Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace

Iranian grandfather and his grandson
Iranian grandfather and his grandson

This article titled Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace from Salon is beautifully written and I can’t help but comment.
I think in a world where western countries have in the past used their economic advantage to suppress dissent or force countries which do not agree with them into line, or to punish countries which disagree with them (e.g. Cuba, Zimbabwe), such carefully articulated views must be more widely disseminated in so far as showing who is in the wrong and being unfair.
In my view, it can never be right or fair for some countries to be at mercy of other countries which have an economic oligarchy / monopoly … and greater military power. The average Iranian has never done anything wrong to any American, so why should they suffer as a result of economic sanctions on Iran for the decisions of their leaders? And why should they suffer at all – just because their country’s leaders fundamentally disagree with the Americans?

In the past Americans through doctrines such as Manifest Destiny have pursued imperialist ambitions culminating with their defeat in Vietnam. And when the Shah of Iran, the puppet leader the American leadership installed in Iran was ousted, and the Islamic Revolution took off, it seems some have harboured this unreasonable anger against Iran since then. In my view it is no more than a hegemonic attempt to control other people, to exploit their resources, and suppress dissent that is driving America into conflict, and you don’t need to refer to the hacking of communications of world leaders by the NSA to see this kind of poisonous mindset.

The opposition to this nuclear deal is frankly disgusting, and for me it shows a number of things about some American leaders including:-

  • there are too many warmongering American leaders who still believe it is up to them to police the world, and tell others how they should live their live.
  • the United States is partial and dishonest about nuclear power, as it is about carbon emissions ( do as I say, not as I do)
  • If you are willing to indiscriminately bomb iran, its children, its women, what does that say of how you see the Iranian people? ……………………   Would those same leaders be happy if some country bombed New York or San Francisco?….. It’s people, its women, its children causing deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?…………… Of course not….. So why then is it acceptable or somehow even a consideration for the American airforce to bomb the people of Iran, just as they’ve done in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – causing untold devastation and suffering, causing deaths of over a million people and leading to the rise of ISIL? Why is it acceptable to bomb a middle eastern country but not acceptable to drop bombs on the people of California? The answer to that question is this: because those hawks and others who think like them, advocating military action or heavy economic sanctions against foreign countries, are racists who do not view Iranians as people in the same way that they view American people; they don’t see Iranians as people deserving peace, happiness, prosperity and security. They see them via a patriarchal lens that categorises people based on their skin colour, where they were born and what they believe in …..
  • If it was possible for some of the leadership to have normal family relations with people of Iranian / Iraqi heritage, say grandparents of a spouse in Iran, or had married Iranian women/ men, and got to visit Iran, and see the ordinary lives of the Iranian people; people who just wanted to be part of the global village, to send their kids to school, to be able to afford groceries, to be able to afford nice holidays, to have safety and security, I think some of them would realise the flaws in their thinking, and begin to see things differently. But as things stand, it’s stunning just how offensive some of the rhetoric is – which I think points to being closed minded.

Such type of divisive conduct is what made dictatorships such as Nazi Germany, and such type of thinking is what was responsible for everything from the holocaust to Colonialism and Slavery; that certain people have more value than others; that certain people deserve to be treated better than others; that certain people should be subservient to others.

I totally reject such type of thinking.

All people are equal and valuable under the sun, before God, irrespective to where they live, their skin colour, their nationality, their sexual orientation, gender or age, irrespective of where they were born, or how much money is in their bank accounts.

You may not agree with the Iranians or the Afghan people or Iraqis over one policy issue or another, but that doesn’t authorise you to bomb their country and bring death and devastation to their lands… what happened to your Christian values – if you claim to have values? Would Jesus Christ – the same Biblical character who courted the poor – authorise the bombing of Iran? Bombing another sovereign country unprovoked, and for no sensible reason only shows you to be a coward akin to a school playground bully. If he can’t get what he wants he fights.

But even if you were not Christian/religious, what about simple and old-fashioned humanity and decency? What about propriety?

I don’t believe Iran is capable of bombing Israel, if anything they are more troubled about the plight of Palestinians, as is every true muslim. Let’s be honest, Palestinians are in a much worse situation than that which black people of Apartheid South Africa ever were, and if I were a muslim I too would be more concerned than I already am.

So this ridiculous fallacy that Iran is a threat to world peace must be put to bed sooner than later, and Chomsky does a good job at this. Over the course of my life in the UK, I’ve known a few Iranians, and they tell me their country cannot attack Israel or some other country because the military wouldn’t have the support of the people. Army officers would simply refuse to effect any such nonsensical order. The establishment may have gotten away with rigging elections during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, but they would never get away with such an atrocity. The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, was largely because being a volunteer to the Revolutionary Guards – he may have felt obliged to appease his fellow hardliners, the same camp he may have had to return to after serving as president. So, far from his talk being threats, it was just theatrics.

Also how would the world react against Iran if they indeed fired even a single missile into Israel? The Iranian leadership is not stupid not to know that such would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. It’s a disingenuous western lie by an unholy alliance of the right-wing media and dodgy alarmist politicians who are drumming up the hatred against Iran, for some other motive – my guess a financial motive. The same kind of lies that claimed Weapons of Mass Destruction existed in Iraq.

After all the ills of the last 200 or so years, each country should decide what they want to do, and how they want to do things, it should not be up to Europeans or Americans or anyone else! to dictate to the rest of the world how they should live their lives or how they should generate their energy or what kind of policies those countries should adopt. After everything the Americans and Europeans have done in the past, which history can testify to, it sure is high time to get off the high horse.

Racism and Bigotry is encouraged from the top, but the real enemy is Global Inequality

The other day – about two weeks ago, the British Prime minister referred to the migrants at Calais trying to cross into the UK as ‘swarming..’ It was an insensitive term and many people rightly took offence. On twitter, many condemned such a wording as dehumanizing.

A few days ago, Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary joined Mr Cameron, speaking of ‘marauding migrants‘ threatening the standard of life of British nationals in the UK. Again, Like Cameron, you have to wonder on which planet these people live on. Amnesty International called the language shameful. The Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael had this to say:

“The Tories’ language is becoming increasingly hostile and unsavoury. In reality, they are too scared to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Calais.

“Britain can’t escape the problem just by sounding ‘tough’, it needs to take a lead.

“It’s time we proved our worth on the world stage, signed up to the EU asylum policy and accept our share of vulnerable refugees, rather than expect other countries to do it for us.”

I think it is insensitive to describe other human beings in such animate and dehumanizing terms, and just goes to show how out of touch politicians really are. It also shows that humans from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are not valued in the same way British or European people are.

It’s a fallacy to see British leaders going around the world preaching democracy and peace, when right on their doorsteps, they are treating foreigners like crap. You can’t make that up, and you’d hope the world is watching.

