.Marrackechgate & The Downward Spiral Of Cameroon Football
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Zelifac Asong*
Once upon a time football was the pride of Cameroon. It brought solace to the people, the exploits of its clubs in the continent were legion, and the glory brought by its national team was aplenty. The name Indomitable Lions was amply justified and opponents dreaded prospects of playing with Cameroon .Every football loving Cameroonian will honestly admit a love affair with the indomitable lions, the Cameroonian senior national football squad. My love affair with the lions started in 1981, during the African eliminatory rounds of the 1982 world to be held in Spain. It was the first time I remember being aware of our national team, and of the pride and joy the team brought me and many other Cameroonians who love the game of football. Mine began with the qualifying match against morocco.
Like in most, if not, every love relationship, there have been ups and downs. There have been times when the lions have rewarded my loyalty with sweet victories and impressive results. I will never forget Mbida Arantes holding the 1984 African cup of nations high above his head as the lions paraded the streets of Yaoundé on a one sunny March afternoon. Who could forget the repeat of the performance in 1988, together with the memorable semis against Morocco? The long and hard shot from Makanaky? We all still talk about the stellar performance of the lions at mondiale 1990, especially Omam Biyik’s miraculous header against no other than Maradona’s Argentina. Who does not remember the pride he or she felt when the lions made Africa proud by winning the Sydney Olympics in Australia. The Indomitable Lions
Despite all these great moments there have equally been moments of frustration, sadness and almost certain divorce. The abysmal performance in 1996 Nations cup in South Africa, when an emerging South Africa, led by Dr. Khumalo and Mark Fish trounced the lions three goals to zero (3-0). A competition for which there were so ill-prepared that there arrived late in South Africa. Hard as well to forgot the 1994 mondiale in the USA. The coach Henri Michel was punched by Pagal for not including him in the list. There had to be a protest march in Yaoundé for Ndip Akem and Louis-Paul Mfede to be included in the list. At the competition itself, the indomitable lions were flogged six goals to one (6-1) by Russia’s Salenko. To crown it all, moneys collected for the players through so called “Coups des Coeur” got missing between Paris and New York according to then Minister of Communications Kontchou Kogmeni. During world cup organized by Korea and Japan in 2002, the same problems resurfaced. Players arrived in Asia with tired and heavy legs, and not enough time to rest before their opening match. Reason? The players had threatened to forfeit the trip if their match bonuses were not paid. As a result, one of the best teams the lions ever boasted of came out of the competition in the first round. In the South African world cup in 2010, Cameroon had its worst performance ever in its six participations at a world cup event.
The indomitable lions of Cameroon where in invited to four nations tournament in Marrakech, Morocco, from the 13th to the 15th of November 2011. The tournament was organized by South Korean based electronic giant LG Electronics. Equally invited were Sudan, Uganda, and host nation Morocco. The Lions lifted the trophy beating host country Morocco. The victory was tonic for disenchanted fans after the failure of the Lions to qualify for the African Nations Cup hosted by the neighbouring countries of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The celebration turned sour with when yet another storm brewing within the team over match bonuses became uncontrollable. The result was a decision by the players to refused traveling to Algeria for a scheduled friendly sparking a row which went beyond the confines of football.
The scandal was a stark portrayal of the poor shape of Cameroon football. Beyond the mere aspect of sports, there were strong indications that diplomatic relations between Cameroon and Algeria could be strained. No amount of damage control could mitigate what became a humiliating moment for Cameroon football. The Cameroon Football Federation –FECAFOOT was forced to part with circa $ 500.000 in settlement of damages to the Algerian Federation.
Meanwhile the captain of the indomitable lions, Samuel Eto’o, was summoned to appear before the arbitration committee of FECAFOOT, alongside vice captain, Eyong Enoh, on charges that they were responsible for Marrakech fiasco. Also summoned was Tottenham based defender gone rogue, Assou-Ekotto for refusing to honor call ups for the national team on various occasions. On the 17th of December 2011, sanctions were handed down to the players. These sanctions were at the same time serious and controversial. Serious because there were heavy, and controversial because there did not go to the root of the problem, but seemed instead to target a particular group of players, and could therefore destroy the unity that was slowly returning to the team after the complete breakdown of team harmony during , and after the South African world cup. Samuel Eto’o was suspended for 15 matches with the national team, vice captain Enoh was sanctioned for 2 matches, while Assou-Ekotto was handed a fine of FCA one million.
