t be ignored out of simple humanity, but also because their numbers are large enough to start a revolution if progress on their behalf does not occur fast enough.

But everyone knows that regardless of what’s said, there are the lefties like Odinga, Kipiyia and Kenneth; and there are the righties like Kenyatta.

And so if I’m right, and if Kenneth and Kipiyia were the winners last night, then in a second round the people watching like me who felt the same are likely to support Odinga over Uhuru.

All I hope is that Kenyatta does not win. He is responsible for the last election violence; he’s a slick and evil man. He will set Kenya back into the times of his father, the first president of the country, when there were only two tenants of governance: nepotism and corruption.

The next and final debate is February 25.

Click here for yesterday’s full debate.

10m35s : The candidates get two minutes each to introduce themselves.

16m00s : The candidates discuss tribalism which quickly devolved into the issue of Kenyatta’s candidacy and position in the current government as deputy prime minister, even while being tried in The Hague for having incited such violence in the last election.

It’s important to note that Kenya could have tried Kenyatta and the five others itself in Kenya with its own justice system, but that Parliament voted not to, defaulting to a treaty provision that then allowed the World Court to hold the trial.

19m48s: Kenyatta’s defense of his candidacy

34m35s: the media host challenges Kenyatta to explain tribal remarks he has made in the current campaign.

At 53m35s Kenyatta contends, “The people have the confidence that I can discharge my duties while clearing my name.”

At 57m30s Odinga quips that it would be hard for Kenyatta to “run a country by Skype from The Hague” which presumes he will be convicted and jailed there.

At the 1hr30m00s mark the moderator gives the floor to Kenyans in the hall for their own questions about security, education and health care.

Familiar?

Yes, but the good stuff was then over. There was little disagreement on the policies the government should take on any of the public questions.

Should the Past Burn Away?

Should the Past Burn Away?

The Mali war has reignited an old debate: should precious artifacts always be returned to the motherland, or should they be kept in safety by the greater, more stable powers of the world?

Yesterday France returned to Nigeria in an elaborate ceremonial handover several confiscations of ancient Nok Arts, prized terra cotta sculptures of Nigerian empires of the 6th century. Over the last several years Yale University has begun a near complete repatriation of the Hiram Bigham artifacts the explorer took from Machu-Picchu in the early 20th century.

And while Paris remains replete with Egyptian artifacts like the obelisk acquired especially during Napoleon’s reign, France is slowly repatriating these, too.

And then comes Mali.

Without ancient artifacts from foreign lands such august institutions as the British Museum would be near meaningless. Chicago’s Field Museum would be emasculated. Taipei’s National Palace Museum would be crushed. And the Louvre – my goodness, Le Louvre, would be nothing more than a home for the Mona Lisa.

But is it right that such national treasures be housed away from the Motherland?

The treasures of Timbuktu rank right up there with the pyramids and Inca kings. In fact, many believe they are the most precious artifacts the world has.

This is because among its mosques and building relics are housed many of the world’s oldest written manuscripts. The oldest registered manuscript – at least before the current war – was dated from 1204. It included texts not just on world religion but astronomy, women’s rights, alchemy and medicine, mathematics and linguistics.

Timbuktu was a natural place for such ancient manuscripts. For several millennia before the modern age it was the crossroads of two major trade routes: the Saharan camel route with the Niger River.

But it was not until the 16th century when the area was arguably at its prime that a famous and wealthy scholar, Mohammed abu Bakr al-Wangari, established a “library” of ancient scrolls and documents. He spent the last 30 years of his life collecting these treasures, and when he died in 1594 they were inherited by his seven sons.

Collection and restoration continued for the centuries thereafter, but without a strong centralized government it was haphazard and often random. Timbuktu’s most prominent families became identified with their libraries of ancient texts.

By the turn of the 20th Century it was estimated that more than a quarter million books, notes, drawings and other relics of the past were being lovingly preserved by literally thousands of Timbuktu’s 100,000 residents.

UNESCO became deeply involved years ago, and in 2005 a huge portion of its cultural restoration budget was dedicated to Timbuktu alone.

But because the manuscripts – the most precious treasures of all – were still legally in the hands of individual families, UNESCO cleverly over the years poured its funds into the remains of ancient mosques and mausoleums. Slowly over time these attracted manuscripts.

Still the vast majority of texts were aggressively retained and often hidden by individual families. In 2005 South Africa convinced many of them to stop burying ancient parchment in the sand whenever trouble arose, and began a library.

