The historical disadvantage of Africa

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The start of the transatlantic slave trade around the year 1519 was the beginning of tragic events that systematically displaced millions of people in Africa.  By the time the last slave ship left Africa around 1867 to Cuba, the continent had been stripped of valuable human capital for nearly 3 centuries. After the abolition of slavery, the scramble for Africa in the late 1800s saw European countries colonising the well resourced African countries for another century. The history of colonialism has  lived on to affect the the contemporary sociopolitical issues in Africa with detrimental effects that have hampered growth and stability for the continent. In this article I argue that Africa lags in development performance in comparison to other continents, due to its history which subjugated free thinking to develop in Africa.

Initially before the slave trade, the Portuguese were the first to establish contacts with sub-Saharan Africa and much to their surprise, they found societies which were engaged in trade, had a similar range of pre-historical industrial crafts and they were also organised into Kingdoms with class divisions. The sub-Saharan Africans were much advanced than the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean or the Brazilian littoral such that they were able to maintain equal relations with the Europeans. For the next centuries to come, Africa fully engaged in the transatlantic slave trade which accounted for an estimated 10 million slaves.

The transatlantic slave trade disturbed any pending advances in African society such that Francis Moore a merchant along the coast of Senegambia in the 1730s observed,

“Since this slave trade has been us’d, all punishments are changed into slavery.”

In 1730 the Dutch Director General of Elmina Castle on the modern coast of Ghana also observed,

“The great quantity of guns and powder which the Europeans have brought have caused terrible wars between the Kings and princes and Caboceers of these lands”.

What is evident from these observations is that the slave trade brought chaos (which in some respects is irreversible) to the continent of Africa. For 2 centuries Africans got accustomed to one mode of trade and that was the capturing and selling  of valuable human capital for the development of other continents. The it can be inferred that the slave trade may well have hindered Africans from having innovative ideas, those which could have helped in the development of trade and the advancement of other aspects of society. The chiefs of Africa in conjunction with the Europeans systematically raided villages of humans, who could have played an important role in the development of Africa.

What started the transatlantic slave trade is hard to pinpoint, but evidence points out that slavery was prevalent in African societies when the Europeans arrived. Whatever the cause, the slave trade changed the African landscape in that it encouraged inter-ethnic wars with the sole purpose of capturing slaves for sale at the north African coasts. Between the 14th and 19th centuries, the most lucrative trade in Africa was the slave trade, which helped Africans to acquire guns which were used for slave wars. The violence and brain drain of Africa carried on for atleast 2 centuries and it is no wonder that by the time missionaries arrived in Africa, they witnessed brutal scenes of savagery.

Africa reeling from the effects of slavery, European countries carved up Africa into nation states which bundled different ethnic groups together. The rush to colonise Africa by the European powers, was influenced by the vast deposits of untapped natural resources which were mostly unknown to the locals of Africa. For nearly 70 years, indigenous Africans were utilised to provide manpower for farms, to fight wars,  in mines and many other income  generating avenues for the benefit of European countries.

To add on from the 2 centuries of slave trade, another century of colonialism was added on to the ills that crippled Africa. It was the politics of colonialism which championed the tactics of ‘divide and conquer’, where some African tribes were pitted against each other to avoid the unification of people. These tactics were triumphant in that modern-day societies of Africa still have tribalism as a hampering obstacle to national unity. Today some countries in Africa are embroiled in bitter tribal wars which seem to have no end in sight, due to long standing feuds which stem from the effects of colonialism.

During colonialism, African natural resources were excavated for the sole purpose of developing the imperialist countries while neglecting Africa. Africa’s palm oil, petroleum, copper, chromium, diamonds, platinum and in particular gold helped Europe’s earlier development, which has lived on to contemporary societies. Robert Beckford who shot a documentary titled ‘The Empire Pays Back’, claims that Britain’s debt to Africans on the continent and in the diaspora is estimated to be in the trillions of pounds. This assessment by Beckford’s experts was considered to be false because the real amount of wealth that was pulled out of Africa is arguably incalculable. It is incalculable because vast deposits of resources were pulled out of Africa, to the point that it is near impossible to document or estimate the actual volume of wealth extricated from the continent.
Which is why it is insulting. deeply offensive and laughable altogether to attack ‘migrants’ as the source of Europe’s economic and social problems, when the same European countries are largely responsible in creating the conditions which have greatly hampered the development and prosperity of African countries today.

President Barack Obama last year addressing 500 young Africans who were attending a leadership course:

“As powerful as history is, and you need to know that history, at some point you have to look to the future and say, ‘OK, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure that we’re not making excuses for not going forward,”

This statement by Obama is a double-edged sword because a people’s history defines how modern day society is formed. It is through history that one tends to look for answers to contemporary problems which hamper nation-building activities.  It is indeed true that Africa needs to look to the future rather than the past, but how is that possible when colonial borders are still a source of attrition for the thousands of tribes in Africa? When there is a huge economic divide between black Africans and Whites who live in Africa (many of whom benefitted from the proceeds of colonisation and slavery)
Further, there are young and educated Africans today with no assets who can’t get loans(therefore can’t start impactful businesses), and are barred from participation in their country’s politics because of ageism and a neopatrimonial culture. They are powerless and Obama’s statements can’t address their plight.

Ethnic conflicts in Africa are well documented and one of the clearest examples is that of the Arabs  (and the Tuareg, who are Berbers) and sub-Saharan Africa(black Africans)s. Historically, the Arabs enslaved sub-Saharan Africans for about a 1000 years with about an estimated 18 million people carted off into slavery. In the 1800s when the Scamble for Africa begun, the Arabs and the sub-Saharan Africans were thrown together to form modern countries along the Sahara such as Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan. This history of nations in Africa has been detrimental for nation-building, because different ethnic groups were lumped together to form nations when they had no sense of belonging to these nations.
In the past decade Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan have experienced rebellions fought over resources, politics, religion and history. In the middle of all these causative agents, ethnicity played a central role, when it came to which side the Arabs or sub-Saharan Africans picked to fight for.

Perhaps one of the most bloodiest ethnic conflicts in memory on the continent of Africa is that of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. In 1994, Rwanda’s 7 million population was composed of Hutu (85%), Tutsi (14) and the Twa (1%). In the early 1990s Hutu extremists resented the Tutsis with claims that all the social, economic and political problems that Rwanda was going through, was down to them. On 6th April 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down and Hutu extremists under the cover of war, began to systematically exterminate the Tutsi population. Within weeks after 6th April, 800 000 men, women, and children were killed in a brutal manner, with ethnicity being the dividing line.

Years of animosity between tribes who were forced to form nations together, remains one of the biggest challenges for development in Africa. When Obama says that Africa has to look in the future to move on, the past still has a nefarious hold on Africa’s nation-building capabilities. Africa’s history of being under subjugation and slavery has all to do with the current disorganisation of the society of Africa. To look beyond history as Obama asserts, would be quiet difficult because the reconciliation solutions of Africa lie in the past where current problems were created. It is therefore important that the past is revisited to help in establishing the starting points of the many problems that have engulfed Africa.
The same could be said of the problems faced by African Americans, who for years have been persecuted in one form or another.

The other problem that lies with Africa is that through slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism periods, Africans have always lived in the shadow of the West. For centuries Africans have not been self-thinkers, and this has obviously affected innovative ideas on the part  of African free thinking. It was through slavery and colonialism that the African way of life was made to be inferior, and whole cultures and traditions were systematically wiped out only to be replenished by western culture. Today, most sub-Saharan Africa struggles to emulate western cultures because their culture through years of subjugation, was made to look inferior. This in turn has created an identity crisis with modern Africa where society struggles with being an ‘African’,  in a world where western culture is seen to be superior.

Looking at the political picture of Africa, one can see how a western style of democracy is not working in Africa. A lot of African countries that became democratic states, are today still grappling with corruption and bad governance issues because of poor accountability structures. Since the the early 1980s of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), Western ideology has been central to African affairs and time and again this has led to failure.

This historical disadvantage has and is still one of the biggest factors why Africa lags in the social, economic and political arenas. To disregard the linkage of the past and the current problems of Africa, would be a mistake because it is through history that nations are built. Africa’s tumultuous history needs to be understood and addressed, to create the many needed solutions for the continent because on the average, many African countries have only been independent for 50 years. To forge a strong Africa, Africans need to disregard assertions like those of Obama and seriously begin looking into the past to rectify the factors that disadvantaged societies, economically and politically. The options are few (for example it’s hard for countries to reunite into bigger and stronger nations), but it’s not an impossible task.