FECAFOOT came under severe criticism from virtually all quarters with disgruntled fans threatening to take to the streets of Yaoundé and Douala. There were even fears that these marches, if held, could turn into a Cameroonian Arab spring. Very vocal in their criticism, were former players of the indomitable lions. The outspoken former goalkeeper of the Lions Bell Joseph Antoine condemned the sanctions as misguided, and partial. Said Bell “this is not an Eto’o problem that is why I find the sanctions unjust. The problem does not concern him personally; therefore, there is no reason for him to be singled out.” Bell felt that as captain, Eto’o had acted in the name of the team, and ought not to be singled out for sanctions. The legendary Roger Milla no stranger to controversy himself and not a big fan of FECAFOOT felt the punishment was uncalled for. Milla threatened to march himself if it was the last thing he had to do.
Also adding his voice to chorus of criticism aimed at FECAFOOT was Kalkabar Malboum, chairman of the Cameroon Olympic committee. Mr. Malboum said of the decision “this affect the future career in the national team of one of our greatest footballers of the moment.” He went to say that even on the football pitch, referees always protected the star players. Many agreed with him. Other former star players like, Makanaky , Mayebi, Mvoumin, Massing,Libiih, all agreed that FECAFOOT was hasty in its decision to mete out punishment without due consideration for justice. There was near unanimity that the sanction did nothing to address the endemic problems of match bonuses and the cacophony which have resulted in the National Team losing its fangs.
No Prophets in Their Homeland
FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports which has an over bearing attitude have over the years engaged in a cat and mouse game with the result been the unenviable position that Cameroon football occupies in the world today. The most recent rankings by the world football governing body FIFA place the Lions at the 56th position. A lamentable position for a country which used to compete with the best in the world. Each time there is a crisis; there has always been a scapegoat. At the 1990 world cup in Italy, it was goalkeeper Bell Joseph Antoine who was almost excluded from the Squad by the football authorities but for the solidarity of his team mates. In 2004, it was Coach Henri Michel who bore the brunt. At the 1996 Nations Cup in South Africa, it was Coach Jules Nyonga. At the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso, it was coach Manga Ougene and Goalkeeper Jacques Songo. After the non qualification for the 2008 world cup the scape goat was Pierre Wome Nlend. In the Ghana 1998 Nations Cup, the culprit was emblematic Captain Song Bahanack. The abysmal performance of the Team at the 2010 Nations Cup was placed on the shoulders of Goalkeeper Kameni, Alex Song and Achille Emana.Today it is Marracketchgate and the blame is dumped on Eto’o.
After the 1990 world cup where the Indomitable Lions became the first African Team to reach the Quarter Finals, Bell Joseph Antoine sensationally opined that what the Lions did to make Cameroon known around the world was a feat decades of diplomacy could not achieve. He probably was very right. For a long time and even today, tell anyone around the world you are from Cameroon and the first response will be Roger Milla or Samuel Eto’0. Milla was voted best African player about twice. Manga Ougene, Thomas Nkono, and Patrick Mboma equally were voted as Africa’s best in the past. Samuel Eto’o holds the record having been voted best footballer in Africa about four times. He is today the most expensive footballer in the world after winning all that Europe has to offer as trophies with elite clubs like Barcelona of Spain and Inter Milan of Italy.
Despite their talent, the players certainly have their fair share of short comings but the management of football in Cameroon has been at best chaotic. How comes that for all its stars, glory and stature, there is no International Stadium worthy of the name? How comes that Cameroon has not been able to host the African Nations cup since 1974? Many find it that the country of origin of Issa Hayatou who heads the Confederation of African Football since 1988 is unable to host the Nations Cup. Even President Biya who has used the glory of lions for political gains does little to encourage the sport. Recently he had to keep finalist of the Cameroon challenge cup waiting for months just to set a date for which he could be present at the final. In 1990 he claimed credit for the inclusion of Roger Milla in the world cup squad. At the 1992 elections which almost flushed him out of power, the Lion was the symbol he used .In 2002, of all the dates available, he timed the Legislative and Municipal elections to coincide with the world cup in Korea and Japan. Some thought the political calculus was to cash in on the anticipated good performance of the Lions. The strategy backfired as against all odds; the Lions could not go pass the first round. Why are FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports always at logger heads? Money is the answer. Everyone is fighting to get a chunk off the huge revenue generated by the National Team and putting in place structures that will facilitate the emergence of talent and sustain top notch performance is secondary. FECAFOOT has cover in the autonomy that FIFA accords its member Associations. The skeletons within the closet of Cameroon football are mammoth.
