Senegal: President Describes ‘Significant’ Reform Agenda, Says Mali Must Be Reunited
October 5, 2012 | 0 Comments
When Macky Sall took office as president of Senegal in April, he promised a ‘rupture’ with many of the policies of his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, under whom he served as prime minister from April 2004 to June 2007. This week, while in New York to take part in the United Nations General Assembly, he talked with AllAfrica about his ambitious domestic agenda and reflected on the worsening crisis in Mali, Senegal’s large neighbor to the east. Excerpts from his responses which were delivered in French and translated by AllAfrica:
What have been your top priorities since becoming president
One of my priorities was to improve democratic governance. For that, it was necessary first to settle the crisis between us and the previous president. He wanted to run for a third term but – in a modern democracy, access to power as well as the exit from it should be regulated. It should be compatible to standard democratic rules.
To eliminate any future possibility that a president might stay in power an extended period, I decided to submit a constitutional bill, whether through parliament or a referendum, that reduces the term from seven to five years that would apply to myself as well. I was elected for seven years, but decided I would only stay for five before submitting myself to the voting public once again. That was one major decision. Moreover, the president can only serve two terms. Therefore, no one can serve more than two five year terms.
The second measure relates to the budget. In (many ) African states, the bulk of resources are used to maintain the super structure of the State, that is to say, to propagate the government’s lifestyle. To counter that, I put in place a limited government – a Cabinet with only twenty-five members, compared to thirty-eight (rumored to be as many as forty-five) in the previous administration. At my instruction, we also reduced the number of agencies and embassies around the world so our resources could go directly to the citizens.
To respond to the population’s social needs would mean, in the health sector for example, offering universal health coverage. Because we have very few paid workers, the vast majority of the population doesn’t have health coverage, and there is no medical insurance system. So one of my priorities was to make universal health care a reality by the end of 2013.
It’s a major reform that I’m in the process of implementing, along with the education sector which needs to be modernized. It’s not only a question of expanding breadth but ensuring the quality of teaching as well.
Agriculture, Infrastructure and Youth Employment
Equally important is the agricultural domain, because for Senegal to develop, agriculture must remain the most important sector. But we have to reform our agricultural practices, to make them more modern and more productive so that farmers and rural areas in general, earn more revenue.
One of the other main points I’m focusing on is youth employment through vocational training. It’s true that higher education is important, but professional training should be available to everyone; professional training that provides young people with a vocation, but also which can be helpful to businesses. I believe that it won’t take long for each region to have its own professional training center that can educate 2000, even 2500 apprentices .
Relating to agriculture, another priority is the country’s infrastructure, the highways and roads. Good roads will help modernize the agricultural sector. It’s necessary for us also to think about energy, one of the main factors preventing development in Senegal.
None of this would be possible if we didn’t have foreign investment. But to facilitate foreign investment, we must uphold the rule of law in which justice functions normally. We have to combat corruption and, to this end, we have instituted serious reforms. We must promote good governance.
Indeed, for all these goals, we have introduced significant reforms. Strong reforms to combat impunity. Today, people realize that legal cases are a judicial matter, to be decided without coercion or interference.
There you have a number of the projects we’re working on. As you can see, there are many.
After visiting Senegal, Melinda Gates said Senegal needs to take serious action to reduce the number of women and babies who die during pregnancy. Do you plan to take measures to prevent early marriages, provide contraceptive methods to families, and help ensure babies receive proper nutrition?
Absolutely. I believe that Melinda Gates saw the efforts Senegal is taking in the field of maternal and infant health. Mother and infant form an inseparable pair. We must take care of the baby even before it’s born. In other words, pregnant women must have medical attention, prenatal care, have regular check-ups to create pre-conditions for a healthy delivery. To do so, we have decided to eliminate the expenses related to the child’s delivery, for both normal and caesarian births. Because in both rural and urban areas, it’s still a problem and the national community has to help women in this area.