Asylum Aid criticised the Foreign Secretary’s words as

“inaccurate and inflammatory statements”,

I agree, they present a skewed picture that divorces nuance for the situation. I’m waiting for the day a sensible British politician will rise up who will say to the people of the world that the actions of British leaders in the past have caused immense human pain, and damaged other lands far away from British shores. And some of that damage is still being felt today. I may not be alive when that happens, but I hope one day someone will be honest and brave enough call a spade a spade.

Knowing what I know about British History (both what you are taught in school, and what you find out for yourself), and having experienced first hand the institutional racism in the UK, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that in some sections of the UK population non-white people are treated differently to white people. There is extreme hostility against foreigners, which is not entirely surprising since the media fans hatred all the times. But it’s kind of strange seeing migrants contribute so much to the UK (not only via the NHS, but in the taxes they pay).

The government’s attitude towards immigration is so frustrating precisely because it is so wrong-headed. There is endless proof that the long-term benefit of migrants and asylum seekers are manifold – Ugandan refugees, for instance, have created approximately 30,000 jobs in the Leicester since 1972. Last year the Treasury’s independent advisers said that immigration is beneficial to the economy as new arrivals are most likely to be of working age – and even the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote, stated that growing immigration to the UK “does tend to produce a more beneficial picture” for the economy. Read more here

So then why would a leader or a minister speak so negatively about migrants? Cameron and Hammond are hardly Nigel Farage, they can’t possibly be that ignorant not to see the repurcussions of their statements.

Isn’t such talk exactly the kind of talk which sows the seeds of racism, hatred and bigotry in society? Are these the kind of behaviours these leaders want to encourage in Britain? I think not, my guess is there is an agenda – some political capital is to be carved from all this.

To me this is how it looks: they are saying migrants, whose ancestors, Europeans took advantage of, looted their lands of every natural resource, enslaved their peoples, raped their women, made wars against them, divided up their lands along nothing but profit-driven motives, and generally reduced to poverty entire peoples – as they did in India and China; and whose descendants – the migrants – are now trying to find a way of escaping hardship, poverty, discrimination and violence in their own lands,  are not worthy of peace, of security, of assistance – seeing their past troubles, of prosperity. Essentially that they are subhuman, thats what the actions say.

https://soundcloud.com/rttv/calais-ryan

The Greatest Cover-Up in History ? How Imperial Britain’s Racist India, Africa & China Narrative ‎Still Persists

Actions speak louder than words, and what we are seeing here is an entitlement mentality. That it’s okay for historical European abuse of non-European peoples to be swept under the carpet; that the bombing of Libya, Iraq and support for Syrian rebels is irrelevant to the migrant crisis and must be brushed over, that if you plunder resources of other countries, and create economic and political instability…  its okay because if s**t happens, you can always close the borders. It’s the sort of things these people on this poster would say

criminals

During Nazi Germany’s reign, Hitler’s honchos put out propaganda which was later enacted upon to make life difficult for foreigners in Germany, in particular for Jews. What followed was a human atrocity that culminated in the holocaust, but which the Nazi machinery justified with all sorts of abominable stories. But there was a sinister motive behind the hostile rhetoric, and the Nazis made a lot of money out of it.

There’s always a sinister motive behind hostile rhetoric.

Today, the migrants at Calais are not being threatened by gas chambers or execution, but the language directed towards them – by politicians, not least the likes of the Daily Mail – is no better than that which was used by the Nazi machinery. Still, most of these migrants have no access to land or capital in the countries they flee; a polar opposite to Western corporations operating in Eritrea, Ethiopia, the various West African Countries, Syria and Iraq  – who have access to land and capital in those same countries.

The migrants have no security, and indeed may be at the mercy of criminal gangs and trafficking networks – something which expats in the aforementioned countries do not have to fear. The expats can get on with their easy and comfortable lives seamlessly, while the nationals of those countries – and their migrant brothers and sisters drowning in the mediterranean – struggle with day to day living, and can’t afford an existence, never mind a luxurious lifestyle.

Why do we keep on blaming the poor migrants whose poverty the West is partly responsible for? Countries where corruption, tax-evasion, profit-shifting and white-collar crime are responsible for the loss of over US$1tn in illicit financial outflows

ChristianAidDeath & Taxes – the true toll of tax-dodging

That is the real problem driving migrants to Europe – Inequality. Because if you have security, a good job, great educational and financial prospects and a social life – in your own country, why would you want to leave and risk your life for a pie in the sky?

British Red Cross managing director Norman McKinley recently said about the cuts to the money asylum seekers receive in the UK:

“These cruel cuts will plunge families into further poverty, making it agonisingly tough for parents to feed their children, and practically impossible to buy clothes and other essential items.”

What he forgot to mention is that many foreigners support family members back home. I know people who send as little as £20 every other month to a relative in Africa for one thing or another; to help someone pay for school, or for food, or to settle some bill. It’s not much, but it does the job, and helps people at the other end.

So then, if a government introduces policies that have the effect of creating economic hardship for an already deprived community/ section of the population, how will they be able to help their relatives abroad – who are in worse financial circumstances? It doesn’t make sense and if anything it’s counterproductive…

One final thing I should say is this. How many Swiss ‘migrants’ do you bump into everyday? Or how many ‘Norwegians’ or ‘Mauritians’ do you know or do you bump into on a regular basis?

Switzerland, Mauritius and Norway are rich countries, and their nationals live in their own countries because the countries have the capacity to create jobs and distribute wealth fairly amongst their people. When you look at Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and most countries in West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, the story is rather different.

Further, European and American corporations are not paying bribes (in exchange for lax tax arrangements) in Norway or in Switzerland, or are they? At least you rarely hear of such corruption, unlike in the countries from whence migrants come.

If Western businessmen continue to fleece the countries from whom migrants originate,of valuable resources, how can European leaders realistically expect migrants to stay in their own countries? When the funds the country is losing is exactly the kind of money that would create jobs and an economy that can support that country’s citizens… Let’s be honest here… it’s not going to happen, and some of this rhetoric is a smokescreen to the real problems.

Mr Cameron, and Mr Hammond, if you are really serious about reducing immigration, begin by pushing for real global economic equality, at national level, within the EU, within Commonwealth, at UN level and beyond. That in my view has got a much higher chance of curbing migration to Europe than anything else.

A promising future

VISION
a sky shot in a prominent Asian city

What does a future of peace and prosperity for Africa look like? Is such a future possible with the present dynamics at play across the continent? Is such a future sustainable? What needs to be done for every child to have food each day. For every child to have access to an empowering education? For every man to have access to land ? For each person to have access to work? What will it take to achieve safety and security on the continent? To end the proliferation of arms into the hands of militia and rebel groups….What will it take for African countries to feed their people – an end to hunger, to be able to clothe them – an end to poverty; to be able to afford essential medicines, provide for their old and vulnerable, to protect their people, and for African leaders to be able to resolve their differences without turning to war?

Maybe some of these are the wrong questions to be asking at this time, but even still, the solutions are there. If others can achieve them, the solutions have got to be there.

Bad-mouthing a country

monkeys-47226_640The other week President Peter Mutharika of Malawi said that Malawians should not bad-mouth Malawi. That people shouldn’t say negative things about the country.

