Call Us Now: (240) 429 2177


Withdrawal of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame from the World Economic Forum in South Africa Last Week was an Honorable Act for Africa
September 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

On Friday last week in one of South Africa’s national newspapers, The Citizen, Ralph Mathekga, usually insightful political analyst, was reported to have rebuked Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame for declining an invitation to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town.

The issue at hand related to African reaction to the on-going xenophobic attacks on non-South African nationals in SA. In Mathekga’s view, Kagame’s response to the attacks reflected ‘weak leadership’ and lack of ‘political maturity’ in Africa. In assessing the facts realistically, such a conclusion was not only unduly harsh; it was misleading, unjustified and disingenuous.

To begin with, besides Rwanda other African states had voiced grave reservations about attending the WEF under the prevailing circumstances in SA. These included Nigeria, Malawi, the DRC, Zambia and Tanzania.  Kagame was hardly alone. More to the point, he had nothing to do with the causes, spread and execution of the xenophobic carnage and had virtually no influence over its perpetrators.  After all, South Africa is a sovereign nation.  The only avenue available to Kagame was indirect influence via the local South African authorities.

Yet, no utterances were forthcoming from the SA Government officialdom or the organizers of WEF that a plan was underway to stem or alleviate the impact of the savage and senseless attacks on innocent and defenseless fellow Africans. Obviously Kagame felt helpless and frustrated that the WEF seemed to be bent on proceeding as if nothing alarmingly critical was happening in its host country.

Mathekga’s reasoning would have been sound had it proposed that an urgent consultative meeting of African leaders be called by the SA government just before, or along the WEF, to discuss on emergency basis the crisis of the on-going Afrophobia-driven brutality. In the absence of the African Union in the WEF, the obligation to solicit such give-and-take views from other African leaders rested squarely on the shoulders of the host, President Cyril Ramaphosa.  President Kagame was certainly not in a position to summon such a sub-meeting; he was a guest, not the man-in-charge. To repeat ourselves, South Africa is a young sovereign nation and is understandably ultra-sensitive to matters touching its jurisdiction.

By all indications, a give-and-take meeting of African leaders at, or parallel to the WEF, was not forthcoming. Conceivably, President Kagame felt that it would be a betrayal to his personal conscience and the people of Rwanda for him to sit among global leaders to discuss economic issues while innocent fellow Africans around them were being decimated with impunity. Meanwhile, the global leaders would be sitting at the majestic International Convention Center in Cape Town, securely protected by state security forces, possibly oblivious to the woes of the violence outside.

Viewed from this angle, President Kagame’s conscious and deliberate choice to formally exclude himself from Cape Town’s WEF was a carefully considered act of ultimate decency, political maturity, and diplomatic savvy. It was his way of protesting how victimized ‘foreigners’ in SA were being handled virtually indifferently by the country’s officialdom and to inform the victims of Afro-phobia that, “yes, we hear you and we do care. Indeed, you matter to us.”

Such a reaction is truly understandable coming from a leader who, in all likelihood, still encounters occasional sleepless nights, haunted by memories of man’s savagery to fellow man from the ghastly Rwanda Genocide which took place twenty five years ago and senselessly wiped out ten percent of his nation’s population.

It was indeed a misplaced judgment for Mathekga, otherwise a seasoned and compelling political  analyst, to condemn President Kagame for finding it unacceptable to visualize himself sitting in an economic meeting while innocent people outside faced war conditions of life and death.

Seen in this context, President Kagame’s self-imposed ‘exclusion’ from WEF was indeed a dignified and decent diplomatic act to show that he, as a mature and committed African leader, drew the line in the sand to assert  that what was happening in SA at that juncture was far from acceptable. To see this gesture any other way than honorable, verges on blaming the victim.

*James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus).  He comments on public issues in various international publications.He runs the blog Global Africa




Read More
Life In A War Zone : 30 Days in Ambazonia/Anglophone Cameroon (3)
June 8, 2018 | 0 Comments

After Fleeing from the Marauders – Refugee Stories

By Solomon Ngu*

The Humanitarian crisis has attained alarming proportions tens of thousands displaced from their homes

The Humanitarian crisis has attained alarming proportions tens of thousands displaced from their homes

Why the Biya government decided to launch war in the countryside, I suspect, was because he feared a Maoist-style revolution whereby villages mobilize enough fighters who eventually move en masse to capture the cities. Whether the government is succeeding in this or not is questionable. What we know is that some of the villages in the countryside have, through guerrilla tactics, put up strong and unbelievable resistance to the government forces. The Fighters are currently talking of cruising into Buea irrespective of whether they control the countryside or not. I must stress that the government forces barely occupy deserted portions of the villages; they haven’t captured any territory through combat. Those in the occupied parts of the countryside are living in the forests, have fled to unaffected villages or the city.

Photos and videos depicting the living conditions of Anglophone refugees in Nigeria and those living in the forests in Cameroon circulate daily on social media. Despite their condition, they – especially those living in the forests in Cameroon – go an extra length to take videos and photos within a setting where they do not have access to electricity to charge their phones. I recently got a call from one of my childhood friends, a farmer living in the burnt farming village of Munyenge and he said they have found a way to charge their phones by sneaking into those houses that have not been burnt down.

Villagers in the war zone, especially those in the thick forests region, do monitor the moves and location of the soldiers. They know which paths and routes to take if they want to leave the countryside. This task is further made easier by the Amba Fighters located in the villages. I met several people whose escape to Anglophone cities and to the Francophone side of the country was facilitated by these Fighters. These escapes are sudden and those fleeing have just a small window of opportunity to pick up a handful of their belongings.

To get a deeper understanding of the experiences of those who fled the countryside, I decided in mid April to visit some of the families hosting refugees. I talked with the refugees and must say their ordeal, courage and resolve to run for their lives in the face of advancing soldiers are worth commending. Take for example, the horrifying experience of Agnes (a pseudonym) who escaped into the forest for two days, leaving behind her very sick mother. She was too old to run with the others into the forest. Luckily, the grandma was still alive when Agnes returned from the forest. In less than an hour, she picked up her few belongings and was already on the run again to a neighboring village. The compound they fled into hosted more than 25 people. They all slept on the floor. She eventually reached Buea thanks to transportation money sent to her by her sister. In her words:

“We were told that there had been confrontations between the Fighters and the La Repubique [government] soldiers in a neighboring village which is about one day trekking from our village. We didn’t know the fight would reach us so soon. But events unfolded so quickly. I was on my way from the farm when I heard the sound of the guns. It sounded like the end of the world.  Bullets rained on our roof. One of the falling bullets pierced through my new jacket.”

Agnes showed me scars of the wounds she sustained on her legs and arms as she ran through the forests with her children and mother. Amidst the commotion, she had forgotten to take money. She took another risk of returning to her house alone. She came face to face with the Fighters who were all dressed in Cameroon military uniform. The uniforms and weapons had been taken from killed and capitulated government soldiers. To her surprise, one of the Fighters called her by her name and instructed her to leave the village as soon as possible. This, she did.

Another story is that of a woman who is in her early 60s. Transport services into and out of her village were completely cut off after the government forces attacked. She took into the forest, trekking for more than 50km. It took her two days before she finally got to the Francophone town of Dschang from where she took a bus to Buea.

But here comes another problem, the challenge of living in the city. With tears in her eyes, Agnes described how life in Buea is strange and unfriendly. She had thought her refugee status would last only a few days but two weeks after getting to Buea, her village, including a semi-urban settlement around it, was completely deserted by mid April 2018. Agnes had lost her freedom and privacy and needed money to survive in the new place. She was a farmer, a money-lender and a trader in the countryside. She left the village at the beginning of the planting season meaning that there is a possibility she may starve next year if she returned to the village. In my recent communication with her, she wasn’t sure if she would ever return to her house.

During my stay in Cameroon, I traveled to a few border towns hosting refugees. I spent two days in Dschang where the car parks serving Anglophone passengers were scanty. Listening to the hardship of those hosting the refugees was heartbreaking. Nearly everyone I met in Dschang was hosting refugees from Lebialem. There is this friend of mine whose five relatives fled the village to live with her in late March. As of the time of writing this article, the number has increased to six. She has a two-bedroom apartment. She avoids loss of privacy and stress at home by spending most of her free time in the church and farm.

The government has refused to recognize the Anglophone refugee disaster. Talk less of any conversation about the Anglophone Crisis at the national parliament. Responding to my first post on this series, someone insinuated that ‘this mad war [has been] initiated by desperately power hungry Cameroon diaspora’. What he failed to mention was that the war was declared on Anglophones, the ‘terrorists’, by the president in November 2017. The Anglophone diaspora started supporting the Fighters after they realized that the soldiers were killing Anglophones indiscriminately. The minister of defense actually praised the soldiers for massacres in villages in Manyu Division where people resorted to fleeing to Nigeria. It is estimated that between 40.000 and 50.000 Anglophones have sought refuge in Nigeria.

