SHOULD ELECTIONS POINT TO VIOLENCE?

“………Why should an act of democracy be the same that takes people’s lives or one that dents the country’s history and its development?………”

Recently, a team of Ugandans visited one of the organizations I work with and after debriefing them about the vision  and mission  of the institution, they couldn’t help but ask about the election mood in the country.  The question was prompted by a mention of one of the pillars of the organization – governance and rights. They had though in Rwanda no local organization intervenes in governance and human rights  related issues.  With just less than 2 months to go to the polls, our visitors were surprised that there are no billboards advertising the presidential candidates or even that the city is not polluted with the loud campaigns or even flyers and brochures showing the flashy manifestos of the aspirants. They had just witnessed the primaries of the ruling party that were held in a peaceful and non-chaotic manner, contrary to what had happened in Kenya this April, a process that was marred by either kidnaps, injuries, accusations of seeking sympathy votes or even malpractices, causing fear that Kenya’s history of election violence may repeat itself, according to observers. Another friend from UK lured me into a conversation on elections and his fear was that back in the UK, the election turnout would be low (according to recent reports, he might have been right – only 68.7 %.) Well I am not here to compare the affairs of the nations, every country has its own challenges but I was taken into a moment of asking a question that I think we all need to ponder about: Do elections mean violence? Why should an act of democracy be the same that takes people’s lives or one that dents the country’s history and its development?

Some people have gotten so greedy for power that they don’t want to let go while others are so slobbering to be in command that they don’t mind the lives they have to leave on the way to their self-acclaimed glory. Oh my God!!!! Don’t these people know that they can do a lot out of the office? Most heroes didn’t have to first be presidents or cabinet ministers nor did they hold parliamentary seats to cause change in their communities – they just used what they had. All it needs is a remarkable drive and commitment to create a better world through community service.

Anyway my intention of writing this article wasn’t to tell you about how to effect change without necessarily being in the government but to ponder on how our nations can keep the election processes peaceful for the sake of the people they claim they want to serve. People everywhere deserve and rightly expect a pleasant and safe environment in which they can live and work. We all want good quality public services, with rising standards in our schools and in our health care institutions. We want local communities where everyone can participate in society, and effective care is available to those who need it. You can argue if you wish but it’s only that selfless leader who will work tooth and nail to ensure that the people live in a peaceful setting, they can even step down if the safety of the people is guaranteed. Therefore, as different people head to the polls this year, let me use this platform in my authority as a human rights activist to urge all to exercise their right to cast their vote and not allow to be intimidated in to voting any candidate that they don’t favor.  Also to our aspirants, we are here to hold you accountable for your decisions, walk away peacefully if you lose and serve the people if you win.

Elections don’t have to point to violence but to a pacific transition of power.

 

 

HOW SOLID IS THE AFRICAN UNITY? – AFRICA DAY

“…..Some counties tend to think in the confines of their small, fragmented and parceled-out little states forgetting they have no impact but if colonial boarders are opened, the impact will not only be for a single state but for the entire continent……”.

Every 25th May, the African day is celebrated within the African continent to mark the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963 and the African Union (AU) in 2002, as well as celebrate the continent’s progress. 2017 of course wasn’t any different, African leaders were seen hosting events and ceremonies to mark the significant day. This year’s celebration was under the theme ‘Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth”. The theme was derived from the fact that the continent today has one of the largest populations of people aged 35 and younger, and while that can be an asset, it can also be a challenge. Over the years, I used to ask myself why we celebrate the Africa day; I realized that we do so because of the richness and diversity of the continent and its people, and it’s also one of the ways to promote unity and solidarity among the African states. After realizing this, I started pondering on how solid the African unity is?

So far, only 13 countries have loosened or scrapped Visa requirements for African travelers in a move towards the lofty goal of turning Africa into a continent with seamless boarders, modeled after other regional blocs like the European Union, but what about the other 41 countries? This means that some African travelers are denied entry into many African countries. Let me just point out Ethiopia, a country that hosts the African Union headquarters requires almost all African states but 3 to pay for a visa between US$28-US$50. To what extent is this promoting the free movement of people and goods on the continent? I also tried to apply for a Visa to another African country (I choose not to disclose) to attend an International conference only to be denied. I wasn’t disappointed because I was not going to attend the conference but simply because I realized we still have a long way to go as far as reaching the African solidarity. Some counties tend to think in the confines of their small, fragmented and parceled-out little states forgetting they have no impact but if colonial boarders are opened, the impact will not only be for a single state but for the entire continent.