Although I see his point, in that he would like a more positive message about Malawi to be visible, especially to foreigners, I was left wondering, how can one not comment on the things that are going wrong in the country when very little seems to be done to prevent against them; when those in power come across as either not caring, or are preoccupied with self-enrichment to take serious note of the needs of the populace.

For example, not too long ago, I read an article on Malawi 24 that said students at teacher training colleges were going hungry after the government stopped giving them allowances in April. The problem the article said was centred at Machinga Teacher’s training college where student’s had not been paid their allowances and did not have money to buy food. Yesterday another news report came out saying about 2.8 million people were at risk of starvation in Malawi. It quoted an assessment of the damage caused by the recent floods, by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which only last year also warned of food shortages).

But as far as hunger goes, there is more bad news. At the beginning of the month, the Malawi Congress Party refused an invitation to a state banquet commemorating Malawi’s 51 years of independence on moral grounds, saying why would you want to celebrate when the majority of Malawians were starving.

“Even ambulances are not operating, how can we be dinning and wining at the state House, this is setting priorities upside down” said Dr Jessie Kabwila, MCP’s publicity secretary.

They questioned why instead of spending K300 million (£427,870.00) on the banquet, the money couldn’t be used on a necessary expenditure such as on paying civil servant salaries – which had been delayed.

On one level I understand why when commemorating an occasion in which dignitaries and a president of another country  have been invited, it would be rude to send them back without some kind of a banquet. On another level though, desperate situations require wise measures. Spending on food and strong drink when salaries have not been paid is irresponsible.

Maybe they could have asked donors to chip in? But again, why can’t they ask donors to chip in to pay civil servants? And much more importantly, where is the ‘independence’ if you have to run to donors for every piece of expenditure?

But I digress, the reason people complain about what is happening in Malawi is not that they like complaining, or that they are anti-DPP. There may be some people who are just disgruntled moaners, but I think they are in the minority.

One of the most common reason why people complain about the situation in Malawi is because there appears to be way too many thoughtless decisions (which adversely affect Malawians) at the heart of government, and not enough thoughtful decisions to help the people on the ground. And frankly this trend has been the same with all previous multi-party governments since 1994. In my view, the only administration which tried harder (or appeared to be trying harder) than the rest to manage Malawi properly was Bingu Mutharika’s first government. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its ills. It did , and we can argue about that till the Chickens come home to roost. But the point is Bingu tried.

Which reminds me of my post last year here, titled 7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack.

African leaders must stop seeking medical treatment overseas

You can be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Budhist or Atheist, or none of these, but one thing you will all agree to is this: that there is no justification whatsoever for a leader of a country (his family, his ministers and families) to go overseas to a wealthy country to seek medical treatment, while his country’s people – who elected him to power, and most of whom are poor – make do with underresourced, understaffed and in some cases dangerous hospital facilities at home.

Yet this is what has been happening in Africa for at least 50+ years. Yes, thats right: 50 bloody fat years. Dictators and the anti-colonialist strongmen of the colonial and post-colonial era did it, at considerable public expense. Now their successors – politicians of governments in multiparty democracies who like to dress up in expensive western clothing and are accustomed to lavish lifestyles are doing exactly the same. While their poor countries continue sliding down, becoming poorer.

To the list of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zambia, add all the others you know of,  whose leaders are guilty of this behaviour.

Emmanuel Fru Doh, in his book Africa’s Political Wastelands:The Bastardization of Cameroon puts it like this:

‘Another area that shows how a people with resources end up exploited and deprived by their own government primarily, is health. Like Everything else in Africa, the health facilities have continued to shrink such that today one cannot even tell if anyone cares any longer about the system – its perpetrators and the victims, government officials and the public. One cannot help wondering then why all in Africa must keep rotting away in spite of the quality manpower and all else that the continent has to offer in every area of society, if not because of a system of government, borrowed from imperialists, that alienates instead of uniting the citizens. But then it dawns on one again, that this decay in the area of health is the case because the corrupt leaders can afford to fly to foreign nations for medical check-ups while the wretched of their nations are left to make do with sub-standard medical care. Why must a president, his clients, and members of the their families leave their country for medical consultation overseas instead of investing wisely by building and equipping hospitals that would benefit their nations? The answer is simple: most African leaders are not patriots and are unfortunately equipped with a weird sense of self-importance that only has meaning when they see others around them without the facilities they enjoy, albeit criminally in most cases. Ofcourse, but for greed, it would be easy for the World Health Organization and other international institutions making so much ado about helping poor African countries to start by making it impossible for African leaders to get medical treatment anywhere else but in their own countries. …’

Instead of trekking to Asia, Europe or the US for treatment, why not spend your country’s meagre resources upgrading its healthcare infrastructure, so that it is on par or better than the health services in Europe, Asia or the US? If Cuba can achieve that, with all the pressure their economy has been under the last 50+ years, why can’t African countries do the same.

DSC_0004_14

Surely, medical equipment is not the obstacle, because there are many sources of alternative approved medical equipment which is cheaper yet just as functional as much of the equipment in first class hospitals around the world.

Money also is not the issue because most of these governments lose hundreds of millions (if not billions) to corruption and other factors, meaning the money is there, it’s just being mismanaged.

So what then is the problem? Ian Taylor, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, writing on the South African Foreign Policy Initiative (SAFPI) website has this to say:

Of the ten African heads of state that have died of natural causes in office since 2000, only two actually passed on in their own countries. And of these two, both had been receiving medical care abroad and effectively returned home to die. In other words, not a single African head of state who has died in the last ten years of natural causes had any confidence in his own country’s healthcare.

The phenomena of African presidents dying abroad is truly a disgrace and reflects the failure of Africa’s leadership to seriously invest in healthcare provision. Quite simply, in many African states the elites have not bothered to provide public health leadership and management, have not invested in sufficient health-related legislation and the enforcement of such laws, have proven inefficient in resource allocation and use, and have systematically undermined the provision of adequate national health information and research systems.

A failure to invest in national healthcare systems has then led to extreme shortages of health workers, exacerbated by inequities in workforce distribution (with a strong urban bias) and subsequent brain drain.

Leaders haven’t bothered to fix hospitals or bring in legislation that will protect those hospitals, to ensure that they are well resourced and well-funded, or otherwise up to scratch. Taylor goes on to note that:-

Rampant corruption in procurement systems and inefficient supply systems then combine with unaffordable international prices to produce shells of “hospitals” where one has a greater chance of contracting something extra than being cured of one’s existing ailment.

So then, why haven’t African people taken their leaders to task about all this? Taylor again:

Elite survival comes from access to rents to distribute to patronage networks and thus retain key support, not on investing in services. Investment in such national infrastructure and the advancement of policies that benefit broad swathes of the population is not required in many of Africa’s neo-patrimonial regimes.

This has a direct impact on policy formulation. Why bother spending money on building and maintaining hospitals (or schools or universities) when one can fly to European hospitals to be treated—or send one’s kin abroad for education? Within the logic of many extant African regimes, it makes no sense to invest in public ventures. That’s what the gullible donors are for!

