What happened to the wisdom leaders used to have?

As a parent, I can imagine the disconcerting moment of my life if I ever have to look in to the eyes of my hungry child with nothing to help then quench their dire hunger.

There have been reports on international media of over 17 million people from Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan at a stake of a hunger crisis. All the images show children who look like they have starved for days, longing to be full of food and hope.

South Sudan declared famine in the country in late February, a situation that was termed by many as a ‘man-made’ tragedy. Why? Well it’s the youngest country, but its citizens have suffered a devastating civil war that broke out in 2013, till 2016 when it got the second highest score on the Fragile States Index. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. As if it’s not enough that people are dying because of the war or being displaced and children becoming orphans, they also get to die due to starvation. All this is because leaders are clinging on to one more day or year in power while the opposition believes they have the right to fight their way to the presidency.  As the war goes on, farmers can’t till their land or even plant any seeds, meaning food security is threatened.

As for Somalia, it’s not any different from South Sudan’s story of hunger being caused by a long spell of conflict, over 10 years of civil war. For Somalis, the memory of the 2011 famine, which left a quarter of a million people dead, is still fresh and dreadful recall that has forced many to leave their homes and villages to look for food.

May be we look at Kenya, where people in more than half of its 42 counties face starvation due the cycle of famine related deaths brought about by ongoing drought that has seen an estimated 1.3 million Kenyans acutely food insecure and in need of assistance. This drought could be blamed on poor rains in 2016 but what about corruption and income inequalities. In January this year, Transparency International’s corruption index placed Kenya 145th out of 176 countries, ranking it one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and on the globe. The levels of inequality escalate the level of corruption, as the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable. The finances meant for seeking environmental solutions or ending extreme poverty or improving health care provisions are swindled mercilessly. Corruption affects the targeting of social programs to the truly needy; the syphoning of funds from poverty alleviation programs by well-connected individuals, diminishes the impact of social programs on income distribution and poverty.  The prolonged drought that has reached the level of claiming lives might be blamed on no rains but we should know that our leaders have looked on as people die of starvation, yet their bellies are so full, with left overs to fill up their trash cans.

For Ethiopia, the cause of its recurrent famine has also been blamed on lack of accountable government. Although the late Prime minister Meles Zenawi had a vision for every Ethiopian to have enough to eat, at least three times a day and also have the luxury of choosing what they eat, his vision could have gone with him (May his soul RIP). In Ethiopia, it has been noted that there is no incentive for the government to work hard to avert famine. Come one, at least the incentive can be the people that put you in power.

Well, let me take you back a little to the ancient biblical studies where the love of the shepherd for his sheep was best seen when times of special need call forth unusual acts of care for members of the flock. One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year was for the shepherd to plan food for his flock, this entailed trekking long journeys if the shepherds predicted a drought in the area, just to ensure their cattle are safe. On the contrast, today we have leaders who have time, only to think about their bellies, their power struggles, and their desires. May be you might say that our leaders can’t look out for all citizens, since the population is proliferating at a worrying level, where were they before the population started skyrocketing? What are they doing about the corruption that is eating up our economies like a cancer?

Anyways, the worrying issue about the responses to drought or famine or crisis, is that they are too little and too late, because it takes several months for emergency aid to reach people on the ground.

Starvation is not like losing an election or a bad report of inflation or even a poor international ranking, it’s a dent on the future. Let us save the generations by fighting starvation. Picture Credit BBC

 

 

 

Why is active citizenship under attack and the space for civic engagement closing?

Earlier this month, I travelled to Zanzibar to attend a workshop on strengthening the capacity of rights based CSOs and women human right defenders in East Africa. The gathering that attracted 25 participants representing various CSOs across the horn of Africa was organized by the office of the high commission for human rights, East African region. I couldn’t help but notice that most of the participant’s presentations pointed at the challenges, insecurities and the closing space for CSOs in their home countries.

