Monday, December 27, 2010

Is this the failure of African diplomacy?

This past week, i kept wondering whether or not 'Merry Christmas' would be making any sense to the Ivorian people. The 'two-presidents-one-political-mess' situation is still raging on since the November 28th run-off polls.
The west African regional grouping, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), through its Chairperson, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, has already issued its 'final warning' to Mr. Gbagbo to leave or face military action. In a rejoinder, Gbagbo's minders pointed out the fact that many West Africans live and work in Ivory Coast's rich cocoa industry, and therefore, in essence, they would be attacking their own citizens.
For me, this points to a deeper fundamental question of the failure of African diplomacy. Within the past hour of my writing this post, the African Union has announced that it has now appointed Kenya's Prime Minister, Mr. Odinga to 'lead the the monitoring of the situation in Ivory Coast and bolster the efforts being undertaken'.
Kenya's Prime Minister, Mr. Odinga

Were the circumstances different, this news would have made me very proud to be a Kenyan citizen. Sadly, Mr. Odinga has already called for the forceful removal of Mr. Gbagbo. This means that the AU may actually be preparing to commence military action.
the stand-off in Ivory Coast

Three years ago this time, the elections in Kenya had gone sour, with both Mr.Odinga and Mr. Kibaki claiming victory, eventually leading to Kenya's worst post-election violence in history. That Mr. Odinga would now be called upon to lead the AU's efforts in Ivory Coast, to me leaves a lot to be desired of the AU's diplomatic strategy.
Let us hope that the AU gets its act together, to help bring the crisis to an end in a peaceful manner....that the Ivorian will finally be able to truly say and have a Happy New Year-2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Obama of Łódź?

Another significant political event has taken place in Europe. 'Dr. John Godson was today sworn in as Poland's first black MP', reported, an English news outlet in Poland. Coming soon after the swearing-in of Dr. Bossman (now nicknamed the 'Obama of Piran') as Mayor of Piran in Slovenia, it was interesting to listen to an interview Dr. Godson gave.

Dr.Godson (right hand raised) at his swearing-in
 One of his main priorities is to improve relations between Poland and Africa especially in the energy sector. This for me is not surprising, considering that the man was born in Nigeria, one of Africa's largest oil producing nations.

Godson with the Polish Premier, Mr. Donald Tusk
 I suspect it will not be easy for him; traveling through Nairobi, it does not take long for anyone to notice that the city has been turned into one huge construction site-the road network is virtually being overhauled and the contractor is (yes you got that right!) a Chinese company. No wonder the leaked cables from Nairobi, as revealed by WikiLeaks, are mainly about US concerns on China's influence in Kenya.

Dr. John Godson
Asked whether he considers Poland his second home, Dr. Godson replied, "..i actually consider Poland my first homeland and Nigeria as my second homeland", going on to say that nowhere else in the world has he felt so at home than in Poland. Ivory Coast is still sailing through turbulent political waters. The European Union is reported to have issued sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo. The African Union is encouraging talks instead of sanctions. Can politicians such as Dr. Bossman and Godson, have a role in helping to resolve Africa's electoral difficulties? Can they help to change for the better the tome adopted by 'Western democracies' in their dealings with African countries? Or would their voices be too faint to be heard in the din that is Africa's political landscape? But what about President Barrack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and American mother?
Young Obama visiting his grandmother in K'Ogelo village, Western Kenya
 Has he managed to flex his clout from the White House to stream line things in Kenya?

President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.
 Or should the allegiance of these 'sons of Africa' be only to their electorate in European and American cities? So many questions that i would like to put to the 'Obama of Łódź', who now joins the 460-member Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Peculiar Kenyan: Second Instalment

On the eve of Jamhuri Day, when Kenya gained its independence (12th Dec.1963) and also became a 'Republic' (12th Dec.1964), it seems a good moment to reflect on what makes us Kenyan.
If you are a Kenyan who reads this blog, you probably remember my post in October about 'The Peculiar Kenyan', a book by Sunny Bindra on the things that make us peculiar as Kenyans. Well, if you don't remember, no problem! We Kenyans have very short memories! How else do you explain the fact that we keep re-electing the same buffoons every five years, only for them to rip us off?
"The Peculiar Kenyan"

Last weekend, i made my way to Silverbird Westgate for the launch of the book 'The Peculiar Kenyan'. Choosing not to be peculiar, i bought a copy and had the honor of meeting Sunny again and having him sign it. The peculiar thing would be to wait for someone else to buy it, borrow and never return.
Sunny Bindra author of 'The Peculiar Kenyan"
 From our politics, road-rage, and sense of patriotism (or lack of it) to our ways of doing business and professional hypocrisy, Sunny has a way of holding the reader's attention and getting them to look at their own habits...peculiar habits.