In July, we started a campaign to combat certain illnesses that affect women, including chronic illnesses like renal failure. There is dialysis, but unfortunately we don’t have enough dialysis machines in our hospitals, and private sector treatments are prohibitively expensive. Since July we have made an effort to provide free treatment for those with renal failure in public hospitals. Thanks to NGOs and certain partners, we have received several dialysis machines to expand the program.
For women as well as children, we have implemented a policy to improve health by fighting malnutrition, increasing the living conditions to prevent infant mortality rates, and also vaccination programs. I set up what I called the Family Security Fund that will give poor women the opportunity to have their children vaccinated and enroll them in school. We will improve the living standards of the most impoverished populations.
Concerning teenage pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, we must establish education programs, something we’re in the process of doing now. It’s not easy, but there are always ways to empower women living in rural areas.
We need to launch awareness programs on family planning. This will help improve the health of both mother and child. But it is a long term process in which both Government and Civil Society must play a role.
Some people have criticized your move to eliminate the Senate, while you have said this would free resources to combat the floods that are causing suffering in many areas in your country. Why do you think it’s a good idea to eliminate the Senate and what are you doing about the floods?
First of all, we must make it clear that only 35% of the members of the Senate were elected. The other ones were chosen by the President, so this Senate was not really legitimate. It wasn’t representative of the Senegalese people. In a democratic country there are institutions which have each a particular mission or power attributed by the Constitution. Legislative power in a bicameral system like the U.S. or French one is made of two branches, with members elected directly by universal suffrage. They make laws and control the Government actions. Our Senate was based on a model which is not universal. Many questions were raised about the Senate, about its legitimacy.
I thought that one chamber, the National Assembly, was enough in Senegal. It could create laws, decide whether or not they should be passed and have a veto on government actions as well. Moreover, the 7 billion CFA annual budget allocated to the Senate is a large sum. You could raise 70 billion CFA – which equals 140 million US dollars – if you add up that amount for ten years.
And my plan to fight against floods is supposed to last ten years. We have to build new houses, help people move out of flooded areas and create drainage systems. My vision is to re-allocate all the Senate tasks to the National Assembly so that the money which was supposed to buy cars for the Senators could be used for people living in dire straits in flooded areas and reach my goals with the help of our partners.
I’m open to a national dialog too, for that purpose a national think tank has been created to help run the institutions.
The State must set the example. Show people that they are trying to save money by reducing the government size, the Senegalese diplomatic map, which implies reducing the number of ambassadors and by eliminating the Senate whether it is useful or not.
In the future, if our economical conditions get better, we may consider bringing the Senate back – but this time, its members would be elected. It would be a real legislative chamber. For now, we have other priorities like giving houses to the homeless, creating a welfare system for it and providing jobs to young people. For all these reasons, it was necessary to get rid of the Senate. I really appreciate that both the Senate and the National Assembly supported my bill and passed it.
What should be done about Mali. What regional response do you favor by Ecowas (by the Economic Community of West African States) and what kind of international action are you hoping to see?
The situation in Mali is worrisome not just to other countries in west Africa in the Ecowas zone but to the whole world, because – for the first time – an international jihadist movement has made a country bend to its will and can shore significant support.
It’s a lawless region where drugs, arms trafficking, and other illegal activities thrive. Therefore if the world does nothing to reclaim Mali as a single united territory, the international terrorist movement could develop there, and that’s something we cannot accept, something we cannot let happen.
Since this conflict began, Ecowas had made enormous efforts to provide solutions. But now, it’s clear that the problem is too complex for Ecowas to manage alone, in part because of the regional implications for non-Ecowas members, like Mauritania, Algeria, and Chad.
A larger forum was needed to discuss these issues, and we have always considered including the African Union. The African Union aids Ecowas and oversees the creation of African Forces as authorized by the UN Security Council. I believe that during this session we will receive a clear and precise resolution from the Security Council permitting the use of armed forces, under chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, to combat terrorism and work toward a resolution in the region.
“Africans have always had enormous potential for freedom, justice and self-determination.”