Civil society represents organized groups and institutions that are independent of the state, voluntary, and at least to some extent self-generating and self-reliant. This includes non-governmental organizations, independent mass media, think tanks, universities and social and religious groups. One role for civil society organizations is to lobby for the needs and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors, and youth among others.

However, civil society organizations globally have been increasingly subjected to threats and excessive scrutiny by government officials thus restricting the functioning of the civil society. We talk of democracy and citizen participation but how will that be possible yet the civil society space is slowly by slowly dwindling?

Reports indicate that over 63 countries passed restrictive laws, shrinking civil society space and increasing the criminalization of and discrimination against CSOs worldwide. This is attributed to many reasons but in Africa, some countries see CSOs as drivers of the western agenda, forgetting their major role of advocating for people’s rights and needs and the fact that they represent citizens and give them a stronger voice. There is an increasing number of laws and bills across Africa, intended to regulate the activities of CSOs, directed at restricting the access to funding, particularly when sourced from abroad, yet NGOs have the right to access funding. This entire legal arsenal is aimed at stifling all forms of promoting and defending human rights by the CSOs.

May be, let’s talks about the reasons why many donors prefer often times to channel their overseas development aid through CSOs: it is because they can easily maximize the impact of the scarce development aid. It is easy to ensure good service delivery at CSOs. Logically, CSOs look at the funds as their source for survival and the path to the realization of their vision. I am not ignoring that there are some CSOs that swindle funds but the trend is very common among government institutions across Africa that do not care to efficiently use the funds.

Also, have we thought about how CSOs act as beacons of democracy, since they ensure direct citizen participation? CSOs work with citizens at the grass roots, they tackle the main challenges that people face and they are able to touch the lives of the people in the simplest forms, either by providing them spaces to talk about their day to day challenges or even facilitating their economic development.  Civil society actors have also increasingly become vital forces in discourses, initiatives and programs that foster peace and security across the world.

So question is: Why exclude the civil society yet it plays a pivotal role in democracy consolidation of any given nation? Why is active citizenship under attack and the space for civic engagement closing?

The civil society is enormous in its size and diversity, its members of the media, for-profit businesses, volunteer associations, political parties, trade unions, faith communities, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations. But because the space we need for this work is closing, we must come together, understand our mutual dependence and interrelatedness, and support each other in this work. We must forge a new solidarity and thrive through to realize our mandate and change every life we can reach

 

 

 

THE AFRICAN PUZZLE; AN ENDOWED CONTINENT BLEMISHED BY DEFICIENCY IN THE CORE AREAS OF NEED

It has been said that to whom much is given, much is expected. This seems to be a paradox in the African continent where a lot of resources abound but the continent does not seem to be reaping the benefits in the wholesome manner that it should.

Africa is classified as the richest continent in terms of natural resources ranging from a large percent of the world’s mineral deposits, vast land reserves, wildlife and most of all it is enormously rich in terms of human capital. These components alone are a testament to the capability within Africa and the potential that lies therein. Why then, one might ask, is Africa and by extension majority of Africans not living up to its/their potential instead languishing in a state of poverty? This poverty is not only financial but also in terms of knowledge, opportunities and facilities. Why haven’t the leaders who have been tasked with the responsibility of managing this great continent been able to guide it to the ‘promised land’?

A leader is someone who is able to determine the needs of those he/she leads and envision a way in which he/she can provide for those needs. So the pertinent questions are: what are the needs of the African people and what are the leaders doing to cater to those needs? Let us begin by the simple, most basic needs. Food (including water), Shelter, Clothing. Can all Africans say that these three basic needs are within their reach? Taking it a step further, we look at access to medical care, education and sanitation. Are they feasible? The answer to all the above is a resounding NO! Even those that are able to access all of the above, more often than not, have to outsource what they need from other countries; including the leaders!