The narrative put forth by the government surrogate such as the one who commented on my first post specifically aims at excusing the government of war against people it sees as despicable. How do I know this? How the Cameroon government choose to treat – or choose not to treat – its citizens who happen to be refugees tells a lot about who is considered a true Cameroonian. We have all seen how the government provides humanitarian relief to Francophone refugees fleeing Boko Haram attacks. They have been treated as unfortunate people whose humanity is being destroyed by terrorists. The Anglophone refugees, to quote Franz Fanon, live in a zone of non-being; a zone where people are not recognized as full humans and their lives are less valued.

In my next post I will focus on the Amba Fighters – how they are perceived in Anglophone Cameroon. Part of my argument will be that they do no longer want to condone the dehumanization they experience daily in their country.

*This is part of the series Life in a War Zone:30 Days in Ambazonia by  Solomon Ngu for PAV under the blog Kamer Blues

Read More
Life in a War Zone: 30 Days in Ambazonia/Anglophone Cameroon
May 20, 2018 | 1 Comments

In early April 2018, I decided to visit Cameroon to enliven my family bond through face to face contact. I knew this was risky. Friends and family cautioned me, warning about the insecurity and war in the country. I have been to Cameroon two times ever since Anglophone Cameroonians took a bold step in late 2016 to openly talk about their oppression. Increasingly, the crisis has escalated and we now witness a full-scale war against the people, a form or punishment, meted on Anglophones by the Cameroon government.  Anyone familiar with the political developments in Cameroon is not surprised that Anglophones are fighting against what they see as occupational forces of La Republique du Cameroun (LRC). As an Anglophone Cameroonian, albeit with roots on the Francophone side, I find it is hard not to write about the marginalization we have experienced all our lives in country where we are made to understand we are undeserving citizens.

My name is Solomon Ngu . I migrated to Europe and eventually to USA at the turn of the 21st century. Like most Anglophone Cameroonians, I left the country in search for a better life abroad. Over the years, I have witnessed and researched the ways in which young Anglophone Cameroonians navigate through hard life in the country. Just as our generation at the turn of the 21st century, most of these young men and women paint a gloomy picture of life in Cameroon; they believe a better future awaits them out of their country. That the migrants constitute a heavy weight in the war and are the most vocal anti-LRC citizens is a point I turn to later.

This is an introduction to a series of articles that I will publish on Pan African Visions. The articles are ethnographic notes that bear testimony about the ongoing war in Ambazonia/Southern Cameroons. I will report on what I heard and saw in the urban areas as well as first-hand accounts from villagers who have escaped the villages to the towns. As of the time of writing this introduction, most of the fighting is concentrated in the villages all over Ambazonia. Villagers’ testimonies and the fact that they have left the rural communities to seek safety in the urban areas tell that there is a nasty war going on. In fact, Achille Mbembe, a Cameroon philosopher and human rights activist, says on Facebook that this is a ‘dirty war’, a description reminiscent of Argentinean state terrorism of the 1970s where thousands of people simply disappeared.

It is in fact a dirty war, a war that was totally avoidable had leadership taken into account the humanity of those who live in Ambazonia. The war is described as ‘nasty’ or ‘dirty’ primarily because of the meanness with which it is conducted. Take for example, the military burning down entire villages and properties, torture of civilians and the looting. As to how civilians and their properties – cattle, pets, farms, houses, shops, etc, provoke the soldiers is still unknown but what we know is that the rampaging soldiers’ actions are informed by a belief that they are dealing with people who are less humans, the monsters and aliens. So far, the villagers caught between the government troops and those fighting to restore the dignity of South Cameroons are paying the highest prize. It is a topic I turn to in one of the articles.

Before leaving Cameroon, I had a feeling that this was the last time I saw Ambazonia the way I know it; that is before a full-scale war engulfs the urban areas. Civilians in the major cities of Buea, Limbe, Bamenda and Kumba were making plans on where to escape to should the war reach their city. As I write, there are reports of people fleeing Buea en masse; they want to avoid what they foresee as potential confrontation between the Amba fighters and the Cameroonian army on the 20th of May, a day designated as the National Day.  The 20th of May is significant in that on that day in 1972, many legacies of Anglophone Cameroon were erased; it was a day the name of the country changed from the Federal to a United Republic of Cameroon. Much could be written about this but it suffices at this level to say those fighting to restore the independence of Anglophone Cameroon, do not want 20th May to be designated as Ambazonian National Day. Going by history, they see 1st Oct, as their day of independence – and rightfully so, for Anglophone Cameroon gained independence on this day in 1961. Recall that the conflict in this section of Cameroon escalated after the government massacred citizens who were out celebrating their independence on Oct 1st 2017.

I presume anyone reading this introduction and subsequent articles must be familiar with Cameroon – its colonial and postcolonial history. A very short version of this history is: Cameroon was a creation of Germany in late 19th century. Following the defeat of Germany in WWI, France occupied the eastern part of the country. The western part was colonized and governed alongside Nigeria by the British. The two parts evolved differently in socioeconomic and political spheres. The French governed their section of the country in the most colonially-belligerent manner imaginable; a type of French colonialism eloquently described in Franz Fanon’s works. French repression led to many Francophone political activists seeking asylum in the English part where governance was in the hands of the indigenes. East and West Cameroon reunited and formed a federation in early 1960s as equal states.

Over the years, the Anglophone legacy was erased such that by the mid-1980s, the country became known as La Republique Du Cameroun, a name Francophone Cameroon acquired at independence on January 1st 1960. The Francophonization of Cameroon has been resisted by Anglophone both openly and privately. As time progressed, the resistance was very much limited within the circle of the elite. In fact, the informed Anglophone elite couldn’t transmit the processes and forms of marginalization to the ordinary citizens but the situation was to change through the use of new media technologies during and post 2016 massive uprising. Thanks to social media, and more especially, the Smartphone, information about the marginalization, distorted history and police torture of peaceful protesters was readily circulated among Anglophone Cameroonians. This further fueled the conflict, emboldening young people to go to the street. Some of the articles in this blog focus on how social media is transforming the course of the conflict.

I will leave the reader here. My ethnographic notes will start appearing soon on this blog.

Read More
Helen Zille and the Race Factor in Mandela’s ‘Rainbow Nation’
July 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

Professor James Kariuki

Professor James Kariuki

In March 2012 South Africa’s Helen Zille triggered an animated public feud by referring to black students as refugees for flocking from black-ruled Eastern Cape Province to the Western Cape Province in search for better educational facilities. She spoke in her capacity as the Premier of the only white-ruled Western Cape Province and the former head of predominantly white Democratic Alliance (DA) political party.

Black South Africans were outraged that, consciously or not, Zille had attached a ‘foreign’ stigma to her fellow citizens in their own country. In response, Zille dismissed that innuendo of ‘foreign’ stigmatization and tried to debate substantively a largely knee-jerk public reaction. She failed drastically in the endeavor to direct the mind to an emotional issue.

Exactly five years latter in March this year, Zille again got caught in another political storm for suggesting publicly in a tweet that not all aspects of colonialism are negative; some of its legacies can still be adapted today to positive ends. Again, public response to this seemingly innocuous proposition has been brutally scathing. Against it, Zille has been charged by her own party for bringing it into disrepute and damaging it. Until further notice, she has been stripped of the rights to participate in her party’s activities except as the premier of the Western Cape.

In 2017, Zille has been specifically accused of racism for glorifying colonialism, the mother of slavery and African peoples’ ultimate anathema. In response, she has apologized profusely for sounding like an apologist for colonialism but, for a while she adamantly refused to retract her initial proposition that we can learn a thing or two from our bumpy encounter with colonialism. Was this also a case of Zille addressing an issue of the heart intellectually?  For several weeks, Zille and her critics, within and outside her party, were locked in a dialog of the deaf.

In subsequent statements, Zille emphasized that her public colonialism remarks were largely distorted by the South African specter of racial ‘bogeyman.’ Presumably, the colonial inference had touched a raw public nerve because it was she, a white public South African, who had uttered it, casting it into the public domain. The suggestion here was that the logic in Zille’s colonial statement was inherently sound; it had been disfigured by viewing it through the prism of ‘political correctness.’

To affirm the point, Zille reasoned publicly that others of different hues had made similar remarks regarding colonialism without triggering public outcry, arguably because the ‘others’ were non-whites. In her list, she included Kenya-born Professor Ali Mazrui by name as a case in point. He was one of those who had ventured into similar wilderness of wrongdoing as herself, with impunity. Was Zille trying to make the issue one of reverse racial discrimination? Whatever the case, in pointing to Professor Mazrui as having been spared of criticism on the grounds of his race, Zille was factually wrong.