Zwelithini: A cumbersome expense to modern South Africa – Opinion

It is understandable for the citizens of South Africa to complain about the influx of foreigners in their country. In Europe a similar phenomenon is unfolding with immigration being the most discussed topic in the news as hundreds of migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea virtually every month. Looking at the numbers arriving, one must feel sympathy with those legitimate concerns, not least that such uncontrolled influx is unsustainable in the long run. However, even without having to be selective with history, what is disconcerting is the route some South Africans have chosen to take, to address the problems they associate with immigration.

Goodwill Zwelithini. There have been wide debates that the xenophobic attacks were inflamed by the Zulu King’s speech. Here is part of the now infamous speech,

We talk of people [South Africans] who do not want to listen, who do not want to work, who are thieves, child rapists and house breakers…. When foreigners look at them, they will say let us exploit the nation of idiots. As I speak you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops, they dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this because they are after their votes. Please forgive me but this is my responsibility, I must talk, I cannot wait for five years to say this. As King of the Zulu Nation… I will not keep quiet when our country is led by people who have no opinion. It is time to say something. I ask our government to help us to fix our own problems, help us find our own solutions. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries (loud cheers).”

What Zwelithini either does not understand, or secretly understands and wanted to take advantage of, is that his words carry weight. Thus it was inevitable that his utterances would give people the courage to attack foreigners. These negative sentiments about foreigners in South Africa have been suppressed since the last xenophobic attacks in 2008, and it is now evident that some South Africans are convinced that foreigners have to go back to their countries. Zwelithini’s words of labelling ‘South Africans as a nation of idiots’ must have struck chord with the disgruntled poor citizen who has seen countless numbers of foreigners making a living in South Africa. And when  Zwelithini stated  that foreign nationals need to pack their belongings and go back to their countries, it must have added some credence to the immigration debate that has been a problem in South Africa. He also alluded to the fact that their politicians who are lax are incapable of solving  the immigration debacle in South Africa, hence the people took it upon themselves to deal with immigrants.

Besides the callous and inexcusable violence his words have clearly spurred, the brazen thuggery of some of the King’s supporters was perfectly observed yesterday at a stadium in Durban, where Zwelithini had been scheduled to speak to his people, to condemn the attacks and urge peace. A few pictures and tweets tell a story in which the irony certainly wasn’t lost:-

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Nontobeko Sibisi @Nontobek0Sibisi ·
People have started arriving ‪#‎Imbizo here they singing “abahambe abahambayo siyosala siyincenga”

eNCA eNCAnews
RT @Nontobek0Sibisi: #Imbizo – Shouting “abahambe, badayisa ama’drugs,” translated they must go, they sell drugs

Khatija Nxedlana @its_KhaTija
‪#‎Imbizo Crowds are singing “Abahambe abahambayo, sosala sisebenza” basically meaning those who want to go must go

#Imbizo Izinduna & Amabutho are walking around the stadium chanting & dancing

Jeff Wicks @wicks_jeff
Small sections of the crowd erupt in song with traditional weapons held aloft #Imbizo ‪#‎isilo @News24

Sebenzile Nkambule @SebeNkambule
People at the Imbizo in KZN are singing ‘let them go, we will work’. Wonder what the King will say to make it better… ‪#‎XenophobiaMustFall

Words are indeed a powerful tool which politicians use to garner support from the electorate. It only takes a charismatic orator to sway the opinions of many as we have seen too many times throughout history. Didn’t some psycho named Adolf manage to instill the fear of Jewish people in tens of millions of Germans in the 1930’s and 40’s? And in less than 5 years, the brown shirts were on the streets of Germany harassing the Jews for being ‘leeches’; blaming every problem Germany faced as a consequence of the Great Depression of 1929. By 1943, Germany was systematically murdering Jews in their tens of thousands in concentration camps and gas chambers in all the conquered lands of Eastern Europe. Yet all this madness only began with the words and sick philosophy of a failed painter in the beer halls of Munich.

If a failed painter in Germany managed to shift opinions of millions of people regarding the Jews at a time when we didn’t have many of the communication conveniences we now have, then how easy would it be for a King in South Africa to sway people’s perceptions of foreigners? In the age of the internet…? And considering the gross inequality in South African society?

In the world of twitter and Facebook,  the dissemination of information is instant and it has become relatively an easy task to mobilise groups of people for a cause. Riots can be started from a computer keyboard at the press of a few buttons. It is therefore very dangerous and irresponsible for Zwelithini as a king of the Zulu’s to speak in a manner that is likely to inflame emotions. In an already extremely volatile situation, loosely held together by faint and quickly fading memories of disapproval of the 2008 violence, it was only going to take a few words from a madman with a hint of authority, anyone with a hint of authority!! to yet again incite violence against immigrants, and for the pangas to come out.

For the King to blame South Africa’s problems on foreigners, most of whom work in the informal sectors of the economy is not only shallow but despicable on all levels. As Julius Malema correctly pointed out yesterday, there are no jobs to steal. Most of the migrants working in South Africa create work for themselves. Instead of stigmatizing them, shouldn’t South Africa celebrate their contribution, and figure out a way of bringing them into the formal sector? Further, South Africans forget too quickly. Barely 20 years ago, African governments across the continent were still doing everything in their powers to fight Apartheid in South Africa and ensure Nelson Mandela was freed. They supported anti-apartheid militant guerilla factions, organised funding for the ANC (with some cutting their own budgets to meet their obligations), and put pressure on the international community to isolate the Verwoerd Institution. Zwelithini wouldn’t be able to enjoy the lush lifestyle he is known to enjoy today, complete with mansions, 6 wives and 28 children, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices paid by hundreds of thousands across Africa.

Here is a king who gets paid nearly R148000 a day, and yet he is still asking for more money from the government to fund his lavish lifestyle. According to documents seen by the Sunday Times , a breakdown of the King’s expenditure last year looked like this:-

— R10.3-million allocated for the King’s palaces;

— R2.2-million in stipends for his six wives. Each wife receives a tax- free R31000 stipend each month, R6500 for groceries, a R4550 medical aid allowance and a R2400 cellphone allowance;

— R2.5-million for travelling expenses, which translates to each wife receiving about R36000 a month; and
R915248 for education. The amount is for the tuition and boarding for five of the king’s children, who attend top private schools, and a grandson at Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal. Zwelithini has 27 children.

— For the king’s wedding to Mafu, the trust stumped up R950000 for catering, R20000 for several rooms at the Ulundi Holiday Inn, R200000 for a 5000-seat marquee, R160000 for a sound system and R250000 for decor and flowers.”

Bloody hell…what are his priorities? If this guy had genuine love for his predominantly poor followers, would it not be wise of him to cut his expenses so that the government of South Africa is able to save money? From his statements, I doubt Zwelithini would want that and so it seems a cheaper (and lazy) alternative is to scapegoat the foreign house worker who receives meagre wages.

SouthAfricansIt’s Zwelithini’s disregard for the ordinary South Africans that is costing the taxpayers a fortune, and not Zimbabwean, Malawians or Nigerian migrants.

Zwelithini is part of the problems that South Africa has and it serves him better to denigrate foreigners, so that poor South Africans are deflected from the real issues (corruption, inequality, mismanagement) that are facing the country. If the president of South Africa can use 246 million South African Rands of taxpayers funds to refurbish his private home, what about his fellow cronies who are in government? These are the real culprits South Africa should be dealing with right now, and not the immigrants who earn too little to be of much significance to the broader sense of the South African economy.

South Africans must realise that the country would not be where it is without foreigners. The antics of Zwelithini, which are befitting more of a rambunctious and drunken anarchist – than a King, will not accrue South Africa or indeed the Zulus much goodwill in the short or long-term. In any case, we are now living in a globalised world where national economies co-exist and depend on each other to grow. South Africa is a member of SADC which has legally binding protocols that include the free movement of people. Without this openness, in the face of all the trade discrimination African countries already face, even the biggest of our economies in Africa wouldn’t survive, let alone be where it is today. Even though South Africa is the second largest economy in Africa, it is a recipe for disaster if it’s leaders alienate it in a continent of 54 countries.

It’s completely unacceptable that in the 21st century a supposed king of the Zulus can stoop this low and it will take a while for other Africans to look upon South Africans favourably, because this latest round of violent xenophobia will leave a stubborn stain on the rainbow nation. It only took a few days of violence, and the reputation of South Africa has been ruined; all because of the short-sighted runaway tongue of a Zulu King, and the silence of his Zulu President. Zwelithini, in the 21st century it’s a criminal act to incite violence!

Cecil Rhodes: He can never be an African hero

The issue of Cecil Rhodes’s statue being pelted with excrement has deeper issues, of the emerging free thinking young Africans who do not want to be influenced by warped views of Westerners who cannot identify with the enlightened African – of whose breed there are no averages. Scouring the many debates of this issue exposes a deep divide between Africans and Westerners on the issue of colonialism and how it should be remembered. The young minds of Africa who are free from biased views of the world from a western context, are beginning to question certain aspects of African history which was mostly written by Westerners.

First of all, it is of no wonder that the students of University of Cape Town have reacted in this way, because for centuries the African life and history has been dictated by Europeans. Today, a spirit of rebelliousness is slowly fermenting in the young minds of Africans who are fed up of western hegemony on public life in Africa. For once, this new breed of Africans want to decide on what is right for their culture and history, without any distortions or sympathy for imperialism and its so-called advantages from anybody.  They want to decide by themselves, and they will decide for themselves – Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!

Scouring the many social media comments on this issue, it is disparaging to hear of the lazy argument that claims that there would be no South Africa without colonialism. The claim is that Africa would not be introduced to the modern pillars of life that is education, technology and democracy if it was not for men like Rhodes. Basically what they are saying is that Africa would not be what it is today without imperialism and somehow Africans need to be grateful despite colonialism’s grave flaws.

What a load of bullshit!

What these arguments seem to forget is that, no one in Africa asked for this so-called intervention by Europeans. Africans had their own interpretation of life before the Europeans came, and it is unintelligible to claim that Africans should be grateful for colonialism.

Kerr Cross for example writing in 1890 had this to say about the social and economic life of Northern Malawi:

Food is everywhere abundant, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, Indian Corn, beans, peas, millet and other seeds, wild fruits, honey, milk and beef

And in regards to the social order, a look at the village life provides a good picture:

All weeds, grasses, garbage and things unsightly are swept away by little boys. Each house is built of bamboo, with clay worked by the women into little rounded bricks ….The doorsteps are often painted with designs in red, yellow and other colours, and altogether there is an air of comfort, and plenty

(Cross, D.K., Geographical Notes of the country between lake Nyassa, Rukwa and Tanganyika, in: Scottish Geography Magazine VI (1890) pp. 283-4, quoted in: McCracken,J., op. cit., p.98.)

So life for the Africans living in those days must have been reasonable enough in the African context. In fact innovations used in agriculture, in the military and in industry developed in the Northern parts of Africa, by earlier civilisations in Egypt, and those developed by the Nubians, and by civilisations like that of Great Zimbabwe would later  find their way southwards, to be improved upon. [For a much more indepth description refer to this video by Dr Yosef Ben Jochannan ]

Toyin Falola and Tyler Fleming of the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, USA, writing in AFRICAN CIVILIZATIONS: FROM THE PRE-COLONIAL TO THE MODERN DAY, says:

Though people have lived in Africa quite some time… Iron tools enhanced weaponry, allowed groups to clear and manage dense forests, plow fields for farming, and basically better everyday lives. Ultimately, iron tools allowed Africans to flourish in every environment, and thus they could live in larger communities which led to the formation of states and kingdoms. With state formation came the formation of modern civilizations with common languages, belief and value systems, art, religion, lifestyle and culture

They go on to say that:

Later European explorers and settlers often argued that territories were unsettled upon their arrival and thus were ripe for the taking, but these assumptions were misguided. Often land had been abandoned due to poor soil quality, infrequent rainfall, or had been claimed for future use

No matter how people frame these spineless arguments that portray pre-colonial Africans as having been in need of a white saviour, Africans had their own way of life which was derived of African innovations. The unfortunate thing is that we shall never know what life in Africa could have been without the slave trade and colonialism. Having said that, pre-colonial communities were never completely isolated,and there was interaction between states and with outsiders including the Middle East, India, the Chinese and Europeans. Thus, there are credible grounds to suggest that exchange of ideas on a purely economic relationship (as opposed to coloniser and colonized), relationships in which African truly benefitted, would have ultimately led to a level of development comparable if not superior to those witnessed in other parts of the world.

It needs to be noted that when colonialists came to Africa, they found a continent that was rich in both resources and culture. Africa was home to kingdoms, chiefdoms and previously had housed some of the most intriguing empires which were built using a sophisticated craftmanship previously unknown to Europeans.

But somewhere along the way theories were cooked up which concluded that Black African lives were inferior to White lives. In the absence of written African accounts (many of which were purposely destroyed) that disproved this thesis, such ideas, peddled about by racists such as Arthur de Gobineau and Georges Vacher de Lapouge then spawned the belief that it was in the best interests of Africans that Westerners erase their way of life, whether they liked it or not because the African could not comprehend what was right or wrong for him/her. According to such supremacist theories – which were driven more by propaganda that needed to find an excuse to use in the dispossession of the African, and were devoid of any truthful and verifiable science –  the African needed ‘help’ from a superior being: the white man.

No matter how anyone tries to frame these argument, the fact remains that when the Europeans first arrived, Africans were not lacking. And while they may not have had certain ‘luxuries’, most parts of Africa were stable, had capable people who were content with their lives.

There were diseases (e.g. malaria and dysentery), just like everywhere with such warm climates, and the usual tribal conflicts, but at no point were Europeans asked for their ‘civilization’ to be transplanted to Africa. Put simply, it was forced upon them.

So, its absurd to suggest that colonialism despite its barbarism, needs to be applauded for it ‘civilised’ the savages of Africa.

What people who push that argument seem to forget is that most of the so-called savagery in Africa at that time was fermented because of the transatlantic slave trade which pitted one African tribe against each other. For example in East Africa, before the Arabs came in search of slave labour, the various tribes that inhabited the area were either subsistence farmers or practicing animal husbandry. Society was orderly, and discipline was observed. (Here i must say that the ‘savagery’ painted on Africans at the time doesn’t come anywhere near to the level of savagery by Europeans in the middle ages – from religious persecution to wars of conquest in which thousands were massacred). 

It is this sense of entitlement on the part of Europeans and Americans that has lived on up to this day, that still fuels western countries to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, even when they wouldn’t have others meddle in the internal affairs of their own countries. Because some of them are raised to think they are more important than anybody else; that the world owes them resources, wealth, happiness, and it doesn’t matter what or who is in their way; that others who have better things must be dispossessed; that others cannot enjoy their own resources without interference. Jealousy and Greed. This kind of mindset still remains, as Rhodes said,

I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.

And that is just so sad.

This imperialist kind of thinking is what explains Western countries aiding dodgy rebels to kill Gaddafi, in a country that was more prosperous than any other country in Africa. It is what causes them to back fascist militia to oust an elected government in Ukraine…

Remember what happened to Morsi?…. how a shady military general who is ex-CIA was entertained into pushing out an elected leader in Egypt…

The Syrian conflict and 200,000 people who have died as a result. Iraq and the over one million people who have died as a result…

Gaddafi, Morsi and others were no saints (and yes Morsi was incompetent), but as I’ve argued on this blog before, Gaddafi’s Libya was a hundredfold better than the current Libya, which is ruled by a thousand different murderous militias, causing mindless carnage that is destroying the last vestiges of African prosperity. Many Libyans today openly regret what has become of their country. And the sad thing is western countries can’t fix the mess they helped create.

So, as an African who lives in a country that was a former colony (to which colonisation deprived access to sea – leading to a perpetual volatile economy, and a never ending high cost of living), I’m deeply offended and find it appalling when some fools still think Cecil Rhodes should have a place in African history. I think that decision is for Southern Africans to make and if they deem him to be a villain not a hero, then it should be so – at which point some of us will gladly applaud.

In the same manner that most Africans accept that Adolf Hitler was a murderer, a pillager and conqueror, is the same way the Europeans should accept the view of some Africans on Cecil Rhodes. Having a statue of Rhodes at UCT is abhorrent in all types of rationality, because it was only about 110 years ago that an infestation of men like him masqueraded as angels across the African landscape when in fact they were on a mission of exploitation and pillage. Plundering Africans and their natural wealth: a theft that has clearly benefited the West up until the present time, and whose negative effects are there on African soil, visible for all to see.

I therefore believe that the towering statue of Cecil Rhodes should be pulled down at UCT because it is a constant reminder of colonialism and white superiority. Unlike the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003… or unlike the pulling down of Lenin’s statues in former soviet republics after the fall of the USSR ( the fall of whose reigns were fingered by foreigners) I think it is time that Africans get to decide on what pages of history they want to write for themselves, and to remember – whether such is accompanied by ‘faeces flinging’ or not, without any foreign interference. And I’ll tell you why: because for years we have been brainwashed with the ‘heroic’ deeds of such charlatans who did nothing for us of any real value. If anything, accepting Cecil Rhodes as a hero is accepting and validating white superiority which once thought African cultures had no place in the world. It’s a bit like trying to convince Iraqis to erect a statue in honour of George Bush and Tony Blair, the two politicians who in recent years have done the most to destroy any hope of peace, security, prosperity and normality for ordinary Iraqis. Glorifying Cecil Rhodes and people like him is tantamount to accepting Slavery and Apartheid.

