Egypt’s Complicated Future

Egypt’s Complicated Future

The political situation in Egypt may be very confusing, but the death-toll now exceeding 35 over this past weekend raises the profile of the current unrest above what it was when the old regime toppled in February. What can we see in the near future?

Weekend demonstrations were nowhere near as large, but just as violent, as earlier in the year. Egypt’s first free elections are scheduled for one week from today. The political parties and individual contestants in that election show no signs of boycotting November 28 or of requesting it be rescheduled, even while they are highly critical of how the election has been arranged.

This makes me believe that if we can get through this troubled week, and if elections are successful, that violence will subside and the political process will move forward. Clearly, though, if anything disrupts a clear and fair outcome, Egypt will take a terrible slide backwards.

There are several different issues galvanizing current protest, and because they’re complicated, the street shout is simply that the current military commander and defacto leader of the country, Mohamed Tantawi, should step down.

This is because he heads in a very dictatorial fashion the council that rules Egypt right now, and that council has promulgated a number of laws and procedures that have alienated large numbers of Egyptians.

The most egregious is Article 9 of the temporary constitution announced November 1. That provision isolates the military as it currently exists from any civilian authority. It guarantees a military budget that can’t be questioned, and it reserves the military’s right to veto any law passed by any government body involving the military.

But there are other issues as well.

Next Monday’s first free elections in Egypt will not be the expected moment of liberation everyone had hoped for. The rules for the election of a representative government became increasingly complicated over the last number of months.

Monday will be the first of three sets of elections, each held in different regions of the country, for the lower house of parliament (similar to our House of Representatives). The last of these lower house elections will not be completed until some time in early January. The military explains this strung-out process as necessary for guaranteeing ballot box monitoring.

The lower house might be seated some time in late January, but since actual law requires a consensus with an upper house (similar to our Senate), that is obviously not possible until the upper house is seated. Elections for the upper house are now scheduled for March. So it is unlikely that any effective government entity will exist before April.

Parliament is charged with promulgating a new constitution and paving the way for elections of a president, tentatively scheduled for a year from now.

But even that has been compromised by military edicts, which right now reserve 80 of the 100 seats in the constitutional convention as appointments. Although not wholly clear, it’s presumed the military would appoint these members. While it remains true that Parliament can accept or reject the convention’s work, the fact that the military has stacked the deck is very contentious.

There are other issues. Following the violence against Coptics recently, the military began a complicated process of vetting candidates for public office, which is intended to guarantee minority representative but at the expense of majority choice.

This obviously won favor with minorities, that therefore tend now to be less critical of the military than the bigger groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The New York Times called this a “devil’s deal” between the military and minorities who feared the large plurality of the Brotherhood.

And finally one of the most contentious issues of all, which is still being played out, is whether former Mubarak party members can stand for election. Right now they can. But this is a third change of a position by the military since the issue arose many months ago. It is quite similar to what happened with Baath party members in Iraq.

I don’t believe there can be any other plausible authority in Egypt right now than the military. The military sees itself as the guarantor the revolution, and that’s how protestors initially saw them as well. But ruling this highly charged and extremely disparate society has proved challenging.

It’s extremely important to note that despite all the issues dividing the military from those appearing as political contestants, so far none of the main players in next Monday’s elections have called for a boycott.

So there’s a fair chance Monday’s elections will go off free and fair. And if so, and if those expected to win do so, it may be the new freely elected representatives of Egyptian society will simply ignore or otherwise work around the military’s many edicts upholding its supremacy over civilian rule. My sense is that this is what many of the principal contenders currently believe will happen.

That could set up a major confrontation with the military, but some ways down the line, and conceivably a strong enough civilian government would be able to negotiate the military’s position down to an acceptable level before such a confrontation were sparked.

Perhaps by 2013 or 2014 a civilian government could gain enough control of the country’s purse strings, for example, to tame the military.

But if the election outcome is too confused; if there are too many disparate and unallied winners to present any kind of unified civilian government position, then I expect a second violent revolution will arise from the conflict of the military and the then disenfranchised and essentially emasculated electorate.

Following the completion of lower house elections by the New Year, there may be some real signs then as to how the overall situation will play out. But because the process of electing fully the two houses of parliament extends through March, the situation is unlikely to reach any real turning point before then.

So … IF Monday’s elections proceed and appear fair (as I expect, hopefully), AND IF the outcome doesn’t result in an inability to achieve a consensus government (again as I expect, hopefully), AND IF the military does not promulgate any further constraints on the electoral process, we will know in April if Egypt’s current path to democracy is workable.

Stay tuned.

(And there are two best ways to stay tuned right now. Watch alJazeera Live and follow a compendium of real-time Tweets.)

Africa’s Process of Elimination

Africa’s Process of Elimination

Three African despots down. Eleven to go. Here’s my list and predictions of when the last of the African dictators will fall.

Is it possible to think of a world without dictators? Can you imagine no Kim Jong Il, the “Stans” with free wifi elections, Hugo sent back to his banana farm or Ahmadinejad retired as a Fox News anchor?

I can’t speak about the rest of the world, but yes, I can imagine an Africa without ruthless despots, and Twevolution is knocking them down the continent from top to bottom. Only a few years ago I would have thought this impossible.

What’s happened in Africa started with this near obsessive demand for education, and over the years I was so critical of all sorts of different African forms of education for all sorts of different reasons. But that all seems so trivial, now. Whatever flawed system might have delivered it, delivered it it did. From Tanzania’s mandated free education in the early years of independence, to more sophisticated forms in Egypt, it worked.

