Streets of Anarchy

Streets of Anarchy

In a scene that could well be that of Donald Trump in a few years, Jacob Zuma was put in jail Wednesday, and the days and weekend that followed exploded in violence. The South African military has now taken to the streets to contain the fighting especially in Johannesburg and Durban. Six protestors are confirmed dead and many more assumed hurt.
Read more

A New Human Spring

A New Human Spring

Elections, 0. Popular Uprisings, 3 (or more). Are we experiencing a new Arab Spring? Or better, a new Human Spring?

Popular uprisings in The Sudan, Algeria and South Africa are creating governments that align with the will of the people. Elections in the UK failed to achieve Brexit and so misconstrued the will of the Britts that it’s comic. Elections in the U.S. were called not by a majority vote; so they were never democratic to begin with. Elections in Israel reaffirmed the power of one of the vilest men ever to run a country. Democracy as it’s been known for a century or more is failing. Street protests, especially in Africa, are succeeding.

Read more

May Day Dead

May Day Dead

maydayMuch of the world takes a holiday, today. All of Africa’s largest and most powerful countries are on holiday. May Day carries a morbid tradition of celebrating the horrible mental and physical tolls on workers in the second millennium.

So who isn’t a worker? Is Trump a worker? Is Nigerian Aliko Dangote a worker? Is the poor Joe who was once a miner in Appalachia still a worker? Everyone and no one is a worker, today. This is a false moniker for the modern age and it leads us into a sort of dangerous nostalgia.

Read more

Real World Blues

Real World Blues

obamasummitThe largest ever gathering of African leaders starts today in Washington at the invitation of President Obama. A year ago this would have been unthinkable.

A year ago Obama would not have arranged this summit; his advisors would have considered it bad politics. But Obama is no longer playing to the vicious racism that has stymied him from Day One.

A year ago President Uhuru Kenyatta would not have been invited: he remains on trial for crimes against humanity at the World Court (ICC). Kenyatta arrived in Washington for the summit yesterday. His court case has faltered and Kenya has prospered.

The guest list at the White House is filled with despots and authoritarians including Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang and Uganda’s Museveni. But with a little help from the White House, their most serious critics are also being heard.

A year ago the Heads of the African Union (AU) states would have rejected a meeting that included a parallel gathering of their most intense critics. The White House encouraged this activist gathering, but also deftly declined to participate and that seems to have satisfied the African Mighty. That’s a diplomatic dosey doe of the most successful sort.

Times are changing, Obama is changing, and I think America is recalibrating. No African leader embodies these changes better than Egypt’s President el-Sisi.

The White House did not invite el-Sisi, yet in my estimation whatever immoralities or crimes he’s committed in his coup against the legitimately elected Muslim Brotherhood Mursi as president last year pale in comparison to Obiang’s or Museveni’s reigns of terror.

But the White House was following a careful script. El-Sisi had been ousted from the AU. Obiang and Museveni remain in good standing with the AU, whether they should or not.

When el-Sisi was reinstated several months ago, the White House then issued an invitation and El-Sisi immediately declined, but with diplomatic nicety sent his Prime Minister and closest confidant, Ibrahim Mehleb.

The only other heads of state not invited have all been ousted by the AU: Zimbabwe, Sudan, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.

America’s recalibration is good and bad. Obama’s administration is reembracing the old diplomat Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik: In contemporary terms you don’t cheer change at the expense of certain stability.

The Arab Spring has proved mostly a failure. In the long view of multiple decades or centuries it may have inched human rights forward, but today human rights in places like Egypt and Morocco and Kenya is more suppressed than before the Arab Spring.

What has improved is social stability and economic growth, and that is the stuff that realpolitik responds to.

America’s obsession with freedom and democracy is very good … for America. But perhaps not right now for Africa, and that’s the paradigm manifest in today’s African summit.

In the last decade, American investment and trade with Africa which had been supreme, has fallen below that of Europe’s and China’s. “The summit agenda is heavily focused on business and trade,” the Guardian’s Washington correspondent says.

China may worry Obama more than any African despot. The Guardian continues:

“China’s trade with Africa rose to $200bn last year – largely made up of Beijing’s imports of oil and minerals, and export of electronics and textiles – more than double the US… Twenty years ago trade between China and Africa was just $6bn.”

The “U.S. Summit Seeks to Play Catch-Up in Africa,” the Washington bureau chief of IPS says.