The notion “African solutions to African problems” became very popular in 2014, but it seems to just have been an interesting catchy phrase.  I think the founding fathers of the OAU: Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere envisioned a united Africa free of war but African countries are fighting amongst themselves either politically, economically or even cold wars. Back to the popular phrase “African solutions to African problems” that is yet to yield much for the citizens of the continent. If we are to look at insecurities and conflicts in some countries like Burundi and South Sudan, many lives have been claimed and scores displaced. What has the continent done? To what extent has the AU gone to pacify these areas? How are the young people affected in the conflict areas? These are the questions and many more others that someone keeps asking. What solutions have been adopted for these African problems? Like xenophobic attacks that are still make headlines on the continent – often surfacing at the beginning of every financial year because post-apartheid South Africans are looking for job opportunities in order to put food on their table. This is not only a symptom of the deep leadership deficit but an indicator of limited or no African unity and solidarity.

Africa is a large and beautiful continent blessed with ample natural resources but surprisingly young Africans are always risking their lives on a desperate journey to cross the Mediterranean, only to live as illegal immigrants in Europe. We have lost thousands of young people to the sea, who are fleeing the poor state of the living conditions in their respective countries. What is the missing link? Unless African leaders start thinking about a more forward-looking, people-centered developmental agenda aimed to transform African communities, they might just continue singing the African unity and solidarity without realizing it.

 

 

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

 

 

 

POST ELECTION VIOLENCE IN AFRICA: WHERE IS THE RULE OF LAW?

“It is election time? Stock up and stay indoors, it is that time of the year again!” This statement may seem like part of a script in a fictional movie but it is a reality for a large number of citizens living within various countries in the African continent. It is an open secret that election periods in these countries are characterized by violence, intimidation, flouting of laid down procedures and a myriad of other illegalities perpetrated by those seeking positions of power and their supporters.

Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Chad and Gabon, to name but a few, are testaments to the violence that takes place before, during and after the elections phase. A simple online search will present any curious information seekers with stories, pictures and videos of both victims and culprits of these acts of violence. WHY THEN IS POST ELECTION VIOLENCE ALMOST A NORM IN THESE COUNTRIES? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

There have been studies and researches that have been done, albeit a few, that give possible explanations for the “trend” of post-election violence. These include but are not limited to: poor governance, poverty, patronage systems in political structures, previous failed or flawed elections, electoral misconduct and weak or compromised institutions and laws governing the electoral process. All countries, the world over, are governed by laws that are aimed at ensuring that all possible injustices that could occur are prevented or dealt with so as to ensure that they do not re-occur.

The prevalence of post-election violence cases is therefore a demonstration of the absence of the rule of law in the respective countries within which they occur. The rule of law indicates that all citizens within the jurisdiction of the law are subject to it and abide by it. This means that all aspects of social, economic and political activities are conducted according to and within the confines of the law with no exceptions. Bearing these definitions in mind, it becomes apparent that there is a huge gap in the observance of the rule of law in the countries where post-election violence is rife and growing ranging from the laws themselves to the institutions charged with application of the law.

The inadequacy of the laws stem from the fact that they are not airtight i.e. there are many loopholes within the laws themselves that allow electoral malpractices to go unpunished. This is exemplified in cases whereby those who are suspected of engaging in electoral misconduct are set free based on technicalities rather than proof of innocence. Even in cases where the laws do exist, they are blatantly disregarded by those who are supposed to abide by them such as the electoral bodies, law enforcement agencies, the politicians and the voters themselves. Reported cases of harassment of opposition groups by police, misconduct by election officials and voter bribery (buying of votes especially from the poor sometimes even in exchange for a packet of maize flour) are just a few examples of well known “accepted” activities during electioneering periods that are against the law but seem to go “unnoticed”.