Coming from a solutions-based point of view, it is important to determine what the gaps are and then find ways and means to resolve them. It goes without saying that the resources, without effective mechanisms to utilize them, are of little to no use. Farming tools and a fertile piece of land are useless without the farmer who is both capable and willing to till the land so as to enable crops to grow on it. Since we have established, based on the farming analogy, that the “land and tools” are present in Africa; the point of focus now becomes the “farmer” who represents the leaders both in the private and public sectors.

Africa needs visionary leaders who are forward thinking and development oriented in their decision making and in the programs that they implement for those that they govern. We must begin to think of a future where we will be self-reliant as a continent and in our own individual national capacities using our own home grown policies. We must invest in sustainable farming/food production (actual farming not the metaphor) methods, water conservation, suitable and safe housing, indigenous and affordable clothing, well equipped healthcare facilities and policies, quality education that is accessible to all and proper sanitation.

Putting all these systems in place will ensure that we, Africans, have all we need right in the comforts of our own countries and we do not have to take long journeys to look for what is right under our noses. This will also facilitate self-actualization where citizens who have all they need at the basic level are able to look beyond that and grow their skills and knowledge so as to reach their full potential and by extension bring Africa as a continent up where it belongs.

By Joseph Nkurunziza

Poor public service delivery slowing development in Africa

The consequences of corruption in Africa are evident in the poor standards of living and slow rate of development. Rwanda has come a long way in terms of development since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that led to the loss of more than one million lives and dilapidated public institutions and structures. A lot has been achieved so far to rebuild the nation. However, more needs to be done to position Rwanda as a center of excellence on various fronts in Africa in line with the vision of the country.

The public service sector is a key driver for growth in any country. Substantial public funds and foreign investments are channeled through public institutions and some development programs are implemented in collaboration with these institutions highlighting the pivotal role of the sector. For Rwanda to achieve sustainable development it is paramount that corruption is stemmed out of public institutions.

While corruption leads to poor service delivery for citizens, the converse is also true. Poor public service delivery leads to frustration among the service beneficiaries many a times leaving them with little choice but to engage in corrupt practices to access services that they are in the first place entitled to. Corruption in the public sector has led many African states to experience stagnated growth.

Africa is not poor but poorly managed. The main reason Africa has lagged behind in development is not because of a lack of resources but rather mismanagement of resources. Many African states have rich natural resources in terms of minerals deposits such as gold and oil which should by now have contributed to advanced development. Mismanagement of resources leading to corruption is the greatest cause for underdevelopment. Developed countries with little or no natural resources have been able to overtake Africa in development simply because they have managed their resources and even managed our own resources to benefit themselves.

It is high time that Africa awakened to the fact that corruption can never be effectively dealt with if states do not invest in proper management systems and processes for effective public service delivery. Frustrations due to poor service delivery drives corruption when citizens do not get what they are entitled to.

A common frustration that many face with the public sector is delayed payments by public institutions for services rendered or goods sold. There are no systems in place to hold public institutions accountable for delayed payments. This has created a loop hole in the sector where public servants manipulate citizens to bribe them in order for their payments to be processed faster. In this case frustrated citizens are coerced to bribe so that they can beat the system that has refused to change to foster development. In the end, the service provider has not got the full worth of his work and has encouraged corruption within the sector so the next service provider will also be forced to part with his or her earnings. This cycle continues and has been repeating itself for many years. Such loop holes have fostered a culture of corruption that has infiltrated many areas in the public sector.

Public servants have also exploited the public tendering process where management systems are weak. Citizens and public servants in institutions collude to obtain inside information on how to win tenders. Such widespread corruption hurts the integrity of public institutions limiting their effectiveness in contributing towards development.

Certainly both citizens and governments are to blame for corruption. On the one hand governments for failing to put in place proper systems that do not frustrate citizens forcing them to engage in corruption and on the other hand citizens for not speaking up and demanding for action for these systems to be put in place.

Fighting corruption requires the joint effort of both citizens and the government whereby each effectively performs their duties.

By Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza