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.

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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Protesters, Fascists, Oligarchs, Putin and Obama

As Malawians wrestle with their own crises, farther afield in Europe a revolution that could have far-reaching consequences is taking shape. Remember the story of how the first world war started? Some minor bickering between two sovereign entities, one small and one relatively large, that soon enough escalated to an assassinated Archduke, and was quickly followed by a declaration of war? Well, this is a little bit like that, just a little bit. Except, it isn’t an Archduke that has been killed, but a group of mainly protesters. And there isn’t really any other country involved. Well, there are – Russia and the EU (which is not really a country), but fits the narrative. It’s just Ukraine that’s involved.

In a nutshell, some elected autocrat in a large and fertile country in eastern Europe had expressed interest for his country to sign a trade agreement with the EU, and was undertaking discussions to this effect. He then suddenly changed his mind, and decided instead to cosy up to the Russians, to the delight of Mr Putin who apparently promised $15 billion in loans. This move infuriated some people within his country (no doubt some people within the EU, and even some Americans). The infuriated Ukrainians took to the streets, and camped outside the main square in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. A Police clamp down, snipers and 88 civilian deaths later, and the autocrat was deposed by parliament, but refused to step down as president, even after an acting president had taken over power. Protesters (who some alleged were in fact ‘fascists’ financed by external forces) overrun his palace (while he was away), and he is currently missing, some say he is in Crimea – which is pro-Russian and has a majority Russian population…

Meanwhile one half of the country is in favour of joining the EU (or at least having closer economic links with the EU), while the other half has not recognised the interim government now in place in Kiev and wants to side with and is seeking protection (and help) from Russia – which has indicated somewhat indirectly that if they are attacked Moscow will provide help….

That kind of summarises what has just happened in Ukraine the last 3 months.

I can’t remember where I read this next bit, but yesterday I read somewhere that some Oligarchs had a role in Ukraine’s revolution?? In the same article, fascists were mentioned. There was even a picture of Obama as one of the main players in the crisis. All of which reminded me of this book by Herve Kempf. At this juncture, a poster is most appropriate:

Tov_lenin_ochishchaet
Soviet poster, the caption reads “Comrade Lenin cleans the Earth from scum”

Arguably, what has just happened in Ukraine has been something of an opposite: Pro-EU protesters (or fascists, depending on who you choose to listen to) triumphing over Pro-Russian forces. At least three statues of Lenin have been brought down…

Anyhow, my real but extremely unlikely fascination with Ukraine began after I read The Red Prince by Timothy Snyder, a very interesting book about a crumbling European dynasty. At the centre of the story was Wilhelm Von Habsburg (Vasyl Vyshyvanyi) an Austrian prince who adopted a Ukrainian identity by choice with the hope of becoming its monarch – an extension of the Habsburg European dynasty.

In my professional life, I have met and got to know one Ukrainian national, Sasha, who in the past did some work for my company. Obviously, I can’t disclose his full name.

Looking at the current revolution, I wonder where Sasha now is? Further, I wonder what Vasyl Vyshyvanyi the Archduke would have made of this revolution, considering he witnessed two major revolutions, and fought in a world war in which everyone from the Germans to the French, British, Americans and Russians were involved….?

What is clear and undeniable is that Ukrainians are people who are extremely passionate about their country, an admirable quality, and an attitude not immediately noticeable in most Malawians in regards to their own country.

I’d like to think that in comparison to Malawi, there are many more better educated people in Ukraine, but I do not know. This reference to education in this sense is the lines of saying they are well read and at least know for example about the various revolutions of the 19th and 20th century and their outcomes.

I’d also like to think that a certain level of income is necessary for people to be forthright with their government, for people to be able to demand accountability for wrongdoing (without worrying about savings, salaries and jobs), but again I do not know, so this is a hypothesis yet to be proven. Even though some commentators who observed the revolution in Tunisia suggested that a large middle class was an essential ingredient for that particular revolution, these are probably just thoughts and observations yet to be proven, if they haven’t already been proven.

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Why DPP should hire a professional Campaign Manager

So, Dr Lazarus Chakwera is about to announce his running mate (rumour has it that it will be Sidik Mia) for the 2014 Presidential elections in Malawi.