The lack of independence of the judiciary is also a huge impediment to free, fair and non-violent elections whereby bipartisan rulings in election petitions are the order of the day. This breeds distrust of the judicial process and as a result forms the breeding ground for frustration among those seeking redress from the courts. At this juncture where the aggrieved parties feel that their issues of contention cannot be fairly judged under the law, they tend to resort to violence.

All the issues discussed above are, in no way, meant to justify or excuse violence of any form, but are aimed at addressing the underlying issues so as to have lasting remedies to the challenges that exist within the electoral process. Apart from a review of the electoral laws, all the citizens need to have high levels of integrity so as to ensure that the electoral process is not compromised at any level; be it by the voters, politicians or the judiciary. There is need for a turnaround in the “normal way of doing things” to a progressive culture in which the focus is not only in the present but also in the future.

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

Speech by President Museveni on his inauguration

Uganda Politics

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is sworn in for fourth term at Kololo Airstrip in the capital city Kampala Thursday, May 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

On the 12th May 2016 Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, was sworn in for a fifth term at the helm of the beautiful Central African country. In attendance were various African head of states and governments, including Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has an arrest warrant issued by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In his speech Museveni referred to the ICC as “a useless body. They are a bunch of useless people.” This is not the first time an African leader has made such remarks about the ICC and it wasn’t Museveni’s first time either. In brief, the problem African leaders have with ICC is that they say that it unfairly targets Africans and ignores other war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by others. This is an allegation with basis I fact, all 32 people indicted in its history are all Africans.  This argument ignores the bigger problem, which is why does Africa not have their own independent and credible national judicial institutions or even African Criminal Court.

Admissibility is a legal term that defines when a case may come before a court, with the ICC, it may only accept a case, if the national judicial system is investigating and prosecuting the same matter in an independent and credible manner. This was the case in Kenya with the Waki Commission, set up to investigate and prosecuted the post-election violence, was found to not be credible and the cases passed to the ICC. This failure of our institutions is what puts us in this situations, where we are always undermined by the Western powers and they feel the need to act like a big brother and ‘essentially protect us from ourselves’, even against our wishes. Africa needs functioning credible, strong and independent judicial institutions, in which the ordinary citizen has access and can expect fair treatment no matter his/her economic status, tribe, political affiliation or gender.

We already have a continental court with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but it does not work efficiently, because of lack of political will and economic means. The African Union, the parent of the African Court is mostly funded by non-African institutions and governments. Again this is another area in which Africa needs a long term solution not just rhetoric, the area of economy.

The ICC might very well be biased against the African continent, as African leaders make up the majority of indictments and prosecutions, even though we know there are human rights violations in Europe, the Americas and Asia. But leaving the ICC isn’t the answer to countering this supposed bias. Instead of trying to evade prosecution from the ICC, African leaders need to be working at eliminating poverty in their countries, educating their citizens, and establishing the rule of law and truly observing human rights. They need to renounce and uproot from their governments, the greedy, self-serving attitudes that have plunged our continent into poverty and wars for so long, and take responsibility for bettering their countries, rather than always blaming others for our misfortunes.

Our leaders are well within their rights to demand that the ICC be fair and just in prosecuting all the leaders around the world who commit crimes against humanity. In the meantime, they need to ensure that they are blameless themselves, rather than trying to find ways to avoid prosecution.

Once again we refer to Museveni’s speech where he referred to the Chinese nation and said “Those people are also our genuine friends. They have no arrogance. If a man has his own house and he goes in another man’s house … what type of fool are you?” Here he was basically saying that the Chinese government offer aid or maybe investment without any conditions, unlike the western countries. African countries rely too much on foreign aid in every area of government from health and education to military, this has created a situation where they always have to beg. The natural resources of Africa are not benefiting Africans, either through corruption or global economic policies that do not offer Africa their deserved share. Policies of institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have put Africa in so much debt, due to high interests, that it will take generations to pay back. What is needed is not to choose Chinese over Americans but to create an African economy that is self-sustainable and strong, where we trade among ourselves, negotiate together as one and allow free movement of goods and people within the continent.

 

In conclusion, what Museveni should have said in his speech is that we need an Africa with strong, independent and accessible national institutions, a strong, united and inclusive economy and the ability, as Africans, to identify and solve our own problems.

By Joseph Nkurunziza Chairperson of Africa Democracy Forum @ryarasa