Although the 15 match sanction on Eto’0 was later reduced to an eight month suspension, kicking the can down the road is a stop gap measure which will not provide lasting solutions. Cameroon has produced enough stars whose experience could be used in moving the game to the next level. From the Federation to Coaching Assignments, the former players have at best a peripheral role. A perfect example of what they could bring to the table is the goal medal obtained at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 under Coach Jean Paul Akono. Toying with football could have political fallouts. Football has for a long time shielded the regime from its severe short comings. When the Lions, Cameroonians tend to forget that they have problems. When the National Team does not do well, it seems to dawn on many that things are not going right for the country.FECAFOOT President Iya Mohammed and his group may be stirring the hornets’ nest and better be ready for the consequences that may eventually come with that.
In the midst of the ineptitude of Football and sporting authorities, the Lions remain very popular and continue to fly high the flag of Cameroon all over the world. Some of them have football academies in Cameroon to fine tune budding talents. Bertin Ebwelle, Samuel Eto’o just to cite a few run football academies. Eto’o recently launched a telecommunications company in Cameroon. Roger Milla runs a Foundation in Cameroon through which he has sort to dignify former International Stars with activities which stop them from fading into obscurity. Marrackechgate may have been swept under the rug for now but it is safe bet to say beyond the damage it has had on the aura of Cameroon, there likelihood of the same problem or similar ones resurfacing remains pretty high.
-Nigerians Are United Against Terrorism
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
– Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor Tell Magazine on developments in Nigeria
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Attacks from Boko Haram, elections, the deregulation crisis with strikes which almost grounded the country et al, Nigeria has continued to make headline news. As the Boko Haram continues to run riot in the country, politicians have spent time trading blames. President Goodluck Jonathan who came in with a lot of promise has been under criticism from the break down in security that almost made the country helpless in the face of the Boko Haram. Nigerians are however united against terrorism says Ayodele Akinkuotu Executive Editor of the authoritative Tell Magazine. Approached by PAV in a bid to get an unbiased assessment of the situation in Nigeria, Ayodele says the ease with which the Boko Haram unleashes its mindless attacks has created palpable fear in Nigerians. It may take a while for the Nation to overcome the nightmare but Nigerians are united on the fact that terrorism will do the nation no good. A highly respected voice in African media circles, Ayodele answered questions from PAV’s Ajong Mbapndah L on the Boko Haram, the deregulation crisis, corruption, concerns on whether Nigeria will survive as one Nation and more.
PAV: A United Nations Office was bombed last year, On Christmas day a Christian facility, many public offices have been targeted and many innocent lives lost, as a result of the Boko Haram which has continued with its attacks unabated and even ordered Christians in the North to move back to the South and Muslims in the South to move back to the North, is Nigeria under siege from this sect?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:There is no doubt that with the mayhem they have unleashed in the last several months, the nation is certainly under siege from the Boko Haram. Their mindless atrocities have created so much palpable fear, especially with the seeming ease with which they strike at their targets. While the nation was caught unawares, the good news, however, is that the security agencies are beginning to counter them through intelligence gathering. It is true some Christians who are southerners are relocating, even if temporarily; but where will Christians who are northerners relocate to?
There is no doubt the militant sect wants to plunge Nigeria into a religious crisis. But many patriotic Nigerians have realised their unwholesome intention, and are not about granting them their wish. It may take a while before the nation overcomes this nightmare, but millions of Nigerians are united on one fact that terrorism will not do the nation any good.