Slavery…dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. – Alexis de Tocqueville

For the enlightened African, Cecil Rhodes is a pillager, murderer  and a bigot who may have made wealth for some countries in Europe, but is partly responsible for the poverty, sickness, corruption, hegemony and human suffering that we see across Africa today. He has no place in our societies that are striving for love, equality, peace and prosperity for all (irrespective of gender, colour, nationality or race).

So then…Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!

Edited: S Nkhwazi

Commemorating the midnight 6 ‘heroes’

Writing about Malawian politics is never an easy thing to do. It seems that every week that passes, Malawian politicians have the knack to upset the taxpayers with their endless habits of misusing government funds. As a writer, sometimes one is compelled to write about positive things about politicians, but it proves difficult when our politicians keep plunging the future of Malawi into the abyss. It becomes a tiring chore to always write negative things about politicians all the time, because in the end it is the writer that looks like an ‘ambulance chaser’. But once again, here are more negative passages about our politicians.

First of all, I want to understand what warrants Peter Mutharika and his cohorts to think they are ‘heroes’, when they were arrested on treason charges regarding the alleged plot which tried to usurp power from Joyce Banda? I want to understand how their warped thinking decided that their alleged ‘treasonous acts’ on that fateful day are worthy of remembrance?? If power really corrupts, our politicians have really lost touch with reality and are living in their own hallucinations of misguided grandiosity.

It was on 6th April 2012 when a group of executive government officials on MBC TV, read out a statement that rejected the vice president Joyce Banda’s ascendancy to power as per constitutional requirements. Fear gripped the whole country for no-one knew what was happening due the manner the ‘midnight 6’s’ blatantly reckless attempts to acquire power at all cost.

The 6th of April in 2012 should be commemorated as a victory for democracy, because if it was another country, the midnight 6’s statement was a call for civil war.

So with such a background, I wonder how the midnight 6 are able to think that their disdainful and contemptible deeds are somehow worthy of commemoration? If anything, it is an embarrassment for our nation to have people of their position, commemorating their reckless actions that led them to be in jail in the first place. It’s as mad as the US government trying to commemorate the birth of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln – an insult to democracy.

The spectre of handing out medals to the midnight 6 participants is a pathetic attempt to rewrite history under false pretexts. It makes me worry for Malawi to observe that these are the people that are supposed to work to make our lives better. The midnight 6 are really in their own cocoon where a sordid romanticism has taken over their minds.

In the real world, history is not going to look kindly upon the midnight 6, for it was these same individuals that nearly plunged this country into chaos following their alleged power plot. The day Bingu died could have been the worst day for politics in Malawi, because what the midnight 6 was suggesting was detrimental to the constitution and principles of representative democracy.

The backbone of democracy is the constitution, and if a country disregards the clauses of the many sections inscribed in the constitution, institutions are weakened, and chaos becomes the order of the day. Malawi has many problems but the constitution needs to be respected at all costs because if we lose that, then our democracy is for nothing. Then we’re no different from the likes of Somalia. And if the midnight 6 had been successful in grabbing power from Joyce Banda, it would have set a bad precedence for the country’s respect for the rule of law.

Historically, Malawians have always been been a peaceful people and have been tolerant of the many mistakes politicians make, including the events that led to the midnight 6 scandal. But never be fooled, for peaceful people also have a limit to their complacency, and their is no telling how events would have transpired if the midnight 6 were triumphant in their unconstitutional pursuit of power.

I therefore fail to understand how Peter’s Mutharika’s political advisors decided that the events of the ‘midnight 6’ is something Malawians want to remember. If anything, we should be commemorating the day the constitution of Malawi prevailed over the wishes of a few unscrupulous individuals. The people that need to inscribe their names on the wall of freedom are those that refused to allow the unconstitutional power grab of the midnight 6.

I believe that this ‘midnight 6 commemoration’ is a stain to a hero like Orton Chirwa who spent years and died in a prison cell, without ever having the chance to inscribe his name on Zomba’s prison walls. Oh what a shame that Malawi has never sought to commemorate Orton Chirwa’s imprisonment as a stark reminder of political injustice that once plagued this country.

All in all, history will be judged by our future compatriots. It is not up to us to inscribe our names on the walls of Malawi for our heroic deeds. For the future might just erase all those names with paint to forget the embarrassment that is the midnight 6. Ask Gaddafi and Saddam, whose grand statues now lay in ruins. If Malawi wants more heroes, the midnight 6 are not it.

The arrogance of Netanyahu

Obama-Netanyahu

The current wrangle between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and President Barack Obama’s administration is another clear sign of the kind of arrogance that Israel has displayed in security matters across the middle east. Netanyahu who has travelled to the United States to address Congress, bypassed all formal protocol with the white house when he accepted the invitation from the Republican Party’s John Boehner – who is speaker of the House of Representatives, even when all sensible reason advised against such a move. Despite wide condemnation of the visit, Benjamin Netanyahu who faces an election in which his popularity is uncertain, barely 2 weeks from now gave a speech attacking Tehran and its nuclear ambitions in which he not only fiercely criticises the US led negotiations in Switzerland, but left no doubt of his contempt for the US government – the very same hand that feeds, arms, protects, and even tolerates Israel’s aggression.

But what’s behind Netanyahu’s public intervention in the domestic politics of the US, so much that he is willing to sidestep Obama’s administration?

It seems like yesterday when an annoyed Bill Clinton, emerging from his first meeting with Netanyahu remarked: “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” (Others quoted Clinton to have said “he thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.” )

That was 1996. This time, the attrition is between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran which has been building nuclear reactors for purported peaceful purposes. The US and other nations believe that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, and numerous governments have made exhaustive efforts to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Obama is of the view that the crisis should be handled through talks where concessions can be made, to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Israel believes that whatever deal that is to be reached from the talks, will still leave Iran with the expertise and materials to build a nuclear weapon. So, according to Prime minister Netanyahu, Iran should be stripped of its centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure, a move which is unlikely to deter Iran, and which the Obama administration has called ‘unrealistic’ and unattainable.

First and foremost, President Barack Obama as the supreme commander of the United States of America has the ultimate authority to shape America’s foreign policy whichever way he sees fit. The Republican Party is in opposition and despite America being a federalist state where presidential powers can be checked, it is president Obama who is in control, a fact which many Republicans don’t sit comfortably with. It is state-protocol that any head of state travelling to country A notifies the office of the president in country A. It is also not constructive that any head of state opts to travel to country A only to meet the opposition party because he/she does not agree with country A’s foreign policy. Heads of states cannot be seen to take sides in domestic politics especially when there are fresh disagreements regarding policies hovering about.

Netanyahu’s camaraderie relationship with the Republicans undermines Obama’s administration as being incompetent in the face of a nuclear Iran. In a recent interview, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser criticised Netanyahu when she said:

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington to deliver the speech two weeks before the Israeli elections has injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship

The White house agrees with Ms. Rice’s depiction of Netanyahu’s visit and President Obama has refused to meet him. Vice President Joe Biden who is president of the senate is supposed to be present for Netanyahu’s speech, but he has said he will be travelling abroad. Secretary of State John Kerry also said he will be in Switzerland negotiating with the Iranians. The Israeli prime minister was however invited for a meeting by Democratic senators, but he declined. Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat said,

We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong. His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades”.

Even J Street, the influential pro-israel advocacy group criticised the visit accusing Netanyahu of using Congress as “a prop” for his election campaign, putting out a campaign to distance itself from Netanyahu.

After the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said she was

“saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States . . . and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of nine Jewish senators criticized what she called “circular reasoning” in Netanyahu’s speech which she said proposed a better deal, but yet claimed Iran could never be trusted. How then can you have a deal when you can’t trust the other party?

“I don’t know what he’s saying: Should we work for a better deal or should we cut off any negotiations at this time? . . . It was not helpful at this point to criticize a deal that hasn’t even been completed.”

In a week where leaked cables revealed that Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim was contradicted by Mossad, one would have thought that Mr Netanyahu’s speech would have taken a conciliatory or at least mild tone. Especially after last summer’s Gaza incursion, which left over 2140 Gazans dead including 513 children. Yet the speech was anything but mild.