As Christmas approaches, has it ever struck you as peculiar why nyama choma (roasted meat) seems to be the limit of our culinary ambitions?
This book would make a great Christmas/New Year's gift for Kenyans (or anyone who has lived here and observed our peculiarities). Get your copy!
Happy Jamhuri Day!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Feel the ugali in your hand!

On the 4th of August, 2010, Kenyans went to the polls that would eventually usher in a new "constitutional dispensation" as those 'political commentators' like to say on TV talk shows. Meanwhile,my friends and i were taking part in an international program for young adults, MAGiS2010 Hungary, rooted in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Hungarian town of Csobanka. With us were pilgrims from Ireland, Australia and Hungary, making a total of about 20.
The Kenyan group of four was however, very much preoccupied with events taking place in our homeland, hoping that the vote would be peaceful, and thankfully it was. I kept checking the online Kenyan newspapers to get the latest news and exit polls.
That morning, we decided we would share something cultural from Kenya with our friends. First, the main intention for the Eucharistic celebration was for our country.
The Mass
Later that evening we cooked a Kenyan dish; ugali with traditional vegetables (which we found in a farm nearby, and which would pass for weeds in Hungary) and scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions.
Ugali, pronounced: uuh-gah-lee and not 'you-gah-lie', as most Americans would say, is made from maize flour, in boiling water, stirred until it becomes stiff and left to simmer for a few minutes. This is not a cookery class and so i will not delve into explaining how to prepare it!

The meal
 Anyway, back to the story; the meal was served and i had to introduce it, and in a few minutes, the bowls and plates were cleared by some hungry souls, who said it was very delicious. Most importantly, no one reported any stomach discomforts the next day! My Australian rafiki, James O'Brien, was so kind to send me the link to the video he recorded when i was explaining away-and it gives me great pleasure to now share it with you here:

Friday, December 3, 2010

The country with two presidents

Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and 'Les Elephants' is what most people would associate with Cote d'ivoire. Less than 24 hours after my last post, which featured an article, 'A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa', events in Cote d'ivoire or Ivory Coast have been unfolding dramatically. The results of the presidential run-off between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are in contention.

Left: Laurent Gbagbo, Right: Alasanne Outtara
The electoral commission chairperson announced that Alassane Outtara had won 54% of the vote to Gbagbo's 46%. The Constitutional Council has since overturned the result and instead declared Gbagbo winner with 51% to Outtara's 41%, citing electoral irregularities in the North, Ouattara's stronghold.
Ivory Coast, one of the world's major cocoa producers (over 15000 tonnes in 2003/04) finds itself with two presidents.
Abidjan by night
Tension is reportedly high in the country, and with my personal experience of living through the nightmare of Kenya's post-election troubles at the end of 2007/08, i have great empathy for the citizens of Ivory Coast, who already have experienced civil strife.

As i retire to bed, i think of the residents of the beautiful city of Abidjan, whose anxiety levels simply cannot allow them to nod-off even for a split-second. I hope and pray that peace prevails. And that the two gentlemen, their supporters and those unseen international forces pulling strings in different directions realize that its time the voice of the people of Cote d'ivoire to be respected.