PAV: Religion is a sensitive nerve on the politics of Nigeria, when this Muslim sect targets Christians and Christian facilities, how does the broader Muslim population in Nigeria distinctly distance itself from the Boko Haram and its activities?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: The broader Muslim population has condemned without reservation the mindless activities of Boko Haram. Members of the group are mere impostors hiding under the guise of religion to perpetrate evil. Islam abhors violence. Anybody who says anything to the contrary simply does not know the religion and such a person cannot be a Muslim, no matter his claim to being one. And that includes the Boko Haram
PAV: What is the reaction of Nigerians on the way the Government of President Jonathan has handled the crisis thus far?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:Well, the reactions have been mixed. Many people think President Goodluck Jonathan has not come down heavily on the sect. Others believe, however, that he is trying considering the constraints there are. Do not forget that this is a guerrilla war unleashed on the cities by a faceless group. What the Jonathan administration needs most is cooperation of the citizenry, especially those living in the North of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram is based.
Furthermore, the crisis has confirmed one thing many Nigerians have been calling for quite some time, an overhauling of the nation’s security agencies. And that should include community policing, which will ensure that criminals can be easily identified.
PAV: In previous administrations, little was heard about the Boko Haram, is the surge in their activities a as a result of Christian Southerners at the helm of the country?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: From the little we know so far, the Boko Haram did not just spring up overnight. This is a group that has been recruiting members quietly over the years. Many of their members had been arrested in the past under previous administrations only for them to be released for “no want of evidence”. And because the security agencies were not only careless, there was no synergy between them that would have created the necessary platform to interpret properly the” monster” that was growing right under their nose. The issue is beyond just a Christian being at the helm of the country’s affairs; the Boko Haram first came into national consciousness in the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was a Muslim from the north. We have been told Boko Haram has links with Al Qaeda Maghreb and even the Taliban. The countries where the latter groups originate are basically Islamic. And we have witnessed Muslim-on- Muslim violence in those places.
PAV: The USA, and the other members of the International Community have expressed interest in helping Nigeria to fight the sect, does Nigeria need international help?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Nigeria surely needs all the support it can get from the international community. However, such assistance should be limited to sharing information with security agencies on how to combat terrorism. The United States has been fighting terrorism for years both within and outside its shores. Nigerian security agencies will benefit greatly from counter-insurgency trainings. A physical deployment of foreign troops to Nigeria for the purpose of combating the Boko Haram menace may be counter- productive. I think the nation has enough security outfits and personnel who if well equipped can stop the terrorists in their tracks.
PAV: Nigerians were in the streets expressing anger over deregulation, may we understand what deregulation is all about and who has a stronger case the government which made the decision or the people who are against it?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: This deregulation of the downstream sector has been going on for years. To the common man on the street, deregulation means removal of fuel subsidy. The issue of subsidy arose because we import refined petroleum products for local consumption, an irony for a nation, which is the sixth oil producer in the world. Therefore Nigerians could not understand why our own refineries would not work; why we import fuel from other places thus creating employment in those countries while millions of Nigerians are unemployed. The deregulation was in public discourse for several weeks and Nigerians wanted to be educated properly by government on why they have to pay more for premium motor spirit. That debate was still in progress when the government announced the removal. Many thought the government was deceitful and uncaring by deciding to inflict more pain on hapless Nigerians on the first day of a new year.
PAV: Corruption has been known to be rife in the country, are there any signs that the government is making progress in fighting it?
Ayodele Akinkuotu:There are two agencies charged with fighting the war against corruption. It will be uncharitable to say they have not done well. There are still so many constraints blocking the war. There is a Code of Ethics for public officers in Nigeria. The Code is being observed in the breach. The failure to follow due process in the execution of public contracts prepares a fertile soil for corruption to thrive in. The private sector is not left out too, as recent probes of the banking sector and even the on-going probe of the petroleum sector have shown.
Many of our leaders in both the public and private sectors are not transparent and accountable in their handling of their responsibilities. The nation will turn the bend for good in the anti-corruption war the day a leader who is determined and has the political will emerges. It is such a leader who can deal with all the sacred cows who are stealing the nation blind, thus mortgaging the future for generations yet unborn.
PAV: In all fairness and for the same of some objectivity and honesty though is there anything the Jonathan administration has done that deserves credit, just anything no matter how small?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Except for his deployment of troops to the streets of Lagos and some other cities in January to frighten anti-fuel subsidy protesters off the streets, Jonathan has tried in the area of rule of law.