Undoubtedly, late Professor Ali Mazrui possessed one of the finest scholarly minds in post-colonial Africa. But on his way to global intellectual stardom as an academic (not active a politician), he occasionally slipped and bruised African sensibilities in a manner akin to Zille’s. Yet, contrary to Zille’s beliefs, he was hardly spared of harsh treatment.  And his harshest critics were indeed fellow Africans, not white Africans.

Mazrui once ‘complimented’ Malawi’s Hastings Banda for being ‘open-minded’ about South Africa’s apartheid. Banda had welcomed the notion of doing ‘business as usual’ with the much detested apartheid regimes in southern Africa. He indeed went further to entertain the ‘outlandish’ notion of engaging a running ‘dialogue’ with the same white supremacist oligarchies of the region.

Banda’s views were considered inimical to the newly emergent post-colonial Africa’s thinking of ‘freedom indivisible,’ and corresponding continental policy of isolating what Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere once dubbed the ‘monster of un-freedom.’ The stipulation was that, as long as southern Africa denied freedom to any African on the grounds of his race, all Africans were not free.

Congo’s Moishe Tshombe was another homegrown iconoclast who scornfully challenged post-colonial Africa’s collective will. His most provocative offense against that African collective ‘will’ was to hire white mercenaries from southern Africa to fight in his country, first for the secession of mineral-rich Katanga Province and, subsequently, for a united Congo.

 Jacob Zuma and former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille attend a media breakfast in Cape Town. AFP e Picture -

Jacob Zuma and former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille attend a media breakfast in Cape Town. AFP e Picture –

Although  stated with misgivings, Mazrui saw a silver lining to the dark clouds of Banda’s and Tshombe’s self-serving practices and policies. In his logic, Banda’s political bent of thought reflected admirable pragmatism and courageous independent thinking.

Regarding Tshombe, Mazrui asserted the view that using white soldiers-of-fortune to commit some of the atrocities in the Congo was not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if foreign mercenaries perpetrated lasting damage on the country, Congolese had less to forgive each other for, and that could be a good thing for the realization of the country’s future peace.

Like Zille’s remarks on colonialism, Mazrui’s statements on Banda’s and Tshombe’s transgressions against continental African thought contained a grain of truth; they were beyond reproach if aimed exclusively at the mind. The assertions were indeed entirely consistent with the notion of ivory tower intellectualism and academic freedom, encouraged and welcomed in university settings.

Publicly, however, such proclamations were taboo precisely because human beings respond to more than the mind. We are also subject to emotional reactions that often transcend intellectual inquiry. In this context, Banda’s pragmatism and Tshombe’s contribution to future peace in the Congo were of little consolation to the deeply bruised African psyche, beleaguered as it was by the existence of repulsive apartheid and colonialism.  Mazrui’s semi-positive projection of the two African political iconoclasts’ was ‘politically incorrect’ and unwelcome.

That African reaction to Mazrui’s remarks was hardly unique.  Jewish people at home and their Diaspora in all likelihood would have been just as ‘tuned off’ as black South Africans have been by Zille’s twitters on colonialism were they approached to learn a thing or two from the holocaust. What about African-Americans if challenged to inherit something from their horrific past of slavery days or the 19th century Jim Crow laws?

Ali Mazrui was my fine friend and superb intellectual hero. Yet, in 1974 I became one of his early critics by objecting in print to his occasional trampling on African sensibilities as in the cases of Banda and Tshombe. Personalities bigger than me followed suit as critics in the years to come, including Nigerian Wole Soyinka and South Africa’s Archie Mafeje. The point here is that, even Professor Ali Mazrui, Africa’s beloved intellectual icon, at times yielded to the temptation to emphasize scholarship at the expense of observing African feelings in treating ultra-sensitive African issues. He was duly challenged.

To many informed Africans, it was ‘unthinkable’ to find anything positive in retired white South African soldiers perpetrating injury, destruction and death upon Congolese in their own country, for any reason. For this reason alone, even an iconic intellectual of Ali Mazrui’s proportions did not walk unscathed when he occasionally made stoic remarks on our tormented continent. Yet, Mazrui and his critics were neither white nor South African. Among them, the issue of ‘racial bogeyman’ did not arise.

Admittedly, Zille has a clear and penetrating mind. Perhaps that fact is what drives her to insist on deploying cold factual analyses which in turn push her into political controversies. Yet, unlike Mazrui whose central domain was in academia, Zille is a politician, a practitioner elected to serve a constituency of assorted expectations. Her legacy will ultimately be judged by the votes that she delivers to her party. That is why in a mixed society, the illustrious political leader is he who considers carefully both issues of the head and those of the heart.

*James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus).  He comments on public issues in various international publications.He runs the blog Global Africa

Read More
Kenyan band takes Afro-pop music worldwide
June 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Ilya Gridneff*

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 6, 2016, members of the Kenyan music group Sauti Sol, from left to right, Bien-Aime Baraza, Savara Mudigi, and Willis Austin Chimano, perform at an event in Nairobi, Kenya. Not many musicians can boast they’ve made President Barack Obama get up and groove to their tunes but Kenyan band Sauti Sol did just that with their mix of Afro-pop, soul and R&B, which has won a number of international awards. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 6, 2016, members of the Kenyan music group Sauti Sol, from left to right, Bien-Aime Baraza, Savara Mudigi, and Willis Austin Chimano, perform at an event in Nairobi, Kenya. Not many musicians can boast they’ve made President Barack Obama get up and groove to their tunes but Kenyan band Sauti Sol did just that with their mix of Afro-pop, soul and R&B, which has won a number of international awards. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Not many musicians can boast they’ve made U.S. President Barack Obama get up and groove to their tunes. But Kenya’s Afro-pop band, Sauti Sol, did just that.

Obama, whose father hails from a village in western Kenya, put his heritage on full display at a state dinner in Kenya last July when he boogied down to the traditional Lipala dance that the band revived with their hit song “Sura Yako.”

“Singing and dancing with the world’s most powerful man was incredible,” said Bien-Aime Baraza, a vocalist for the four-man band. “He really was feeling us. It was wonderful for Kenya.”

A savvy mix of catchy tunes, appealing looks and social media promotion has brought success to Sauti Sol, Swahili for voices in the sun. The band has worked to make traditional East African music cool again, said Rand Pearson, who runs Nairobi’s hip monthly, UP Magazine.

“I first remember seeing Sauti Sol in a dingy Nairobi club 10 years ago. My first impression was that finally there it was, a modern pop version of Kenyan music,” he said, crediting the band’s growth internationally to “visionary management, styling and its ever-evolving musical talent.”

Sauti Sol’s have won a number of international awards including the All African Music Awards Best African Group in 2015 and MTV’s Best African Act.

Pop music is big in Africa, where there are more than 200 million in the 15-to-24 year age group. It is also big business. The entertainment and media industries of Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya together will grow to be worth $24 billion in 2018, according to a 2014 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The band recently toured Kenya and performed in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.

In November last year Sauti Sol launched their latest album “Live and Die in Afrika” free on their website, the first Kenyan album to be released online. The demand was so high that the site crashed and soon it was offered on the website of Safaricom, East Africa’s biggest mobile-phone operator with more than 25 million subscribers.

“This is testament to the fact that an increasing number of users in this market are using high speed data connectivity to access a whole new world of entertainment,” said Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom,

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta booked the band for his inauguration in 2013. “He definitely likes our music. We’ve even played at his last private birthday party,” said Savara Mudigi, drummer, vocalist and producer for the band.

The band, whose members grew up in modest conditions in Nairobi, are now gaining fame across the continent. Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama invited Sauti Sol to play at the West African country’s national holiday in March.

Social media is one of the main driving forces propelling Sauti Sol to African and worldwide audiences, according to band manager Marek Fuchs.

“Cheaper handsets and data plans have allowed the fans to be continuously in touch with the group and we strive to give them a dynamic and interactive story to follow every day,” he said.

Sauti Sol has a dedicated social media team who, along with the band members themselves, run campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, competitions on Instagram, instrument tutorials, Q&As and behind-the-scenes snippets on Snapchat and YouTube.

“We also have to adjust our strategy to fit the local context, language and time zones. It is a balancing act between posting for our traditional Kenyan base, our pan-African and worldwide fan base in different time zones,” he said.

Willis Austin Chimano, a vocalist, said this strategy is new for Africa.

“You’ve got to get with the times. More and more Africans are online, on their phones, using social media and that’s where we are,” he said.

Despite their international successes Sauti Sol remain with their feet firmly on Kenyan soil. The band members say their latest album is an ode to loving and loathing the good and bad of Kenya and the continent.