September 22, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Closure of Pambazuka regrettable
-AU, ICC, Media in Africa et al, FAHAMU Founder and former Editor of Pambazuka Firoze Manji bares his mind
By Ajong Mbapndah L
With over thirty years in international development and human rights, Dr Firoze Manji remains a leading voice for the voiceless in the continent. The Founder of Fahamu and former editor of Pambazuka exhibits unparallel knowledge and brilliance in his analysis of challenges confronting Africa and the way forward. From his departure from Fahamu and the closure of Pambazuka Press, to the scramble for Africa, the African Union, the ICC, and more, Firoze of Kenyan nationality bares it all in an interview with Ajong Mbapndah L for PAV.
PAV: Dr. Firoze, thanks very much Sir for accepting to talk to PAV, we start with the question that intrigues many Africans, why did you decide to part ways with Pambazuka after toiling hard to make it a leading voice for the voiceless in the continent?
Firoze Manji: It is with much regret that I had to part ways with Pambazuka because of irreconcilable differences with the Fahamu board of trustees. Pambazuka News has become one of the principle sites for analysis, discussion, organizing and communication on the struggles for freedom and justice in Africa. It is my sincere hope that it will continue the tradition it has established over the last decade. I have long been committed to the principles of ensuring that Pambazuka News was always freely accessible and considered as part of the Commons. It is important that we always ensure that the Commons are not commodified. The closure of Pambazuka Press is also regrettable – there remains a vacuum in book-publishing that gives voice to those engaged in emancipatory struggles in Africa and the global South. Printed books are currently priced outside the reach of the majority of activists in Africa. We have to find a way in which books can be placed in the hands of those who are engaged in transformative struggles across the continent.
PAV: With over thirty years in international development and human rights you certainly have seen it all, in broad terms where you situate Africa today, everyone is talking about potential, but in what areas do you see tangible progress and what areas is more work needed?
Firoze Manji:The people of Africa have always had enormous potential for freedom, justice and self-determination. Our history is littered with crimes that have undermined and prevented us from being able to determine our own future. The Atlantic slave trade decimated the continent of some 20 million of its youngest and finest. Europe’s industrial revolution, the wealth it accumulated over that period was a direct result of the pernicious trade in human beings. The colonization of the continent by European powers destroyed our cultures, our creativity, and resulted in the integration of the entire continent to the needs for European capital. But at the same time there has always been a spirit of resistance that has constantly reasserted our humanity and claims for freedom. In the post Second World War period, that resistance swept the continent, affecting every country from Cape to Cairo, from Djibouti to Dakar. It was that uprising – in the cities, on the farms, in the urban ghettos, in plantations and factories – that swept the nationalist movement into power that led eventually to some degree of political independence. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in that struggle – recall the wars of liberation in Algeria, Congo, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, to name but a few. Empire did not take these defeats lying down. They used assassinations, coups d’état, misinformation, invasion, and all manner of tricks to undermine the move to independence. The roll call of the finest leaders whose lives were cut off is too long to recall, but included people such as Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Augustino Neto, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko, Samora Machel, and so on. And that is to say nothing of the many outstanding women and men who gave up their lives in the struggle to assert their humanity and cry for freedom. But it is important to note that the betrayals and conspiracies came not just from empire, but included those who from within the movements.
Nevertheless, in the short period after independence, there were some extraordinary achievements. Whatever one might say about the shortcomings of post independence governments, one has to acknowledge that in a very short period of time they transformed their countries: where once there was no health care or education, there was universal access provided; where there were no roads, an extensive communications network was set up. Within a short period of time, parameters such as life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, child mortality and so on showed dramatic improvements.