That extraordinary effort went up in flames as the Islamists left Timbuktu last week.

One of the most visible of the many libraries was Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba Institute for Higher Studies and Islamic Research. When the Islamists first took over Timbuktu, the adroit director managed to convince one of the leaders of the importance of the texts to Islamic law.

Then, over the next months, he smuggled 28,000 of the most precious manuscripts out of the building. When the Islamists left, they burned what was left.

How much has been lost? Inventory is still going on, but the point is that most of these remarkable documents are still in private hands, libraries and collections of various Timbuktu families.

Is it time that such precious relics of humankind be removed to safer places? Or at the very least removed to Bamako and protected there?

Jump Start

Jump Start

Less Titling, (c) Washington Post
In a much saner way than America, Kenya’s presidential campaign got underway yesterday. Saner, because it will be done and over six weeks after beginning!

This is, of course, the big one folks. Not only will it choose the first truly democratically elected leader of Kenya, under its new and fabulous constitution, as the country’s growth explodes and it winds down its war in Somalia, but it will determine once and for all if Kenya is a safe place.

Safe to invest in. Safe to live in. Safe to visit as a tourist.

It’s that simple, and that breathtakingly important.

Most national elections determine fiscal and economic policy, security issues and legislative agendas. And this one will, too, but the most important question in this election is actually not who wins, but what happens after they do.

The polls are pretty uniform in suggesting that the winner will be Raila Odinga, the current prime minister, as I very much hope will be the case. But few people are concerned with whether the election outcome will be that Odinga wins, more than they are with whether the outcome will be as with the last election in 2007, the country explodes in violence.

Last time round the country exploded in violence because there were sore losers. Two of those sore losers are running again, one for President (Uhuru Kenyatta) and the other as his running mate (William Ruto).

Uhuru Kenyatta & William Ruto
The two have been indicted by The World Court in the Hague for having incited the violence of 2007, paid to have it continue, and actually organized some of its worst atrocities. Remarkably, they have both traveled to The Hague to answer the charges and – at least until this point – agreed to be tried.

The last election was the first true attempt at national democracy. I remember watching the returns on the internet very much in real time. The problem was that the returns were giving the election to Raila Odinga, who was opposing the sitting president, Mwai Kibaki.

It was blasted deja vu to Gore/Bush. Internet returns suddenly stopped and the media began reporting all sorts of irregularities in the transporting of election ballots to the counting authorities.

The sitting president declared himself the winner. It was ridiculously premature. The rest of the world shook nasty forefingers at Kenya … except for America. President George Bush called up Mwai Kibaki to congratulate him on his victory. It was around 11 p.m. Kenyan time. Kenya media exploded with the announcement.

No other world leader did the same. And the next morning fires started.

Raila Odinga & Kalonzo Musyoka
When the violence began it was basically the poor of Kenya – found mostly in its slums and who had supported Raila Odinga – against the rich. Which included the police and politicians.

But it quickly degenerated into an ethnic war. Mwai Kibaki is Kikuyu. Raila Odinga is Luo. They are the two largest tribes in Kenya, and while as in Northern Ireland the Catholics are generally the poor when compared to the Protestants, so are the Luo when compared to the Kikuyu. So the battle was forged on grounds long prepared.

Uhuru Kenyatta, who was set to become a major official in the Kibaki government, is also Kikuyu. William Ruto is a Kalenjin, historically an arch enemy of the Kikuyu, but in this case the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and so the Kalenjin allied themselves with the Kikuyu.

Ethnic violence began to tear the country apart.

According to voluminous documents now in The Hague as the trial of Kenyatta and Ruto progresses, those two so-called national leaders planned and fomented the violence.

It took a number of months, Kofi Annan, heavy hands and wallets from the U.S. and Britain to quell the violence and create a power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Odinga which held until today.

It has been a remarkable recovery. Odinga and Kibaki have actually worked well together, mostly because Odinga despite the details of the power-sharing agreement, always took a backseat to Kibaki.

But under their leadership, the country created a fantastic new constitution and steered towards a path of unexpected economic growth. Kibaki never intended to stand for election this time, and needless to say, that helped enormously.

Kenyans remain very ethnically racist. The younger are much more tolerant than the older, but even the young struggle with ethnic identity. And because there are more than 40 ethnic tribes in Kenya and really more than half dozen greater ethnic coalitions, there is no single ethnic group that can determine a national election.

Odinga probably won last time (as Gore did) and is projected to win this time, because his policies – not his ethnicity – align best with most Kenyans. It is fair to say if he doesn’t win, it has less to do with policy than ethnicity.