*Source AP/Washington Post


Read More
Troubling Vestiges of Apartheid
March 24, 2016 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki. Photograph: Photoshot

Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki. Photograph: Photoshot

On February 3, 2016, a relatively new organization called Anti-Racism Action Forum (ARAF) lodged 22 criminal charges against South Africa’s  former president, FW de Klerk (FW), for crimes committed against Blacks between 1990 and 1994. What is the story behind the dramatic news?

 When apartheid finally collapsed in the mid-1990s, the SA Parliament established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a mechanism to cleanse the country of its past political sins. For the preceding four decades, the body politic had endured ravaging, racially-driven abuses. 

 Hopefully, the TRC would drain infections of human rights violations of 1960 – 1994 and help the country out of its globally-acknowledged outcast status. The TRC was empowered to pardon political crimes, including killings, to boost the spirit of forgive-and-forget. The only requirements for amnesty seekers were full disclosures and affirmation that their crimes were politically-motivated.

  The incumbent president of the early 1990s, FW, did not approach the TRC for a pardon. To him, forgiveness was unnecessary because, he had done no wrong. As he put it, his conscience was clear.

 Yet, FW’s nemesis Eugene de Kock, disagreed. He was adamant that FW’s hands were ‘soaked in blood’ of political killings. In his capacity as the leading assassin for apartheid‘s officialdom, de Kock was in a position to know some secrets.  Who of the two was telling the truth? 

 History spared FW of immediate, in-depth legal probing in the 1990s for understandable political considerations. To begin with, once the future of apartheid became doubtful, FW quickly established himself as a vital link between the contesting forces in the bid to transform SA’s political landscape. And his credentials for the task were indeed compelling.

FW was astute enough to detect and acknowledge that apartheid was doomed. Further, he was sufficiently bold to insist on personal involvement in the process of shaping the next political order for the benefit of all. After all, he was the sitting state president. Who else could be entrusted with such a monumental assignment?

Secondly, thanks to FW, the iconic Nelson Mandela had freshly emerged from three decades of apartheid imprisonment professing a disarming attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation. He, his followers and a sympathetic world, expected SA to shed permanently traces of crippling apartheid to a nation of equals. In this euphoric atmosphere, Mandela and FW became two towering leaders-in-alliance which was captured in the joint 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Under these encouraging circumstances, FW became bigger-than-life in the quest to dismantle apartheid. He was leading from the front.  He had established access to the tenacious black liberation movements and had overwhelming backing of the privileged but tentative Afrikaner community.

Those forces converged, if uncomfortably, to cushion FW from serious probing about his possible involvement in past political atrocities despite de Kock pointing a finger at him. At that stage of SA history, FW’s unassailable attributes were crucial to the survival of the body politic; his freedom and safety were non-negotiable.

The question still remained:  did FW walk away with unpardoned murders which could come back to haunt him?  Could the issue re-emerge as a ‘storm deferred’ for SA in the years to come?

Critics have traditionally doubted FW’s commitment against apartheid on the grounds that it lacked compelling moral conviction. Specifically, he has never convincingly condemned the system on ethical basis, even though it reduced its non-white citizens to refugees in their own country.

 For falling short to condemn apartheid without reservations, the name of FW has continued to be intertwined with memories of apartheid and racism. To make matters worse, since he left office, he has increasingly embraced white causes making himself a ‘political issue’ more than is desirable.

 The first two months of 2016 have already witnessed excessive instances of volatile racism prompted by Penny Sparrow, a white woman whose Facebook post of January 2, 2016 referred to Durban beachgoers as monkeys. Racially-charged Tsunami of anger erupted in the social media raging from simple dismissals of Sparrow to stinging suggestions that white South Africans should be exterminated.


Professor James Kariuki

Professor James Kariuki

Through his foundation, FW joined the toxic exchange.  He admitted that Penny Sparrow was wrong for insulting black people but, in comparison, black people were more vibrant racists in their social media reactions. For that reason, the FW’s foundation had submitted 45 complaints about social media postings by Blacks to the South African Human Rights Commission for investigation, claiming that such racially-charged postings could incite violence against white South Africans.  

  Psychologists advise against burying the past; we should deal with it. Yet, there is such a thing as unhealthy wallowing in the past. The Israelis, for instance, have been hunting down Nazi Germany’s victimizers of Jews worldwide since the very establishment of the state of Israel to bring them to justice. Is ARAF’s 2016 case against FW approaching a similar scale of preoccupation?

Nelson Mandela used to tell us to always remember that, in the Afrikaner, we are not dealing with a defeated enemy. His grandson, Chief Mandla Mandela, is now urging us to desist from action that may re-waken the ghosts of apartheid.

 *James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and now resident in South Africa.  He comments on public issues in various international publications.He runs the blog Global Africa

Read More
Apartheid Reincarnated?
February 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki. Photograph: Photoshot

Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki. Photograph: Photoshot

A year ago, South Africans welcomed 2015 but were quickly repelled by its agonizing reminders of apartheid. On January 30, 2015 Eugene de Kock was granted parole after serving over twenty years in prison. His freedom sparked an agitated national debate on the apartheid regime’s crimes generally and those of de Kock particularly. It was an alarming déjà-vous experience.

De Kock was a self-confessed killing-machine that assassinated hundreds of anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s and early 1990s. Nicknamed ‘Prime Evil’ for his excesses, he was sentenced to two life terms plus 212 years in prison for six apolitical murders and other brutal acts as the head of the infamous official hit-squad near Pretoria. Yet, upon conviction de Kock launched a spirited campaign for his freedom. After two decades as a model prisoner, he was indeed set free, destiny unrevealed.

‘Prime Evil’ objected to his incarceration because he allegedly was singled out as a scapegoat; he did not act alone in the political carnage of apartheid’s sunset years. Indeed, he further alleged, the highest political office in the land was involved in what was mislabeled as black-on-black violence of the era. Yet, de Kock lamented, apartheid’s top brass walked unscathed. To him, that was ‘selective justice’; universality of justice was compromised.

De Kock’s release occasioned a public outcry that, for the life of each of his victims, he spent barely minutes in prison. Did that punishment match the crimes? Did de Kock’s freedom depreciate the lives of his black victims who paid the ultimate price?

Concurrently, in January 2015 South Africa was locked in another racially-tinged debate: should Cape Town re-name one of its major streets after F.W. de Klerk? Two days before de Kock’s parole was announced, Mother City actually renamed its Table Mountain Boulevard after de Klerk despite audible public objections. Cape Town’s obliviousness to loud objections was spiteful and reminiscent of the objectors’ painful apartheid days. Why so?

F.W. de Klerk was the last of apartheid’s seven presidents. He was a product of that political order and prominent enough to have served in several of its cabinet positions. When de Kock claimed that the top brass of the apartheid’s regime was guilty of political killings of the early 1990s, de Klerk topped his list.

By the end of January 2015, South Africa was thus bedeviled by two contrasting apartheid legacies. To Kock, a confessed mass murderer, was ultimately set free which prompted a public outcry. But in his case there was a mitigating factor: he regretted his crimes. Still, the price he paid was minuscule compared to the plight of his fallen struggle victims and their bereaved families.

Meanwhile, de Klerk was spared of criminal scrutiny for his ‘alleged’ sins. In fact January 2015 saw him elevated to a towering historical figure by re-naming a major Cape Town street after him.

Did the virtually uncontested freedom for a confessed and an alleged apartheid ‘murderer’ denigrate the sacrifices of the Black anti-apartheid martyrs?

De Klerk’s culpability slipped legal scrutiny partly because he had entrenched himself as a convincing link between the principal contestants in the bid to dismantle apartheid. After all, he was astute enough to accept apartheid’s inevitable doom and bold enough to attempt to shape the incoming order. Conversely, Nelson Mandela’s leadership craved to see apartheid’s quick demolition and the birth of a rainbow nation of equals. Hence, its devotion to racial reconciliation.

Under these inspirational circumstances, De Klerk became an indispensable asset in the quest for a better South Africa. He had the ear of both the tenacious liberation movements and the skeptical Afrikaner community. His freedom and safety were non-negotiable; they were in the national interest. But still, did de Klerk walk away with murder?

SA did negotiate a peaceful transition to constitutional democracy. Well-wishers and genuinely interested parties, Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee included, were convinced that the feat was worthy of awarding the 1993 Peace Prize jointly to de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

But skeptics doubted that the SA president was worthy of the honor. After all, de Klerk never condemned apartheid morally, or expressed regrets that the evil system ever existed. His sadness was merely that, when it faced considerable stress, apartheid wilted became dysfunctional.

To his detractors, de Klerk’s stance was flawed for lacking moral conviction. To this day, he continues to defend aspects of apartheid despite its universal condemnation as a crime against humanity.