Egypt is essentially stable, today. So is Kenya. One is governed by a military authority, the other by a man indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

But both countries are essential to U.S. security. Egypt’s current moderating role in the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast, and Kenya’s occupation of Somalia, represent irreplaceable components of American security.

The real world is not always a pretty one.

Follow The Law Or… ! Sing

Follow The Law Or… ! Sing

FollowTheLawThroughout sub-Saharan Africa the now distant revolutionary “spring” is continued only by the youth’s music.

Movements for real reform heralded by the February, 2011 “spring” have all but disappeared. Governments that came to power then have turned autocratic defending security and ignoring reform, all in the name of “fighting terrorism.”

Music like the Kenyan Sarabi Band seems all that’s left of the original revolutions. These highly charged politically progressive art forms are massively popular … but I guess not popular enough.

I concede it’s hard not to call kidnappers of the Nigerian school girls, Boko Haram, terrorists. But the reaction of Goodluck Jonathan’s government far surpasses America’s overreaching Patriot Act.

Using the tragedy as justification, Jonathan ordered a full-scale military war in the north of his country, grossly exceeding his constitutional powers.

In Kenya the implementation of a new constitution in 2012 that was widely praised worldwide has systematically been eroded by the current government’s successful power plays hog tying the theoretically independent legislature.

Feeding tribalism like a hungry dog, President Uhuru Kenyatta has rewarded support for a whole series of small measures in the legislature that in sum hugely increases his own power. All in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

Sunday afternoon the country’s largest stadium was packed to capacity with cheering crowds that only slightly exceeded the number of armed policemen and deployed military. When the president arrived in his new “bullet-proof” presidential Toyota, the crowd went mad with applause.

But his increasing authority lets him pick and choose which laws to enforce. Sarabi Band’s hit song, Fuata Sheria, means literally “follow the law” and implores Kenyans to look back to the constitution, away from corruption.

The song approaches desperation. “Follow the Law” is historically hardly a revolutionary slogan, but in this case it is. It’s a plea to return to the idealistic values of Kenya’s youthful constitution, currently circumvented by most of its leaders.

Terrorism is not new, but these overreaching reactions to it were begun by America and now are being adopted by much of the developing world.

I don’t think they work. The reduced terrorism in America since 9/11 is short term. Jihadists and other revolutionaries work through generations, not decades. Successful efforts against terrorism are not as wholly militaristic as America has taught the developed world they should be.

Britain in its fight against the IRA, or Spain against the Basque separatists; Germany against the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Japan against the Red Army, and even Peru against the Shining Light should be the models.

Those all included military components, but negotiations that conceded power and social policy to the adversaries were more important.

And they worked.

In the still maturing and youthful societies of Africa, America’s approach to terrorism has fomented retrogressive moves to dictatorship and large losses of human rights for entire societies.

The old leaders are all back, and their corruption seems now vindicated as they legislate new authority for themselves to “fight terrorism.”

Waiting for Malema

Waiting for Malema

waitingjuliusmalemaSouth Africans are in the lull after the storm of Mandela’s death. But the lull also ends and the future looks troublesome. Elections are in several months.

Of course it may be a worldwide phenomenon. Obama’s Number #1 issue in 2008 was climate change. Anybody hear him speak of that recently?

The Arab Spring is no more. In promising societies like Kenya, politics entrenched in racism has muffled the country like greasy mold. In Tanzania, a new draft constitution reached prime time comedy this week when the only tenant everyone could agree on was an unenforceable edict to “control” corruption.

Mandela’s death coming at the beginning of the end of the Great World Recession was coincidental, but superstitious Africans and me may think otherwise.

The Mandela spirit was a revolutionary one that manifest significant structural change in political control: Power to the people. In today’s fast paced world, though, no one expected every goal to be realized or every project to be completed on time. Africans are uniquely patient.

The South African constitutional guarantee of housing was simultaneously uplifting and dangerous. Something so necessary that is suddenly promised as a human right that must be ensured by government is like a tsunami of common sense. Everyone’s on board. Everyone’s elated.

Except the architects, the engineers, the construction workers that run out of basic building supplies and later, the electricians and plumbers that have neither source or output for their orders.

Ditto for land reform, mining reform, currency reform and a bunch of other things. The New York Times called the mess “Mandela’s Socialist Failure.”

The death of Mandela was the bookend on Stage One of South Africa’s change. Stage Two is growing like a hidden virus in every dark corner of the land.

Politicians know this. The South African poor are among the most educated and aware people on earth. I dare say that the residents of the Cape Flats, Cape Town’s sprawling slum, know more about the world than most well dressed children in Oklahoma.