I think I was too focused on what was being taught, the curriculum, rather than just the teaching itself. Teaching young kids – even when forced down their throats or teaching “incorrect” things – obviously instills curiosity.

In my life time, Africa has made the longest journey in education of any part of the world. When I began my career there in the early 1970s, there were vast portions of the continent that didn’t even know there was more to the universe than themselves.

My wife and I brought the first refrigerator into a remote part of western Kenya. Powered by natural gas, it nearly installed me as a local despot myself, or a shaman. When ice cubes were placed on the hands of children, they thought I was burning them to death.

How remarkably different that place in western Kenya is, today, with nascent global call centers and plans for a solar panel industry. What must grandma think?

The second critical component to today’s dramatic political change is the internet.

That’s twevolution. A young Kenyan woman started the whole social networking organization of civil disobedience when Kenya imploded after its last election. Ory Okolloh spearheaded the founding of Ushahidi and is now Google’s Policy Manager for Africa.

But while the internet may be the new “weapon” of revolutionary change, it had a much much greater impact much earlier. I remember before cheap cell phones and easy access to computers in Kenya the dozens and dozens of internet cafes in Nairobi.

And the kids were packed into them like sardines! What were they doing? Playing games? Looking for a job? Or, maybe, learning about the better things in the life… Or, maybe, about the gross injustices that divide the world’s privileged from those who serve the privileged?

There are still pretty bad guys in control of 11 of Africa’s 54 countries. I can imagine every one of them gone in the next decade.

They fall broadly into two categories: 7 zealots and 4 victims. The victims will fall last and perhaps not with more than a thud. But the zealots will tumble into al-Jazeera videos screaming.

The zealots are composed of widely different men whose path to tyranny was varied. But they now share a narcissistic certainty, a near divine belief, that they should rule no matter what. Their countries of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Uganda are in various stages of abject servitude.

They are making themselves, their friends and families wealthy often with impunity at the expense of their citizens. They believe so much in their self-conceived right to rule that they often fail to hide their crimes, deluded that they can do no wrong, or perhaps that there are none remotely capable of challenging them.

How wrong Gadhafi was.

These guys go first.

The second batch I even find sympathy for, but they’re on the way out nonetheless. I call them victims because essentially they started as true liberators with extremely lofty ideals and plans, but they got ensnared in societies with the deepest ethnic divisions in the continent, and with a concomitant division of education.

Rwanda, Chad, Eritrea and Ethiopia are today headed by ruthless men who are nonetheless loved by a large segment of their population, the segment from which they were born.

They believe, quite possibly truthfully, that loosening the reigns of dictatorship will bring catastrophe on their entire country as it reverts to the chaos from which they long ago thought they liberated it. These victims at least ostensibly put “country” before “self.” The zealots don’t even have this as a pretense.

That’s Africa. Where education delivered the dreams and the internet facilitated revolutionary change. Will the rest of the world follow suit?

African Thinkers on OCWS

African Thinkers on OCWS

Clockwise from top left:

South African Richard Pithouse, Egyptian Gamal Nkrumah, Kenyan Rasna Warah, and Nigerian Rotimi Fasan

Occupy Wall Street is seen from Africa with a clarity we’re missing here at home. As Africa sees it, American youth’s frontal assault on unbridled capitalism is not going to end quietly.

The “unbridled” is an important distinction from the sister movement of the 1930s which gave rise to an unique version of South African communism that has continued as a political force, there, until today. Back then capitalism was going to fall lock, stock and wall safe. Not now.

South Africans, Nigerians, Egyptians and Kenyans in particular see capitalism as here to stay, but as something that needs to be hugely reigned in, and they see the OCWS as an indication it is really going to happen this time.

There have been only a few placards in Nairobi, and a greater but still smallish response in South Africa’s three main cities, but a massive amount of discussion in the media, there. I think one reason the demonstrations are smaller, is because relative unemployment has not spiked so high as it has here. The discontent relative to before is more intellectual than economic.

And African economies are much more regulated to begin with than ours.

Few Africans are in a better position to compare OCWS with the Arab Spring than Egyptian Gamal Nkrumah. The son of Africa’s first independent president (in Ghana), he married an Egyptian and has lived there permanently for a number of years. Recently Kkrumah asked about OCWS:

“Will this spontaneous outbreak of angst be hijacked and neutered or will it become, like the anger of Egyptians, the backbone of a new social contract?”

Nkrumah isn’t sure. He worries that the established financial system in America is just too hard to crack:

“The game of global finance is as dirty as hell… The international meltdown is a harsh indictment of the global financial system [but] bankers don’t seem to have a conscience and [all] the people [can do] is strike the fear of God into them.”

Nevertheless, my survey of African analysts suggests Nkrumah is in the minority. Although cautious and not suggesting our entire system is going to be revolutionized, most African analysts believe OCWS foreshadows significant change in America.

Everyone knows America with China at its heels controls the world economy. So what happens in America effects everyone, without exception. African’s interest is not simply academic. In fact what happens to the OCWS may have a more immediate effect on the everyday lives of Africans than it does on most Americans.

The very influential young thinktanker in South Africa, Richard Pithouse, has often written that the developing world has been consciously subordinated to us – the developed world – by a brute and unfair force called DEBT. Think about it. Where is most of the gold in the world? South Africa. Where is most of the oil?