Sadly that was not to last long. From the beginnings of the 1980s, we saw the reversal of all the gains of independence across the continent as a result of the willingness of our leaders to collude with the West in implementing the structural adjustment programmes (later called the ‘PRSPs’) by the international finance institutions including the World Bank and IMF. We saw wholesale privatization of what was then part of the commons – land, water, electricity, healthcare, education and so on. And what was not privatized was sold off to the Northern ‘development’ NGOs. Support for farmers, agricultural subsidies, inputs, cooperatives, marketing boards, all these were cut. Instead public funds were used to subsidise the private sector. And the economies were transformed from being net food producers to being net importers of food. The countries were opened to the voracious appetite of the multinational corporations and banks. Currencies were devalued, and debts had to be repaid in dollars. To get dollars meant producing not for the need of the people but for the needs paying the banks and finance houses of the US, Europe and Japan. And in the process, the local elites got rich, while the majority got poorer. Enrichment of the few at the expense of impoverishment of the many. The last 30 years have been marked by a mass scale dispossession, dispossession of land, dispossession of the commons, of mineral resources, oil, agricultural products and so on. But the worst dispossession of all has been the political dispossession: today our governments are more accountable to the banks, international financial institutions, the multinational corporations than they are to their citizens. That is the tragedy of the last three decades.
We are constantly reminded that many African countries are demonstrating significant growths. But the reality is that only a few have benefited from that growth. Today the majority are poorer today than they were even under colonial rule. This is what Walter Rodney characterized as growth without development. Can we call that progress? And meanwhile, the continent has faced military interventions on a wide scale – Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Somalia, are just the beginning. The US AFRICOM is now spreading its wings across the continent. Everything is being militarized, with the encouragement and collusion of our ruling elite.
But at the same time, we have witnessed important developments in the last few years. There have been significant popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, what the West has come to refer to as the ‘Arab Spring’, that led to the downfall of those close allies of imperialism, Ben Ali and Mubarak. What has inspired these uprisings has not been merely the existence of repressive regimes, but more importantly the growing discontent and anger at the loss of all the gains of independence, the widescale impoverishment that the last 30 years have brought. But these uprisings have not been confined only to North Africa. Today, the gathering momentum of movements for change defines the social and political scene on the continent. We are witnessing not so much an Arab Spring as an African Awakening. There have also been protests, strikes and other actions in Western Sahara, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Gabon, Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco, Madagascar, Mozambique, Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Swaziland, South Africa, Malawi, Uganda and more recently in Nigeria and Togo. Indeed, they have much in common with events we have witnessed last year in Wisconsin (USA), Spain, Greece and indeed in the Occupy movement. The mass uprisings and protests that erupted across the continent and in the Middle East share a similar etiology. Over the last 30 years, countries in the global South, and in particular in Africa, have seen the systematic reversal of the gains of independence. The net effect was to reduce the state to having a narrowly prescribed role in economic affairs, and precious little authority or resources to devote to the development of social infrastructure, resulting in the erosion of the ability of citizens to control their own destinies. These events have been the topic of a recent book edited by Sokari Ekine and myself: African Awakenings: the emerging revolutions (Pambazuka Press, 2012).
PAV: As mentioned earlier, there is unanimity on the incredible potentials of Africa, and there is these great scramble from foreign powers, the Chinese, Americans, Brazilians, etc, is the continent as it stands today better equipped to face the challenges of a second scramble? Based on your knowledge and rich wealth of experiences can you walk us through a few pros and cons of partnership with some of the leading actors seeking inroads in the continent, the Chinese, Americans, Europeans, Brazilians and Indians
Firoze Manji: I think not. With the growing economic crisis of capitalism, we see the race for accumulation by dispossession taking place at an unprecedented scale. The resources of Africa, its cheap labour, is being eyed by many. The unfortunate fact is that few of our governing elites are willing to challenge this growing urge to exploit the continent – far from it, they know that they have much to gain from filling their pockets and their off-shore bank accounts by colluding with those who what to rob the continent.
While the entry of China, Brazil and other ‘emerging powers’ has provided some level of breathing space in the sense that our governments have alternatives to the hegemony of the US, in practice the policies of these countries in relation to Africa do not necessarily constitute an intervention that favours emancipation. But we cannot leave the task of self-determination and emancipation to either our governments or to external powers. That task is one that we need to build the confidence of African people to achieve.
