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.

Visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation

joycebanda

Yesterday an update appeared on the Malawian president’s Facebook page, in which she informed her social media followers that she had participated in a ‘.. Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls’. The topic for discussion at the forum was ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

Considering that the themes of infrastructure, airports and increased cross-national trade within Africa have popped up several times in discussions and articles on this website (for example here, here and here), I think her angle on the issue is commendable, and deserves a mention.

Recently, the Sudanese Billionaire, Mo Ibrahim expressed his displeasure during his address at the 11th Nelson Mandela lecture, with the visa regimes in Africa, saying:

“..The second issue is African economic integration. Only 11% of our trade is amongst the Africans. We refuse to let our people travel from one country to another. We always need a visa. And l also say, sadly, although being Sudanese, whenever l travel in Africa l always carry a British passport, because l am welcome.

My colleague here, a Member of our Board, had huge trouble in getting a visa to be able to join me here. He was a Secretary General of the United Nations, a board member, just to get a visa here is a major trouble. But with my British passport l am welcome here through your immigration lines. Is that acceptable?..”

One can only hope that these kinds of initiatives — which clearly will have a tangible economic benefit to Africa – do eventually get implemented by the countries concerned, and do not end up onto the large pile of broken promises by political leaders past and present.

The full update on the Facebook page is as follows:

Good evening my friends

Today I attended a Ministerial Roundtable of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation at Victoria Falls, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where I addressed participants on the topic: ‘visa facilitation as a means to support tourism growth, socio-economic development and job creation’.

I addressed participants that our continent possesses many places of great beauty and I went on to talk about our beautiful country, Malawi, which happens to be one of the most beautiful countries for tourists attraction as we are blessed with a large freshwater lake, surrounded by white sands and full of a diversity of fish species and country boasts of wide open skies, beautiful rolling hills and mountains that offer rare experiences to climbers, bird watchers and adventure enthusiasts.

I made it clear that Malawi’s description as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ does not just refer to our inviting climate or the deep red of our sunset. It aptly describes the welcome you will receive from all Malawians as we are indeed very friendly and “warm hearted people of Africa”!

While talking about tourism I addressed participants that , tourism promises immense opportunities for growth of our economies and job creation; however millions of people continue to face unnecessary barriers to travel. These barriers include complicated and expensive visa processes; difficult and therefore expensive transport connections, lack of integrated border management systems and security threats.

For example, according to research by the United Nations WorldTourism Organisation; and World Travel and Tourism Council, facilitating visas among the G20 countries alone would create an additional five million jobs by 2015. This is a clear indication of the impact simplified and user friendly visa system can have on our economies.

It is my view that Visa Facilitation has the potential to enhance regional integration, intra-regional trade and easy movement of capital and people between countries and regions.Therefore, visa policies and procedures are among some of the most important instruments influencing tourism and investment. The development of policies and procedures for visas as well as other travel documents is closely linked to the development of tourism. Furthermore, the quality, reliability and functionality of visas have a direct correlation to number of arrivals at a destination.

In lieu of the above reasons I am calling for regional interconnectivity amongst our nations which may entail improving the current state of transport and telecommunications infrastructure and facilitating institutional improvements to optimise the efficiency and capacity of road, rail, water and air transport and the social sectors in education and health.

I believe that this in turn has high potential on enhancing economic growth; thus contributing to overall objective of poverty reduction. The link between tourism and poverty reduction is well known as one of the fundamental contributions is job creation which is part of our government’s economic recovery plan that my government is pursuing.

Thank you all for your support and prayers

May God bless you!

Good night!

Dr Joyce Banda
President
Republic of Malawi “