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.

 

 

AFRICAN UNION GENOCIDE PREVENTION EFFORTS – LONG OVERDUE

“Last year, a despairing 14 year old boy committed suicide in a Darfur camp, a situation that was worth the world’s effort to reflect on the appalling situation that was biting hard on the war-torn region”

The Peace and Security Council of the African Union, on April 11, 2017 convened for the 678th time, to receive a briefing on the prevention of hate crimes and the ideology of genocide in Africa, from which various resolutions were adopted. From its communique, the meeting stressed the importance of the need to deepen democracy, participatory governance and a culture of peace, a strategy I believe if implemented, gives a strong glimmer of hope for sustainable development on the continent. The emphasis is in line with aspiration 4 of Agenda 2063 that aspires for a peaceful and secure Africa. This aspiration stipulates that mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts should be functional at all levels and all that guns should be silent by 2020

However, gun shots are still heard flying around in South Sudan, claiming thousands and leaving over one million people displaced by the violence. The South Sudan conflict was declared genocide by the UK in April, 2017, as the conflict is perpetrated along tribal lines. Also, a UN report in March stressed that South Sudan was experiencing ethnic cleansing by mostly government forces and their allies and that the country was teetering on the edge of genocide.

This could be more or less the same way Genocide  started in Rwanda. They were rumors of the killings, then journalists flooded the country from different parts of the world to report on the killings in some small country in East Africa and they later fled for their lives while the innocent lives were killed mercilessly as the world watched claiming their hands were tied. While the World repeats continuously that genocide should not happen ever again, , there have been reports of targeted killings in   South Sudan, driving  the youngest nation in the world towards i the edge of genocide and the world is looking on again in the name of non-interference in sovereign state matters.

However, with the 678th PSC declaration, Africa ought to shift from rhetoric to action, strengthen measures for prevention and reading early signs to avoid Genocide.  This declaration is long overdue, and will be meaningful, only if it doesn’t stay on paper, a declaration we refer to only in continental meetings, or an indicator of the achievements of the African Union towards genocide prevention, without practical strategies to implement it.

It’s very common for some warning signs of genocide to escape much notice but if there is more analysis, the signs will present themselves in all forms. Last year a despairing 14 year old boy committed suicide in a Darfur camp, a situation that was worth the world’s effort to reflect on the appalling situation that was biting hard on the war torn region. Imagine a young boy hanging himself with a rope in his family’s home, tired of the dire circumstance his family was living in. Although many people looked at it as extreme, especially being done by a child, with limited and blurred knowledge on death or even hanging himself for dead, but it’s the best in his own mind that could show a despairing sign of saying enough is enough.

So my point is, we welcome the 678th PSC declaration but it should not just be another statement without supporting action. Africa needs to walk the talk!  After the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, Africa committed to walk away from the old Non-interference principle and not to remain indifferent in the face of a tragedy on the continent.  We cannot remain silent while the people in our neighboring countries perish as we look on.

I pledge to keep my voice alive and loud to silence the guns on the continent. I will start with what I can do for now.

Photo is from http://www.voanews.comA man collecting bodies to bury in a mass grave approaches a burned hut containing charred corpses, on the outskirts of Yei, a center of the country’s renewed civil war, southern South Sudan, Nov. 15, 2016:

 

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

 

 

 

Women are not your Property, they are your partners to live with and respect

Fostering gender parity in the socio-economic and political arena in Rwanda has been a successful endeavor, however, some reports still hint at a gloomier picture in the success stories of women empowerment in the country. As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the international women’s day, we have to recognize that the government of Rwanda has relentlessly strived to promote women’s economic empowerment in a number of ways. All the ways have been aimed at fighting all forms of injustice including gender based violence, ensure women economic empowerment and break the barriers that hinder women to reach their full potential in adding their contribution to national development.

Due to government’s unwavering efforts, in 2015, the Inter-Parliamentary Union updated its database to reveal that Rwanda had more women than men in parliament at 63.8%. Still in 2015, the Global Gender Gap Report named Rwanda as the best place to be a woman in Africa, also the sixth in closing gender gaps world-wide. All these achievements indicate a strong commitment for advancing and sustaining gender equality and empowerment.

However, we can’t blindly ignore the few cases that still impede the development of women. The Rwanda National Police in one its periodic reports indicated a decline in rape, defilement and physical abuse cases, but even the few victims of GBV are inexcusable. The ordeals narrated by the women who fall prey of the shameless men in the society reveal a permanent damage on the victims. Studies have indicated that some women in our lives are either sexual-assault victims or survivors of domestic abuse and these life experiences leave life-time pain and trauma. Some women sustain permanent physical injuries, others live miserable lives while others lose their lives.

Scanning through the regional or global scene, women are still trafficked and sold as sex slaves. Women and girls are ensnared in sex trafficking in a variety of ways: some are lured with offers of legitimate work as shop assistants or waitresses in developed countries, while others are promised marriage, educational opportunities or even a better life. Worse still, many are sold into trafficking by boyfriends, friends, neighbors or even parents. When the protector becomes the betrayer, just for an extra coin! The victims are physically and psychologically tortured, deprived of food and sleep and forced to start a new and degrading life.

One thing that I have always asked myself but failed to get an answer is, “they are our mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters, friends, spouses, nieces and cousins, but why do we hurt or abuse them to an extent of even killing them, why beat them up simply because we want to feel more powerful, why plot deviously against them for a few minutes pleasure?” Well, this still boggles my mind, but maybe I am not alone. Either way, I believe that the best way to eliminate violence against women is not only speaking out but having the men’s voice strongly backing them. #BeBoldForChange, stand up and fight injustices against women!

Freedom of Speech misused

Last week, videos and images from South Africa during President Jacob Zuma’s state of nation address showed chaotic scenes as some members of parliament were literally dragged out of the chamber by the guards. Those ejected were opposition deputies who could not let the South African President start his address, denouncing and labeling him all sorts of names from “scoundrel” and “rotten to the core” because of the ongoing corruption allegations. One of the MPs called President Zuma “an incorrigible man which means hopeless. Really? Is this the freedom of speech that we keep referring to as our right? For a citizen to stand up to the president and call him all sorts of names in the name of opposition or the fact that he has a right to speech is appalling. This is the worst state of abusing our rights. What legacy are these leaders passing on to the young generation, “tomorrow’ leaders”? Does it always have to be confrontational and violent? Our continent deserves better leaders, our youth deserve better mentors and our rights deserve better respect.

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