Stubborn questions still endure: to cross the line from apartheid to the negotiations table, did de Klerk jump or was he pushed over the cliff? Was the thrust to dismantle apartheid derived from a moral impulse or from seeing a window of opportunity to obliterate an already dying order? Was the collapse of apartheid fuelled by a ‘discovery’ of its injustice or from de Klerk’s acute instinct for survival?

By failing to discredit apartheid morally, de Klerk fell short of Abraham Lincoln’s stature of a compelling historical crusader who led a bitter civil war against American slavery because it was intrinsically wrong. De Klerk remained a crafty tactician and a bona fide believer in apartheid to the bitter end. He only abandoned apartheid to the old slogan, “If you cannot beat them, join them.”

As a political schemer, de Klerk was not deserving of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. To countless Black South Africans he was their oppressor not their liberator. He did not merit having a Cape Town street named after him either.

In January 2015, the city of Cape Town was mindful of the Black community’s skepticism about de Klerk’s role in their history. Yet it proceeded, with an air of bravado, to exalt him to higher prominence by renaming its street in his honor, not because it was politically fitting, but just because it could.

Was this apartheid under another guise? If not, it certainly smacked of what has been dubbed “transmission of trauma and humiliation from one generation to the next” for a large segment of the society.

*James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), now an independent writer based in South Africa.  He runs the blog Global Africa



Read More
Lazarus Angbazo Unveils GE’s Manufacturing Capabilities in Nigeria
June 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

GE Oil & Gas is continuously seeking to increase the competitiveness of the solutions for the Nigerian Oil & Gas industry

The President and CEO of General Electric Nigeria Dr Lazarus Angbazo

The President and CEO of General Electric Nigeria Dr Lazarus Angbazo

LAGOS, Nigeria, June 18, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ General Electric (NYSE: GE)  has commenced fabrication of subsea wellheads at its Onne facility in River State.  This achievement comes at the culmination of 4 years of planning, capital investment and training of Nigerian personnel to establish the first of its kind capability in Nigeria.  The new investment has resulted in a 40% increase of covered work shop area at Onne facility and additional permanent staff.

This was disclosed in Lagos by the President and CEO of General Electric Nigeria Dr Lazarus Angbazo. With this development, surface well head systems used in drilling for Oil and gas on land and offshore will now be done in GE’s Oil and gas facility in Onne, Rivers state. Nigerian engineers have also been trained within and outside the country to operate these facilities.

This development aligns with the Federal Government’s local content law and the clamour for capacity building, skill acquisition and technology transfer. However, Uzo Nwagwu says for GE, this milestone represents a lot more than complying with the laws on local content. “This is not about ticking the box on local content compliance. “It’s about localizing our people, localizing our capabilities; localizing our suppliers and localizing the training and the human capital. This is the only thing that makes sustainable business sense to support our huge investments in the country,” said Nwagwu.

GE Oil & Gas is continuously seeking to increase the competitiveness of the solutions for the Nigerian Oil & Gas industry, the domiciling of subsea wellhead fabrication will give Nigeria based operators the opportunity to buy locally and avoid delivery related delays/save on cost while supporting the growth of the Nigerian Oil & Gas industry.  Dr. Angbazo referred to the establishment of the Subsea wellhead fabrication capabilities in Onne as a ‘true win-win proposition for the indigenous industry and the Nigerian Content agenda.’

GE Engineers and Technicians in its Oil & Gas facility in Onne, Rivers state

GE Engineers and Technicians in its Oil & Gas facility in Onne, Rivers state

Nearly all the engineers and technicians that will be involved in the fabrication are indigenous Nigerians who have been trained within and outside the country. Only recently GE announced that it had sent the first batch out of the 15 newly recruited technicians and engineers to Brazil for training in the assembly and test of subsea equipment.

Actual manufacturing operations will begin in GE’s oil and gas facility in a couple of months in Onne, Rivers state. Operating since 2002, this purpose-built facility is the first and only quayside facility of its calibre in Nigeria. It has an exceptional safety record, and is a cornerstone in GE’s commitment to the country’s Oil & Gas industry. With continually expanding capabilities, the site provides complete assembly, testing and life cycle service for subsea tree systems, subsea control modules, specialty connectors and pipe. It also includes a dedicated on-site training center and offers broad business development opportunities for local suppliers.

*Source APO


Read More
Checkered Legacy of Africa’s Last White Ruler: Case of South Africa’s F.W. de Klerk
January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki Nelson Mandela at his presidential inauguration with his deputies, FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki[/caption] Since the beginning of this year, South Africa has been gripped by the issue of whether or not to name one of Cape Town’s major streets after Frederick de Klerk. To ordinary South Africans, street name changes are no big issue; many do not even notice them until they come to a newly changed street name and have to figure out their own whereabouts. In short, street name changes are usually a mere inconvenience and a nuisance. Why is it then that, suddenly, plans to change the name of the Table Mountain Boulevard to F.W. de Klerk Boulevard in Cape Town (Mother City) have become such a major and controversial issue of national proportions? Indeed, the matter is now so huge that is has captured and divided the nation racially and politically. F.W. de Klerk was the last of seven presidents of apartheid South Africa. He was an integral part of that socio-political order, prominent enough to have held several of its cabinet positions. When apartheid finally started to show signs of cracking, however, de Klerk was astute enough to entertain the possibility that change was inevitable and he entertained the idea of harnessing that change, while there still was time. His method of choice was peaceful negotiations rather than wait until violence engulfed the country. South Africa did achieve that negotiated transition to democracy peacefully. Many observers around the world, including the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, were convinced that that was an achievement enough to earn de Klerk the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the struggle icon, Nelson Mandela. In a recent interview de Klerk himself reiterated that he would like to be remembered as “… a politician who helped to lead South Africa from the dead end apartheid to a non-racial, constitutional democracy.” If the story had ended there, there would not be much dispute today over re-naming a Cape Town street after de Klerk. But, as fate would have it, that is where the theme really thickens, triggering the question: to cross the line from the status quo to negotiating away apartheid, did de Klerk jump or was he pushed? In other words, was this a case of recognizing the impracticality of apartheid or was it a matter of moral bankruptcy of apartheid by a truly reformed de Klerk? This is the essence of today’s public debate. Antagonists insist that the former president was a bona fide offspring of apartheid, one of its prominent and loyal foot soldiers, to the very end. He resorted to negotiations only when he saw the writing on the wall, that the end of apartheid was inevitable, with or without him. So, de Klerk embraced the old jungle logic of ‘if you cannot beat them, join them?’ Was he an opportunist or a reformer? Some would say a reformed realist. The narrative continues that in the late 1980s when de Klerk came to power, he realized that his old order of apartheid was doomed. After all, it was condemned worldwide. International sanctions were largely in place and were biting so deeply that South Africa’s economy was already sluggish. A cordon of an arms embargo was tight and squeezing tighter. And in 1987-88 the apartheid war machine had suffered humiliating military defeats at the hands of Cuban-Angolan military forces in Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola. Those unwelcome defeats made the military option questionable at best for the South African white regime. Finally, social unrest and violence had intensified inside the country, giving substance to the much dreaded rhetoric of ‘making South Africa ungovernable.’ The Republic was indeed on the verge of imploding. From the above logic, opponents of the bid to re-name Table Mountain Boulevard after de Klerk insist that, on balance, he was ultimately their oppressor. Why should they honor him by endorsing plans to change the name of a major street in Cape Town after him? He was not their liberator! This is the same position articulated publicly by the ANC, the ruling political party in South Africa, and COSATU, the huge black trade union. Conversely, de Klerk’s supporters dismiss the above logic on the grounds that, when he succeeded P.W. Botha in 1989, he became a legitimate President of the Republic of South Africa. He could have chosen to remain defiant, like his predecessor, in defense of apartheid, despite evidence against its life expectancy. That attitude on de Klerk’s part would have plunged South Africa into the abyss of a civil war that nobody wanted. To the extent that he embraced the view that there was no alternative to a negotiated settlement, de Klerk did play a major role in peaceful dismantling of apartheid. We are reminded that the negotiated settlement approach was not necessarily the easy route for De Klerk to take. Some members of his white constituency, specifically the ultra-conservative right-wing, were dead set against negotiated democracy with Nelson Mandela, the ANC, PAC or any other black organizations. To that end, they were prepared to go to war. Viewed from this angle, de Klerk did take ominous political risks by resorting to negotiations. He even did what was then ‘unthinkable’ by releasing Nelson Mandela from prison. To be redundant, that is precisely the background against which de Klerk was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. Is that contribution worth naming a Cape Town street after him? Why are the victims of apartheid being so unforgiving? What is in a Cape Town street name any way? Prof James N. KariukiThe tragedy of de Klerk’s attachment to this scenario is that it embraces deeply-felt sentiments, much larger than itself and it is a smelly package. De Klerk’s contribution to the liberation of South Africa is and will always remain contentious. Indeed there are allegations that his regime connived at human right abuses against Blacks to the very end of apartheid. Additionally the city of Cape Town itself has had an uncomfortable relationship with the rest of country during the post-apartheid era, especially with the ruling ANC. This is so mainly because Cape Town is mainly white with the customary class/race delineations of wealth. And last, but not least, it is governed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the home base of former apartheid diehards. Indeed, Cape Town is the capital of Western Cape, the only DA-run province. In terms of race relations, the province and the Mother City have had an appalling record in attending to the needs of its black citizens. The prevailing perception is that when it comes to Blacks, the views of the powers-that-be are simply ‘we do not care if we offend.’ Renaming Table Mountain Boulevard after F.W. de Klerk, in spite of the opposition of the voiceless, is likely to dovetail neatly into that image. Yet, in terms of political sloganeering, the DA claims that Western Cape is the best governed province in the country. The ANC responds that Western Cape and the Cape Town are still victims of apartheid and require to be liberated from that bondage. The name of de Klerk, for no fault of his own, seems to conjure up all those less than pleasant images. As the biggest opposition party in the country, the DA has had an adversarial relationship with the ruling ANC. The two at times behave like enemies rather than opposition political parties. Yet, despite today’s political posturing, long-term mistakes may be made. Currently, the DA focuses on its constitutional rights to change its street names as it sees fit. But this should hardly be done at the expense of sensitivity to the deeply-felt passions of the marginalized segments of the society. Such would enhance a sense of alienation and anger already there. And that is exactly what changing the name of Table Mountain Boulevard to F.W. de Klerk would do. More immediately, the DA faces the problem of being a minority party. For this reason, it longs for opportunities to penetrate the poor non-white society that the ANC claims to be its domain. It is one of its ideals to do this prior the forthcoming 2016 local government election. Being insensitive to the deep passions of the marginalized constituency misses the point regarding the renaming of Table Mountain Boulevard. It is politically naïve for the DA to engage in an issue that dividesSouth Africa racially and politically. It puts itself in a race it cannot win. Finally, ignoring the voices of the voiceless now is not the way forward because it threatens South Africa’s democracy. Democracy requires good governance which in turn means more than just numbers. It implies listening extra hard and respecting the minority’s views; what the voiceless and marginalized, have to say. This minority may represent the silent majority of tomorrow. **James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), now an independent writer based in South Africa.  He runs the blog Global Africa]]>