But it would be a serious mistake to view the entry of the ‘emerging powers’ with those of the US, Europe and Japan. The latter are the dominant exploiters of African labour, extractors of natural resources, and decimation of the environment. China, for example, is certainly becoming as big as the US in terms of trade. But in terms of natural resource extraction and in terms of extraction of wealth through debt financing, they remain a very small player in comparison to the US, Europe and Japan. Remember, the domination of the multinational corporations, banks and international finance institutions is guaranteed not by the ‘emerging powers’ but principally by the US. There is a growing US military presence in Africa in the form of US AFRICOM. We have seen military intervention in Africa from the US and its NATO allies in Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya. There has been no equivalent military intervention and occupation by the emerging powers.
PAV: The African Union recently elected its first female Chairperson; do you expect the new leadership to finally shake the continental body of its lethargy?
Firoze Manji: I don’t believe so. Having a woman head what is essentially a patriarchal institution does not constitute a transformation of the goals and aims of an institution. The election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK, Indira Ghandi in India, Sirleaf Johnson in Liberia, has not resulted in progressive transformation of those countries. The election of Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma represents a victory not so much for women, but especially for the growing power and influence of South Africa on the continent. Bear in mind that South African capital’s penetration into Africa has grown significantly since 1994.
PAV: Leadership to many remains an issue of concern, not only within individual countries but at the continental level, is it Nigeria with endless tales of corruption and security challenges posed by Boko Haram or is it South Africa which according to many has failed to rise up to the occasion in providing decisive leadership for the continent, how does Africa address the leadership problem? There has been an increasing clamour for democracy across the continent, but sometimes the democracy has not necessary come with development and Mali can be used as an example, in contrast, a country like Ethiopia under the leadership of late President Meles Zenawi made so much progress yet Ethiopia was not viewed as a democracy, what is your take on this?
Firoze Manji: The question I think we need to ask is: to whom are these so-called leaders accountable? As I have commented earlier, our governments have become more accountable to the international corporations, banks, international finance institutions and speculators than they have to the citizens who elected them. There is a democratic deficit. And that is not just a comment about elections, but rather a more profound question about who makes decisions that affect our lives. Who decides what is produced, for whom it is produced, how it is produced, who benefits from the production, who has a say in the distribution of wealth? Why are our farmers condemned to producing crops that feed the North, but leaves them destitute? I think we need to start asking such questions, because it is by doing so that we can begin to think about deciding what kind of ‘leadership’ we want. I think we are living in a period where new forms of collective leadership are emerging: look at how decision making began to develop in Tahrir Square in the rise of the Egyptian revolution and in the Occupy Wall Street movements. These were forms of democratic decision making. The revolution in Tunisia and Egypt were not led by individual leaders, but by collective action. That, I believe, is the future.
The increasing cries for ‘democracy’ cannot be reduced to the holding of elections and the ballot box. The popular cry is for democratization rather than merely voting every few
years. Remember, while citizens are allowed to cast their vote once every four or five years, Wall Street and the 1% cast their votes every second of every day, making decisions that have devastating effects on the 99%. Take, for example, the frightening escalating price of food that has lead to more than a billion people starving. This is not because of shortages of food, but rather because the 1% are speculating on food and food production as commodities. The rich get fat on gambling on the price of food, while the rest are forced into hunger.
As for the situation in Ethiopia: we need to ask the activists, political opponents, journalists and many others who are languishing in Ethiopian jails whether they think there has been ‘democracy’ under Meles. As far as I can tell, the situation is not likely to change with the departure of Meles.
PAV: Looking at the continent today, which are some of the leaders who inspire you and which are some of the countries you will consider as models for the rest of the continent to follow?
Firoze Manji:The leaders who inspire me are those whose hard work led eventually to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions; the young people in the ghettos of our cities who have taken to the streets with great courage to demand a better future; the women who have organized and fought against oppression and violence against women; the women farmers who are ensuring the survival of sustainable and environmentally positive African family farming systems and who are opposing the attempts of Bill Gates and Kofi Annan to chain them to the agro-industrial corporations through AGRA (Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa); the communities that have fought to prevent the decimating environmental impact of natural resource exploitation such as in the Niger Delta; the workers who organize to defend their interests against the exploitation of international corporations – such as we have seen recently in the mining industry in South Africa; those brave activists from LBGTI and queer movement in Africa who show immense courage in asserting their humanity against the most terrible threats; those who organize to ensure that the struggle for self-determination is not lost, such as those in Western Sahara, Diego Garcia, etc. These are some of the leaders that inspire me and whom I believe we should consider as models for the rest of the continent to follow.