So after Mandela’s death, the politicians began to scramble.

The stranglehold that Mandela’s party, the ANC, held on the country since Independence began to fracture. Support for the current president and his cortege of rulers-in-waiting began to break down.

An enormous opportunity was born for the multitude of opposition parties. One of the ANC’s strategies all these years was to foment so many singular opposition parties that none were capable of really challenging it.

The most hopeful of the greatest alliances possible broke down last week. The strong party that rules much of The Cape — heavily white and colored – offered to support the presidential candidacy of a rival black party. There was new electricity in the country, but it didn’t last.

Nothing’s left now for the April elections but another win for the ANC.

And that will mark the end of the lull. The South African poor, heavily colored and not at all vastly supportive of the ANC, are building a hiphop agenda that lacks any manners whatever.

A vicious radical and possible psychopath, Julius Malema, would like nothing better than to create a Franco-styled proletarian dictatorship. He is the kids’ current hero, the star of their music videos and their dreams. The man who will redistribute wealth with no fear of economic fundamentals.

South Africa has little time to stave this disaster.

The Irresolvable Divine

The Irresolvable Divine

IrresolvableDivineIs last night’s passage of a new constitution in Tunisia a real positive turning point in the struggle for African democracy? Many believe so, but Islamic fundamentalism still has a hook in the document.

As democracy warrants it should. Like Egypt, majority rule government placed very fundamental Islamists in control of Tunisia’s legislature. Like Egypt, the government moved further and further towards Islamic extremism.

As democracy warranted. As the majority of Tunisians wanted.

The new constitution, however, is far more progressive than Tunisia’s population would like. It is more progressive than the failed Egyptian one under the Muslim Brotherhood and more democratic than Egypt’s new constitution that restricts religious influences.

The Tunisian document enshrines Islam as the “state religion” but also guarantees many freedoms that conservative Muslim regimes would ban, like parity for women throughout society.

But the constitution forbids “attacks on the sacred” which gives wide latitude to religious leaders to legislate doctrine, despite constitutional human rights. The dilemma is that neither is preeminent.

A very popular national journalist and cartoonist remains in jail for a political cartoon criticizing the Islamists. Although promised early freedom and an executive pardon, he has been kept in jail until arrangements can be made for his deportation to Sweden.

The conundrum for Tunisian politicians is obvious: He should not be jailed under the new constitution, but were he released unequivocally, there would be riots for condoning “attacks on the sacred.”

Although Tunisian legislators are ecstatic and the world mostly supportive (even Human Rights seems pleasantly positive) I see this as the fundamental flaw that will ultimately crack the nation, again.

Tunisia is one of the smaller, one of the most highly educated, and one of the most developed countries in Africa. There is a real similarity to Lebanon, which has also balanced extreme religious positions and human rights over nearly the last century.

But like Lebanon grand periods of peace and prosperity have been continuously interrupted by terrible civil wars and mass disturbances. I think that’s what will now happen in Tunisia.

The problem is that democracy won’t work when opposing beliefs mutually exclude one another. You can’t have a “state religion” and a state without a governing religion, yet that is precisely what Tunisia and other liberals in the Arab world are trying to do.

Ultimately it emanates form our own democracy.

I believe most of our founders were atheists, far ahead of their times. But religion in America in the late 1700s was so diluted by successive immigrants from widely different religious sects, so attacked for being allied with the British king, and so criticized by the secularists in Frances supporting our revolution, that our constitution’s reference to the divine is incredibly scant.

Almost a courtesy rather than a belief.

But as weak a contradiction as it may be, it is not a dialectic. It remains a contradiction and one that now plagues our own society, again, and most certainly terrorizes emerging societies like Tunisia.

Until developed and developing societies discard religion as having any place in democratic government, democratic government will fail.

Must Be Something Better

Must Be Something Better

APTOPIX Mideast EgyptThe western world is in denial about Egypt as pundits and politicians alike desperately try to boost the failing image of democracy. It’s time to throw in the towel.

President Obama’s remarks this morning fall short of what I, the New York Times and Washington Post among hordes of others believe should be done: cut off aid. We all hope Obama’s dances of concession and moderation work better with Egypt than with Congress.

Remarkably, the facts are pretty well understood by everyone. Politico has summarized them best.

(1) The Arab Awakening was mostly brave, progressive movements started by intellectuals who believed authoritarian regimes (which had essentially nurtured their own development) were no longer needed and were, in fact, inhibiting better economic growth and social progress.