The Israeli prime minister vehemently attacked international talks with Iran on its nuclear ambitions despite the rift that might be caused. Whether this was a move to infuriate Obama or some publicity stunt designed to portray Netanyahu as a strongman, with a view to drum up political support back home prior to the elections is anyone’s guess? However, what the speech did not do is make it easier for Netanyahu to have his way. From the kind of reactions the speech has received, it is clear that it’s not won him much mainstream support.

Previously, Mr Netanyahu said,

Therefore I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran

Iran_is_a_THREAT_to_peace_by_Latuff2

Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to stop diplomatic talks with Iran must be viewed with scepticism if not suspicion. Especially after the unreliable things he has said in the past – as reported by Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper here. In a volatile time in the Middle-East, the most mature thing to do is to negotiate with the Iranians over their nuclear infrastructure. In any case, unlike Saudi Arabia and others who have offered only verbal support, Iran is infact fighting ISIS, and is suffering casualties and fatalities (including losing a high profile general). What Mr Netanyahu wants is to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and according to him, the only way to do that is through military action. Any talk of negotiations and whether the Iranians are entitled to a nuclear propgramme of sorts is irrelevant according to him. Obviously, there is no way Iran would consent to such demands, because Iran as a sovereign state also wants nuclear capability as achieved by every powerful nation in the world, including the likes of Pakistan and India.

Mr Netanyahu’s arrogance echoes of the Republican Party’s foreign policy of pre-emptive strike during the administration of George Bush. The Iraq War is the epitome of Bush’s policy where the whole campaign ended disastrously for America’s image and the Middle-East. Currently, with an unstable Syria and Iraq, it would be negligent for the world powers to engage Iran in any other way outside of diplomatic talks. It is therefore possible that Netanyahu’s siding with the Republicans is because he believes that that the Democrats are treating the Iran situation with “kid gloves”. So he probably thinks that going through the Republicans, who have a majority in both houses will halt the deal between the US and Iran.

In this regard, Republicans in the Senate are responding to Netanyahu’s address by fast tracking legislation requiring Congress to review any agreement with Tehran, and to issue more sanctions against Iran which can sabotage the talks. President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any such legislation, and after the speech – which has alienated Democrats, it looks very unlikely that the Republicans will have 13 Democratic votes to override the president.

Whichever way it goes, Mr Netanyahu’s actions are very dangerous to world peace and security. This kind of aggressive behaviour is precisely the very reason why nations seek to build nuclear weapons. So that they can deter hostile situations that arise from rhetoric such as this. Mr Netanyahu’s trip is being seen by others as the beginning of a strained relationship between the US and Israel. Yes, we may all agree that a country whose unpopular and former revolutionary guard leaders have claimed Israel is illegitiate must not come anywhere near nuclear weapons. But it is the manner which Netanyahu has sought to deliver his speech without securing authority from the highest office of the country, that has many people including the Democrats shunning him. If Israeli leaders begin to frustrate political figures from a country that supports them the most, they risk losing their biggest ally. And once the US starts sayng NO, everybody will say NO. It isn’t Iran who is a danger to world peace. In an already volatile region, it is Mr Netanyahu’s belligerence, arrogance and short-sightedness that will cost Israel peace and stability.

Who should we believe on Ukraine: East or West?

The rhetoric coming from the West especially the USA is that Russia is supporting the pro-Russian rebels with weapons and men. The conflict has seen shell battles between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian rebels, struggling to gain foothold in the eastern major towns of Ukraine such as Luhansk, Debaltseve and Donetsk. As a new ceasefire is in place, America’s foreign secretary has warned Russia to stop aiding the rebels or face further isolation and economic sanctions. However, the US and other major Western states have constantly  made the accusation that Russia is providing the rebels with military material in the absence of evidence. The only evidence provided are satellite images which appear pixelated and purportedly showing heavy Russian military hardware in Ukraine. But can America and their cronies’ accusations be trusted?

On the 12th September of 2002, George Bush addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on the threat that Saddam posed for the world. In his own words George Bush said,

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapon is when, God forbid, he uses one.’

12 days later, on 24th September 2002, the UK Government of Tony Blair published a dossier which accused Saddam Hussein of stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that were a threat to the world. Blair in the foreword of the dossier wrote,

In recent months, I have been increasingly alarmed by the evidence from inside Iraq that despite sanctions, despite the damage done to his capability in the past, despite the UN Security Council Resolutions expressly outlawing it, and despite his denials, Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMDs, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region, and the stability of the world.’

That October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  released a detailed report on how the Iraqi government continued with WMD programmes in the biological, chemical, nuclear and missiles field.

Retired Army General, Norman Shwarzkopf agreed with the general rhetoric that Saddam had WMDs and he said,

If we invade Iraq and the regime is very close to falling, I’m very, very concerned that the Iraqis will, in fact, use weapons of mass destruction.’

At some point, Condoleeza Rice even claimed that there was substantial evidence to prove that Saddam’s Ba’ath Party had strong links with Al-Qaeda. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other important dignitaries in the USA, all warned of a Saddam Hussein who was nearing completion of his nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier, on September 9, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard also demonstrated his support through his speech,

‘..There’s no doubt, on the evidence of the intelligence material presented to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.’

Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appealed to European nations and the US to stand together in ridding Hussein of WMDS,

Europe and the United States must stand together in…preventing tyrannical and irresponsible regimes…[from] having weapons of mass destruction… Iraq is ruled by such a regime… The United Nations must live up to its responsibility to stop the spreading of the weapons of mass destruction. It will be too late when the toxic gases have…spread over one of our cities…’

The list of western leaders who supported the evidence that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs, and was willing to deploy them in conventional warfare with other countries, is endless. Despite the efforts of Russia, India, Iran, China and France to settle the matter with UN inspectors to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, war was on the table.

The USA and allies attacked Iraq on 19th March 2003, and the war known as the ‘Iraq War’ only lasted up to 9 April. The Iraqi army was heavily defeated in 21 days, but all the purported stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq were nowhere to be found. The evidence provided by the British and American government was proven to be false when it was found that Saddam had no WMDs. The rhetoric suddenly changed to that of liberation and freeing Iraqi’s of a cruel dictator!

Earlier in 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Andrew Gilligan aired a programme that suggested that the ‘dossier’ commissioned by Prime minister Blair, which made the case for the Iraq war was exaggerated. Gilligan claimed to have had a high-ranking source in the government who imparted the claim that Iraq could launch WMDs in a matter of 45 minutes. This claim even though it came from an unreliable source, was published in the dossier to warn of Iraq’s capabilities of WMDs. Gilligan was later grilled by MPs  to name his source but refused to reveal the name of his source. Later on a government Scientist David Kelly admitted to having met Gilligan but claimed that he believed he was not Gilligan’s source. The Hutton Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue, and Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly were quizzed on the matter.

Gilligan later wrote of his experience with the ‘dossier’ issue on a column in the guardian newspaper,

I thought, a realistic idea of how politicians, intelligence officers and civil servants behaved. But over the months and years that followed, my views, and those of most of the country, changed. To borrow the famous words of David Astor over Suez, we had not realised that our government was capable of such folly and such crookedness.’

Today, although the leaders may have changed, it is essentially the same western governments who used false information over Iraq making claims that Russia is aiding the rebels in Eastern Ukraine with satellite image evidence that is unreliable at best. The Russian government has always challenged the notion that they are aiding the rebels, and have requested credible evidence from those states that believe they are complicit in the Ukraine crisis.

This challenge could be genuine, or it could be false.

In truth Ukraine and Russia share a very long border at 1,426 miles. Under any circumstances, it can’t possibly be an easy task monitoring against proliferation such a long border that is spread over rural (and in some cases remote) terrain. Not when your government is short of money as Kiev has been in recent months – relying on multi-billion euro loans from the EU to run its economy. Thus, it is probable that some equipment and military personnel slipped through the border into eastern Ukraine.

Still no state has produced any reliable evidence showing Russian troops aiding pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine, and Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not too long ago concluded that there was no evidence of Russian military equipment or personnel during the period in which they were monitoring the area. And yet many large media organisations such as FOX continue to claim that Russia is aiding the pro-Russian rebels with sophisticated military hardware, conveniently ignoring claims that some English-speaking people are fighting in Ukraine.

And at the front of this media campaign is the US Government, with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry saying that the Russian government has been lying about its involvement in Ukraine. Even Obama mentioned ‘Russian aggression’ as a threat to the US. However, world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, alludes to the lies of western politicians in this video here. He correctly makes the important point that Ukraine is right at the core of Russia’s geostrategic concerns, and to have NATO usurp Ukraine is not only a treachery, but a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Consequently, events that saw Crimea annexed by Russia prove that Russia is not an innocent bystander. Russia initially refused to admit that its military officials had entered Crimea, and were stirring unrest, even when there was some reliable evidence to support such a claim. But after the Crimean snap elections which saw it become a Federal state of Russia, they backtracked from their initial position and Vladimir Putin confirmed Russian involvement when he declared “Ofcourse, Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces

Further, even in Ukraine there have been several video evidence emerge of Russian tanks in East Ukraine, including captured Russian soldiers – whose passports the president presented at the Minsk talks. In addition, several independent journalists have come forward claiming there was Russian presence in Ukraine. Still, these have been disputed by the Kremlin.