PAV: Are the crises that Nigeria is facing today not an invitation for the military to start nursing political ambitions again?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: The military laid the foundation of these crises during their 30-year rule. If any group of soldiers becomes adventurous and tries to stage a putsch, it will be a serious error of judgment. I
think the nation can surely do without politicians in military uniform. This democracy should be seen as work in progress. Therefore it should be allowed to grow and get a taproot so that it can thrive.
PAV: Last question Sir, is Nigeria capable of remaining one, strong and united and what will it take?
Ayodele Akinkuotu: Millions of Nigerians do not entertain any doubt that their country can remain as a strong, indivisible and united nation. Although we are just 51 years old as an independent country, the journey to nationhood began nearly 100 years ago. The 250-odd ethic groups have become so interdependent that it would be chaotic if we now declare “to your tents oh Israel”! Considering the position of Nigeria as the largest black nation on earth, a balkanized Nigeria will not only create turmoil in the sub-region, but the ugly ripples will be felt all over Africa. To avoid such a development is why many eminent Nigerians across the ethnic divide have been calling for a national conference. That call is against the backdrop that the 1999 Constitution is not “a people’s constitution”. They believe that constitution was fashioned by a cabal in the military for a hidden agenda. Thus at the moment the country which is supposed to be a federation is being run like a unitary government. A national conference in which all the ethnic groups are represented will discuss the fundamentals of our co-existence as a nation. There are many who are opposed to this conference in the belief that it may pave the way for disintegration. They are being told, however, that to continue to postpone this national dialogue by shying away from it is to perpetually bind us to discord.
A Safety net for Women In Sierra Leone
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Kono Business makes female Tailors Economically Sustainable.
By Ajong Mbapndah L
It may have started small but it has succeeded in transforming lives of women in Sierra Leone. What Anni Lyngskaer started after discovering firsthand the sufferings of women in a country suffering from the hangover of a civil war has succeeded today in making many empowered. The venture called Kono Business helps the activities of female tailors to become economically sustainable. Anni of Danish origin has rallied other young volunteers from her country to assist her in turning Kono Business into a formidable organization with on the ground results that are there for all to see. In a chat with PAV, Anni sheds more light on the work of her Organization, challenges faced, her observation of developments in Sierra Leone and plans for the future.
PAV: May we know what Kono Business is all about and how did this idea come about?
Anni Lyngskaer: Kono Business is a not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to empower a group of female tailors to become economically sustainable and role models in the local community. This is done through trainings and two annual production cycles. The tailors produce scarves, bags and computer sleeves that we sell in two shops in Denmark and online on www.konobusiness.com.
Kono Business is run by 10 Danish volunteers and all profit generated from sales are re-invested in the project. For example, this year we supported the tailors in shining up the shop at the local facility in Sierra Leone to help them gain more local customers. The tailors paid half of the expenses from their shared savings and Kono Business paid the other half from the profit.
We are approved by Fair Trade Denmark, which means we live up to the international standards of fair trade. Co-founder Anni Lyngskaer traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time in January 2008. She went to write a story about girl soldiers for the Danish news paper “Kristeligt Dagblad.”She met a lot of interesting and inspiring people on that trip, and one of them was Arthur Kargbo, who is the Project Manager of the local CBO that Kono Business & Development works with today.
After Anni got back to Denmark she fundraised around 3.500 us dollars to the local CBO. All the money was spent on equipment for the vocational training school the CBO is running.However, this wasn’t enough for Anni, she wanted to do more and one day she had a conversation with founder of Café Retro, Rie Skårhøj.The two young women realized that they had similar ideas. After a little while they raised money to travel to Sierra Leone to start the project that today is Kono Business & Development. The journey took place in January 2009 and Rie and Anni met with the group of female tailors who are still working for Kono Business today.
PAV: What made you settle on the choice of Sierra Leone and what concrete impact would you say Kono business has had on the life of Sierra Leoneans?