Will Kenyans reach into their minds rather than their hearts for how to vote? That, of course, is a separate question from what they will then do if their decision is not validated by the outcome.

Surge Then Peace?

Surge Then Peace?

When’s the last time the U.S. fought a war in a foreign land that ended with a better society and government for those people and greater peace for all the world?

Yesterday.

But before that, you have to go back to World War II. But yesterday the U.S. officially recognized the existing Somalia government after 21 years of on-and-off direct conflict.

Although far from tranquil or totally stable there is today a globally recognized Somali government for the first time since 1991, piracy is ending, farmers are planting, schools are open and the economy is growing. None of this since 1991. All this precisely because Obama “surged” our militarism there for the last two years.

He surged a war and won.

Applause?

Them’s the facts, Ma’am. The catastrophe began with Bill Clinton’s cowardly response to Blackhawk Down and then a few years later, the Rwandan Genocide. Clinton escaped a couple close calls with oblivion as President, and I for one think he’s culpable for the last several decades of terrorism in the world. (With a good measure of French obstructionism as well.)

A sweet irony that his wife yesterday was the person in the spotlight recognizing Somali peace.

But Clinton and French responsibility for igniting global jihad had a significant catalyst with the end of the Cold War.

So many African countries were nothing but pawns in the Cold War. They were treated like ivory pieces on a chessboard, spit-polished when they advanced one sides game and ignored to the point of being sacrificed when they didn’t. The frontline battle was in Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia for 20 years before Blackhawk Down.

The U.S. and westerners pulled the puppet strings on Somalia, and Russia with occasional Chinese lace pulled the strings in Ethiopia.

Tens of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands of people died in regular old tank wars on deserts with no more value than the sand that defines an egg timer. So for 40 years “Somali society” if it still exists was pulled and shoved and bombed and tortured as some unexplained pendulum flinging between good and bad.

The epoch Americans remember most is the one just ended: the epoch of terror when Obama’s surge in Afghanistan forced al-Qaeda principals to flee to Africa. After a short stint in Yemen they went to Somali where their much greater skills and far superior dedication to ideology gave them the tools to conquer the rat pack of warlords that had controlled what had been Somalia with the residue of weaponry left by the end of the Cold War.

The prize in that stealthy battle was the port city of Kismayo, the throne of the pirates, and the loot this provided al-Qaeda rebirthed them with new weapons, new roads, new infrastructure and alas was born, al-Shabaab.

Obama gives no quarter to his enemies. But he doesn’t like public wars. So with more equipment and better technology and not a few real American boots on the ground, America began battling al-Shabaab.

It was just the continuation of the Texas Ranger pulling up his red bandana to disguise his face and sticking his badge in his pocket so he can hunt down the Dallas bank robber who fled into Arkansas. But when it became clear that this clandestine operation wasn’t enough, well, he hired Kenya.

The Kenyan Army invaded Somalia in October, 2011.

Well, that did the trick!

So now the al-Qaeda principals – what’s left of them – have fled into the interior and north of Africa. But don’t worry. The French talk better than we do in that part of the continent, so they’re taking control, now.

I’m of two minds about all this. The world – the whole wide world, including shipping and fishing lanes and air space – it’s all much, much more safe and peaceful today because of Obama’s surge against terror.

But my second mind is whiplashed by the memories of the Cold War, and how we used African societies as pawns in a game that was cruel and devastating to them.

It all remains to be seen. And perhaps my sarcasm is little more than spite of days gone bye.

Perhaps today is better.

Waiting for March 4

Waiting for March 4

The starting bell will ring and ring and ring madly throughout Kenya Thursday for the start of the awesome 2013 elections. And then deathly silence follows for 6 terrifying weeks.

The economy has already stopped. Donors and outside investors alike have literally stopped all financial transactions. Schools will close so their buildings can be used for voting. Parliament disappears. The current president goes on vacation. The world waits.

I think it’s instructive that in this high tourist season, when wintry westerners flock to Kenya’s unmatched coral coast, some coastal hotels have shut down. Occupancy is so low, companies won’t reveal what it is.

Everyone waits for March 4, the election. Will March 5 be another beautiful African day, or something else?

I began this blog specifically to disseminate the news of Kenya’s last election in 2007, when the peaceful if paradisaical safari destination erupted in terrible violence. More than 1300 people were killed in a few weeks and nearly a quarter million displaced.

It was a near apocalyptic bump on the road to a modern democracy. The quick resolution of the contested election was unexpected and brilliant, a power sharing agreement which has held for five years between the radical opponents.