My question is, if the intelligence of the USA and its allies got it wrong with Saddam Hussein and WMD’s, how are we to trust them over the numerous claims they have made about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? It is hard to believe such information because it was Blair’s dossier and the CIA’s report that ultimately convinced the world that Iraq had WMD’s and in the end, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians died over incorrect information. If anything, I believe the satellite images provided as evidence that Russia is aiding the separatists can be easily doctored in this age of technological advancement.

In this war of words and guerilla maneuvering between the East and the West, misinformation reins on both sides. Such misinformation has indeed reached dizzying new heights with unsubstantiated claims last week that Russia moved Saddam’s WMD’s to Syria. (See another link here making the same claim)

I believe neither side can be trusted to tell us the truth. It’s clear that there are agendas. Both sides have ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis, as they tend to do everywhere else. Therefore, it would be equally erroneous for one to think that information coming out of Washington or London is always correct, as it is to believe Russia’s rhetoric on Ukraine. Even though looking at how Putin came back to lead Russia, after the placeholder that was Dmitry Medvedev, most people know he cannot be trusted. What was not always clear (and here if any of us forgot about some of the wars of the 20th century, then  remember Vietnam), is that the military engagements of the 21st Century will have opened our eyes to western leaders waging interests driven wars under the pretext of democracy and liberation.

Some Malawians are joining Politics for the wrong reasons

The 20th May general elections of Malawi consisted of three major political families all vying for the seat of the presidency. On one side there were the Mutharikas, on the other side there were the Muluzis and somewhere in the other corner were the Bandas. Distinctly different from this family centric crowd and very much an outsider was  Lazarus Chakwera and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

The three political parties, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the United Democratic From (UDF), and the Peoples Party (PP) all promised prosperity for the people of Malawi. However, the structure of Malawian political parties looks increasingly to be made up of political families who are chosen because of affiliation rather than merit. This sort of political selection leaves questions as to the credibility of some of the politicians, because a good number of them are only employed because their relatives hold senior positions in and around the executive.

Politicians are like modern-day pastors in that the prevailing ideology has entrusted them with a job which in theory can be likened to bringing salvation to the people of the world. Politics is about bringing change for countries and helping those that are helpless and living in abject poverty. Whether for good or ill, Politics has also been about ensuring that those who hold power and resources, get to keep that power, and those resources. But all good Politicians have to be patriotic, strong-willed, selfless, truthful and compassionate in the face of global societal problems. Michael Ignatieff , Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard’s Kennedy School writes,

All the best reasons for going into politics never really change: the desire for glory and fame and the chance to do something that really matters, that will make life better for a lot of people. You have to be one of those people with outsized, even laughable ambition, who want their convictions to mean something more than smart conversation at dinner tables. You have to have a sense of vocation, a belief that something must be done and that you’re the person to do it.

The problem we have with Malawian politicians is that most of them never had a calling to become politician. Most of them just became politicians because of circumstances and opportunities that came their way. Most of all, some people in Malawi take politics as a means to an end of all their financial problems. Some Malawian politicians think more of the perks that come with the job than the job they were entrusted with by the electorate – who are always seeking the right individuals to govern them. Further, most of our politicians who are in power or in the opposition parties are usually handed the opportunity to become a politician on a silver platter.

hand-634689_640In an article titled ‘Barack Obama: how an unkown senator became president of USA‘, Robert McGuigan Burns details how Obama from an early age at Harvard embodied leadership qualities. An excerpt from the article describing Obama’s early achievement at Harvard University and how he turned down a high-paying job to work with the community.

After finishing High School he would study at Columbia University in New York before later going to gain a law degree from Harvard University. It was at Harvard that, somewhat portentously, Obama became the first African American President of the Harvard Review. Moreover, Obama’s co-workers, notably John Owens, were already noting Obama’s presence and power early in his career. In a Boston Globe article from 1990, Owens described: “…this guy (Obama) sounds like he’s president of the country already…” (Matchan, 1990). Obama chose to decline a high paying corporate law job in favour of a small civil rights firm and continue his work in the community, later entering politics (Bacon, 2005: pp 60).

In contrast to our politicians, how many Malawian politicians have such backgrounds where they dedicate years of their lives to work with the community from an early age? How many Malawian politicians can claim to have turned down a life-changing opportunity to work with people for a meagre salary? To understand the needs of those at the bottom. To build an informed picture of what the country truly needs?

Let us talk of our current president Peter Mutharika. Professor Mutharika worked at the prestigious Washington University for about 40 years where he was a professor at law. One of the colleagues at the Washington University had this to say about Professor Mutharika when they heard he was involved in politics in Malawi,

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” said attorney John Kozyak, one of Mutharika’s first law students at Washington University in 1971, and now a friend. “So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb. I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Indeed Mutharika today is the president of Malawi at 74 years of age. Peter Mutharika was drummed up to be the leader of DPP through his brother’s presidency. I would strongly argue that had Bingu Wa Mutharika, Peter’s brother had failed to win the 2004 general elections, It is highly doubtful whether Peter Mutharika would have seen the light of day as President of Malawi. The argument is that Peter Mutharika became a politician by chance. Primarily because his brother was handpicked as UDF’s candidate, and subsequently became the president of Malawi. Peter Mutharika did not join politics of his own conviction and drive. I don’t believe that for the 40 years that he was in the USA he at any point seriously planned to become a politician in Malawi at the age of 65. If he did, then the evidence is nowhere to be seen. No political articles written, no evidence of serious participation in Malawian or other political Pan African organisations in the diaspora. Nothing.

A similar scenario applies to Atupele Muluzi whose father Bakili Muluzi was the first democratically elected president of Malawi in 1995. The young Muluzi, having little political experience in the form of a parliamentary seat, came out of nowhere, to head the United Democratic Front, when there were other senior individuals with substantially more experience, and who had been in the party for many years, some since its inception in 1992. This incident splintered the party, and saw the exit of some bigwigs, the likes of Brown Mpinganjira. Others claimed Atupele would be used as a puppet by his father Bakili, who Malawians will remember failed to change the constitution of Malawi to allow him to serve for a third presidential term. The senior Muluzi rejected this allegation.

Similarly, the current member of parliament for Zomba Malosa  Roy Kachale Banda, whose mother Joyce Banda took over the reins of power after Bingu Wa Mutharika’s sudden death, arguably joined politics only because his mother became president. It’s probable that his parliamentary campaign was financed by funds which only became available due to his mother’s elevated profile. In any case, Joyce Banda has been active in politics since 1999, winning the same Zomba Malosa constituency Roy now represents. Why didn’t Roy join politics earlier?

There have been several other examples.

Therefore, it is not rash to conclude that a considerable number of individuals that join politics in Malawi, do it for the wrong reasons. If a member of a family joins politics, it is common that cousins, sons, daughters, uncles or aunts, all suddenly have the conviction to help serve in an official capacity, under the totally convenient pretext that they want to ‘develop the country together with their relative’ who happens to be in power. Consequently, these become helpers, assistants and other officials around the corridors of power. And while one may argue that if the rules or constitution does not explicitly prohibit employment of  family or relatives then it shouldn’t be a problem, but what about a conflict of interests? What does it say of our politics? Further, when Malawi has suffered from tribalism and neopatrimonialism for many years, how justifiable is such behaviour?

cardsI believe that political and leadership skills in general are skills that either have to be learned, and or have to be honed over the years of someone’s life. One cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a politician. The awakening of politicians usually happens earlier in life where one decides to dedicate his/her life to help others through politics. It is delusional if not dangerous for anyone to consider themselves a politician just because a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt or uncle has or had a position in the government at some point.

As things stand in Malawi at the moment, cronyism is the biggest recruiter of politicians, when it should have been patriotism and a desire to improve people’s lives inspiring selfless individuals to be a part of change. This is why political parties in Malawi are run as if they are family entities, complete with wedding receptions of relatives at State House almost every year.

DPP has had two Mutharikas at the helm. UDF has had two Muluzi’s at the helm. AFORD has had two Chihanas at the helm and we are yet to see the next leader of PP after Joyce Banda. My guess is he or she will be dynastically linked to Joyce Banda. Even MCP in John Tembo had a leader who was arguably connected by a dynastic ‘family’ tie to Dr Kamuzu Banda via Cecilia Kadzamira.