But who controls the gold and the oil? Neither South Africans nor Nigerians, but Americans and Europeans.

“Debt,” Pithouse writes “became a key instrument through which the domination of the North was reasserted over the South.”

But that suffering has now come home to roost in America, according to Pithouse. The “servitude of the debtor is increasingly also the condition of [American] home-owners, students and others” who are being made to pay for the financial crisis created by their overlords, the bankers.

At last, Pithouse exclaims, OCWS in America is “a crucial realisation that for too long society has been subordinated to capital.”

“The prevailing capitalist economic system has clearly failed. It has deepened inequality between people and nations and caused much misery. Its excesses must be curbed,” writes , Kenyan analyst Rasna Warah in her article “Is the End of Global Capitalism Nigh?”

She answers her own question with a “Probably Not,” essentially what all the analysts in Africa concede. But she opines that as Africa emerges from the Arab Spring it will invent “a hybrid, more humane capitalist-cum-socialist system … where wealth will … be used to promote the greater good rather than individual and corporate interests.”

The Nigerian analyst and sometimes poet, Rotimi Fasan, compared Wall Street bankers to the worst of his own corrupt Nigerian autocrats. And like many, many writers throughout Africa he wonders if what is happening now “might be the beginning of the West’s version of … the Arab Spring.”

He refers to the west’s “crumbling economies” and cautions that “things may not take that shape immediately. But they might over time. Those who imagine that such eruptions could only happen in Africa of sit-tight leaders” do not fully understand what’s happening.

Which leads me to another dominant theme throughout all of Africa’s reflection on the protest:

Our media is minimizing the demonstrations.

“If these protests were occurring in any other part of the world, Western [media] would be describing them as an ‘American Spring’ that could topple a government,” Warah writes.

Warah and other Africans believe that the American media is part and parcel of the greater problem. “The large [American] media networks are part of the very corporate culture that the protesters are against,” Warah explains to her readers, so naturally they are minimizing the story.

Using last week’s celebrations of Martin Luther King, Pithouse claims that the famous statement that young blacks in the 1950s faced life “as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign” applies to all American youth, today.

The South African continues: “The time when each generation could expect to live better than their parents has passed. Poverty is rushing into the suburbs. Young people live with their parents into their thirties. Most cannot afford university. Most of the rest leave it with an intolerable debt burden.”

And what does this mean about America to an educated outsider?

“The borders that surround the enclaves of global privilege are shrinking in from the nation state to surround private wealth.”

Wow. Poetic but how insightful. I think Pithouse reflects many many intellectuals from abroad, especially from developing and emerging, youthful nations. They no longer look to America for direction, but for lessons as to why things went so wrong.

“When some people are living like pigs and others have land lying fallow, it is easy enough to see what must be done,” Pithouse says. “But when some people are stuck in a desolate corridor with no exits signs and others have billions in hedge funds, derivatives and all the rest, it … is more complicated. You can’t occupy a hedge fund.”

But OCWS protestors understand that “finance capital is … the collective wealth of humanity. The money controlled by Wall Street was not generated by the unique brilliance, commitment to labour and willingness to assume risk on the part of the financial elite. It was generated by the wars in the Congo and Iraq. It comes from the mines in Johannesburg, the long labour of the men who worked those mines and the equally long labour of the women that kept the homes of the miners in the villages of the Eastern Cape. It comes from the dispossession, exploitation, work and creativity of people around the world.

“That wealth, which has been captured and made private, needs to be made public.”

Pithouse concludes and warns us directly, “When a new politics, a new willingness to resist emerges from the chrysalis of obedience, it will, blinking in the sun, confront the world with no guarantees.”

Beware the thinkers of Africa. They bear the truth of experience.

Tale of Two Countries

Tale of Two Countries

Tanzania Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe explains well.
Anyone want to guess why a bunch of African countries aren’t recognizing the Libyan rebels?

Kenya recognizes the new government in Libya. Tanzania won’t. The split, which cleaves the continent like the Great Rift Valley, divides the strong democracies from the weak ones. Guess which side Tanzania’s on?

Tanzania and 40 of the other 52 countries in the African Union (it would be 53 with Libya) have sheltered under the weak AU position that the Libyan Transitional Council has no democratic legitimacy.

Well … that’s not exactly news.

Nor is it news that quite a few of those 41 countries while pretending democracy at home fall just a wee bit short of true representative government. Twevolution isn’t finished, and I think this split helps show us who’s next.

One of the 41 countries leading this position is a true democracy, South Africa. But President Jacob Zuma fashioned the policy, called the AU meeting over the weekend, and pushed through this donkey position.

Zuma’s motivation are quite different from the hedge lings anxious to follow him. Zuma had been in Libya several times trying to broker a cease-fire and a Kenya type coalition government with his friend, Gaddafi.

Gaddafi is a friend of Zuma’s, because Gaddafi was super rich with few places to dump his money, so he lavished it heavily on many projects in South Africa and elsewhere in the continent. He paid for the building, for example, in which the AU now meets.

But some reports of the sort Zuma constantly refers to are exaggerated. Most of the money went for questionable goals but Zuma is beholden to the fallen dictator for many of the same reasons he seems to be supporting Robert Mugabe all the time: stability.

It’s a terrible policy position that has infected such great nations as … well, us. Zuma knows that most of his neighbors are cutthroats and he fears twevolution spreading all over the place. South Africa literally runs much of Africa. Its giant economy, more than ten times the size of all the rest of the economies on the excluding Arab North Africa (Morocco east through Egypt), has become the main conduit for Chinese investment.