So African politicians know that even if they don’t fix hospitals or bad infrastructure, so long as they pay chiefs and other power brokers who help them maintain popular support, their hold on power is not threatened. Further, their irresponsible logic takes their people for granted by assuming that donors should be the ones fixing the hospitals?  As if the people in those countries voted for donors…

But if not impunity and contempt for their own people, what else explains leader’s like Mugabe’s  actions (see this silly speech here, which he gave after returning from a holiday in Asia – where he and with his family received medical check-ups and underwent treatment)?

What explains Mugabe’s behaviour when others, including one ZANU PF politburo member and former Midlands governor, Cephas Msipa, have refused to seek medical treatment abroad:

“Do we really have to go outside the country for treatment? We should be proud of our own health care services,” he said during the official handover ceremony of a US$1 million casualty ward at Gweru Provincial Hospital last year. He went on to say that:-

“Our doctors and nurses are capable and compete well with other health professionals in other countries. There is no need for people to go to India and other countries to seek medical attention because our own practitioners are equally competent.”

Now, I’m not saying that circumstances will not arise that necessitate the expertise of an overseas specialist in a particular medical area to be sought. Indeed expertise from specialists in various medical fields must be sought. But that’s not what is happening across Africa.

Another commentator who goes by the name Dr Given Mutinta says that medical trips abroad are ‘used as an opportunity to thank ‘good’ bootlickers to the big shots in government.’ Writing on the Zambian Watchdog he says:

If truth be investigated, how many government officials would want to use personal money to pay for medical treatment abroad when they leave office, if at all they would still have the money they are stealing? Besides, how many before coming into power sought medical treatment abroad? What has changed in the past three years they have been in power that they cannot be treated locally?’ noting that ‘These medical vacations are also a scheme government officials are using to embezzle public fundsan allegation I have encountered numerous times. He poses the question: ‘What are the kingpins at the Minister of Health, Dr. Joseph Kasonde and Dr. Chitalu Chilufya doing to promote local capacity, strengthen the health sector, improve fiscal policy on medical equipment and monitor medical tourism?’

DSC_0005_10I think Africans must ask such questions to their public officials. Upcoming and progressive African leaders need to take note of these repugnant anomalies in African politics, and find effective and sustainable ways of preventing what is not only a wanton waste of public resources, but also a violation of the trust of African people. To do this obviously means enacting legislation that will not only protect the healthcare sector, but will ensure that doctors and nurses are paid living wages that remunerates them adequately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack

Lets get a few things out of the way: Firstly I am African so I think I can make the above statement without being accused of racism, arrogance or being labelled as condescending. Secondly, over the course of a good part of a decade or so, I have been closely following African politics, and have realised that the lack of certain aspects in most African leaders either renders them ineffective in their governance or are partly responsible for their failure. Finally, the factors below are not lacking in African leaders only. Many non African leaders lack one or more of these ingredients.

1. Empathy for the man on the Street

poverty-509601_1920Why did it take Goodluck Jonathan so long to comment on the atrocity of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria? Why do politicians demand massive pay hikes while the majority of people in their countries continue to suffer with abject poverty? Further, why do leaders like the late Bingu Wa Mutharika buy a private jet when the country was struggling financially? What made it difficult for him to see his people needed more help? Whatever you want to call it, for me it boils down to lack of empathy. African leaders can be so aloof to the point most don’t even know the price of Chiwaya or Kanyenya on the street. How the hell are they supposed to know how best to help the common man escape the poverty trap and live a dignified life? [Essential reading: Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity in BoP markets]

2. Competent Advisers

advisorChief among the reasons why African politics stinks is one root of glaring rottenness: Bad advice. The continent is full of it. Wrong advisers who don’t care of the consequences of their advice. Officials who are uneducated (or have lied or faked their qualifications); Officials with little or no exposure to progressive ideas or development in action (so have not formulated a sound philosophy or adopted best practices and techniques that have delivered successful results elsewhere). Ignorant officials who are unwilling to learn.

These are the kind of people who are keen on titles, they like to feel important, but are completely disinterested in any form of intellectual stimulation or debate that will challenge their starved ideas or expose their narrow mindsets. To them money and material pleasures which they can solicit in the here and now is king.

Most political advisers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular in Malawi, are firefighters, reacting to the narratives developing around them, instead of leading the narrative. Which is especially problematic since the narrative in their countries is often a reaction to the public (or to the Media’s) as to their incompetency. Let me give an example. A London-based acquaintance once told me a story about his encounter with a presidential adviser: He had gone to Malawi a couple of years ago to sound out the possibility of a diaspora financing initiative that would alleviate forex shortages in Malawi. This was  at a time when the country was facing forex shortages. When an adviser from State House met him one evening – at a local beer joint, he was surprised to hear the adviser question why this acquaintance wanted to begin the initiative. The adviser asked this man something in the lines of “Who do you think you are to want to institute such an initiative?”. As if that was the most important thing. Unfortunately in Malawi, such an encounter with a presidential adviser is not rare, and there have been many accounts of instances where presidential advisers solicited bribes, or refused to take up ideas because such ideas had no immediate benefit to them.

The political adviser Africa needs is a person who has devoted their life to studying the successes and failures of prominent politicians. Someone who is happy to constantly delve into leaders and prominent personalities from Mandela, Lumumba, JFK and Che Guevara, to Mao, Reagan,Truman and Churchill, and extract valuable lessons from the lives and careers of these stalwarts. What were the highlights of their achievements? How did they help their peoples? What did they get right? What did they get wrong? What could they have done better? How have the times changed since, and what lessons from their leadership are applicable in today’s society (or today’s local setting)?

Tru3. Effective Operators

Having a title as the head of state, as a minister of some department or as a chief adviser to the government in itself doesn’t mean anything unless you can deliver on promises. And sometimes being the best implementor is better than having a title.  Many years ago, I read a biography of JFK that said JFK relied heavily upon the administrative abilities of his brother Robert Kennedy – who was Attorney general in JFK’s Government. It was ‘Bobby’ as Robert Kennedy was fondly known who implemented most things of importance. And the president had absolute belief in his brother’s implementation skills. This relationship is best captured by an account according to one researcher, Christian Hald-Mortensen,  in John F. Kennedy – Leadership Qualities That Moved A Nation:

Next to McNamara and Rusk, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was the most important cabinet member – in a class by himself. Undoubtedly, JFK’s ability to assert political control was strengthened by the presence of his own brother in the Executive Branch. He naturally became a close confidant of the President on policy matters that ranged beyond the jurisdiction of his own department. Bobby’s influence was felt throughout the government, as bureaucrats occasionally could pick up the phone and hear the attorney general requesting action on an initiative. “Little Brother is watching you” became an Administration in-joke

He [Bobby] was very assertive, to the nuisance of other advisors – the Undersecretary of State, Chester Bowles more than once went to the President and said: “Who is in charge here?”, “You are”, JFK replied, to which Bowles added “Then would you please tell that to your brother”

Most African leaders do not have enough capable implementors in government who can get things done, done properly, and done quickly.