However this is not to argue that one cannot become a politician when a relative or family member has been in top government positions. The intentions are the issue here. My argument lies in the manner in which politically affiliated individuals ascend to roles of power when their lives previously had nothing to do with politics.

(Edited by S Nkhwazi)

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Selling Malawi for Peanuts

In whatever we do as a country, we need to make sure that the development path we take should be sustainable for the inter-generational cause. Our generation inherited a beautiful country and as the current custodians of this land, it is our duty to safeguard the interests of current and future generations of native Malawians.

It is my belief that those who fought to extricate colonialism were driven with the fervent desire to see this country independent of foreign dominion that was British Imperialism. It is therefore our duty to honour the wishes of those who fought and died for our Malawi by making sure that native Malawians are the drivers of development in Malawi.

David Korten, one of the leading proponents of alternative development once wrote,

The survival of our civilization, and perhaps our very lives, depends on committing ourselves to an alternative development practice guided by the three basic principles of authentic development: justice, sustainability and inclusiveness-each of which is routinely and systematically violated by current practice‘.

Today, Malawi is slowly creating an economy which will become dependent on some foreigners who are only here on temporal basis to make a fortune. Native Malawians are slowly being excluded from many vast opportunities that this nation has to offer, and I believe that the development course taken today by us, will harm the interests of our children and future generations because of our shortsightedness.

The biggest issue that is worrisome in this country is the sale of lucrative land to foreigners. According to Watipaso Mzungu’s report in the Nation newspaper of 17th January, only 5 native Malawians own business land in Limbe. It is a sad development on our part because just about 3 decades ago, native Malawians owned lucrative land especially in the cities of Malawi.  At the rate we are going, native Malawians will end up being excluded in their own country because we only want to satisfy our current intra-generational needs. I am not saying that it is wrong for foreigners to invest in Malawi, but we need to exercise caution when prime land is being sold to foreigners without securing the interests of native Malawians. A good example is that of the conflict between the locals of Masasa in Mangochi and Mota Engil. The locals claim they were not consulted about the selling of their land by the government to Mota Engil. The traditional authority tried to coax the locals to give up their land to Mota Engil, a transnational corporation which has plans to build a 5 star hotel and golf course by the lake in Mangochi. In the end, the irate locals of Masasa fought with the T/A, councillor and the police which left 2 people dead and others seriously injured. These are the situations which are unsustainable for Malawi because we are ready to deprive our own people their lake which ancestors lived with for many generations. The 5 star hotel and golf course is a welcome investment but it should not be to the detriment of the locals at Masasa. I am sure the lake has many vacant tracts of land where this 5 star hotel can be built without displacing people. Development is about including a people’s livelihoods in projects which ensure that poor local communities are not excluded from benefitting from our natural resources.

Another worrying aspect of this land issue is that there are some unscrupulous chiefs who sell large tracts of valuable customary land to foreigners without securing the interests of future generations in their communities. Malawi has one of the most beautiful natural beaches in the world and there is need for us to limit and protect the sale of this land. The large swathes of land along Lake Malawi should be protected for our future generations’ livelihoods and investment opportunities. Future generations of Malawi might have the access to the much needed capital or funds to invest in these areas, and it is in our best interests that we preserve prime land along the lake shore. It would be very selfish of us to deprive our future compatriots of investment opportunities in their own country because of our ineptitude in prioritising national and indigenous interests. According to the Africa Conference on Land Grab’s research, over 55 million hectares of land in Africa has been “grabbed” since the year 2000. These land grabs are happening without any informed consent from development managers and thus millions of vulnerable communities in Africa are at risk of being displaced from their own lands.

Conflicts between Paladin the Australian mining company and the local people at the Kayelekera mining facility shows that Malawi is not ready to manage finite resources in a sustainable manner. Foreign investors scour the earth to find countries with surplus natural resources but with weak or ineffective environmental laws, because it reduces operating costs for firms.  Paladin has been mining uranium for years in Karonga but where do the proceeds go? Can anyone really point out any structure in this country that was built using proceeds from uranium mining? Uranium is a finite resource and if we are not careful, we will deplete our reserves with nothing to show for it. Once again, Malawians are handing out natural resources to the foreigner who will only continue to exploit us.

In the midst of conflicts between the locals and Paladin at Kayelekera, we hear that the government is busy employing foreign companies to explore the possibility of oil in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a source of food and income for the poor living along the lake shore, and if there was to be an oil spillage, we risk the well-being and livelihoods of current and future lakeshore inhabitants. For centuries, our people have lived in harmony with this lake and it would be very selfish of our generation and our leaders to put others at risk because of our voracious greed. In terms of attraction for tourism, Lake Malawi is all we have. I’m sure no Malawian needs any reminder of what happened with Nyika National Park. If it was not for this lake, we would have no tourists coming to Malawi because Lake Malawi is the epitome of attraction in this country. I believe that oil drilling in Lake Malawi is not sustainable because oil is finite resource and also an environmental hazard that can destroy livelihoods and the lake’s Biodiversity. Lake Malawi provides 70 to 75 per cent of the animal protein consumed by both urban and rural communities. It would therefore be negligent for the government to sanction oil drilling in the lake which provides critical habitat for an amazing array of plants and animals including bacteria, fungi, algae, plankton, mussels, snails, crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

When our leaders go outside of this country, they are always selling Malawi to the world as a place of investment opportunities. Indeed Malawi is a peaceful country which offers cheap labour and less competition for businesses, and it is therefore a haven for foreign investors. What we have to remember is that a foreign investor is seeking to make maximum profits, and the only way to do this in a host economy is by “cost reduction”. In Malawi, a lot of native Malawians employed by some foreign companies are being underpaid and exploited for monetary gains which sometimes do not even benefit our economy. A lot of our able graduates are languishing without jobs because some of our so-called investors only employ their relatives in top-tier jobs while Malawians are employed in low-tier jobs. Foreign direct Investment (FDI) is important in modern-day economics and plays the largest part in the growth of economies in a globalised world. However, when FDI is benefiting the foreigner than the host country, there is need to improve the structures to combat unscrupulous employers exploiting the weak and poor. There are a lot of foreign owned companies in Malawi who are exploiting the local personnel simply because our institutional governance structures are either weak or corrupt.  Malawians should not just be used for menial jobs only because we have educated people in this country who can fill up higher positions in foreign owned businesses.

We also have foreign investors who travel hundreds or thousands of miles away to invest in salons, clothes shops or other small enterprise trading entities. As much as Malawi needs investors, I doubt that these small trading entities are bringing any meaningful monetary gains for the country. If our trading partners in the West were following our pattern and forms of foreign investment, it is highly unlikely that their economies would have grown to astronomical heights. Malawi is a poor country that has a high unemployment rate and there is need to protect local entrepreneurs with small business enterprises. If foreigners monopolise the smallholder business market, the local Malawian entrepreneur is at risk of losing his/her business.

If we are to sustain development, native Malawians need to be the primary drivers of the economy and not the other way round. When we give licences or contracts to transnational corporations, Malawians should also be included in these processes to ensure accountability and justice. The Kayelekera mine is a good example whereby we are giving away our uranium to foreigners without any visible gain for the country. If we cannot get a good deal with foreign mining companies, it is not wrong for us to preserve our uranium for our future generations who might be in a better position to manage such resources. In this modern age of technological advancement, uranium plays an important part in the generation of energy. As our population grows, our hydro-electrical plants will not be enough to sustain Malawi and who knows, the future generations of this country might have the capability of setting up nuclear plants! It is therefore important for us to always think for our future generations because they too have the right to enjoy the resources this country has today.

All in all, I believe that we are the generation that is supposed to build a strong foundation for the house of Malawi, and if we fail, our future compatriots will inherit a broken country with little or no promise. And don’t be surprised if at that time, your”investors” all flee, and the country is thrown into chaos and violence.

Development is about continuity and the little we can manage to do in our lifetime is enough for others to carry on. If we do not have the capability to extract natural resources today, then there is no need for us to entrust our wealth with foreigners who are only here exploit our God-granted gifts. We cannot do everything in our lifetime.

Paja amati kuthamanga sikufika!