Anni Lyngskaer: We work with a rather small group of tailors (14), but we believe in quality and believe even a small effort can create a huge impact. We are empowering the tailors to participate in the community by talking about female issues and take part in discussions. During each production cycle we run a training as well. This past fall we carried out a video workshop encouraging the women to tell their own story through filming. They were able to create their own short documentaries and presented the results at a local film screening in Koidu town. One of the women said “I’m very happy and have realized that women are also valuable in society.” (Hawa Gborie)
PAV: How is the selection done for people that you work with?
Anni Lyngskaer: The selection of tailors was made of our local partner organization who knows the tailors from the school they are running. The tailors now select their own new sisters in the co-op. However, for the moment we have a limit of 15 women. But we hope to be able to expand in the future.
PAV: What are some of the challenges that Kono Business has faced so far?
Anni Lyngskaer: The fact that we are actually running a business. It’s A LOT of work to maintain the sales and marketing activities in Denmark. In the beginning non of us had any business background, but recently we got some new volunteers educated from Copenhagen Business School, which is really necessary.
PAV: Any prospects that the initiative may be expanded to other African countries or you intend to limit it solely to Sierra Leone?
Anni Lyngskaer: Well, we would love to. We would also love to share our experiences, so others can do similar start ups.
PAV: We noticed that you have succeeded in building a dynamic team of young volunteers, what exactly drives them towards Kono Business?
Anni Lyngskaer: That’s a very good question. We are part of a bigger organization specialized in running projects on a voluntarily basis, so we use quite a lot of energy to work on management of volunteers. Our volunteers have different motivation. Some of them do it because they want practical relevant experience while studying. Most of them study African Studies or International Affairs.
Most of our “business volunteers” work full time besides volunteering for Kono, and they do it because they like the idea of sharing their experience and also doing something “good” for others. I think most of us believe that development aid should be changed and focused more on business initiatives and entrepreneurship instead of “just” capacity building or “democracy projects telling them how we like it.”
In Kono we believe that our tailors already have a lot of capacity and knowledge and teach them through storytelling and with a trust in their ability to change their own lives.An example of them taking initiative is that they recently hired a woman to continue to teach them reading and writing. They pay her from their shared savings account.
PAV: You probably have been to Sierra Leone a couple of times, it is a country try to shirk off the hangover of a brutal civil war, what assessment do you make of the situation there today and what potentials do you see for the country?
Anni Lyngskaer: We work in Koidu and unfortunately the signs of the civil war are still very present in the community. We experience a lot of fighter spirit and a drive to move forwards, but a lot of basic needs are still not present in Koidu. There is no power unless you have a generator, no running water, bad roads lack of doctors and qualified teachers. There is a huge potential for the government to cooperate with foreign mining companies about CSR and paying a fair amount of tax to Sierra Leone. As for now the companies make a huge profit the diamond mining industry, while the local people suffer.
We also see an abrupt family structure. Only one of our 14 tailors is married, but 9 of them have kids – most of them with different fathers.
They tell us that the young men leave them as soon as they find out the woman are pregnant. Prostitution is a problem as well, and it seems to be the easiest way for young girls to make a bit of money and often the only way to survive. To me this is a very important issue that both NGOs and the government should address in the future. Our tailors always say they encourage their sisters to get off the street, learn a trade and make money that way instead of selling their body.
PAV: You come from a much more developed background and country, what do Danes think of your initiative and what image of Africa do they have?
Anni Lyngskaer: I think most of my friends and family appreciate what I do. Some times I host talks and show pictures and films from our work and that is usually very inspiring for people.
Most of them are curious and ask a lot of questions about Sierra Leone, Africa and of course Kono Business.
PAV: Any other big plans or projects that Kono Business intends to work on down the line?
Anni Lyngskaer: We are working on a new web shop because we experience problem with the current payment system. We hope to expand internationally and start selling in Scandinavia and by time in the rest of Europe and The States as well. We are always open for new ideas and partnerships so you’ll never what happens next. On a more personally level, I’m about to launch my next project called This is my Story, which is also a social enterprise focusing on participatory video workshops as community development.
PAV: Anni Lyngskaer, you are quite a formidable young Lady and PAV is grateful for the interview
Anni Lyngskaer: Thank you.
Uganda: Eleven reasons why 2011 was not even.