PAV: In France, the assets of Theodorine Obiang , the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President were recently confiscated, and the French civil society has cases against a number of African leaders for siphoning state funds, considering the pervasive nature of embezzlement and mismanagement of state resources, do you consider this the way forward to punish and dissuade those who loot with impunity?
Firoze Manji: The problem here is who benefits from confiscating the riches stolen by our presidents and dictators? Will the Egyptian people benefit from the return of the millions that Mubarak stole and banked in England? How will citizens of Libya benefit from the appropriation of Gaddafi’s millions? Of course thieves need to be punished: but if justice is to be done, then the loot has to be returned to those who created it.
PAV: On the International Criminal Court, Charles Taylor jailed, Laurent Gbagbo on trial, a warrant on Sudanese President El Bashir, what is your response to critics especially within government circles who think the court is unduly targeting African leaders?
Firoze Manji: The problem we face is three-fold: first, who has the greatest influence on how the ICC decides who is to be prosecuted? The irony is that the primary influence on the ICC comes from the Security Council. And the Security Council is dominated by the US – the state that refuses to sign up to the ICC. So we see that decisions about who to go after by the ICC is politically determined. Which is why – in keeping with the US’s history – it is Africans who are primarily targeted.
And that brings me to the second issue: if the decision to prosecute or arrest is politically determined, then that is an admission that these actions by the ICC are not about justice but rather to serve the political ends of particular powerful states. It makes a mockery of the whole purpose of having an international court. I would be more convinced about the ICC’s role if we were to see people such as Bush and Blair arrested and tried. They are not arrested for political reasons: it has nothing to do with the evidence that is there for all to see that there is just cause to arrest them for crimes against humanity.
Thirdly, by trying people outside the national terrain, you decontextualize the crimes. The whole procedure becomes more about revenge than about justice. By removing the criminals from the national terrain, you deprive citizens of the possibilities of seeing justice done, and to experience the catharsis that is necessary to be able to move on. It is frequently argued that the ICC is necessary because of the weakness and lack of independence of the judiciary in our countries. Sure, that is a short term solution. But it begs the question about what do we do to develop a judiciary that is both competent and independent.
PAV: How do you size up the African media today and its role and contribution in helping the continent meet up its challenges?
Firoze Manji: Over the last 30 years there has been an unprecedented level of centralization and concentration of capital, as well as an unprecedented level of financialisation of capital. This has resulted in almost every aspect of production and almost every aspect of our lives being controlled by some 500-700 international corporations – what Samir Amin calls ‘oligopolies’. That phenomenon has also happened in the media sector. So despite the growth in the number of media institutions in Africa, if you look carefully you will find that the main ones are owned by a handful of corporations. So these institutions are not independent – they represent the interests of the 1%. To attract advertisements and to be profitable, they need to serve those interests faithfully. It puts truly independent media in great difficulty to be able to survive. The pressure on increasing profits means that nowadays newspapers and other media houses employ fewer and fewer journalists. This means that journalists aren’t able often to do the kind of investigative work that is core to their profession. To be able to generate enough stories, they therefore rely on the news services – basically European and US sources of news – that they just recycle. This means that what is generated by corporate media in the North is recycled as ‘news’ in Africa. It also leads to a certain level of laziness, relying on news and information circulating on social media such as Twitter and Face book. Journalists don’t have time to check stories, so this results in stories circulating that have not been checked. I think there is a great deal of demoralization amongst media workers who are capable and smart, but are not able to find an environment that enables them to work as they should. The development and nurturing of an independent media is something that remains a priority on the continent.