4. Respect for the rule of Law

StopHow many times have you heard of an African leader using the police or army to oppress citizens of his own country? To disperse protesters. To frighten opponents,… even to murder dissidents. How many times have African leaders violated their countries’ constitutions in order to assert authority or suppress dissent? Hooligans hired to intimidate or censor the media. Thugs hired to beat up legal practitioners of their opponents. How many of these leaders self-examine to ascertain whether their actions are driven by selfish intentions, or whether their actions genuinely will benefit the country? How many will as soon as they leave office find themselves hounded by the very same laws they sought to undermine?

5. Seeing the bigger picture

robot-507811_640The common good is the bigger picture. Far removed from partisan squabbles, untainted by jealousies or fiscal shortsightedness, the common good is what we all should long for.

The question is, what can we as the government do for the people, whether they voted for us or not, to improve their lifestyle, their way of living, their health, to give them a vocation that can put food on the table, every day, to transform the country into a success, and to do all these things sustainably?

On any given day, the basic needs of man can probably be categorised as the need for Employment, affordable Food, affordable or at least decent shelter and the availability of Entertainment. To this list can be added accessible and affordable Healthcare, accessible quality Education, effective Transportation systems and a Social Mobility structure to aspire to. I’ve made some assumptions. For example I’m assuming  that a government is able to provide electricity (although this factor is not strictly necessary for people to be happy in the 21st century, it’s probably a must), clean drinking water, and sanitation.

In most African countries, even though most are past the 50 years + mark since they gained independence from colonisation, these basics haven’t been provided to the majority of their citizens. For example, in Malawi, about 80% of children do not have access to clean drinking water. Yet when you frequent the presidential palaces, and state residencies, there is luxury and opulence wherever you look?? What is stopping the country’s implementors from beginning a major borehole project to ensure that every village has access to clean drinking water? Instead of relying on aid organisations to dig boreholes, why can’t the government’s own Water Boards buy equipment and begin such a project?

Because leaders and their advisers either don’t care, or they fail to see the bigger picture.

I’ll give another example: Fuel. During Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, the Malawian economy came close to collapse as donors pulled out, due in part to Bingu’s autocratic tendencies, and due in part to his refusal to devalue the Malawi Kwacha. While I did not agree with Bingu’s increasingly oppressive governance, in my view, the episode will go down in history as a squandered opportunity for Malawi to advance economically because the government could have taken out a loan elsewhere (say from Russia, Iran, Norway, China or Brazil) and began instituting self-sufficiency initiatives designed to curb Malawi’s reliance on petroleum.

They would have done this by investing in alternative fuels like bio-diesel, including instituting an industrial scale vehicle conversion project to enable cars in Malawi to run on bio-diesel. They could have reviewed their contracts with large multinationals to ensure that foreign companies paid their fair share of tax. They could have passed emergency legislation banning import of products like Tea, Coffee, Eggs, Tomatoes, and other perishable goods in preference for locally sourced and locally processed goods. They could have invested in Solar Technology to create a huge Solar Power farm to feed power derived from Solar panels into Malawi’s energy grid. They could have created Tax free zone for certain industries like I.T. and Manufacturing, (excluding heavy industry like mining, Oil / Gas exploration) to attract investors and create employment among the Youth. They could have started a media campaign, explaining to the electorate the real effects of devaluation and over-reliance of foreign goods on foreign exchange reserves and the economy. They could have revamped tourism in the country, including tax breaks to new companies that attracted tourists to Malawi. They could have invested in Bottom of the Pyramid Industries, and individual communities, including building new and improved markets.

Think about it: wouldn’t more self-reliance projects rolled out in the form of cooperative unions help a small country like Malawi? Things like collective ownership of farm machinery to redeem farming time, and improve farming practices, is something that is not only achievable at village level but desirable for communities that expend a lot of energy on working the fields.

Furthermore, donors and investors may promise you the moon, but never forget that they have their own, sometimes selfish interests. There is evidence that some African leaders are unable to see this fact clearly. Whether it’s being asked to devalue the local currency, being prohibited from buying tractors for agriculture, or whether a loan with dodgy conditionalities attached is being offered, there’s nothing like a free lunch. African leaders would be best advised to seek independent advice from those unconnected with such transactions or institutions before committing to agreements or contracts which will come back later to bite their successors. Organisations such as  Corporate Europe Observatory and World Development Movement are known as being independent, and standing up for poor countries. They are certainly better than hiring expensive ex-prime ministers of European countries to advise you on government policy.

6. Admitting and learning from past mistakes

When was the last time you heard an African president apologise for some misdemeanour or disastrous decision their administration had been involved in? Or better, when was the last time you heard an African president take full responsibility for some catastrophic failure his government was responsible for? You know why you haven’t heard it: because it rarely happens.

7. Knowing when to step down

WelcomeOverstayedDon’t try to lobby your country for a change of the constitution so that you stay longer in power. Don’t try to force a puppet leader onto your political party, and the people, ignoring your party’s executive council, so that you stay in charge. Don’t manipulate whoever takes over the reins – let the best and most competent politician run the show! Even after you are gone.

Why did Nelson Mandela step down voluntarily after only one term? He was not forced, not pushed, nor coerced. It wasn’t as a result of a fall from grace. Mandela wasn’t overthrown. The man simply decided he had done his part for South Africa, and that it was time to leave the reins of power to  the younger generations, those who were more imaginative and hopefully could implement the vision of South Africa which he and many others before him had dreamed of. And in doing this, he chose the noble role of an advisory or father figure – one that all South Africans loved him for.

Why can’t more African politicians be like Nelson Mandela?

Walking away with your dignity intact can sometimes be the best thing you can do as a leader. And it’s not only good for the leader, it can set an excellent example for those who look up to you, and are following in your footsteps.

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Democracy: At what price?

chibamboOn the day that I saw the above message on Facebook, I also saw this, titled “Malawi, Africa Countries Snub ‘Un-African’ Proposals At UN CSW Meeting” which has the following two paragraphs:

“There were issues of comprehensive sexuality education, and abortion among others and it was proposed that a child should be taught about issues surrounding sexual life from the age 0 – 4, and that the girl child should not be restrained from having sexual intercourse as long as she is old enough,” explained Makungwa.

She added, “So as Africans, we stood our grounds because we found such proposals very un-African and as for other proposals such as that of homosexuality, we clearly told the meeting that as a country, the matter was referred to the public for debate.”

While conservative leaning churches would probably be pleased with these kinds of headlines, to me a more pressing issue is troubling.

Who gets to decide who makes the law? Or rather, who gets to decide who dictates public policy? Is it the people of an African country, its government or the donors and financial backers who must map public policy?