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Songa Samuel-Stone Mwesigwa*
For a minute the hand seemed to take forever as it wound the last half of the big city wall clock. And at midnight, many people around me burst out into screeching sounds of joy with the massive displays of fireworks blinking in the sky above. 2011 had finally set in. But that same year now just five days to expiration had too much up its sleeve than many dreams could tell.
January literally swam its way away without too much dust raised save for the many effigies that choked every last space around the city of Kampala. Posters urging the public to vote for whoever they heralded became common story in that even if you entered a public restaurant rest room, you were likely to find a chubby face looking down at you!
This was the first pre-election season I had beheld and followed closely; from day one, the heat of change of government brewed too many fears with the recent occurrences in many other African states not helping quell the situation at all. February being the election month came to be known as the 30 days of ‘hopes’ as many were in the race to becoming part of the next political caste till 2016.
Among the hopefuls was the three time tried Kiiza Besigye leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Party who once again had his name on the list of those in the presidential race with of course incumbent Yoweri Museveni. Theirs has been a race filled with heat, fire, more heat and fire. This time round the cliché statements flew; the yellow side insinuated a big margin win while the blue corner assured whoever cared that this time, ‘change was coming’.
As the polls opened on the morning of February 18th, a man whose over two decades of rule at stake voted, another whose three time trial to become president had become a cliché weak point assured Ugandans ‘this was the time’, and perhaps the other of the six in the race, a more youthful new face, Norbert Mao turned heads here and there. But well, the results trickled in and as had been hoped, the fact that the opposition split their vote by forwarding eight candidates to tussle one big Goliath, the point of too many numbers in a battle just did not work. Too many cooks spoilt the soup.
With 68% of the total votes cast in his favor, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was therefore announced victor by the same election commission stained with a ‘not competent’ banner. About that time, the Ouattara-Gbagbo drama was still fresh and thousands were continuing to die in Ivory Coast. When Kiiza Besigye who was the first runner-up announced he was not siding with the commission on the results, many had a beat skip. Worry.
Kampala where much of the heat originated and spread to the rest of the 33 million people rich country had mean looking men armed with warfare arsenal fill every spot just like the effigies and posters that seemed to rob the city of the beauty. Some people actually fled the country with the backdrop fear that this was about to get bloody. This time, the assured tone of the opposition and the seemingly endless criticism of the election body added more embers to the fire. But well, none of that pictured violence, bloodshed or massacre surfaced any way. Skirmishes here and there but as the electronic vote got underway, nothing unusual happened. Nothing like the anticipated. The incumbent won and was sworn in.
The weeks that followed however, seemed like walking through a jungle to the other side with not even the littlest wound only to get to the other side and lose a leg. Nothing could have prepared Uganda for the chaotic drama that followed. On April 11, days after the opposition had accepted the result (at least pretended), hordes of people flanked by opposition figures launched the walk-to-work campaign in protestation of the high costs of living. The political campaigns had seen a lot of money pumped into the economy and somehow inflation had veered off normal limit not to forget that the world was sinking at neck levels of economic meltdowns. So in the guise of what many people saw as retaliation for the electoral loss, the campaigns presented the government as the deaf party that acted the role of the unbothered sailor on a sinking cruiser. In just three days, the campaign had thousands of people willing to swallow a bullet and walk to work to illustrate the burden of living.
All they wanted was to walk. And all the security operatives said was, ‘NO WALKING.’ Initially it seemed as a whimsical joke as the opposition tried to raise a cloud of dust that never raged during the polling season. And yes, real dusty war began.
A small town known as Kasangati became the scene of daily gun battles, tear gas storms and bloody battle field. Each morning, the FDC leader Kizza Besigye (the main walker), left his home in the hilly vicinity to trek close to 5km towards the city center not like his cars were at the mechanic’s but well, as a sign of solidarity with those he termed as the ‘common Ugandans affected by the uncaring government.’ And each time he tried, an army of men armed with enough artillery to start a world war blocked him.
What started as a humble movement to draw the government from other ‘pertinent’ issues like buying purple diamond worth fighter jets while the price for a kilogram of sugar leaped to crazy price tags and a bar of soap became nine times more expensive, gained the stark dark image in no time.