Read More
Cuba, Fidel Castro and Liberation of Africa
January 19, 2015 | 1 Comments

Mandela with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro Late South African President Nelson Mandela with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro[/caption] My hope for the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency was dashed in 2012 when Obama launched what he called New Alliance for Food and Nutrition (NAFSN), a new program designed to feed Africa in a decade. NAFSN has been criticized for many reasons but its core crime was to open the door for American agribusiness corporations to enter Africa and to sanction the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the continent. Obama was dishonest to the extent that he did this without mentioning the dangers inherent in GMOs and the controversy surrounding them in the US and around the world. Thawing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US as announced on December 17, 2014 was a redeeming move because it is a wise gesture for all concerned. It was an act of good leadership that gives the Obama’s presidency a human face. Cuba and Fidel Castrol entered the world stage with a bang in October 1962. It was at that time that the US and the Soviet Union, then the uncontested global superpowers, stared at each other eyeball-to-eyeball with fingers on the buttons of their nuclear weapons. This is what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The showdown started when American spy planes discovered that the Russians were installing in Cuba nuclear missiles capable of striking mainland USA. To stop the venture, Americans resolved to stop and inspect Soviet vessels on the high seas if they were destined for Cuba. Before the dust finally settled, it was mankind who came to the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Was Cuba’s overzealous in inviting installation of nuclear weapons a mere ninety miles from Florida? To fair-minded critics it did not seem so. After all, Americans had nuclear bases in Turkey, within a striking distance of the USSR. Additionally, the weapons in Cuba were never intended to be used; they were meant to be mere deterrents to the mightier and provocative USA. The logic of ‘nuclear deterrents’ was commonplace among the nuclear nations of that time. Did Cuba need deterrence? It was US President Dwight Eisenhower who initially severed US-Cuba diplomatic relations in January 1961, two years after Fidel Castro took power. When John Kennedy became president shortly thereafter, he tightened tighter the screws on little Cuba. After all, the Cuban government had moved closer to a one-party communist state and had nationalized US assets on the island. It is no surprise that months after coming to power, JFK approved a CIA paramilitary initiative intended to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. The JFK-approved venture, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, went terribly wrong and was indeed classified as one of the greatest military disasters of modern history. Many of the invaders were killed at sea and more than 1,300 CIA mercenaries were captured and imprisoned. From that point Cuba became a flash point, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. In that context, Cuba and Fidel Castro earned the dubious distinction of being the main actors on the stage that brought the world closest to an all-out nuclear holocaust. By introducing nuclear weapons in the Western Hemisphere was Cuba being provocative to the US? To objective sympathizers, the answer to this question was negative. In Castro’s view, the attempt to bring nuclear weapons to Cuba was a matter of survival for him and his regime. After all, American sustained provocative intrusions into his country’s affairs were unrelenting and had made deterrence essential. Indeed, a case can be made that since the 1959 Cuban Revolution until about a month ago, American foreign policy to Cuba has been unduly hostile. The US can brag of having imposed ruthless and longest ever economic sanctions on a small island of less than 12 million people. In addition, there have been hundreds of confirmed assassination attempts on the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, by the USA. What prompts such irrational and extreme behavior? Is the US alarmed by positive ‘demonstration effects’ of the Cuban socialist ideology? What accounts for this inhumane instance of the Cuban tail wagging the American dog? [caption id="attachment_15187" align="alignright" width="194"]Prof James N. Kariuki Prof James N. Kariuki[/caption] During the 1979 Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Havana, I personally witnessed the practical impact of the Cuban socialist ideology that so concerned the USA. On the streets of Havana there were makeshift healthcare shacks, including dental clinics, offering free medical services to the public for those who needed it. The US is still struggling to devise a universally acceptable health care coverage for its citizens. I do not speak Spanish, Cuba’s national language, but the sense of dignified affirmation was unmistakable among the ordinary Cubans. I remember clearly one black policewoman directing heavy rush-hour traffic of Havana. Unwittingly, her body language told it all. She knew that she was somebody, a Cuban by right and Cuba was her country. Subtly but unequivocally, she was affirmed; she knew that the color of her skin was not held against her. The sense of insecurity, alienation and corresponding defiance, commonplace among the Blacks of North America was conspicuously non-existent here. Absence of crime in Havana was startling. Obviously the security of foreign delegates to the Havana Summit was critically important to the Cuban authorities. Yet, we were not assigned protection, armed or unarmed, on the streets of Havana or elsewhere. And no place was no-go zone for us at any time, day or night. Amid all this, I kept remembering that Cuba was the only country in the world that exported medical doctors as an official state policy. By all external indications, the Cuban socialist system was not so bad after all; it seemed to work for the Cubans. Should they have dropped it just to suit the whims of the USA? The impact of the Cuban Revolution on the entire society is obvious. During the regime of Fulgencio Batista who was overthrown by Fidel Castro, Cubans suffered from abject poverty, had scant access to education, healthcare and dignified jobs. In addition the Batista regime ruled with an iron fist. It was known for brutal and arbitrary arrests, torture and rampant executions. Corruption was commonplace and Batista was well connected to the US mafia. He was a major beneficiary of American-ran rich hotels and casinos in Havana. Contemporary Cuba enjoys identical life expectancy as the US and has lower infant mortality. Cuba’s literacy rates are some of the highest in the world; the US is 21st. Cuba has one of the best disaster response medical systems anywhere. It has recently sent 250 doctors to West Africa to combat Ebola. All this has occurred despite the American-imposed economic embargo. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Cubans indeed offered to send 1, 500 Cuban doctors to assist. The George W. Bush administration was too embarrassed to respond. Relative to Global Africa, Cuba’s foreign policy has been guided by two convictions. First, that Cuba’s liberation from Spain in the 19th century needed and got active cooperation of Afro-Cubans. Second, the Cuban society is what it is today because of inputs of Afro-Cubans. They injected vital elements into the Cuban way of life. For these reasons, the Castro leadership felt a profound sense of indebtedness to contemporary Africa. On Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inauguration day as the first democratically elected President of South Africa, Fidel Castro was the guest of honor at the ceremony and one of only four heads of state who spoke. On that occasion, Mandela gave Castro a big bear hug and whispered to his ear, “We owe this day to you.” These were words of profound gratitude and deep affection. Was Mandela overstating his case? In 1987-1988 Cuban, along with Angolan MPLA forces, engaged apartheid South African troops for 137 days in southern Angola, ultimately driving them back to Namibia. Though not entirely crushed, the apartheid war machine was profoundly humiliated by the defeats in Cuito Cuanavale. The myth of invisibility of the white military might in Southern Africa was forever shattered. The Cuban triumphs so embarrassed and shocked the apartheid regime that its eventual liquidation was a matter of time. Various sources have indicated that the Cuito Cuanavale military confrontation was important enough to the apartheid regime that use of nuclear weapons was considered. In a 2007 autobiography, Fidel Castro: My Life, the Cuban icon revealed that he was aware of the nuclear factor in the Angolan confrontation. As he stated, “for Angola’s freedom, Cuban and Angolan troops fought against an apartheid army and government that had eight Hiroshima/Nagasaki-size atomic bombs secretly provided by the US through … Israel.” The political fallout of the Cuito Cuanavale military encounters was indeed far-reaching. With South Africa’s intrusions out of the way, Angola was able to focus on consolidating its independence. The way for Namibia’s independence was also paved. Equally critical, military action inside South Africa itself was intensified. These and other pressures hurried the post-apartheid days for South Africa and its white supremacists allies in Southern Africa. It is against this background also that Nelson Mandela was released. Meanwhile the West continued to see the world through the lenses of the Cold War. The ANC was classified as a terrorist organization and, accordingly, Western support went unhindered to the apartheid regime. On the other hand, Cuban support to the African cause proceeded without reservation. As Fidel Castro has noted, Cuba had staked everything, including the existence of its own Revolution in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. Meanwhile, both US President Ronald Reagan and British Margaret Thatcher made no bones about branding Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. This dubious distinction was sustained until 2008. All that time Mandela’s visa to enter the US, even as president of South Africa, had to be approved by the US Secretary of State, personally. Yes, Mandela meant every word that he whispered to Castro’s ear in 1994, that he had played a pivotal role in his nation’s liberation. And all that Cuba expected in return was for its soldiers to be allowed to “bring home the remains of their dead.” *James N. Kariuki is a Kenyan Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), now an independent writer based in South Africa. He was a professional and personal friend of Professor Ali Mazrui. He runs the blog Global Africa]]>