The Last Words of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi

If there was a country in Africa that had an admirable social welfare system, it was Libya. At the height of Gaddafi’s rule, Libya was the richest country in Africa and fewer people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands. However, recent reports about the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS in Libya, exposes the magnitude of lawlessness which has plagued the country since the fall of Gaddafi. Libya is currently ruled by militia groups who were once the united rebels who managed to topple Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. In early January 2015, the head of US Defense intelligence warned of the growing influence of ISIS in countries like Libya, which are compounded with governance issues. Currently, Libya has two governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk. And Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya, is controlled by Islamist fighters with links to al-Qaeda.
In 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, travelled to Libya in the wake of a defeated Gaddafi. A jubilant crowd received Cameron and Sarkozy as the liberators of Libya that was to begin a new lease of life after Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime.

Cameron addressed the crowd saying “It is great to be in a free Benghazi and in a free Libya”.

Sarkozy also addressed the crowd and in his speech he had this to say, “You wanted peace, you wanted liberty, you want economic progress. France, Great Britain and Europe will be on the side of the Libyan people”

Cameron and Sarkozy reassured the population of Libya that Gaddafi was cornered and that Libya was to be free of his despotic rule.

The last minutes of Gaddafi’s life were captured on video by one of the rebel fighters Ali Algadi, who filmed a captured bloody and dazed Gaddafi. Both Gaddafi and his son Mo’atissim were captured alive, but were later reported to have died at the hands of the rebels who captured them in Sirte. Amnesty International and UN human rights officials raised concerns with the dubious way that Gaddafi and his son died, when conflicting reports of their deaths surfaced.

This should have been the first indication of what was to become of Libya which was once a prosperous and peaceful country. However, Libyans and the West hailed Gaddafi’s death as a victory for freedom and democracy, but what they did not realise is that some of the rebels they were aiding were Islamic radicals with known links to terrorist organisations.

Since the fall of Gaddafi, it is difficult to talk about Libya as a nation-state because the country has broken up into city-states. The central government which is supposed to be based in Tripoli has little control of affairs in a country which is ruled by about a 1000 militias. In 2012, the US ambassador to Libya was killed in Benghazi when a group of militants stormed his compound. In early 2014, there were attempts to unify Libya through a draft constitution, but the process failed miserably due to minimal support by the Libyans. Only 500,000 people participated in the votes of the draft constitution, when about 3 million people turned out to vote in the parliamentary elections in the previous year.

Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libyans have bemoaned the greed for power and money that has consumed militia groups who have reined terror in the once prosperous country. GlobalPost engaged with civilians on the streets of Tripoli and all of them complained about the current situation in Libya. On the streets, no one openly embraced Gaddafi’s rule, but in private many spoke fondly of the period before the revolution that was under Gaddafi’s rule. One rebel fighter said:

“I would say the majority of Libyans used to like Gaddafi and they still like Gaddafi especially now they see the chaos…But none of them can say this in public. In Gaddafi’s time we were all afraid of the regime, but now we have multiple powerful groups in Libya. Now you don’t know who could arrest you, detain you, beat you or even kill you without shame”

Another Tripoli native refused to believe that Gaddafi’s tenure was better even though a lot of people in Tripoli thought so. He believes that it is normal for a country to go through turmoil after a war, and he is optimistic that things will change in Libya.

It should be disheartening for some of the Libyan people to witness the destruction that has engulfed Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. NATO played a pivotal role in defeating Gaddafi, but they have chosen to ignore the chaos that is Libya today and leading western countries such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom, have all shut down their embassies. The task of brokering peace between the many militia factions in Libya has been left to the UN mediator, Bernadino Leon who has called it a difficult task.

Thus, it is not rash to suggest that the West should therefore bear a large part of the responsibility for the destruction of Libya because they were the ones who supported the rebels to topple Gaddafi. In fact some intellectuals have suggested that Western countries were at the forefront of orchestrating regime change in Libya, primarily because they were after oil, and profit from trading arms with the new regime that would be installed (see another source here). Whichever way one chooses to view the intervention, it was very premature for the West to support rebels they knew very little about, and evidently, we can all see now that their involvement in the Libyan civil war has helped to hand the country over to militias and Islamic fundamentalists of all shades.

The change the West promised the Libyan people is a far cry from the benefits that the Libyan citizen used to enjoy under Gaddafi’s rule. Under Gaddafi’s rule some of the benefits for a Libyan citizen included free electricity, no interest on bank loans, all newlyweds would receive US$50,000 from the state to buy an apartment, the country had no external debt and 87 percent of the population was literate. Gaddafi was indeed a dictator, and like all dictators, had a long list of imperfections and human rights abuses to his name. No one sensible can condone that list of errors.

But if you take an objective view of the situation from then and up till now, then it is clear that recent events in Libya prove that the country was far better off under Gaddafi’s rule, than under the so-called NTC government (and subsequent governments of the General National Congress and Council of Deputies), which again and again have demonstrated their failure to govern or unite the country.

The last words of  a bloodied Gaddafi did not make sense when he posed the question to his captors,

“Do you know right from wrong?”

After all the bloody chaos (recently the beheading of Coptic Christians by Isis), one would hope that some of those militants who blindly fought Gaddafi’s rule under some misguided anti-dictator cum liberation sentiment now know right from wrong.

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Does Education matter in Malawian Politics?

We vote for politicians because we want our country to do better. We stand queueing for hours to pick a president and member of parliament of our choice. We wait anxiously by the radio for results, but it seems that no matter who we elect in Malawi, we end up being disappointed. By now we all know that most Malawian politicians are opportunists who have over the years acquired impeccable skills in ‘party migration’. They are skilled in image reinvention and tactful only when their personal interests are on the line. For years, politicians in Malawi have played this game with us and I wonder whether education has a part to play in all of this.  Is it because we have set the bar too low for politicians in terms of education?

Politicians are a special people because billions of people in the world  depend on them to solve the many global societal problems. In representative democracies, politicians are employed to make policies which reflect the wants and needs of the electorate. Through political manifestos, the electorate make choices on who is better poised to govern and through the ballot box, politicians are entrusted with the most important jobs on earth. It is therefore important that the electorate through their choices pick the best men and women who have the ability to achieve positive results for their countries.

box-321776_640The phenomenon of globalisation has changed the nature of international politics through the interconnectedness of different states in the world. Transnational Corporations have sprung up all around the world. States co-operate with each other on inter-state relational matters through international organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation to name a few. The game of politics has changed at the world stage and competition between states through international treaties requires witty  politicians to make positive gains for their respective countries. For countries to win, there is need to employ politicians that have the necessary skills in international politics to compete with their counterparts. The international stage is where all the treaties concerning trade, security, the environment and other pressing national matters are negotiated. It is where our fate as a country is sealed through our negotiation skills and capabilities.

Malawi being part of this competitive global world needs brilliant minds to compete at the international level with other countries. Whatever politicians do at the domestic level still has an impact on us as a nation because we are living in a globalised world. We need capable minds that can be able to sit and challenge ‘hand me down’ policies that have for years held African countries down. Malawi needs people who can initiate policies that can increase our comparative advantage in the area of international trade. I therefore believe that it is only through education that we can be able to disseminate the complex world of inter-state  relations in the new liberal world order.

It is therefore questionable that the most important jobs in the country only require an ‘o’ level certificate as the minimum qualification.  Some of the leaders we elect in our parliament only have an ‘o’ level certificate and it is highly doubtful that knowledge attained at this level can produce minds that can initiate structural transformation in Malawi. Politicians are responsible for developing countries, and the content and scope of knowledge at ‘o’ level is insufficient  for one to grasp the intricate world of development theories. If we are serious about advancing our standing at the international stage, an ‘o’ level mind will not be able to compete with the many brilliant minds out there. The international realm is about competition and if we are to have a chance at diversifying our economy, then a Malawi School Leaving Certificate will fail us.

This country fails because we employ people who are not qualified for their jobs. We have seen ministers heading ministries with the wrong qualification or without any tertiary qualification on their portfolios. We have seen ambassadors being appointed to head embassies without any prior qualification or knowledge in international relations/politics. We have some members of parliament who only have an ‘o’ level certificate and then we wonder why these MPs spend 5 years just clapping hands as solutions to our problems. We have councillors that do not even know what town planning is all about and then we wonder why a nightclub is opened next to people’s homes.

This is why our parliament is passive when it comes to enforcing the clauses in laws in section 65. This is why our presidents to not even care to declare their assets at the start of their term as required by law. Parliamentarians are supposed to ensure that the constitution of Malawi is respected by all political parties. However, time and again, our MPs let us down because most cannot even realise the seriousness of not upholding the constitution.

I therefore firmly believe that Malawi needs tertiary educated politicians starting from top to bottom. And if they are educated, their qualification should be at least relevant to their posting. We need politicians who are qualified to grasp the challenges facing a developing country such as Malawi. Most non governmental organisations doing developmental work at the district level in this country require staff with a tertiary education. It is then absurd that the most important jobs in this country only requires a secondary school education.