Atupele Muluzi has just selected one Dr Godfrey Chapola to be his running mate. And the troubles have already began. One reader on a news website alleged that Muluzi and Chapola are in fact blood relatives…???

atupeleMeanwhile President Joyce Banda has been linked to a new radio station, Ufulu radio, and yesterday some rumours were circulating that Brown Mpinganjira will be Joyce Banda’s running mate…all of which seem to indicate minimally, if we are to separate speculation from fact, that the campaign trail is bustling with activity.

But what exactly is happening at Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)? Why are they not in the news as much as the other parties? Is DPP really finished as some commentators have said lately? The last I heard was that Peter Mutharika had returned from his trip to the US, and was rubbishing the ignorant comments over his green card.

Before I answer the first question, I must categorically state that I am not a DPP supporter nor member. That while I did support Bingu Wa Mutharika at one point, and liked his independence of mind – to an extent, my interest in talking about the party is merely as a commentator fascinated by the going on’s within the party, which are increasingly appearing bizarre and chaotic.

For one, a little bird tells me that even though they are undertaking all these whistle-stop tours, there is no concise strategy within DPP. Further, when Peter Mutharika returned from the US, it is said that he procured funds to the tune of ~ US$5million for his election campaign, and apparently, a considerable tranche of these monies have been given to one Bright Malopa to use as campaign funds. And it gets worse, the strategy document from which DPP is drawing its campaign strategy was not professionally done by a political strategist, not even by someone with significant knowledge and experience of running political campaigns. Which makes me wonder, how can Henry Mussa their Treasurer-general  say they are confident of winning the election when they don’t even have an organised election campaign?

Now, while $5 million – if you know what to do with it – is probably a decent amount of money to run an election campaign in a small economy such as Malawi, my queries are who exactly is Bright Malopa, and why haven’t DPP employed a professional political strategist?

Most Malawians know that Malopa was Director General of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and in some respects botched up the institution in his quest to please Mutharika, only to be fired by Joyce Banda, and funny enough, compensated to the tune of K62.5 million for unfair dismissal. But even though his appointment as DG was questionable at the least, with others here claiming that the man has no experience and credentials for such a high-profile job; that he was handpicked to primarily be a political appointee, I’d argue that this election is a totally different challenge.

So, is Malopa a professional campaign strategist then? Has he been trained in managing and planning political campaigns? What qualifies him to be the man running Peter Mutharika’s campaign?

From my brief digging, there is no evidence whatsoever that Malopa is qualified or has experience of running political campaigns. None.

But if you want to stretch it, and ignore these reservations over his qualifications and character, it seems the guy has a media background (CIM) and could at best be described as a lucky (“zogwelamo”) broadcaster with a marketing bias.

From the somewhat incoherent ramblings on his previous blog here (which was abandoned in 2011), he says:

I am a Malawian of youthful years with a postgraduate understanding of Marketing. I’m on the lower-left of the political spectrum, but I’m often tempted by those on the lower-right. They’ve got this beautiful capitalist theory where the people who do work get paid and society automatically adjust things for the greater good, and everyone lives happily ever after. My problem is that it doesn’t work: capitalism gives cash to those who exploit the system, pays people for different tasks than those I consider good, and assumes people are intrinsically bad and need to be corrected. I call that POLITICS OF NKHWENZULE

Er, capitalism gives cash to those who exploit the systempays people for different tasks than those I consider good, and assumes people are intrinsically bad and need to be corrected.?? Is he an anti-capitalist? Or a communist??

A look at the information on his newest venture,here, is also not too helpful in ascertaining whether he can hack an election campaign:

Is the former Director General of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. He has numerous years of experience in TV production, rebranding and repositioning. Whilst working for MBC, he was responsible for a creative turn around strategy, which saw MBC increasing its market share from 43% to 72%. MBC also increased local content by 78%, business growth by 17%, and income by 46% under his leadership. He was behind the programme, OUR PEOPLE OUR PRIDE, which was featured on other broadcasters and received a bronze award for creative management from Association of African Public Administrators. He is also the former trustee of the Southern African Broadcasting Association, Coordinator of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, and former Vice-President of the African Broadcasting Media Partnership against HIV/AIDS (ABMP), a body of 38 broadcasters.