Read More
Botched Western Diplomacy Sabotaged ICC’s Case against President Uhuru Kenyatta
January 6, 2015 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

Cheering crowds welcome Kenyatta on return from The Hague

Cheering crowds welcome Kenyatta on return from The Hague

Until December 5, 2014, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was under indictment by the International Criminal Court for orchestrating Kenya’s post-elections violence of 2007-08. Curiously, The charges emerged almost simultaneously as the international stature of the Court itself was waning against allegations that it targeted African leaders unduly.

According to this logic, Western leaders are the worst abusers of human rights and they are never indicted. Why were US George W. Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair not accused of human rights violations in the Iraq War? How is it that American President Barack Obama walks free of ICC indictments for the drones that the US continues to drop on the Islamic world? Had the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West?

By a strange twist of fate, the hunter had suddenly become the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in the world opinion. Unfortunately for an international court, the campaign against it was driven mostly by none other than the continental African Union.

After his indictment in 2012, Uhuru ran for Kenya’s presidency. In the contaminated atmosphere where ICC’s legitimacy was being questioned, it seemed somewhat over-zealous that in Kenya’s election campaign, the same Western powers posed as crusaders for human rights by taking it upon themselves to remind the Kenyan electorate that the Uhuru ticket was composed of ICC inductees, unworthy of their presidency. Put another way the Uhuru ticket, also known as the Jubilee Alliance, was portrayed as a burdensome liability to the Kenyan voters.

For its part, Britain announced unequivocally that, in the unlikely event that Uhuru won Kenya’s presidency, it would distance itself and maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with that government. At that time the Jubilee Alliance objected angrily to a “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”

The Americans also issued a thinly-veiled threat that “choices have consequences.” These were code words of an American diplomatic envoy, Johnnie Carson. They were widely taken to mean that, if Kenyans voted the Uhuru ticket into power, there would be a price to be paid for it.
The Anglo-American West thus showed a clear pre-election resolve to deprive fellowship and goodwill to a possible democratically-elected Uhuru-led government. From a legal standpoint, this was a crude betrayal of a Western principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Meanwhile, in the same Kenya’s campaign the West was actively supporting Uhuru’s major political rival, Raila Odinga. With this conspicuous support behind him, Odinga was so assured of victory that he even ‘eased up’ on campaigning in the run-up to the 2013 voting. To him, winning was a foregone conclusion, “it wouldn’t even be close.” Odinga was wrong on both counts. The elections were close and he happened to be on the losing end. Could it be that the meddling of the West on

Raila Odinga’s behalf in Kenya’s 1913 elections cost him the presidential bid?
What is certain is that Kenyans were irritated by the Western excessive meddling in their domestic political affairs. In the end, Western condemnation of Uhuru backfired, boosted his popularity by triggering support in form of sympathy and protest votes against the ‘unwelcome’ push for Raila.

Until the 2013 elections, the Anglo-American West seemed to share a monolithic view regarding Uhuru’s ICC indictment. That ‘understanding’ was largely a legal perspective, driven by political ends of course. It held that, since Uhuru was charged, he must defend himself in person before the ICC. He had to be tried like any other suspected criminal.

There have been whispers this ‘attitude’ was part of an elaborate politico-legal scheme. If Kenyatta was personally at The Hague to defend himself in a protracted and expensive trial, there was no way that he could possibly discharge his responsibility as the President of Kenya. At the very least, he could not be at two places at the same time.

Presumably, Raila Odinga would then step in and take over power. Hence the Western initial insistence that Uhuru had to be tried at The Hague. But before the alleged Anglo-American strategy materialized, politics of national interests subtly but profoundly entered the picture and drove a wedge between Britain and the USA.

In May 2013, Kenya’s newly-elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to London at the invitation of the British Government of David Cameron. Officially, the purpose of the trip was to participate at a Somalia Summit, a subject that had become a critical security issue in the Eastern Africa region.

At first Uhuru was probably skeptical about making the trip, mindful that when his father visited the UK in 1962, he was pelted with rotten eggs by the British public, a show of utter contempt. After all, in the 1950s it was the colonial authorities of the same British who branded daddy Kenyatta a satanic pervert for allegedly masterminding the Mau Mau rebellion. Jomo Kenyatta was stigmatized as “a leader unto darkness and death.”

In the end Uhuru went to London. The Somalia ‘issue’ was important enough to Kenya’s security to demand a presidential presence. During this visit, no eggs were thrown but the British news media dubbed Uhuru with a hostile label of ‘Criminal President.’

Prof James N. Kariuki

Prof James N. Kariuki

The epithet of May 2013 referred to the fact that the ICC had recently indicted Uhuru for crimes against humanity. All the same the millions of Kenyans who had just voted him into office were insulted by the verbal slap. Indeed Kenya’s social media was abuzz with objections to the ‘crude diplomacy’ of the British public. After all, Uhuru was indicted; not yet found guilty.
The British Prime Minister was understandably cautious to avoid displaying exuberance at being in the company of the ‘discredited’ Kenyan leader. He delicately avoided photo sessions with Uhuru; there could be domestic political fallout if Cameron seemed to coddle an ICC inductee. But there comes a time when a leader must lead.

Cameron understood fully that British interests in Kenya and Eastern Africa were too important for him to dismiss Uhuru. After all, accused or not, he was the elected president of Kenya. This reality posed a serious problem for the policy of maintaining only ‘essential contact’ with the Uhuru government as pronounced by the British-American axis a few months earlier.

In the US, Uhuru’s official visit to Britain in all likelihood raised eye brows. Question must have been asked: Is Uhuru’s visit to the UK consistent with our mutual pledge to maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government? Was the British going it alone in conferring political legitimacy to Uhuru, an ICC inductee? Whatever the case, Britain had displayed a higher form of diplomatic realism than the US.

When Barack Obama made his first official visit to East Africa the following month, he bypassed Kenya altogether. Indeed at the University of Cape Town, he did state that he did so because he did not want to be associated with an ICC inductee in Kenya. Critical observers viewed this as pouting because Kenyans had rejected Obama’s candidate of choice for their president, Raila Odinga. Remember the code words, choices have consequences! Yet, in terms of US national interests, Kenya was by far amore critical force in Eastern Africa than Tanzania that Obama chose to visit.
The effect of internal Western soul searching and contradictions was that, by the time that Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington came around in August 2014, few noticed that Uhuru was there as a vibrant and active participant. In the US too, Uhuru ICC stigma of ‘criminal president’ had apparently receded into distant past. Self-interests of the Anglo-American worlds had prevailed and superseded the quest to ‘un-do’ Uhuru Kenyatta.