Abidjan Cathedral

God Bless Cote d'ivoire, God Bless Africa!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"The most loyal voters are the dead ones" - A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa; by Charles Onyango-Obbo

Strange events have characterized the beginning of December, and from the look of things, it seems to me that 2010 might just end on a most dramatic note. My only hope and prayer is that whatever the drama, no lives are lost and no one loses their limbs.
In Nairobi, Luis Moreno Ocampo ( the most powerful prosecutor in the world) and Kofi Annan (former UN Sec.General and Chief African village elder) have been making speeches that have been rattling many many snakes. The fall-out of Kenya's botched elections in 2007. In Abidjan, Alassane Outtara has been declared winner of presidential elections-but its far from over; the Constitutional Council is challenging the
Mr.Alassane Outtara
declaration.While i was mulling over these events, my favorite columnist and blogger on African politics, Charles Onyango-Obbo penned a piece, titled ' A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa'. It needs no summary or me he couldn't have said it any better, but i'd love to read your thoughts on it and so here it is,in full:

A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa

WARNING: This article is written with a very cynical tongue-in-cheek, and could be bad for your health. Please seek the medical advice before reading it.
Something strange is happening in Africa. The governments of today seem to have lost the art of doing something their predecessors had mastered – stealing elections.
We had elections in Egypt a few days ago. The ruling National Democratic Party swept the first round of parliamentary, but in the process, it mugged the opposition Muslim Brotherhood by yanking away nearly all the 88 seats the latter had in the 508-member house. The Brotherhood is screaming murder.
On October 31, Tanzania voted and President Jakaya Kikwete and his Cha Cha Mapinduzi (Party of Revolution or CCM) won.  Kikwete was returned with 61.17 per cent of the total votes cast (down from about 80 per cent in 2005), against runner-up Dr Wilbroard Slaa's 26.34 per cent.
Slaa rubbished the vote as stolen. The Tanzanians took a week to count the votes, forcing impatient pro-opposition youth to take to the streets in protest.
One of the strangest elections of the year just took place in Guinea. In the second round, it seems the “wrong” man won. Former premier Alpha Conde defeated the favourite Cellou Dalein Diallo. Now both men are in court alleging fraud, as their supporters battle out in the street alleys.
Also, in June, the good people of Burundi voted. The opposition boycotted the election, leaving President Pierre Nkurunziza to run largely alone, and defeat himself.
Our strongmen
Where did things go wrong? The first mistake our strongmen leaders make is that they forget the value of honesty. A big man who does not believe in a free vote and therefore doesn’t bother with elections, never comes under pressure to be democratic. A good example is Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi doesn’t believe in competitive elections, and doesn’t hold them. When is the last time you heard the international community demanding that he holds elections?
So, the first lesson is that you are better off not having an election, than having one and stealing it. You show the whole world that you are a vote thief – and a dictator. If you don’t hold elections, you are better off, because then you are only a dictator.
The second rule of election rigging is that you can’t steal an election efficiently on voting day. You do so months before. One of the things you do is negotiate in advance with your main threat, and agree the terms of his defeat.
The idea is to get him to concede defeat on the day results are announced, instead of going to court or holding subversive press conferences.
Usually, a villa on the Riviera, a 500 class Mercedes Benz, and $25m in a secret account for the opposition leader will buy you cooperation.
Create a martyr
Otherwise, you make one of the worst mistakes of all and break the third rule—you create a martyr of the fellow you have robbed. One good example is opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye in Uganda. Even the courts agreed with him that he was swindled in 2001 and 2006, not to mention that he was beaten, imprisoned falsely, and his relatives run of town or imprisoned. Besigye became a martyr, which gave him  pride of place in Uganda’s election history.
Fourthly, is the counting of the votes. Everywhere in Africa, and the world, counting the vote is taking too long, resulting in results being announced from two to 30 days after the vote (as in Zimbabwe). You see when you delay counting the vote, you create the impression that you are actually seriously adding them up. It often also suggests that the vote is close.
The trick is to announce the winner immediately after the polling stations close, thus catching the opposition by surprise, and preventing any unreasonable expectations that you are serious about counting the votes taking hold.
Fifth, some of our leaders have this wrong idea that you can win an election with only living voters. Crazy. The most loyal voters are the dead ones. Resurrected voters, even if they return to the ballot box 15 years after they died, are very consistent pro-government voters. At least, they are grateful that they got a piece of land to be buried in.
Living voters, seeing the politicians grabbing forests, road reserves, school grounds, and encroaching on ordinary folks’ land tend to think there will no land left to bury them. Right there you have an anti-incumbent voter.
So, never forget to register ghost voters. The art of election stealing needs to be taken seriously. Many big men are giving other poll fraudsters a bad name by messing up the great game.