As a black person living in Britain, I’m always appalled when the rights of minorities are denied by popular sentiment, or by religious / perceived pseudo-religious beliefs of the majority. But in this case, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the fact that when less than 50 years ago the law in the UK forbade homosexuality, you now have what amounts to ‘carrot demands’ by what are probably western organisations pushing young African democracies to legislate or support similar laws to those which in the West took hundreds of years  (and murderous mistakes) to properly form. Irrespective of African culture and other considerations.

It’s a bit hypocritical isn’t it? In my terribly (un)imaginative mind, it sounds a bit like a man mouthing off in the London Underground voice ( ‘Mind the Gap’) : It took us 500 years to overturn these laws, it must stake you less than 40…”  Tasteless.

Further, on the list of what should be priorities (hunger, disease, poverty, education, rights of women, etc) of African leaders, where does LGBT rights feature? Is it really sensible to ask a presidential candidate to support gay rights when half his country’s population is starving, when the country has poor public health facilities, hospitals without medicines, when crime is compratively high (than in most western countries), when illiteracy levels are high, when there are poor educational prospects in the country, an unacceptably high number of women continue to die in childbirth, when unemployment is high, and when corruption is rife in both the public and private sector?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to allow the political leaders of African countries some leeway for what will probably be a slow but organic natural transition? As opposed to applying forced catalysts whose motives are not entirely clear.

Emotional Manipulators

Only you have the right to decide the course which your life should take. Nobody else, and nothing else should take that right away from you. You may have excuses to claim that your Faith / Religion absolves you of that prerogative, but I doubt any such excuses will take you that far. I also doubt they will improve your life. From my observations, especially of ‘church communities’ in the UK and Malawi, the chances are such excuses will benefit others, an elite few, more than it does you. Just ask anyone with a half a brain what the average income disparities between the ‘shepherds’ and the ‘sheep’ in pentecostal mega churches look like.

Yesterday I had a chat with a friend who has just encountered an emotional manipulator at his workplace in the form of his line manager. It’s come at a time when he’s going through a lot of difficult things in his private life. And although extremely upset, he’s decided not to ignore it, but go through the agonising complaint procedure at his workplace, with the boss of the manager suggesting that they resolve it internally. But my friend has had just about enough of the BS from the sly weasel and is not about to let the manager go unscathed, especially since there have been at least 16 separate incidents which demonstrate the manager’s manipulative and discriminatory behaviour. So, after being given a new line manager, he rang his union representative and they have scheduled a meeting with his bosses in which his grievances will be outlined, in the presence of a union representative. Lucky for him, he even printed emails and recorded conversations.

Now, I’ve encountered emotional manipulators in the past, even lived with one, so I appreciate how exhausting, degrading, difficult and gut-wrenching such experiences can be.

For  those not too familiar with what an emotional manipulator is, the following links could be helpful:

But how does all this relate to Malawi?

Well, it is possible (and I’ve heard accusations pertaining to what I’m about to write) that some of the bad decisions African leaders continue to make, year in year out, stem from manipulation.

Apparently, there are people who have the president’s ear, who manipulate him/ her into making bad or not entirely helpful decisions. Not only  the president, some manipulate ministers, officials and others in positions of power. The culprits, it is said, are rogue public officials, predatory and wealthy business owners, religious leaders, foreign corporations and officials from international lending institutions, who it is alleged, are interested in keeping African countries in a perpetual state of dependency, poverty and helplessness – a state that enables the manipulators –  and their financial backers- to make huge profits from Africa, at the expense of Africans.

On a metaphysical level, and more importantly – at least for me, healthy and functional families are what has a real chance to rectify the problems in Malawi and across Africa. If these families, or rather relationships are disproportionately plagued by dysfunctions such as have been stated in the links above, it will be harder in my view, for African societies as a whole to be functional, and in turn more difficult to effect any meaninful form of economic development.

 

What Boris Johnson’s ‘Greed’ speech reveals about the rot in Politics

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There are many things which the UK does well on the world stage. Tons! In fact too many raw and commendable achievements to list in one blog post or even to chronicle in a single book, and that is itself a testament to the past leadership, a great people and what a great country Britain has been and still is.

As someone who has been bred within the British system (in almost all good meanings of those words), I have great respect and admiration for the way Britain has done (for itself and the wider humanity), and how Britain continues to do certain things.

However, having said that, there are other things that current British political leaders have not been too good at, and are in fact utterly appalling at.

Before I explore this point further, please allow me to share with you a story that relates not to current political leaders in the UK, but to current political leaders in the US

Last year, I read an article that was commenting over the results of the 2012 US general elections. In October, several months later, the 2013 US government shutdown happened, reminding me about the contents in that article.

In a nutshell, the author of the article opined that  Mitt Romney was not a bad leader. That with a few deliberate but permanent tweaks to his persona, he could make a good president, even a great president. I know that summary in itself sounds somewhat mechanical and dreamy, but I totally agreed with this conclusion, for reasons which you will understand once you’ve finished reading this post.

In the weeks following the US government shutdown (and much recently, the ‘greed’ speech by Boris Johnson) , I found myself viewing these events with similar sentiments. i.e. that if you are someone who has felt the pangs of pain of not having enough, experienced the life of living in a poor family, of struggle, of constantly being sidelined, the want which  ‘the bottom’ 60% maybe 70% experience, in one form or the other, you are more likely than not, to know specifically how to treat or accommodate others (especially those who for whatever reason find themselves in that societal bracket) sensitively and constructively, than if you have lived a relatively comfortable and wealthy life, with little or no deprivation, pain or material want. It sounds apologetic or a bit like a get out of jail card justifying exploitation, but it isn’t.

The issue of how the ruling classes treat the masses is a lot more serious than how some people like to portray it. It transcends even the Marxist theory of inequality and poverty and many other attempts to capture its gravity. And here, we can also reference to the credit crunch, the riotous issue of healthcare insurance in the US, and repossession of personal property. To some people, these are merely transactional issues with little or no personal implications or emotion attached to them. To these lucky few, they still have a roof over their heads – one they own; they have enough food, money; investments, savings, affluent friends and family, they can still afford one or more holidays a year, they can still afford 2 bottles of fine wine a week, the golf club membership is intact, the steaks and gourmet dinners with acquaintances, business partners, or with family; the trips to the movies, they can still attend concerts and the Broadway featured shows, etc …. very little, if at all anything has changed in their lives. Which is totally fine. Whatever works for you.

But to others, those who have actually been affected, lack of health insurance, a repossessed home, or a rise in energy bills is a much more personal and grave issue that will materially and negatively affect them, often for a very long time. A repossession/ foreclosure means losing their home, not having security, their poor credit rating just worsened (making it harder for them to obtain credit in future – exacerbating an already bad situation), it means there is less money for a decent diet – which could affect their health; the impact on their mental health, and on their children (part of it being psychological), the societal stigma, the personal shame, the resulting hardship, etc…is all immensely difficult to deal with. Often depression follows.

Sadly, you never truly know how difficult such situations are, until you experience them yourself.