If this wretched disease of freedom starts spreading, well it could be awful for him.

[Little side story: remember all those reports of a southern African plane flying over Tripoli? London’s Daily Mail this weekend claimed it was Robert Mugabe’s private jet offering a free taxi service south. Reports were “vehemently” denied by the Zim government.]

So taking umbrage in Zuma’s duplicity are countries like Tanzania, struggling politically and definitely ready for a twevolution.

Tanzania’s foreign minister explained : Tanzania will not recognize any government that doesn’t “respect the division of power between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.”

Hmm. That is a problem with some Africans, this lack of self-esteem.

Pink is for Power

Pink is for Power

Twevolution is like the recovery. It comes with a blast, planes off, has its ups and downs, and societies with major unresolved issues caught in the middle turn messy for a very long time. It might be time to scratch Uganda off your tour list for the next generation.

Political parallels to economic conditions are easy to make, hard to explain. Think of it this way: Down there in the nadir of the global recession anybody still standing had hope. High hope. They looked to the sky and found jobs and freedom.

As the Egyptians pummeled Tahrir Square with rocks, TARP and stimulus seemed to have righted the sinking ship. This was the time! Ireland was saved, so could Libya! Nothing could get worse and everything would get better. This adrenalin powers a lot of people to do a lot of things.

But now, something bad is happening. It’s not going according to plan. We listen to leaders blame tsunamis and other leaders, but we know the sickness is deep. The revolutionary wonders, does he really want power in a future that looks so grim?

So true or not that things are bad and the future is bleak, this is what protesters in Uganda feel, now. At the risk of over generalizing for an important point, I remain continually amazed at how fatigued African’s psyche becomes with convoluted politics compared to an American’s.

And I don’t mean to suggest that Americans’ attitudes are healthier. Not at all: It would probably have been much better for us and the world if we had left Iraq a long time ago. We might be the stubborn bullies, and Africans the practical realists.

Uganda is in the doldrums of despair. It’s a lousy place to live in, and not a good place to visit. A little while ago it was darn right dangerous to travel to Uganda, and who knows, it might become so, again. But right now, the horizon isn’t so fiery as very, very grey.

Uganda’s dictator is growing crazy with his apparent successes; he wouldn’t have acted this way only a year ago. A group of presumed businessmen supporters visited him yesterday, and he shouted at them like a disturbed headmaster. Supporters. He lashed out at supporters.

Last week, Uganda’s Minister for Security Muruli Mukasa told the media that protesters were terrorists and that the Ugandan opposition is using “Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to wage a campaign against the security forces and to psychologically prepare the people, especially young people, for armed insurrection”.

Well as a matter of fact, that’s right. But the fact the minister is now turning what used to be a successful tool against him into a tool he can use to beat them up means the tide has changed. The Ugandan government is gaining control.

Protests continue, don’t get me wrong. Major protests are scheduled for next week against electricity rationing and a specter of a massive protest against the dictator for turning a water cachment forest into a sugar cane field is imminent.

This is not a place tourists should visit. Just several days ago a couple hundred ardent, well-dressed demonstrators including a number of high profile opposition politicians, began a peaceful protest that prompted live ammunition fire from police, then a suburb drowned in tear gas.

But then as if to turn the war into a birthday party, Ugandan police sprayed the retreating demonstrators with pink paint.

It’s not the first time pink paint has been used in Uganda. In fact, its purpose was to quell the demonstrations against the draconian ‘Kill the Gays’ bill that remains pending in the legislature but for the moment is going nowhere. The symbolism is obvious.

Perhaps they just had a lot of pink paint left over. Maybe the increasingly brutal regime is equating gays with all activists. Whatever, it’s a sign that things are ugly but not getting uglier. The protests are smaller and failing. The government believes that either dissent is waning, or that they can handle it just fine.

The point is reached, as it was in Zimbabwe decades ago, when crazy dictators become so firmly in control that not even a world economic recovery can pry them from power.

Society begins to depend for its simple day-to-day existence on the growing tentacles of dependency, from the dictator to his minions. As he becomes less and less accountable, he begins dishing out favors and money that replaces hard work and profit. Remove him at your peril.

I hope this is a premature analysis for Uganda. We should know, soon. Meanwhile, stay clear.

Tick off Malawi

Tick off Malawi

Historically peaceful, extremely little, almost hidden Malawi is blowing up from the inside, rattling and perhaps destroying one of Africa’s last dictators. I’m amazed he doesn’t seem to understand.

Twevolution’s inevitable creep over Africa now covers much of the continent like a jar of syrup spilled over an old flat stone. It stopped and moved around a couple intransigent bulges like the Central African Republic and Zimbabwe, pooled in the great Egyptian depression, slipped over polished parts like Cameroon where its viscosity will determine its effect, and finally has reached little hidden away Malawi.

Wednesday and Thursday protests erupted in all the major Malawian cities, which is four: Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Karonga. After lots of tear gas and live ammunition were used by police, eighteen people were left dead and hundreds wounded.

The 77-year old dictator, Bingu wa Matharika, closed media outlets, continues to detain journalists, has banned funerals and is holding with indefinite charges up to 300 protest leaders.

“Enough is enough,” Bloomberg news quoted him today. “I will smoke you out wherever you are because you have no right to destroy our peace,” Mutharika said. “I have been patient long enough.”