(2) The success of the Egyptian awakening enfranchised millions previously suppressed.

(3) A truly democratic election in Egypt brought extremists to power. The Egyptian election removed power from secularists and gave it to non-secularists.

(4) Almost a year into the new regime and the original revolutionaries began to experience similar repression to what those now in power had experienced for decades previously.

(5) The original revolutionaries demonstrated through really remarkably large peaceful protests that they wanted to replace the current regime.

(6) The Egyptian Army, equally educated, privileged and intellectualized as the original revolutionaries, agreed and staged a coup.

Democracy by the ballot died in Egypt.

Today is cleanup of hundreds killed and thousands more hurt. Tomorrow, prayer day, could be worse.

So … if the ballot box doesn’t work, use guns? The Egyptian army has a lot more guns than any other faction in Egypt, so ergo, the Egyptian army runs the country.

What if the Egyptian army supported the salafists? Like the Iranian army supports the ayatollahs? Would this globalize the situation sufficiently, so that someone with more guns, like NATO, could prevail?

What is an acceptable justification for undoing the workings of democracy? Promotion of “Human Rights”?

Yes, but who defines these rights? Who determines the limits of eminent domain, conscription, voter registration, and all sorts of other civic responsibilities?

What we are being forced to understand is that there is no such practical thing as democracy. Africa – Egypt in particular – has revealed that to the world.

A wonderfully thoughtful Lebanese explains it best:

Democracy is a goal that will never be attained. Eyad Abu Shakra explains that the times “requires us to be both realistic and honest.”

“Honest” that we don’t care the regime came to power legitmately; it must be replaced. “Realistic” that democracy caused this mess in the first place.

His understandings of so-called democracy will shake western politicians to their core, and so they should: There’s no quick trick to best government and democracy is no better a way than communism or authoritarianism. There’s much fallacious in the concept of democracy:

“History is rife with examples of authoritarian regimes that … came to government through the ballot box. In the U.S., four presidents have been able to enter the White House despite securing less overall votes than their electoral opponents.”

No society – not even the U.S. – operates anything near real democracy. While illiteracy undermines most democratic initiatives in Africa, money does in the U.S.

Shakra believes the Egyptian example is the best example in history to prove how bad democracy can be. In the first round of elections Morsi received less than a quarter of the votes. But by the rules of democracy he was cast in a second round contest with an opponent equally unpopular.

It was an election for most Egyptians of “the lesser of two evils.”

How often have we heard that? Does that kind of situation lead to best government? Of course not. Does it at least give us adequate government? Apparently not in Egypt.

Or throughout the entire Levant, according to Shakra, which “is inclined to intolerance, extremism, exclusion, and trading accusations of apostasy.”

Shakra fails, though, when he cites “true democracy” (which I don’t believe possible), “as incompatible with extremism” which is perhaps true enough.

It’s all summed up, Shakra explains, with Winston Churchill’s witticism:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Great. Democracy isn’t very good.

Now, what? Might democracy itself be the “lesser of other evil” forms of government? Not in Egypt. Or in Russia. Or in a superpower that devastated the Middle East with a ten-year war, powered by the democratic convictions of its population and leaders that there were WMD.

There must be something better.

The Demons of Democracy

The Demons of Democracy

democracyfailesmorsiwinsTwo African elections this week clearly show how democracy fails in societies with powerful chief executives.

Like the U.S. But more about that after discussing Africa.

This week’s elections in Zimbabwe and Mali have failed both their societies, for different reasons, and the result is arguably worse than had there not been elections at all.

In Zimbabwe the rigged election process reaffirmed the country’s despot, Robert Mugabe, and ensures the country will continue to slide into poverty and greater dependency upon its neighbors desperate that it doesn’t totally fail.

It’s interesting that Mugabe and thugs mastered the democratic process so well that despite this week’s travesty of popular expression, observers from as divergent organizations as the African Union and reporters for Reuters gave the process a pass.

It absolutely wasn’t fair. Imagine an election – officially stated – with 99.97% of the rural population voting, and only 68.2% of the urban population voting.

Get it?

What Robert Mugabe has become is an evil despot. This is pretty easily defined as an individual who concentrates power around himself and his thugs, and distributes whatever wealth can be extracted from the country into this small core of individuals.

At the expense of everyone else in the population, even those who supposedly voted for him.