Yet, isn’t it incredible how the suffering of others somehow solicits critiques from folk who have never gone through it themselves. Barking senseless orders to those affected :

Oh they shouldnt have got a mortgage in the first place (what about those who were issuing the mortgages, don’t they get any blame) ; Shit happens ; It’s the system;  You can’t keep everyone happy;  Not everyone can live comfortably or achieve success in life; Inequality is necessary for competition

Which brings me to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. In his speech recently he was quoted to have said that greed was a necessary motivator. That inequality was essential to fostering “the spirit of envy“, hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity“.

Now, I think I’ve got a bit of an idea what he may have been trying to say, but I don’t believe his selection of words is particularly helpful in a country that has one of the widest gap between rich and poor in the western world, and whose recent policies have been criticised by even some of its greatest living champions.

Depending on who you choose to listen to (see other accounts here and here), his speech was either brilliant or hopelessly misleading. In my view it represents exactly the type of rotten politician who has been responsible for societal disharmony and global unrest over the last few years. The comments are similar to the contemptible and greed driven  line-up-for-oil-contracts-now-that-Gaddafi-has-died comments made by a UK defence minister after Gaddafi’s death. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t exactly like Gaddafi.

But let’s think a moment about Boris’s comments. Weren’t the same “hedge fund kings” he idolizes part of the devilish and unholy alliance of risk prone bankers, unhinged speculators and others greedy sorts who were largely responsible for the global financial crisis that recently destroyed the global economy? A crisis which in the end, after all the bonuses had been paid – and the rich had gotten richer, had to fall back on state-owned banks, financed by the same poor tax payer (here, the US term ‘tax dollars‘ is particularly appropriate ) virtually being shitted on by this speech, to bail them out?

Never mind his ignorant remarks on IQ (a rebuttal of which deserves its own blog post), how can in this day and age a self-respecting politician stand up, and publicly say that it is futile to attempt to end inequality? Where on earth is this man living? Does he even have a functioning ethical compass? No wonder many young people think politicians are out of touch with reality.

Can one preach at home inequality of races and nations and advocate abroad good-will towards all men?
– Dorothy Thompson 

[Here think about David Cameron’s agenda in his recent Sri Lanka visit]

My attitude to peace is rather based on the Burmese definition of peace – it really means removing all the negative factors that destroy peace in this world. So peace does not mean just putting an end to violence or to war, but to all other factors that threaten peace, such as discrimination, such as inequality, poverty.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Even the Great Nelson Mandela had some wise and thoughtful words of advice on poverty (which is an effect of inequality) via this quote:

BrK0ijM

I don’t have anything personal against Boris Johnson. In fact before he made that speech, I kind of liked him… but after such thoughless statements (which in my view go beyond all the silly but harmless things he’s said in the past), I’m surprised how he can be so insensitive??

But how is Boris Johnson’s speech related to Mitt Romney? Well, Mitt happens to be the fellow who said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  [leaked comments from a fundraiser in May 2012]

a statement which he later regretted, and which solely probably costed him the US presidency. [More Mitt quotes here]

My point with all this?

Shouldn’t Politics be about representing the people, both rich and poor; Leadership – whether in Africa, America,  Europe or elsewhere, should be about creating a functional, healthier, safer, happier, more productive society? How better to do that than by leading by example?

In my view, today’s leaders cannot help the poor or indeed know how severe the situations of low-income earners (or those suffering with sickness, that are unemployed, in debt, etc, ) can be, when they are cushioned from that horrible world by a media obsessed with sanitizing news. Unless they make a serious attempt to experience the common man’s life, they’ll remain blind – and we’ll continue to hear more such stupid comments.

It is vain, immature and wantonly elitist to go around advocating inequality and greed when you have never experienced its less than admirable effects firsthand.

Very few people choose to be poor, so how valid are divisive comments on greed when you don’t know how the victims of inequality live, how they deal with the daily problems they face (the solutions of which you smart-arsly cobble together in your speeches – with no first hand experience) or even how they became affected in the first place?

Boris Johnson’s claim to hardship probably extends no further than the couple of times his wife kicked him out their marital home, after repeatedly cheating on her. That clearly is not hardship.

Which brings me to my next point.

Don’t you think there is a higher probability that society could be more cohesive, stronger across the board, people more responsible towards each other, harmonious and more likely to successfully combat the problems of the day if high income groups were genuinely sensitive to the needs and circumstances of low-income groups, and low-income groups were sensitive to the needs and circumstances of high income groups?

I know it sounds a bit fanciful and rather idealistic, but allow me please to give you an example.

I watch Secret Millionaire and Undercover Boss, both of which I think are fantastic shows. Sometimes they bring tears to my eyes as I watch hardworking folk struggle with the challenges of life, getting by on very little, a life that I’m accustomed to and know just too well.

And then the millionaire or ‘boss’ steps onto the scene, in disguise, and after making observations over a few weeks, has their outlook transformed as to how others in a different world to themselves live and work. After this ‘eye opener’ the millionaires reveal their identities, and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to some causes, or in the case of Undercover Boss, donates tens of thousands of dollars to their employees, paying for their medical bills, childcare, education, long overdue holidays, etc., sometimes transforming the employees life beyond their wildest dreams.

I know there are people out there who hand on heart don’t want to mix with those from less fortunate backgrounds, or those from a different religious persuasion, or those who they have been made to believe embody certain negative stereotypes, but how can society be harmonious or progress if people across the board are inflexible to understanding what causes inequality, poverty, hardship, but are only too willing to complacently make preachy damaging statements, from within their comfort zones?

Like Mandela, Gandhi to me represents the near-ideal leader all leaders should aspire or measure themselves against; how he had few possessions and believed in the notion that what you did for others was more honourable and worthy than what you did for yourself is. Or Thomas Sankara, the military leader of Burkina Faso, who being selfless and incorruptible, triumphed women’s causes.

A good leader thinks thus: We’ve created more jobs, even though we are in a recession and have implemented cuts that will affect mostly the poorest, I’ll take a holiday or two abroad this year because my family and I need it, we need a break.

A great leader refuses to take a holiday abroad because there are thousands of citizens who, although hardworking, are failing to get a job and certainly can’t afford a holiday, not even in their own country.

The difference couldn’t be clearer.

In the article I refer to above, the writer opined that Mitt was not a bad person in a Newt-Gingrich (or  Michael Howard )-creepy kind of way. To the contrary, he thought Mitt was quite a likeable person whom you’d probably have a fun night out with. What struck me most was the form the writer said the refining of a statesman would take:-

‘Picture this, say post Bain Capital , family man Mitt left his family, took time out to hit the road.

Spent at least 2 years without the safety net of his wealth (estimated to be $250 million), nor access to the political or business connections. If Mitt effectively took a sabbatical from it all; living rough, or say in $50 a night motels (with a daily budget not exceeding  say $75 a day) studying the political landscape, working with people on the ground, in homeless shelters, interacting with people in soup kitchens, with those who have faced foreclosures, hearing their side of the story, amongst black and latino voters, job seekers, support groups of alcohol and drugs abuse, among illegal immigrants and those without healthcare, keeping a journal, taking photos…across both Democrat and Republican strongholds, through the Swing States, with a backpack… don’t tell me that after such a 2 year-long odyssey, Mitt would be the same person he now is?