But now that tentative extra-constitutional arrangement is over. The country must rally round a timely and sustainable definition of itself for the foreseeable future. New forms of self-government, new civil rights, new judiciaries – all radically transformed from 2007.

The election is the culmination of one of the most historic transformations of a society in five years I think ever in the history of mankind. That sounds grandiose, I know, but it’s true.

The country’s financial and educational development in five years is preposterously positive, the GDP nearly reaching 5% growth per year. The visible transformation of Nairobi is unbelievable. If you went on safari in 2006 you won’t recognize the city now.

Its skyscrapers, 8-lane superhighways, Benz’ and BMWs will make you think you’re in L.A. Well, at least that’s the first impression. The layers of difficulties under this pretty veneer are daunting.

And the social transformation is more formative. The new constitution is incredibly just and creative. Educational advancement has skyrocketed. Per capita income is on a steep rise. A national Gallup Poll conducted only several months ago shows enormous confidence and security by Kenyans:

Across the country, Gallup concludes, individuals feel that their “Life Situation” will improve by a monster 50% in just the next few years.

The outcome of the primaries at the national and major regional level is a foregone conclusion for the six major political parties. Despite the parliamentary appearance of Kenya, the new constitution places huge power in an executive president, so like in the U.S., the presidential election is by far the most important.

(This, by the way, was a great disappointment to me. Executive presidencies are 20th century stuff in my book. As democracies mature, aggressive collections of diverse political parties each holding realistic power will guide societies better.)

The front runner is the current prime minister, Raila Odinga. The polls are definitive but the margin of error is big and not too far behind is Uhuru Kenyatta, trailed well behind by the third contender, William Ruto.

There is no questions that of the three, Raila Odinga is the man, the right man. He was denied his place in 2007, but he ended his fight gracefully to share what he had rightfully won to stop the violence, and he’s spearheaded Kenya’s transformation.

His two nearest opponents – Uhuru and Ruto – are thugs, both indicted by the International Criminal Court for instigating then organizing and paying for the violence of 2007.

It couldn’t be a clearer choice from the outside. From the inside it is woven into the deep power of ethnicity, the ancient clansmanship of Africa. Loyalty to family is something we all suffer, but in Africa it is seared into the soul.

March 4 is a day for Kenyans to choose between ideas and family: Ideas that I’ve written about for the last several years which put Kenya in the global forefront of human rights and justice. And family which knows nothing but to fight.

How would you vote?

Goma Solution

Goma Solution

Starve Rwandan and Ugandan dictators of any aid, significantly beef up the UN peace-keepers in Goma, allow the “Arab Spring” to develop and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s my solution for the Goma catastrophe.

It surprised me that Goma has stayed in the news. I’m not sure why, as the current crisis is probably less severe than multiple other ones in the past.

But suddenly there are Congressmen, movie celebrities and evening nightly news casts all talking about the catastrophe of Goma. Yesterday morning NPR featured a story and that was followed by an excellent hour of OnPoint featuring a Goma resident as panelist who writes the blog I have closely followed for several years.

This is so surprising but too overwhelming to explain. Anyway, we’ve got the attention that has been lacking for nearly 20 years.

Goma in particular and the Kivu province in eastern Congo of which it is the only large city has been an ungovernable cauldron of unspeakable violence, bubbling with untold natural resource riches, for more than two decades. The question is – and always has been – how to achieve the peace to release its mind-boggling riches.

While technically a part of the country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), not since the ruthless and crazed dictator Mobutu has the DRC effectively governed, there. The city and the province are controlled alternatively by thugs, crazies on drugs, and ruthless militias all competing for the vast wealth under its soil.

The UN has had a peace-keeping force in Goma almost continuously since the Rwandan genocide. It’s had some success, but as demonstrated last week when a tiny militia of only 1500 rolled into Goma, the UN force is too weak to provide real security.

There are three players in Goma’s world, each with their own story:

RWANDA
Susan Rice is an important component in “what to do with Goma” and it’s not good news for her. I’ve never liked Susan Rice. My feelings probably originate with the fact she was Clinton’s closest adviser on African affairs, and she shares blame for much of what is happening, now.

Clinton could have prevented, at least for a time, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 but he specifically refused to do so. He has since apologized. Rice has been less forthcoming, although she was the person advising him. The presumption is that she concurred with if not crafted the decision.