Pambazuka News sought to fill the gap only insofar as it provided a platform for analysis from intellectuals, activists, bloggers, social movements etc. It never aspired to be a conventional news service.
PAV: Last question Sir, prior to this interview, we discovered you were a dentist, how did you transition from that to the indefatigable social critic and activist you are and now that you left Pambazuka, what next will you be working on?
Firoze Manji: Well, the transition from dentistry is a long story, but suffice to say that I have long been an activist, even before I qualified, but to support that I needed to earn an income somehow. I drifted from dentistry to public health research, into international development, human rights, and eventually established Fahamu in 1997, and launched Pambazuka News in December 2000. What one does to earn a living should not prevent you from being politically active in the cause of emancipation. But I also think that while each of us have our own histories and pathways, the past is something we need to learn from but not become imprisoned by. So while I was once a dentist, I don’t need to continue in that pathway unless I have no choice.
I remain committed to the cause of emancipation and justice. There are many ways in which I may be able to contribute to that. For the present, I need to reflect on the possibilities for the future and so I am taking time off to regroup.
Southern Sudan on the wrong course says Mabior Garang
September 22, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Son of emblematic leader lashes out at elite for turning country to worse form of dependent state
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Mabior Garang is not happy with the way things have unfolded since Southern Sudan achieved independence a year ago. The son of the country’s emblematic revolutionary leader Dr John Garang says the new elite have turned the country into the worst version of a dependent state.
Southern Sudan does not reflect the vision of the Sudan Peoples ‘Liberation Movement-SPLM which was led by the late Dr Garang and current President Salva Kiir. The status quo is like a “posthumous coup on the people of Sudan” says Mabior who heads a small youth organization call “The New Society.” Mabior joins the growing chorus of people disappointed at the way thing have evolved so far in Africa’s youngest country. “Nowhere in Africa has a liberation movement, so quickly and so determinedly abandoned its program and its platform,” Mabior says. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, Mabior who heads the DR. John Garang International School, offers very lucid insight into the realities of Southern Sudan today.
Mr. Mabior thanks very much for accepting to grant us this interview. What is your assessment of Southern Sudan a year after it attained independence?
Mabior Garang: The new Republic has missed a unique opportunity to birth a qualitatively different type of nation state in Africa, one that is built on different parameters, as articulated severally by our late hero and founder, Dr. John Garang de Mabior. At the heart of the SPLM’s vision of statehood was a qualitative leap from the state building models followed by other post colonial states in Africa. Instead the new Republic, on account of the new elite, has become the worst version of a dependent state – incapable of independence in decision making and beholden to outside powers for everything including basic economic and social policy. It is the very thing the SPLM sought to avoid.
The notion of all power belonging to the people has been completely usurped! Instead of using the goodwill expressed by the people when they affirmed their sovereignty by voting in overwhelming numbers for independence, the new elite has instead focused their efforts on the most crude and grotesque accumulation of wealth. The popular goodwill could have been mobilised again in a popular constitutional referendum, as many people of goodwill had urged the SPLM to do. A great opportunity squandered.
For many of the new elite, the “independence” of South Sudan is the program and an end in and of itself. Indeed, some have even called for the SPLM to change its name since it had “achieved its objective”! They might as well have changed it! The fact is that the struggle for a New Sudan, a country that is fundamentally transformed both in form and content, rages on in other marginalized parts of the country, and those waging that struggle are the ones advancing the SPLM program and vision of change. It is tragic that we have failed to recognize this in South Sudan
In a recent interview you said the leadership of the country had deviated from the vision your late Dad Dr John Garang had, can you shed more light on his vision and how the present leadership is acting contrary to that vision?
Mabior Garang:The objective of the movement (the Vision of the New Sudan) was to end the exploitation of man by man by modernizing our societies. To sum it up, the leaders of the new Republic have abandoned that vision and program of the peoples movement. Nowhere in Africa has a liberation movement, so quickly and so determinedly abandoned its program and its platform. It has to be a first! And what a tragedy given the promise of change; the expectations of our people and the reverence that the SPLM had among Africans all over the world. Here was a movement that took as its starting point, the enslavement of Africans from the time of the first Persian incursions, to the time Alexander penetrated the Nile Valley, to the present day! Its loss of direction is not only a Sudanese tragedy but an African one as well. The original program was completely abandoned; I describe it as a posthumous coup on the people of Sudan.