But so have the people, and that’s what I just don’t understand. And here are the distinctions between the people of Malawi, and the people of the Central African Republic (CAR), Zimbabwe and perhaps, Cameroon.

There aren’t a lot of people in the CAR, relative to other African countries. They live in Africa’s deepest jungle, have a very low level of development, and for at least two generations have lived in a state of if not constant war, constant no peace. It’s similar to Yemen or Afghanistan, where very disparate peoples are separated by awesome geography. It’s hard to get enough people for a few tables of bridge.

Zimbabwe was extremely rich relative to other African countries. When the dictator Mugabe slowly extended his control, there was a lot to pass around. There is now a very large section of the people, a minority to be sure but significant, who depend upon him, and they hold what is left of the riches and power. It is hard for a eviscerated majority to wrest control.

Cameroon is more similar to the CAR than Zimbabwe, but it is far more developed than the CAR and has more riches like huge gas fields and some mining. I think that gas is going to explode big time this fall at the election. I think with Cameroon, it’s just a matter of time, and not very long time.

But Malawi is different from them all. Malawi until twevolution was one of the most stable African countries, mainly because of its deft policies during the years of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Malawi was the bridge between South Africa and the rest of Africa, the mediator, the liaison between what ostensibly was an impossible rift.

South Africa’s economy now and before is about twenty times as great as the rest of black Africa, so it is a force no matter how ideologically unappealing it was, that must be reckoned with.

During apartheid the only way you could fly into South Africa, for instance, from Kenya was to connect through Malawi. If Uganda needed grain grown in South Africa, it bought the grain from agriculturally poor Malawi, who bought it from South Africa.

When you used those old land lines to call Johannesburg from Kigali, the last great switch was in Blantyre (Malawi). If you needed to exchange South African Rand that Switzerland wanted to pay you with for a safari in Ethiopia, it would be exchanged in Blantyre.

Malawi prospered during apartheid. South African citizens and businesses could own all sorts of things there, but so could Egyptians and Tanzanians. Malawi and the undesirable Cape Verde Islands were the only two places in this massive continent where South Africans and non South Africans could be seen vacationing together.

So South Africans developed Malawian tourism big time. Lake Malawi, one of the most beautiful deep water lakes in the world, is rimmed with South African mansions and tourist resorts. The relatively densely populated country was cleared out a bit (by South Africans) to create two modest big game reserves.

Malawi grew rich on the ideological divide between South Africa and the rest of the world. And both South Africa and the rest of the world were quite happy that the country was iron-clad stable. It was, and remains, a dictatorship.

South Africa is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary freed from apartheid in a few years. Malawi hasn’t done so well the last several decades, relative to the rest of Africa.

Twevolution frees initiative, severs the privileges of those who were born into rule or class from the riches and potentials of the country. Malawi should have made these changes long before twevolution arrived last year. But it didn’t.

Mutharika will not be able to squash this revolution, as Mugabe has in Zimbabwe and Bozize has in the CAR, and as Biya is trying desperately to do in the Cameroon. Mutharika does not have situations like them.

He’ll be gone, soon. Let’s just hope it’s quick and as peaceful as possible.

Twevolution has come to Uganda

Twevolution has come to Uganda

Absolutely nothing can stop Uganda’s slide into the pile of Zimbabwes except the President resigning. The country is mobilizing. The protests need help.

Stopgap measures by the government aren’t working; strikes, closures and demonstrations are increasing faster than I thought they would and my caution about tourists going there is heightened, now. Today school administrators throughout the country began to confiscate and destroy student cell phones, an important way for Ugandan protestors to organize. This will infuriate the population.

It was a very bad week for Uganda. Its currency continues to nosedive. A fight broke out between the technocratic central bank manager and the President. And worst of all, the popular Kizza Besigye who came in second in the presidential election last November was arrested, again, and now journalists have been barred from recording any of the legal proceedings – including his expected trial.

Besigye had just returned from the U.S. where he flew for specialized medical treatment following his brutal beating in Kampala several weeks ago. No sooner had he set foot in the country than he was arrested.

Wednesday, he appeared in court and was given stiff bail. Yesterday he returned to answer charges of illegal assembly and inciting violence, but dozens of journalists were barred from the court room and the judge indicated the entire trial will be held in camera.

Huge crowds then massed in downtown Kampala waiting for him to exit. When he did, the full force of the Ugandan police was brought to bear, including water canons and AK47s firing into the air. Besigye and many of his followers sought refuge in the Yowana Maria Mzee Catholic Church.

Meanwhile with tourism declining and food imports rising, the Ugandan economy is reaching a critical stage. Government bonds could not be sold this week for less than 13.5%, according to the Financial Times.

And following the FT’s widely circulated interview with the central bank governor, more economic pandemonium occurred. Foreign reserves dropped precipitously and the governor called Museveni’s fiscal policies reckless, specifically referring to a scandal where Museveni ordered three-quarters of a billion dollars to be used to buy fighter jets.

FT claims that now “donors including the World Bank, UK and Ireland have reduced or withheld direct support, which makes up 26 per cent of this year’s budget.”

America and other leaders in the democratic world must own up to their own mistakes in these countries, and the greatest one in Uganda was the free reign given the Family and its C Street American legislatures to represent us when in fact all they were doing was turning Uganda onto itself. Many of the legislative initiatives causing problems now in Uganda, including oppression of gays, criminalization of abortion and the reckless embracing of the “free market” were literally written by C Street legislative aids in the U.S.