The genocide and its aftermath resulted in more than a million Rwandan Hutus fleeing into Goma and Kivu. There they stayed, prospered as warlords and gangs that later became known as the Interahamwe soon posing a real threat to the Tutsi in control of the Rwandan government.

American guilt has never been so expensive. The amount of money the U.S. poured into Rwanda is absolutely mind-boggling. The stated mission was to provide security for Rwandans, especially from the Interahamwe, and to create a life style that has proved truly the envy of any African anywhere in east or central Africa.

But all this has happened at extraordinary cost, and there is no strategic need for America to do this, and the result has been to create a western country-oasis in central Africa.

No other country in Africa has fiber optic cable laid to its most remote locales. No other has a satellite “Museum of Photographic Arts.” No other African country offers a completely free 12 years of primary and secondary education to virtually every child.

The quality of medical care in Kigali hospitals rivals South Africa. Every Rwandan family is guaranteed at least one cow. The government intends that every single school child get a free laptop, with 32000 having been distributed before this year.

This is not a typical African country. It is a construct of western guilt. And it has created a monster:

Paul Kagame as president has imprisoned and assassinated every whisper of opposition. To him Goma and Kivu become a threat to him if they grow stable, as they will most certainly be ruled mostly by Hutus and at the very least provide sanctuary and training for his enemies.

From Kagame’s point of view, the only alternative to promulgating instability in Kivu is to give it to him lock, stock and barrel.

UGANDA
Uganda is the thug in the triad. Uganda’s western border is much longer with Kivu than little Rwanda. The Mountains of the Moon separate the two, but they are hardly a buffer to the experienced militia of the area, in fact they provide sanctuary.

Uganda like Rwanda has benefitted from the black-marketeering of rare earths in Kivu, and the current ruthless dictator president, Museveni, is a Tutsi. It’s abhorrent to him that his neighbor be ruled even moderately by a Hutu. And even more abhorrent that he be cut out of such rich black market rewards.

American support of the Museveni regime is even more embarrassing and immoral than its support for the Rwandan regime. I’ve written tomes on the horrible history of American involvement in Uganda’s repressive regime.

THE CONGO (DRC)
It’s ironic that the legitimate governing authority is the least important of the triad. The DRC has become an incredibly corrupt country. The president stacked the last election’s ballot boxes in almost comic ways yet succeeded. But the world recognizes the DRC as the legitimate governing authority, and so anything the world does will have to include it.

The U.S. is adrift in the jungle, still guilt ridden and not acting properly. The worst of American history is repeating itself. We are creating colonial proxies for our incorrectly presumed interests, regardless of the legitimacy of those powers and their history of human rights abuses.

We are propping up Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda the same way we propped up the Shah of Iran and the Contras of Nicaragua. Will we never learn?

And with regards to Goma it paints us into an untenable position of broker between dictators. The actual people of Kivu, the students of Goma, the radio stations and attempts at free press, have no faith in America.

It is time to let the chips fall where they may, but our responsibility to redeem our malevolent past means we must first reduce Rwanda and Uganda to a natural state, a state without American blood money.

I don’t doubt that in the 4-5 years this will take that the turbulence in Goma and Kivu will escalate, and that absent the paymaster, Rwanda could teeter on new genocide. We can counter the worst of this by putting all our own chips in the UN basket, by considerably beefing up the UN forces and giving them a more aggressive mandate to maintain peace.

But it’s time to stop trying to master puppets whose strings slip from our hands with our tears. We are so terribly terribly sorry.

The Democratic Challenge

The Democratic Challenge

Two of Africa’s wisest old men have echoed the same cautions that America’s founders gave a young democracy about its elections. Beware: Bad elections are the greatest threats to democracy.

Yesterday Kofi Annan and Ngugi wa’Thiongo focused on the upcoming Kenyan elections as a marker for world democracy and reflected on America’s distortion of elections as something to be avoided by younger countries.

Annan is a well-known world figure, one of the most prominent Secretary Generals the United Nations has ever had. Like Jimmy Carter who remained remarkably active after leaving office, Annan’s role in global negotiations has never ceased. In fact, it was Annan who led the Kenyans out of the mire of the violence following their last election in 2007.

Ngugi has adopted America as his home after a career as a professor at Yale and New York universities. He is currently the Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Univ. of California in Irvine. Until 2004 he lived intermittently between Kenya and the U.S., and in Kenya is heralded as a famous revolutionary and writer.

What Americans obsessed with their own election need to know is that huge new parts of the world, especially in Africa, are adopting democracy and America’s form of democracy to govern their young societies.