True, he’d most likely meet with frowns, and possibly lose artificial friends, colleagues, partners, donors, etc. In the absence of proper communication (and feasible marriage arrangements) his family could be hostile towards him, or even abandon him,  but a real conviction and desire to serve would prompt him to press on.

It is more likely than not that after having seen how a sizeable chunk of  Americans in a different ‘world’ than that in which he’s accustomed to lives,  that he would emerge a changed man,  full of firsthand insights and clear understanding of life in the slow lane, and without the superficial and aloof manner that probably alienated some of the potential voters away from him. Minimally, it would win him deserved commendation, from both rich and poor, that at least he’s experienced a little of what the local man goes through, even if its only for two years, and would immediately dispel any elitist labels. If I were an American, I would seriously consider voting for such a Mitt Romney.’

I can’t argue with that.

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Today we are still talking about Gandhi, 65 years after his death, with the United Nations General Assembly declaring in 2007 that Gandhi’s birthday 2 October will be the International Day of Nonviolence.  2nd October is also a national holiday in India in Gandhis honour.

When it comes to Mandela, we will continue to idolize him for a very long time indeed, and have idolized Abraham Lincoln, another great leader, for over 181 years! [see these Lincoln statues – in the US alone]. There’s even a Lincoln square in Manchester (UK) city centre with a statue of Lincoln.

I can’t help but wonder in what sense, and for how long, humanity will remember the current breed of politicians, many of whom appear to be doing more harm than good to society.

But I’m certain of one thing: unless some kind of miracle occurs, very few of them will be recognised or honoured in the same way that the world has honoured the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi or Mandela. And that alone is an indictment against their leadership.

Reuniting Africa: Infrastructure

It was delightful to hear news that Kenya in collaboration with the Chinese government will be investing $13.8 billion to build a railway line to link its port city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. It is hoped that the line will eventually extend to the landlocked countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. This is great news not only because of its Pan-African connotations, but also because it’s a step forward towards getting Africa’s infrastructure interconnected and closer to global standards ( for example to the level of the Eurotunnel).

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Whenever foreigners come to Africa to visit, they always exclaim how challenging and long it can take to get from one place to another in certain areas. It’s incredible how disconnected Africa remains. The same applies to movement of goods (a factor essential for commerce and business). Often and comparatively with say Asia, it takes longer (and costs a lot more) than must necessarily be to send goods, or receive goods from one African country to another, which is not desirable.

The vastness and distances may be a problem, and environmental degradation such projects cause is also a major consideration, but that doesn’t mean that there are no workable solutions to such challenges. Often the cause of inaction or lack of progress appears to be bad politics and selfish financial interests, which end up  frustrating well-meaning projects whose economic and social benefits could be significant for a country and its neighbours, and far outweigh the negative impacts.

Take Malawi for example. Mota Engil the Portuguese conglomerate was contracted by the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika to construct a port in Nsanje (see animation of the Nsanje Inland Port via YouTube), at great expense to the Malawian tax payer.

The  project was part of a project known as the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, and whose total cost was said to be US$6 billion would have reduced the cost of importing goods by 60%.

The Malawi section of the project took years to build, and costed the Malawian government €25 million dollars. Now, almost 2 years after the sudden death of Mutharika, the first ship is yet to sail to the port. There is little or no dialogue about the way forward, the current Malawian president is in no rush to resurrect the project, even when the Malawi Trade & Investors Quarterly Magazine in 2007 wrote that Malawi spends at least US$200 million annually to import or export goods via ports in Mozambique or Tanzania. My question is this: isn’t reducing the cost of imports for landlocked countries in Africa a priority to the whole of Africa? Shouldn’t it be a priority to all Africans? Think about it… look at the US, or for that matter the European Union, and their policy of free movement of goods.

How can the countries in Africa, let alone the continent ever develop when leaders do not collaborate or are only too willing to impede such meaningful projects before they even commence? Why can’t African leaders (including the chiefs of the African Union, SADC, COMESA and African Development bank) begin to practise continuity, and put pressure on the stakeholders to get to grips with the project? Of the countries who signed the memorandum of understanding of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, why does it appear like no one is actively seeking to resurrect and resume the project ( Is the said feasibility study Mozambique was demanding underway? If so what is the progress on that front?), since it’s undeniable that there will be mutual benefits to the greater economy of Southern Africa?

Looking at half-hearted comments from those who think they have something to lose (other shallow comments from here), you will find that the Mozambicans have to shoulder part of the blame for the stalling of the project. Against all appearance of conventional wisdom, it seem they have been dragging their feet from throwing full support behind the project, with talk of environmental assessments, etc and greater emphasis of development of roads?? Can such a massive project have been commenced and physical construction at Nsanje began without first assessing or undertaking an environmental assessment?

I’m not convinced. Either there’s something about this project that ordinary folk like us have not been told, or there was a massive miscalculation on the part of Mutharika to begin building the port. Else, it was visionary (see YouTube marketing clip ‘overselling’ the idea here), a quality often lacking within leadership across Africa.

Having said that, it is more likely than not, that the reason some people in Mozambique are unwilling to fully support the project is to do with the alleged financial loss they expect if goods are able to go straight into Malawi or Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not via Beira or Nacala.

Such a selfish narrow viewpoint undermines any potential benefit a new transportation link may create for the region. Surely, a thoughtful and better-informed African leader would have recognised the overall impact (e.g. jobs, increased trade, tourism, easier flow of resources, cheaper import costs and societal advancement)  the port will have not only to the Mozambican towns near Nsanje, but also to the greater Southern African economy of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, or even to Rwanda and Burundi.

Very few African countries geographically formed themselves into the shape they currently take. In fact only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised, but even their national polity formation had a lot to do with regional colonial activity around and about them. Thus, most decisions that determined the geographical shape of African countries were made by colonialists, a figment of history most Pan Africanists would rather forget. This to me means that it is shortsighted, regressive, a deficiency in intellect and a great fallacy (most often perpetuated by ignorance), for leaders of African countries today to be fighting against each other, or indeed dashing each others economic fortunes – when there is every chance that had colonialism never occurred (as we understand it), Africa could have ended up as a vast continent of undivided Kingdoms, each with access to the sea. Something that would have looked like this:

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What Africa may have looked like if colonisation hadn’t occured. What Africa may look like in the future, hundreds of years from now

That is precisely why Uhuru Kenyatta must be applauded for the visionary Mombasa Nairobi railway link.

Similar Links:

Peter Mutharika attacks Malawi govt. for ignoring ‘Ndata’ University, Nsanje port in budget

MALAWI: Dream fades for inland port project

The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is still a priority says Sadc secretariat [August 2013]

Malawi, Mozambique agree deal on Nsanje World inland port [April 2013]

Nsanje Inland Port Mw