Courtesy of Global Voices Online
And like here at home, the fiscal policies of conservatives do nothing but destroy. Note the inflation chart opposite.

My own blog last month about Uganda created enormous interest and many comments, but it appears clear to me that the tourism industry is now desperate, and my heart goes out to them. But it’s pointless to avoid the truth: Uganda is becoming increasingly hostile to its own citizens and ultimately, to its guests as well.

The 26th comment on that blog was from an executive in Uganda’s tourist industry who wrote almost as much as I did about the country’s many problems, and some I didn’t write about (like the decline in wildlife). But clearly, things are not going well. It takes this kind of courage from within the industry to help the country right itself.

There’s an important point for sounding and resounding the alarm. We’re in a new era, not the era that created the Zimbabwes and CARs. The peoples’ voice can be much more powerful than then, and clearly, the people of Uganda are demanding change that begins with the resignation of Yoweri Museveni.

The task, now, is for America to find constructive ways to assist the vanguard of protest. Twevolution has come to Uganda.

African Doors to the World

African Doors to the World

Who will spearhead the social unrest in China? Are women being mentally beaten to death in Iran? These and similar cutting edge issues find their window to the world Thursday, at the Zanzibar Film Festival.

The world’s great film festivals have become institutionalized, perfected as I suppose they should be in celebrating independent and often unrestrained art. After all, that’s why they arose: the mainline industry had abandoned art for commerce. But in maturing so idealistically to technique, the great film festivals have abandoned many cutting edge social issues.

And movies are one of the best ways to broadcast your issue. Africa has a number of film festivals where this is still the case, and none better than this year’s Zanzibar festival.

I list below films from China and Iran that I believe tell a story no one’s listening to, and which presage very important world events. By so doing I don’t mean to minimize the great African films – particularly Swahili language films – which will also be shown.

A Good Catholic Girl, for example, is a remarkable short film from Uganda with two wonderful lead roles about falling in love across religious and ethnic lines. This is now a multi-generational issue, and when explored deeper says much about the ethnic and gender turmoil in Uganda, today.

The Rugged Priest isn’t a very good technical movie from Kenya, but it is a story rarely told yet enacted over and again especially when I first worked in Kenya in the 1970s. It’s also an interesting benchmark for the growing Kenyan film industry, as the movie was a hit in Kenya.

But what the Zanzibar Film Festival provides is a quiet outlet for film makers in places like Iran and China, whose work would likely be suppressed at home, and is either not submitted to the bigger festivals for fear of drawing attention, or just as likely, because they just aren’t technically good enough.

But I doubt any of you won’t feel the same goose bumps I did watching the trailers, and clearly, these raw yet to fully mature young artists are telling us something very important about the near future in their countries.

Just an Hour Ago, and A Beautiful Snowy Day reveal the oppression of women in Iran is so intense that I believe – and I believe the films are suggesting – that the next great unrest will come from women, there.

The Rice Paddy is a Chinese/French entry which is among the most professional productions, and remarkable for its intense portrayal of the migrant worker in China’s rice fields, a group of people today as important in China as the slaves were to cotton farmers in the 1800s in America.

While The Rice Paddy is not subversive as such, clearly in the light of today’s news about Chinese inflation and migrant worker unrest, it presages cracks in China’s social construction that likely will figure prominently in that country’s imminent transformation.

But the enormously powerful Iranian film, The Invitation I feel so important that I’ll be writing a separate blog about it, Thursday, to commemorate the film festival’s opening. Please come back, then!

Enter Emperor Wadongo

Enter Emperor Wadongo

Genius Engineer, World Shaker, Kenyan Evans Wadongo
People just don’t get the social tsunami smashing the world right now. Obama’s Old News! Notwithstanding the media starred war in Libya, societies are changing at the drop of a text message. Billionaire industrialists and fat politicians aren’t the only ones running the show, anymore, in fact their days may be numbered. Meet Evans Wadongo.

Wadongo is currently sharing a world prize with Ted Turner (CNN) and Tim Berners-Lee, the man who in 1989 first made the Internet work. The three are the inaugural winners of the annual Gorbachev Award for “opening up society.”

What did 25-year old Kenyan-born, Kenyan-schooled, still Kenyan resident Wadongo do that elevated him to the table of stars?

He turned dark into light without using fossil fuels or electricity. He’s an engineer. But he didn’t invent gyroscoping drone bombing sensors, or infrared seeking document readers, or nano focused skyscraping beam protectors.

He invented a solar lamp that is cheap and efficient so that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of poor people can see at night without endangering their health and minuscule budgets with kerosene lamps and fumes.

Do you get it?

A simple, efficient, inexpensive solar lamp is as important as the WorldWide Web and CNN.

Because when the potential of millions of suppressed people is illuminated, the world will change, and I for one, think for better. That’s exactly what’s happening, now.

Whether it’s Wadongo, or Ory Okollah, or Wael Ghonim, the movers and shakers of the world today are increasingly:

1) Kids
2) Optimistic
3) Smart
and above all, 4) Compassionate.

It’s a new world, you old fogies! Not sure how we’re going to deal with these new parameters of life, but we better get ready, because it’s going to be a much different world from the one in which we prospered.

Is it Safe to Travel Now?

Is it Safe to Travel Now?

Is it safe to travel to Africa, now? Here’s the answer, and it’s not what you really wanted to ask.

I’m on my way to Africa, and just before I left I got besieged by emails and phone calls asking, “Is it safe for us to go to Africa, now?”