He absolutely does have solid support from Zimbabwe’s poor and rural populations, who are thrown pieces of bread (the land of white farms) just like Marie Antoinette did to stave the French revolution.

And essentially uneducated and untrained, a piece of land is a gold mine, but what it means for the tens of thousands of rural Zimbabweans who have benefitted from this policy, is that they will never have tractors, will never have schools, will never have hospitals or roads or a better life beyond their tiny plot of land.

Yet their ecstacy at this gift from Daddy is profound. And their xenophobia and racism is ripe for plucking. And even so, even with 99.97% of them “voting,” they wouldn’t have been the majority if the more educated urban populations were given their voice.

And, of course, 99.97% of them didn’t vote. Many of them can’t read and there weren’t enough polling stations in the country to handle that number of actual voters. The irregularities in this “election” were profound.

Yet it was “democratic.” Zimbabwe’s urban population rolls were restricted by techniques strikingly similar to dozens of new American voter registration laws. If it’s democracy in Texas, it’s democracy in Zimbabwe.

In Mali – often championed as a model for democracy by westerners – another near perfect election process has resulted in an effective tie. This is something democracy can’t handle. It screwed it up in Bush v. Gore, and it screwed it up in Kenya’s recent election, and now Mali’s future becomes terribly problematic.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK), a former prime minister in better times, seems to have received 50.+% of the vote, which would effectively make him the chief executive without a second run-off election.

This, by the way, is the identical situation that occurred in Kenya in March, where the victors were ultimately declared the winners with 50.07% of the vote.

In Mali, the election process was truly fair in my opinion. If there was any fault to the process, it was that the serious opposition from the desert peoples and those involved in the recent insurgency was not voiced. In part, because the insurgency continues and the insurgents didn’t want to participate.

But of the society held together by the French Foreign Legion, a sort of muscular gerrymandering, the elections were remarkably free and transparent.

But now what? Within the margin of error of any scientific study, no one really won, but democracy mandates that someone win. If this were in Europe or Israel, it wouldn’t matter so much, because the chief executive for whom the election was held is not so powerful.

But in executive democracies, where the chief executive like President Obama holds so much power, one of the sides wins and one of the sides loses. Definitively.

And down the road that leads to polarization, friction and radicalization of power blocks that might otherwise be able to compromise.

Had America had a parliamentary democracy rather than an executive presidency, I believe that we would never have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenge of modern democracy is to create workable amalgams of power in societies with large and nearly equally opposing views. That’s not possible in societies with a powerful chief executive.

This is the case as well in Kenya, where ethnicity and corruption is now on the rise after decades of decline, and where Mali is likely now doomed to become a war zone for generations.

Neither Kenya or Mali will be able to traumatize the world as much as America did after Bush v. Gore. But all three examples show how ineffective, perhaps counterproductive, democracy is when the society has a powerful chief executive.

The analysis seems much simpler with Mugabe. When evil masters the process, in this case democracy, the ends justify the means and essentially emasculates the idealists who proclaim the process. Yet on closer reflection it’s clear had Zimbabwe not had a powerful chief executive style government, Mugabe may not have lasted.

The lesson seems starkly obvious to me. Democracy is a bad idea for societies with a powerful chief executive. Parliamentary democracies may be good; presidential democracies are not.

To Preserve & Protect

To Preserve & Protect

African unrest this week and Tuesday’s attack in Libya are profound indications that democracy is as nuclear as uranium.

The attack of America’s Benghazi consulate was likely coordinated by an al-Qaeda affiliate to mark the 9-11 anniversary. But were the growing protests prior to that just coincidence? Even more eery, was the film by a mysterious American extremist posted on YouTube castigating Mohamed coincidental?

Conspiracy is a nasty game but there are some dangerous fingerprints on that video. The maker has disappeared. New and technologically immature Afghanistan was able to block it from being seen by its population, but vastly more savvy Egypt didn’t.

And much more to the point, how does such symbolism evoke such violence?

The same way white pointed hats in the older South played judge and jury in a single night. Or the way presidential candidates threaten bureaucrats with summary lynching. Or the way Rush Limbaugh raises the blood pressure of 5 million brainwashed Americans every day.

Democracy is not just the freedom to choose your leaders, but the freedom to choose bad and evil leaders, and even the freedom to choose war mongers and genocide organizers. Evil is evil in part because it fools the good into thinking it’s something else.

That’s what’s happening with the growing crowds of protestors in the Mideast, now, throngs of desperate people looking for a fight, anything to blame their misery on.