15 people were left dead some caught up in the live exchange between irate crowds described as ‘unarmed’, others were victims of a tear gas canisters flying and exploding inside a hospital ward or on the stomach of a pregnant woman. Action for Change (A4C) the contingent behind the campaign comprising of a number of opposition figures filled the headlines with many people quickly finding the whole idea of walking to work meaningless now that it had turned bloody. The police stood their ground in the short run making walking an illegal thought or action. But even then, the walkers stood their gut saying they had a right to walk.
Each day they attempted, the events that ensued did little justice to the cause. Much as the world had an early New Year’s dose of violence on the streets of an African state plus all the criticism, the people who lived along roads where bullion trucks armed with itchy water parked with crowds of reinforcements who took no second thought to flog, kick and bundle the protesters were fed up.
What started as a national motive zeroed down to a figure. Kiiza Besigye became the lamb that was to carry the cross of brutality that above all else, looked futile from all angles. Eventually, one day as he attempted to walk to work, he had the worst encounter his life can probably record. In a rather inhumane style, a security operative attacked him like a wounded hound; used a 3.3 millimeter to break the window of his car, pulled him out, and sprayed what later turned out to be a concoction of chilly and acidic components in his face and finally bundled him on a police patrol car like a pauper who had nothing to lose.
Others were sent to prison with no charge other than ‘walking’, others nursed wounds while others mourned the losses of those they loved.
If ever change was going to come, the death of a loved one, the loss of a small business to a teargas attack or looters guised as protestors was definitely not the best path to fundamental change. The fact that the police never at any one point gave the protesters a benefit of the doubt to allow them to walk to wherever it was they worked and the fact that each day the protestors seemed to dare the anger of those with the trigger, walk to work became a chapter that closed with no results recorded. I never saw them at least. The dust storm had been raised but it was not strong enough to blind the ‘enemy’.
Strategies such hoot-to-work where car owners would at a designated time honk their ear drums dead and others ended up leaving the newly sworn in government with a bruised start. Even re-launching the campaign on a more national grassroots note later on helped little; this time the disillusioned knew better than parading themselves in the way of death.
As that bruised start healed with time, the scandals begun. Petitions filed against those accused of rigging flocked the courts, corruption scandals involving billions of dollars filled headlines and many times, there was no better explanation. Fighter jets purchased emptying national coffers, grave bribery and theft in the tourism sector and rotting roads plus monstrous inflation helped Uganda seem like a long pit full of pain. The year dragged on with many people more determined to just toil their heads off to survive because politics was just no answer to their grievances.
Power became rarer and soon the electricity body even started issuing load shedding timetables; fuel prices commanded everything too expensive for the common man while an over 300-man parliament was sworn in. The 9th parliament bore the brunt of the public’s ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude. The headlines of money lost in shoddy deals ceased to shock anyone for it was too normal to hear the word ‘billions’ in the same line with ‘Ghost Company’.
Just when the first year of the new political calendar was about to go down as the bloodiest most boring ever, OIL sprouted like a cyborg returned to haunt. No doubt the corruption and bribery allegations that have rocked the yet to flourish oil sector have overshadowed any scandal be it the jailing of the former vice president or the resignation of the former female minister of presidency over stealing a national broadcaster mast.
Three cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Sam Kuteesa and Hillary Onek were named in a scandal that involved them taking bribes from oil companies who had their eyes on the Ugandan black gold. Over 17 million Euros were involved and the house for once had the public tune to catch the abrupt recalling of the parliamentarians to discuss the black crimes of the trio. For once this year, the public was really pleased as MPs quizzed those seen as the untouchables forcing two of them to resign. The fiery debate no matter who gained or lost out of it helped add a positive tick on the foreheads of the parliamentarians who are now arousing asleep ghosts once again. They are demanding for new fuel guzzlers set to cost the shaky coffers over 100 million shillings each.
But whether the cars come, or more districts are created, more resignation papers are handed in or electricity does not return until the potholes are fixed, me I will be here waiting to usher in the New Year 2012. Perhaps make 12 new things to achieve. But am grateful days come to an end; some days this year were too hot that it seemed like never would they end. As the clock ticks again into the New Year, eyes are now fixed about 200 billion shillings that were paid to individuals and entities as compensation in what is now keeping the sloppy shoddy story of scandal running and not to forget, the millions of dollars paid to Burundi for the help forwarded to the NRA rebel war that brought Museveni to power.