It’s an inadequate question, because it’s not what any of those asking really meant. Because the answer to that is a straight-forward “YES”. What people really mean is, “With all the planning and money I’ve spent on this, and with the great importance of getting home as planned but equally of enjoying this as a respite from my daily life, is the trip going to be disrupted?”

Or, more simply, “Is it wise to travel to Africa, now?”

That’s the real question, a very important one, and one that I’ll try to answer below with hints as to how you can insure you’re trip is wise, now and in the future. But first, bear with me as we get rid of the superfluous question, “Is it safe?”

Eight Americans were killed and 21 injured in Egypt in the most recent incident there to tourists: a bus crash near Aswan in December.

There were likely more than a half million tourists in Egypt during the recent disturbances, during the highest tourist period of the year. There was not one visiting tourist reported injured much less killed.

Those are the facts. It’s important not just to remember them, not just to discard them as obvious, but to embrace them so that you can really get to the important question you’re asking.

Sp bear with me a little bit more:

Every year from 1992 through 2007 tourists were attacked and killed in Egypt, a total of 252 tourists murdered plus more than 500 others seriously injured for life. The Egyptian government cracked down so heavily after 71 were killed in 1997 (including 61 gunned down while sightseeing in Luxor), deploying police at virtually every tourist crossing, that there were no tourist killings or injuries for nearly six years from 1998 through 2003.

But in 2004, 34 tourists were murdered and more than 120 injured; in 2005, 90 tourists were killed and more than 200 injured, and in 2006; 23 tourists were murdered and more than 40 seriously injured.

A total of 252 tourists were killed by militants in Egypt between 1992 and 2007, plus more than 500 seriously injured.

(I’ve found slightly different figures from different sources. The above was compiled by a tourism company from Reuters reports.)

The total deaths represent 30 separate incidents. Every one got worldwide attention. Every one was front page news and headlined nightly news casts in America. In more than half of these incidents, Americans were among those dead.

And during this long period, tourism exploded. (Pun, seriously intended.)

In the 18 years from 1993 to 2010 between 70 and 90 million tourists visited Egypt. The last official numbers were for the first half of 2010, which was 6.9 million. There was a decline during the mid 1990s, but otherwise, it’s been a steady rise.

The odds of being killed as a tourist in Egypt during this latest 18-year period for which we have statistics (about a quarter of a life time) is about 1 in a quarter million.

According to, the chances of an American dying are significantly greater from heart disease, a car or motorcycle crash, cancer, stroke, falling or slipping, armed robbery, as a pedestrian in an accident, drowning, even suicide, plus a thousand other causes.

And not just by a little. The least likely of the list above is a car accident. Our odds are 1 in 1020 of being killed in a car accident during our life time. That is roughly 1000 times more likely than being as a tourist in Egypt.

As an American you’re 100,000 times more likely to be killed falling in an accident than as a tourist in Egypt.

The odds of being killed in Egypt as a tourist are higher than being a tourist at the Grand Ole Opry. They are higher than being a tourist in most of Europe, but not necessarily on London’s tube and metropolitan transport system during periods of IRA bombings, or in many sections of the New York subway from random acts of violence. In 1995, there was a greater percentage of tourists killed in Florida than Egypt during a “rash of attacks” the caused tourism to plummet in Florida and provoked the state to withdraw its international advertising for tourism.

Similar statistics exist for “serious injury.”

So it’s just not even remotely possible to imagine a “NO” answer to the pure question is it safe now to travel to Africa (Egypt being the denominator).

What people really mean, “Is it wise.”

We’re in a much better position to tackle that question once we grasp the folly of concern for personal safety. That isn’t an issue.

The issue is that this is a vacation. A vacation is an earned reward, intended to relieve you of all the daily responsibilities of not being on vacation, a time to relax and have fun. And hopefully, to learn something, too. That’s what a good vacation is all about.

Can you travel to Africa – or Egypt, now – and have a good vacation? Is it wise?

That’s a much harder question. There are no statistics for this. It depends upon how much actual disruption your threshold for a decent vacation has. Did you, for example, check on the on-time performance of your air carriers to make sure that the chances of your flights being significantly delayed aren’t serious?

Did you, for example, consult the weather carefully, to know exactly how hot and humid it was going to be? Did you read enough accounts of other tourists to know if they were harassed in stores or regularly pickpocketed? Did you closely review the menus on your Nile cruise? Are you absolutely sure that your guide isn’t little more than a scam artist to bring you to his cousin’s perfume shop?

Did you check to see how difficult it would be to replace lost medications? Did you know about schistosomiasis? How contagious is elephantitis? Do the windows in your room open?

Frankly, I hope you didn’t check any of this, because all you should do is find the right tour group or company that you can trust to manifest idiosyncracies of the sort the questions above suggest.

But what tour company – what airline – for that matter, what State Department division is going to give you an honest forward appraisal of the political and social status quo?

Probably none. And that’s not because anyone is trying to fool you. It’s because if you’ve bought your travel correctly, you’ve bought it from an expert that knows a lot more about the situation than you could ever know. Increased knowledge normally mitigates presumptions of “disruption”.

A life long resident of New York not only feels safer, but really is safer, using the subway than a first-time visitor from Tokyo.

“What stuns me,” writes the heavily read travel blogger, Anouk Zijlma, on January 28 as the streets of Cairo were ablaze, the internet had been disabled and the Egyptian army was rolling tanks into Tahrir Square, “is that the US State Department has not yet issued an official travel warning or even a travel alert” for Egypt.