Once they became preoccupied with their conflicting national interests, the US and Britain ceased to be a potent ‘invisible force’ pushing for Uhuru Kenyatta to be tried at The Hague. And yet the ICC had compromised itself by indicting the same Uhuru before it had developed a watertight case against him, enough not only to indict but to convict him. The Anglo-American breakdown of a united front for Uhuru’s trial sapped the ICC the single-mindedness and enthusiasm to continue the pursuit of the Kenyan President.

Ultimately, it is the Kenyan victims of 2007-08 violence who have been betrayed by the ICC_Uhuru fiasco. If anybody has to bear that responsibility, it is the West and the ICC. But it would be fitting if Uhuru could find a way to assist the innocent victims of the 2008 violence. After all, they have stood by him to the bitter end. Additionally, he has the means, personally and officially, and the heart to extend a hand of kindness. This would be a political act, not legal. He would be doing it because he chooses to, not because he is instructed to do so


Read More
Ali Mazrui, Julius Nyerere and Apartheid South Africa: A Tribute
January 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

indexProfessor Ali Mazrui died two months ago at his home in Binghamton, New York. He was a Kenyan in the Diaspora and a scholar of monumental standing. Julius Nyerere was President of Tanzania from independence in 1961 to 1985 when he voluntarily stepped down. He died in 1999. In a historical sense then, the two global icons were contemporaries. Ali Mazrui and Julius Nyerere were my leading East African public heroes. Mazrui, a fellow Kenyan, was an outstanding scholar. He joined the teaching staff of Makerere University in Uganda in 1963 and, after only two years, he jumped to full professorship, bypassing the ranks of Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. That happened before Mazrui had defended his dissertation for a doctorate degree at Oxford University. He indeed was a bona fide scholar in the Western tradition of objective inquiry. On the other hand, Nyerere was a politician from Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania.) But he was much more than a political ideologue. He was an astute, seasoned man of letters, a giant intellectual in his own right and a remarkable leader. In addition, he was by all accounts a decent human being of impeccable integrity. Most importantly, Nyerere was also a man of action, an exceptional African of vision and conviction. He was sufficiently audacious to act if that would improve Tanzania’s and Africa’s tormented condition. Little wonder that many enlightened Africans today are convinced that, in terms of political leadership, Nyerere is by far the best that free Africa has produced. Both Nyerere and Mazrui shone in their respective fields. In 2004, the London-based magazine, The New African, invited its readership to respond to the question: Who are the greatest Africans of all time? Both Nyerere and Mazrui were featured in the results as numbers 4 and 50, respectively. This was one year before Ali Mazrui was selected as the 73rd topmost intellectual on the list of top 100 public intellectuals worldwide by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States.) As a ‘back door’ salute to the two East African icons, we pose two questions: What set Mazrui and Nyerere apart? What was their relevance to the all-important issue of apartheid in South Africa? After all, South Africa’s racist policy did trigger public comparisons between the two giants. Historically, no issue has bedeviled post-colonial Africa as deeply and uniformly as apartheid. The racially-driven policy actually united the entire Black world in an alliance-in-adversity. How did our two East African heroes handle apartheid’s existence on their continent? Rooted in the firm conviction that apartheid was a repugnant moral abomination, Nyerere was decidedly and unalterably against it from the outset. He made this clear before his country became independent in 1961. On October 22, 1959, he made a powerful pledge before the colonial Legislative Council, “We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where there was before only humiliation.” images.jpg 1Henceforth, Nyerere effectively became a diplomatic globe-trotter, urging the Western world to desist from supporting apartheid. Meanwhile, Dar es Salaam quickly transformed into a Mecca for all the liberations movements from across white-dominated Southern Africa. In sum, Nyerere provided moral, political and material support to the struggles against white-rule in southern Africa. In the end, his contribution was consummated by his peers when they installed him as the Chairman of the Frontline States upon its establishment in 1970. Ultimately, Nyerere’s dedication to the liberation of the African sub-continent earned him the distinction of being glorified as the ‘carrier of the torch that liberated Africa.’ Nyerere was thus a hands-on political actor regarding South Africa in particular and southern Africa generally. Ali Mazrui entered the South African scene differently, as a scholar steeped in the Western orientation. After apartheid, the next most agonizing issue in post-colonial Africa was arguably that of white mercenaries. Indeed apartheid and white mercenaries were often perceived and projected as one and the same thing to the extent that the latter was a byproduct of the former. As rejects of apartheid, mercenaries were jettisoned out of the white war-machine and were happy to become soldiers-of-fortune who hired themselves out to the despots in black Africa. This tradition of mercenaries continued until 1998 when it was legally banned by democratic South Africa. The first captive in this ‘dogs of war’ aberration was Congo’s Moishe Tshombe. He first engaged the much despised mercenaries in the mid-1960s to fight for the secession of Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga Province, and subsequently for a united Congo. As a result of this illogical flip-flopping, a question arose: Was Tshombe having fellow Africans killed by South African white racists in the interest of his country or for his personal ambitions? Mazrui of that time was the ultimate scholar in the Western tradition of genuine inquiry and free speech. Regarding the presence of white mercenaries in the Congo he argued that there was a silver lining to it in the long run, because the Congolese had less to forgive each other for if the killing was done by foreign mercenaries. In his own words, “…the use of foreigners to commit some of the atrocities (in the Congo) might cynically but truly, be a positive contribution to the realization of future peace.” As far as pure logic goes, Mazrui’s proposition here was certainly viable. However, human affairs do not happen in a vacuum. In an abstract sense, there was coherence to Mazrui’s logic but, in an African setting, there was something about that logic that was cold-blooded and abrasive. Regardless of the fate of peace in future Congo, the very idea of entertaining (and paying) racist South Africans to spill African blood anywhere in freed Africa, was itself anathema, absolutely unacceptable. It was a classic case of the ends not justifying the means. What is more, the collective will of post-colonial Africa was total isolation of apartheid South Africa. Mazrui’s logic-of-the-head overlooked those deeply-held sentiments in black Africa. By repeatedly employing insensitive and unpalatable reasoning, Mazrui was nearly tagged with a pejorative stigma of being stoic to pan-African causes, the critic of orthodoxies of African thought. At least he earned the label that, in his earlier scholarship, Mazrui was an aloof and pointlessly combative polemicist. Yet, there was another side to Ali Mazrui, a kinder and gentler person who was deeply devoted to Africa and easily moved by the misfortunes of fellow Africans. Unfortunately, this side of Mazrui remained largely unknown except to those who got to know him personally. Relative to South Africa, Mazrui-of-the heart was exposed to me in the late 1960s by a South African event. In 1969, the University of Cape Town tracked Mazrui down to Makerere University in Uganda and invited him to give a public lecture at the ‘world class’ institution. This was at the height of the dark days of apartheid. UCT is the same university where in 1966 the US Senator Robert F. Kennedy had directed some brutally challenging remarks at apartheid. Mazrui took the bull by the horns by stating three conditions for accepting the offer. He was prepared to give the lecture at UCT provided (a) he was free to say whatever he wanted (b) that he addressed only a racially mixed audience and (c) he could bring along his British wife. UCT responded that it was prepared to risk the first two conditions but the third one was ‘going too far.’ Indeed bringing his white wife to South Africa would make Mazrui liable to prosecution under the Immorality and Mixed Marriage laws. So, in 1969 Mazrui did not go to the old South Africa but he made his point of protesting against apartheid by upholding pan-African sentiments. So, he was indeed capable of being moved by feelings after all!   [caption id="attachment_15187" align="alignleft" width="194"]Prof James N. Kariuki Prof James N. Kariuki[/caption] In the early 1970’s, there was a propensity among upcoming African scholars to ‘dismiss’ Ali Mazrui. To them, he had succumbed to becoming a detached, ivory tower academic committed to being a negative critic of orthodox African thought. Why did he not animate his scholarship by applying it to public affairs of society in the mold of Julius Nyerere, Martin Luther King or WEB Dubois? Yet, by the time his body started to fail him, Mazrui was deeply involved outside the academy in gigantic global projects of denouncing injustice. Such included campaigning on behalf of the African Union for reparations for slavery and seeking justice for the Palestinians. Similarly, after the presidency, Julius Nyerere took on a global responsibility of becoming Chairman of the South Commission, comprising of the continents of the Southern Hemisphere. What is the moral of this story? The two East African icons travelled different routes to international acclaim but they arrived at the same destination of combating injustices of this world. Beneath the façade in their external appearances, what they had in common transcended those differences. Perhaps African critics should allow time and space for their homegrown intellectual treasures to shine when they are ‘good and ready.’ *James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus), a consultant and an independent writer. More of his work and the Special PAV edition on Prof Ali Mazrui can be found on his blog Global Africa]]>

Read More
1 2 3 6