This is a major change from hardly a generation ago when just as many new countries were adopting forms of Chinese communism or heavily top-down managed socialism. It’s a testament of course to the end of the Cold War, but also of the preeminence of capitalism in the global economy.

Old countries like China might be able to fiddle with capitalism and not disrupt their mechanisms for governing, but new countries can’t. The power of the economy is so critical with emerging countries that it often trumps other moral and social issues.

A case in point was Ngugi’s violent condemnation yesterday of Kenya’s decision to use English as the predominant language for governance. Ngugi is Kikuyu, the main tribe in Kenya and was imprisoned as a freedom fighter under the British. He is himself a master of the English language but he has written scholarly novels in Kikuyu, and he believes preserving multiple languages is critical to an advanced society.

It is something of the inverse argument in America as to whether Latinos should be validated by a greater use of Spanish in government.

Arguing that the current Kenyan leaders are “child abusers” for denying “mother tongues” Ngugi says, “To have a mother tongue … and add other languages … is empowerment. But to know all the other languages and not one’s own is enslavement.

“The post-colonial government and the entire [Kenyan] elite have chosen enslavement over empowerment,” he concludes.

The problem, of course, is that the violence that followed the 2007 elections turned ethnic. It is completely understandable that current politicians wishing to avoid anything much beyond a dull election want to steer clear of languages that are specifically ethnic.

In America as in Kenya when one person speaks a language that another person doesn’t understand, enormous suspicions arise, conjecture becomes almost as credible as fact-checking, and literally all hell can break lose. Unlike in Canada or Belgium where multilingual democracy flourishes, in most of the world multiple languages breed distrust.

(N.B. What puzzles many in the Kenyan situation, though, is why English was chosen rather than Swahili. Swahili belongs to no specific tribe and so is clearly universal among East Africans. The problem is that Swahili is a lingua franca and suffers thereby from a sore lack of precision. Tanzania tried to use Swahili as the formal language for many years, slowly giving way to English. It’s near impossible in Swahili to say succinctly, “Federal zoning regulations with regards to clean and safe landfills will preempt county council laws with regards to individual ownership.”)

(N.B. continued: Swahili in my view, by the way, is one of man’s most wondrous cultural achievements of the last several centuries, creating poetry of nearly every statement while maintaining a universal morality far superior to many popular western notions about right and wrong. But that’s another blog, and in this case I think Ngugi is wrong.)

Annan didn’t mention language, but in virtually everything else the two scholars said yesterday there was agreement.

Annan who is Ghanian was in Kenya yesterday. He referred to his fears that money is buying power in Kenya, as in the world over. “The infusion of money in politics … threatens to hollow out democracy,” Annan told CNN in September.

Annan understands the importance of capitalism in the world, today, but he also sees it as a threat to democracy. Many of us wait expectantly for his treatise on how the twain should ever meet, but for the time being I suppose we should presume he simply wants aggressive regulation.

In Kenya today he sees a brazen challenge to its young democracy by its rich leaders. Four of Kenya’s richest men and political leaders, including the son of the first president Jomo Kenyatta, are on trial in The Hague for inciting the violence of 2007.

Yet two of them, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are running for president. (Not yet officially, but in Kenya “officially” comes quite close to the actual election.)

Annan sees this occurring not because the Kenyan people want it to, but because these individuals are so powerful, and because they are so rich.

Ngugi concurs: “Unregulated money in politics undermines …confidence in democracy… The explosive growth in campaign expenditures … strengthens fears that wealth buys political influence.”

American politicans’ penchant for personal stories about their early impoverishment is mostly malarkey or at best irrelevant to their current control of wealth. The vast majority of successful American politicians are rich. The cost of entering politics defies many startups. Over $1 billion will be spent by candidates and their surrogates in the current U.S. election.

Both men see the poor, the less privileged, the disabled and geographically disenfranchised as likely a majority of African voters that can be deftly ignored in a modern election:

Ngugi: “Too often, women, young people, minorities and other marginalized groups are not given a full opportunity to exercise their democratic rights.”

Democracy is today widely popular throughout new African countries and embraced as the best way to protect and govern themselves. But the messages that Ngugi and Annan delivered yesterday to a promising young African country resonant here at home just as much.

Democracy is never achieved; it’s simply strived for. America has used democracy for nearly two and a half centuries, yet the corrupting power of money, the difficulties of implementing democracy to a multi-lingual population, and the ease with which the underprivileged can be disenfranchised are threats as great today as they were in the 18th century.

Nor any greater a threat in Kenya than here.