Ms. Zijlma went on to point out as many of us have how State Department warnings were levied wholesale on countries like Kenya which have been peaceful for years. Clearly, State Department warnings are political pawns in a complicated global game, and it’s just too bad that you as the traveler are rolled up into that.

Since most travel insurance that repays you if you cancel for “terrorism” or other types of civil disruption is triggered by State Department travel warnings, this effectively means that component of the insurance is worthless.

For me personally, there is hardly anything as valuable as travel, and the more foreign the travel is, the more valuable it is. Naturally, the more foreign it is the greater the risk exists at any time of disruption to the point of it being “unwise.”

So my standard ought not be yours. And to know your standard fairly is not something that I should be expected to automatically understand.

Ultimately, you must decide. You must be the one to undertake due diligence regarding your own components of wise traveling.

OK, so let’s say you do that. Then, what.

Well, I’d venture to say that in today’s quickly changing world, a foreign trip most anywhere is rife with the risks of being considered “unwise”, but that’s just not a reason for you not to plan it. What you should do is plan it simultaneously with an abort plan.

Insurance. And not just the ordinary insurance, since that doesn’t work.

“Cancellation for any reason” insurance.

It’s going to cost you around 10% of what you want to cover yourself for, and if you ultimately invoke the trigger you’re going to lose about a quarter of what you paid. But this wonderful insurance, offered by a number of insurance companies
let’s you decide at the last minute usually, if it’s “wise” to go.

There’s no other solution. Basically what I’m saying is that no answer from any expert will be satisfying enough if you don’t have this option available.

No one should take a “vacation” filled with so much anxiety that the wonders of the trip are lost. If you decide to commit to a foreign vacation, you’ve already been convinced that whatever you don’t at that point know isn’t worrisome enough to warrant missing the benefits of the trip. In sum, it’s worth the risk.

But you pay long before you go.

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to travel to Egypt, now. In fact, based on the statistics, it’s safer to travel during a revolution than after a period of prolonged stability! But is it wise?

Only you can answer that. And you’ll never know how you really feel without having that special insurance in your pocket.

It’s a very wise decision.

The New Weapon of Mass

The New Weapon of Mass

But it was already too late when Egypt shut down the internet.
The regime was taken by surprise.
Twevolution organized the streets before the switch was thrown.
There was a time when power came as a chariot. There was time when power came as a nuclear device. In my life time it came as stealth bombers, napalm and drones. Could it be that in the generation now following me that power comes as … the internet?

The twevolution sweeping Arabia which as I’ve written actually first matured further south is succeeding because of the masterful manipulation of information by revolutionaries who are willing to sacrifice themselves to affect significant change, which so far means booting out the dictator.

Read the fascinating blog I posted Tuesday about the software developed in Kenya that is the foundation of the information manipulation in the current twevolution.

Armaments were insignificant in the outcome of the Tunisian and Egyptian twevolution. The regimes were changed with really very little loss of lives and little destruction of property. How’s this possible?

In both cases, because the trustees of the armaments — the soldiers — who absolutely could have caused a huge loss of life and lots of destruction refused to shoot. When challenged by the unarmed masses in such numbers, they backed down.

This didn’t happen in 1956 in Hungary, or the “Czech Spring” of 1968, or 1989 in Tianamen Square.

Were the protesters then less committed? Were their ideas less compelling?

No, there just weren’t enough of them, and the growth in their support happened too slowly. The regimes in power were capable of faster reactions than the protesters. Regime weapons appeared on the scene faster than the people.

Today, that’s not the case. The crowds appear out of nowhere, it seems, although actually they are carefully organized through the internet and mobile phones. By the time they appear, they have virtually won the battle. They outperform at the starting line.

They look, from the beginning, like they are the winners.

That’s the key to mass protest. Defenseless, the only counter to hard weaponry is the sheer volume of numbers. And that’s what the IT savvy in this twevolutionary age can do.

In Libya the difference is that those fighting the people are mostly mercenaries being paid a king’s ransom. The protest has become a fight and it will likely get bloodier. But when it stops, the outcome will be the same as in Egypt and Tunisia.

You see, I believe that people are basically good. And that their inherent desires are communal and compassionate. And that when these inherent desires are repressed, they don’t just go away. They ferment and ultimately bubble out as an outburst.

As they have often in the past, but too often then crushed to smithereens. But not today, perhaps never again. The internet is the manifestation of hundreds of thousands, millions, of individual wills. Armies are made of people, and soldiers know when they’re outnumbered.

It doesn’t matter that they may outgun the defenseless. When soldiers know they are in the minority, they defer and defect.

The problem in the past has been the masses have been unable to organize effectively enough to manifest as the majority, even though they might have been.

The Nazis came to power by default, not political success. The apathy of the non-Jew Germans was cultivated by aggressive information manipulation as it existed then by the Nazis. The organizational immaturity of the Jewish populations and their sympathizers couldn’t confront the more mature organization of the Nazis. And this deficiency was reenforced by similiar inefficiencies and incapacities of greater Europe. The situation was ripe for evil to prevail.

It wouldn’t happen today, in today’s internet world, where the free and unfiltered flow of information reflects the basic good of the people faster than any organized regime can stunt it.

See why China tries to censure the internet? Even that is going to fail.

Now what comes next is as frighteningly unknown as it’s going to be exciting to behold.