When strongmen held Egypt and Libya at bay, just as strongmen today in Uganda or Zimbabwe, dissent of any kind is eliminated. Yet these dictators are often tolerated by the world and held to some mythical threshold of human rights violations, some trigger line of so much blood spilled.

We forgive without question their mercenary capitalism that allows them to achieve untold wealth at the expense of their poor. But we kick into action when slow death is replaced by quicker, more violent deaths. And perhaps there’s no other way. We can’t be everyone’s brother’s keeper.

But our mistake is the belief we are ourselves immune to such folly. We, too, are fooled. We, too, are impoverished by our elite leaders.

Consider this. The arsenal of weapons including shoulder-fired missile grenades that blew up our Benghazi consulate are available right now for you to buy on eBay, and while the vast majority of the world forbids their ownership by private citizens, you can receive them legally by UPS in Colorado and Texas.

Democracy, like conspiracy, is a nasty game. It doesn’t always turn out the way you’d like.

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise

After 4-5 years of impressive political progress throughout the continent, dark clouds form above Africa. The last two days in Kenya haven’t changed my predictions for a peaceful future, but they are worrisome.

I still believe that next year’s March 4 Kenyan election will pass into history as one of the most impressive maturations ever of a young African society into a peaceful world. There has been so much work in Kenya these last five years on a new constitution and public policy that literally tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Kenyan citizens have all been deeply and individually vested.

But last week the ugly anemone of ethnicity waved its poisonous tentacles, again. And yesterday as the police tried to stop what they believed was a ratcheting up of ethnic violence their overly violent reaction veered into newly unconstitutional territory that almost perforce thrusts the leading presidential candidate into a death match with his adversary.

Nothing in African politics is simple. You’ve got to be a fan of Shakespeare to be motivated to mine the details for a real understanding.

But after you work through the puzzle, the picture is always the same: ethnic conflict.

Political turbulence and actual coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, following potentially as violent events that cooled down in Mauritania and Senegal, are equally complex to what is playing out now in Kenya. But personally I think the stakes in Kenya are much higher.

Kenya’s 2007 political violence set the stage for the rest of Africa’s so-called “spring” or “awakening.” Not just the social mores, the actual software used to organize the rallies in Tahrir Square was written and first used in Kenya in 2007. It’s why I call all this rapid, mostly positive political change in Africa “twevolution” (twitter + revolution).

If Kenya can emerge from this transition new and beautiful, it’s a model for the rest of Africa.

In all the troubled cases in Africa, Kenya in particular, the various ethnic groups are linked to radically different social theories: Raila Odinga, the current prime minister and leading presidential candidate, is a bigger government socialist. His main opponent in public polling, Uhuru Kenyatta, is a smaller government capitalist.

Odinga is Luo. Kenyatta is Kikuyu. That ethnic divide has plagued Kenya since colonial days, and in the same way the Hutus and Watutsis are divided in Rwanda. Raila’s father, Kenya’s first Vice-President, was jailed and tortured by Uhuru’s father, Kenya’s first President.

Ethnic divides around the world throughout history are all the same. Over long periods of time they become wrapped in different religions and political ideologies – which become the tools of their debate in a modern context – but it is the hate the Hatfields have for the McCoys which drives violence.

Less than 20 miles from Nairobi political rallies began several weeks ago, ostensibly for one or another candidate. Several of these were not strictly ethnic, they really were multi-ethnic but highly politically charged. Most were for Raila Odinga. He is the leading candidate and very widely respected throughout the country. He probably commands three-quarters or more of the support of educated Kenyans.

So there was nothing immediately suspicious that some of these rallies were held in a place that 20 years ago was not the multi-ethnic suburb of Nairobi it is, today. It was the heart of Kikuyuland, the home of Jomo Kenyatta, the favorite Kikuyu of the British colonial powers and Kenya’s first dictatorial if beneficent “president for life.”

So on Tuesday when the opposition announced it was going to stage a counter rally in the same place, alarms went off in the public psyche from the desert to the sea.

For one thing the demonstration was announced by a mafia leader, Maina Njenga, who barely escaped jail earlier this year. Njenga is a rabid criminal who is widely considered to have had a major part in the 2007 violence and its lingering aftermaths.

What makes matters more complex is that Uhuru Kenyatta is on trial in The Hague for instigating the violence in 2007.

Even the fact I can say that, “he’s on trial in The Hague,” is absolutely remarkable if unbelievable. Kenyatta and three others have so far submitted to the International Criminal Court’s indictments against them. They are the first accused in the history of the World Court to voluntarily travel back and forth to The Netherlands for a trial that could imprison them for most of their remaining lives.