Whatever you make of the accolades, this is hardly anywhere near political strategist wizardly… Or is it?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of leadership Malawians find themselves at the mercy of…Forget the scandals Joyce Banda has been accused of, forget the problems in UDF, if Malawians do not begin to do things properly, how can the country ever improve?

If one is ill and in need of a doctor, they don’t go to visit a Vet?? No matter how knowledgeable the Vet is, you go to a hospital or clinic and request to meet a Doctor, who is the appropriate person to attend to you. But had the situation been different such that you had a dog that was ill, then the Vet’s door would be the appropriate door to knock on…

DPP for their own sake need to hire a professional strategist to run their elections campaign professionally, and there are many companies out there that offer this service, and whose employees are professionals schooled in the craft of political strategy. If Peter Mutharika can raise $5 million for a presidential campaign, then surely his camp can find a decent political strategist to do the job well. Why leave a serious election campaign which he may never run again to amateurs who have no idea what they are doing?

As for the lessons, they are many, including Obama’s own election campaigns, which are littered with best practices: what to do and what not to do, so much so that even the Conservative party in the UK, as unsightly their reputation may be in certain quarters, have hired a political strategist who previously run Obama’s campaign.

Yes, Malawi is a whole different ball game, totally different atmosphere, and cannot be compared with the US, or Britain, for all sorts of reasons. But don’t you think using a professional improves your chances significantly as a candidate and can minimise mistakes? Don’t you think that a trained or qualified strategist would have a better chance at adapting their craft to a new environment, than untrained handpicked individuals who are expected to figure it out as they go along?

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Obama’s Tribute To Nelson Mandela

Obama paying tribute to Mandela, mentions Ubuntu, Empathy and self reflection…

How well have I applied his lessons in my own life

“We too must act …”

“Too many of us in the sidelines, comfortable in complacency …” he says

obama

The full speech via Whitehouse.gov

To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests – it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other.  To the people of South Africa – people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.  His struggle was your struggle.  His triumph was your triumph.  Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

It is hard to eulogize any man – to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person – their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul.  How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe – Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.  Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement that at its start held little prospect of success.  Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice.  He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War.  Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would – like Lincoln – hold his country together when it threatened to break apart.  Like America’s founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.

Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men.  But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories.  “I’m not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so.  He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend.  That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still.  For nothing he achieved was inevitable.  In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith.  He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.  Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

But like other early giants of the ANC – the Sisulus and Tambos – Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity.  Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price.  “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial.  “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t.  He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.  He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement.  And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions.  He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history.  On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”  But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal.  And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit.  There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.  We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell.  But we remember the gestures, large and small – introducing his jailors as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS – that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding.  He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.  It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe – Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life.  But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask:  how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?

It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a President.  We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation.  As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people – known and unknown – to see the dawn of a new day.  Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle.  But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done.  The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.  For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future.  Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.

We, too, must act on behalf of justice.  We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.  There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.  And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today – how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war – do not have easy answers.  But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu.  Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done.  South Africa shows us that is true.  South Africa shows us we can change.  We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes.  We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.  But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world – you can make his life’s work your own.  Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land.  It stirred something in me.  It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today.  And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.  He speaks to what is best inside us.  After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength – for his largeness of spirit – somewhere inside ourselves.  And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach – think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What a great soul it was.  We will miss him deeply.  May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela.  May God bless the people of South Africa.

Via Guardian, full text of speech here.

Via Mail & Guardian here

Mandela: A Tribute

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Where does one even start when attempting to pay tribute to a man so profound and mighty in almost all aspects of his life, a man who it must be said was sitting with the gods long before he died.