Any presumptive notion of their public goodness, though, likely belies a much more clever strategy. If Kenyatta actually becomes a candidate (he hasn’t, yet), it would be absurd to think he would continue to succomb to jurisprudence in The Netherlands. Then, what?

The Tuesday gathering that was stopped violently by police was scheduled to have been attended by a number of leaders of several different ethnic groups. It was certainly mostly Kikuyu, but not entirely, and that “not entirely” is what gave it legitimacy.

But the police didn’t see it that way and so banned the meeting, which of course fueled the fire. Tear gas and then ultimately live ammunition were used to stop the rally.

Odinga immediately reacted with indignation, taking the high road. He denounced the police and he has the powers to fire the police leaders if he so chooses.

“Kenyans were yesterday (Wednesday) treated to a spectacle that they thought had been banished from their lives with their new Constitution,” Odinga said in his statement.

“The sight of police officers putting up roadblocks on a major thoroughfare and repeatedly firing rounds of tear gas at hundreds of perfectly peaceful people caused intense alarm,” he added.

Good. Even at his own peril, Odinga is defending the constitution.

Now let’s hope enough other Kenyans do the same. I believe they will.

What Political Evolution looks Like –
Invasions Not Included

What Political Evolution looks Like –
Invasions Not Included

By Conor Godfrey
[The daily song: I am going to talk about Senegal, so today the musical shout out goes to Senegal’s virtuoso ( and almost presidential candidate)….Mr. Youssu N’Dour. Here are some free streaming songs/videos from his fan site.]

I believe that political evolution takes generations.

The media cycles in the United States magnify off-hand, irrelevant political utterances and give the impression of a political roller coaster when the real ride is, in fact, considerably smoother and longer.

The increasingly powerful office of the U.S presidency, the role of the U.S. judiciary, party platforms—these things change at the margins relatively frequently, but those small alterations accumulate into major developments over the course of a generation, not one election cycle.

The Arab Spring might seem like a spontaneous combustion—near instant change—but the political culture that provided fertile ground for the sparks of the Arab spring was in the works for decades.

It was the generational divide in Arab countries, the slow but accelerating growth of political Islam, increasing social inequality and other longer term trends that drove the evolution of political culture across the Arab world.

One street protest or one election is just a blip unless political culture has opened up space for the event to reverberate. (There are interesting points to be made here about the role of technology in accelerating political evolution.)

Senegal offers a powerful case study in the slow, steady evolution of political culture. I am more interested by the meta-story and will not get lost in the weeds of the current situation here, but read these excellent articles if you are interested in details of the current exciting election:
Towards a Second Round in Senegal

Senegal’s famous founding politician poet– Leopold Senghor—governed for twenty years before leaving office voluntarily.

Then there was what I will call an “electoral phase;” Senghor’s successor (Abdou Diouf) won mildly rigged elections every five or six years for two decades.

The entire patronage network that kept leaders in power was in Mr. Diouf’s hands. He did not have to resort to massive bribing or brutality to win elections.

Decision makers understood that he controlled access to the trough. However, at that time, a number of other things were changing in Senegal’s political culture.

The people that made their names during the independence period were slowly fading from the scene. Along those same lines, Senegal was getting much younger.

These younger people adopted new technologies and ideas faster than their parents and grandparents.

When 2000 rolled around, technology advances had made vote counting more fair and efficient, and young people were looking for someone to reflect the changes they saw in society.

The patronage networks behind the incumbent (Abdou Diouf) had also seen this writing on the wall and had begun to hedge their bets.

Enter the current president- Abdoulaye Wade- who won in the second round of that 2000 election.

Abdoulaye Wade is now the victim of these same long term trends.

One of his key legal maneuvers to rig the election in his favor (lowering the threshold to win outright in the first round) was blocked by civil society in the form of pressure on politicians from young Senegalese that probably got their first taste of electoral power when they voted in Wade in 2000!

Now the youth on the street are cheering “Degage!” – or “clear out!”

The electoral system has seeped into Senegal’s political culture over the past forty years.

That same culture has, in fits and starts, tolerated a loyal opposition, and adopted the technologies and legal methods necessary to enforce an electoral framework.

This is obviously simplifying generations of political developments in a complex country, but my point is this…

Senegal represents a realistic pace of political evolution.

No matter how the current election turns out, it is obvious that the country’s long term trajectory is headed toward more inclusion and more transparency.