Many kind words, countless tributes (here and here to list a few), numerous celebrations of a great life, unprecedented reactions from across the world, even the critics have good things to say, all testify that the life of Nelson Mandela was that of a true legend, a behemoth of great leaders, an icon of peace and reconciliation, a symbol of forgiveness, definitely one of the greatest people to have lived on earth (probably the greatest person of our times so far). The measure and pedigree of greatness surely doesn’t surpass Mandela. His exploits inscribed on the palms of gods, this man belongs to a ‘club’ of a very few select widely adored individuals who walked the face of the earth, and exemplified to all humanity, selflessly, tender-heartedly, with gentleness and kindness, with wisdom, what humaneness, grace, love and leadership are supposed to be.

Mandela was a precious gift to the world, in all meanings of those words, and to say that the world didn’t deserve him is an understatement. He was too good a soul for a planet plagued by selfishness, greed, lust and jealousy. His imprisonment – one of the worst sins of mankind against humanity- played a role in the making of a great leader; the defeat of Apartheid – was a timeless act; a victory for all who opposed discrimination and hate at that time in South Africa, in our time today, and forevermore. Mandela belonged where his soul had always been, in the spiritual realm, sat contemplatively amidst the gods.

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And before I continue, I must put behind me one small personal matter. I must rescind that email I sent to two people the week before last, expressing grief, in which I erroneously said I will never forgive what these people have done to me. That email was written in a thoughtless spur of rage driven by pain. Today, I’m a hint wiser, I acknowledge that I must forgive them.

Today also I’m wondering what would be the perfect honour for Mandela. An appreciation to Madiba, for all he was, for all he taught us, for all he did. A thankful recognition and gratitude from the whole world. After all we’ve calibrated our years with reference to the death of Jesus Christ (another great leader), we’ve named our days after planets, names which are derived from Greek mythology and Greek gods. Surely, while Mandela’s Catholic admirers will soon enough begin to debate whether Mandela should be revered as a saint or not, maybe it would be a much more fitting gesture to rename Monday, our second day of the week, after Mandela.

Yes, let’s change Monday to Mandela

Without sounding sensationalist, I believe doing so will invoke his spirit each time we mention the day, and hopefully will remind us all of an exemplary life, which although not 100% infallible, was far gracious and selfless, more humane than most of us will ever be, a life on which to model our own fallible existence.

Personally, Mandela means more to me than just a global icon. When I was younger, I learned that my great grandparents on my mother’s side were originally South African (well, from the land that is now South Africa). They were part of the Ngunis who became the Ngonis that were dispersed north by the wars of Shaka Zulu, and who were led north by Zwangendaba. In fact I remember clearly that my late grandmother had the same type of piercings and wore the same type of bracelets which some tribes in South Africa still have and still wear till this very day. So South Africa was always ‘home’ to me, even when my passport specifies otherwise.

Thus, when I heard about Mandela’s death, just before 10pm that cold and rainy Thursday night in Manchester, a dark  haze immediately washed over my mind. I had been napping before I heard the news, and was awoken only to be quickly informed of the news. My mouth became dry, it felt like I had just been punched in the stomach. That afternoon, the winds had been unusually wild and forceful, and the MET office reported of an ‘Atlantic storm’ with gusts of around 100 mph hitting Scotland and  other parts of the UK, the strongest winds in at least 50 years. Even in Manchester, it was a sombre, chilly, dark and rainy day, with very strong winds throughout the afternoon.

The heavens must have been preparing for the arrival of a legend. The gods were about to recall one of their own. As Obama summed it up nicely:

‘He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages’

The next morning, yesterday,  my thoughts were clouded as I recoiled from the news and media storm from around the world. Couldn’t think properly, couldn’t write much, couldn’t do much … a feverish numbness hovered about. It was as if some energy had been suddenly drawn out of me. A weird experience I know, but unmistakably a sense of loss, as if I’d lost a member of my own family.

And in some respects I had, we all had, because Mandela’s life has had a profound effect on my life, on the lives of my mother who raised me (The copy of Long Walk to Freedom which I own {and count as one of my most prized possessions}, was given to me by my mother), on the lives of many young Africans I know, and no doubt on the lives of millions others on the planet. A rare feat.

So, while there have been criticisms against Mandela (see here and here) even in death, the innumerable good far outweigh the few criticisms. And that my dear friends is probably why many of us will continue to draw inspiration from the life, deeds and words of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and why I will never, ever forget him.

Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?

KiZerbo200

I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.