If this election goes poorly, or the military over-reacts and makes mistakes in Casamance, those are likely just blips.

In the same way that one election in Libya or Afghanistan does not mean much at all, even if CNN and Al-Jazeera trip over themselves to see how many synonyms for important and game-changing and critical they can use in one broadcast.

Is It A New Dawn?

Is It A New Dawn?

The fighting in much of Africa is settling down into a complicated and unnerving politics. Some see this as a lull before a real storm. I see glimmers of peace.

My rosy outlook depends on Europe. This is because everything in the world is economically linked, and the weakest chain right now is Europe. If six months from now Europe is stable, with or without Greece, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Kenya and the giants of Libya and Egypt all have indigenous organization that will right their bobbing ships if Europe resolves quickly. Even chronic trouble spots like Somali could cool down : My view.

There are other views. Most of the prominent thinkers in Africa would be considered extreme progressives by most Americans. They see their continent as settling down just like I do, but while the developed world heats up. This switch in developmental political polarity is seen as an opportunity for Africa to step out of old world orders like those governed by capitalism.

This view presumes Europe won’t resolve. It presumes that America’s self-destruction isn’t ending just with the Republican Party. It even presumes that China is poised to enter its own period of intense civil disobedience.

“We are in a revolutionary moment and revolutionaries cannot be pessimistic,” writes Horace Campbell in the African journal Pambazuka.

Campbell sees the world situation very similar to the era just before World War II, which followed the emergence of radical if revolutionary ideas in places like Europe and the United States after the poor end of World War I.

Western politics are driven by rich “capitalists … who want the pretext for war against Iran so that a wider conflict could cascade from Iran and the Middle East to Pakistan and wider afield” to beef up the old economic machine.

But unlike the twenties and thirties, western war machines are “degraded by the humiliations in Iraq” and the U.S. military – the world’s “greatest superpower” – is spent. Combined with Europe’s obsession with austerity, all this “old thinking” will be unable to “salvage the outmoded forms of governance.”

The result in Campbell’s view is the “revolutionary moment.” And what I see as a settling down towards possible peace in Africa he sees as the lull before the storm.

Less revolutionary but equally pessimistic in terms of a bright dawn of peace, Alex de Waal believes that the West is too impatient with Africa and time and again quashes its own good attempts at peace and development.

“The dominant interventionist approach to peace and security in Africa by-passes the hard work of creating domestic political consensus and instead imposes models of government favoured by western powers,” Alex de Waal writes in OpenDemocracy.

Because, he argues, the West (and China) are so desperate for Africa’s natural resources. This is a common theme in much criticism of the west by Africa, but it belies the fact that Africa is the seller and the West (and China) are not.

De Waal lists a number of situations from Darfur to Libya where he contends that African created and led efforts that could have ended conflict were stymied by western powers. He implicitly thanks China and Russia for stopping the west’s knee-jerk reactions towards Syria, even while supporting Syrian revolutionaries.

Because he believes that an incomplete end to these conflicts are short-term only, and that the lasting result of this outside suppression of internal healing will be increased conflict.

Conventional global powers “tended to see Libya as a problematic version of Tunisia” whereas “Africa … feared that Libya would turn out more like Chad–mercenarised tribalism spilling across frontiers” creating armed rebel groups throwing “havoc” all over the region.

Although that remains to be seen, recent reports in neighboring Niger may now confirm de Waal’s fear.

Nevertheless, I think de Waal is too pessimistic and Campbell too revolutionary. I’m no milk-toast liberal, and I agree with much of what these two political philosophers believe. De Waal is right-on regarding the impatience of the west and the intrinsic failings of its (often militaristic) band-Aid approaches to African conflict.

And Campbell’s historic analysis tempered by economic realities I think will lead pretty quickly to a revised world economic order and I’m glad it will.

But unlike both I don’t see a fiery horizon presaging a new dawn. I think most of the conflict is over.

I don’t think we’re going to go to war in Iran, regardless of what impish Israel might do. I think the healthy worker movements in Ohio and Wisconsin as much as in Zukan and London transit and Greek hospitals will strengthen and become strategic forces for change.

And I think the movements in Kenya, Nigeria, Libya and Egypt will turn out pretty good.

I believe all this, because I sense majorities of power growing in Africa as well as here and Europe that consolidate facts, stick with simple truths and release human compassion.

It’s namby pamby, or it’s real. I think Europe will resolve. I think it’s real.