President Salva was a long time Aide of Dr Garang, what do you think is making him deviate from the principles of your Dad who remains the most emblematic figure in Southern Sudan
Mabior Garang: I don’t want to speculate too much as that might lead to conspiracy theories; there are probably many factors both internal and external. I shall only shed light on what I do know (which is that) the SPLA was founded as a politico-military organization. This means that the movement’s combatant was primarily a political activist. This form of organizational structure was necessary due to the objective historical realities of the time, there was the field Commander at the front and the Political Commissar in the liberated areas. The SPLA was the primary tool through which the efforts of the Sudanese people were organized and directed to achieve the democratic transformation of the country. The late DR. John taught that the SPLM would be evolved during the course of the struggle, as the SPLA created the necessary conditions. He argued that the people’s movement had to be evolved democratically and not based on a first come first serve basis. The SPLA would fight the war, and with the passage of time as more Sudanese became convinced about the objectives of the movement, they would join the struggle and form a truly representative movement. This logic was fought by a few sectarian minded elite, who used their local influence to promote tribal divisions to de-campaign less educated members of their communities. The movement in order to survive had a premature birth, and it has suffered from this ever since.
The true cadres of the people’s movement are the armed political activists who fought the war, and they have been excluded from continuing to lead the people’s movement based on a technicality. The transition from a rural based movement, to one exercising power in the urban center has been mismanaged. At the moment of victory rebels that previously were not bound by law suddenly had to contend with international law. The cadres of the movement who where all armed activists becomes part of the national armed forces, while the “political wing” entered the realm of party politics. The SPLM national secretariat (apart from a few at the top) is made up of individuals that have spent over ten years outside of Africa. They are mutated from their villages many having American, Australian and Canadian citizenship. The political commissars who are the true ideologues of the people’s movement and who know the struggle and sacrifice that the people have made, are no longer the ones making the decisions. The decisions are being made by people that don’t have to live far with the consequences of their decisions. I believe this is what has made us deviate as a movement, it is easy to blame one man especially the leader (it comes with the territory). It is; however, our collective failure.
The criticisms against the government of President Salva aside, what are some of the positive things you think he has done and what advice do you have for him?
Mabior Garang: I don’t see many things, but to be fair we have not yet descended into the abyss despite all the forces working against us, internal and external. I suppose he must be doing something right. I think he has done his best to balance the situation, I imagine it must not be easy to please everyone.
There are pictures of sky scrapers and flourishing construction sites in Juba, is this development a reflection of what is going on in other parts of the country?
Mabior Garang: The development that you have mentioned is cosmetic. It is similar to starting a building project from the roof. There is no proper waste management, no power, no water, healthcare is in shambles, the justice system is nonexistent, poor education. I guess it would depend on ones definition of development. The population of South Sudan is predominantly rural based, so any credible development program must also be rural based. The late DR. John taught us that the level of development at which our people shall start is shocking, and only through agriculture can they be committed to development.
How has the government treated your family in general and have you ever been approached to play a leadership role in the country?
Mabior Garang: I am thankful that we have not been specifically targeted; we have been safe for the most part. I don’t believe Comrade Salva would knowingly allow for anything to happen to us. However, there is a group around him that is of the view that: “…it is not your time anymore…” (Whatever that means).
This group has tried their best to drive a wedge between Comrade Salva and our family, and also the peace loving people of South Sudan; but we have tried not to let it affect our relationship. In spite of these people we have been behind Comrade Salva from when he succeeded DR. John to the independence, we have been hoping for a change of heart ( we have gone as far as raising over 2.5 M USD for his campaign). And as long as he stands for the ultimate permanent interests of our people, we shall continue to be behind him.
I have never been officially approached by the government or the SPLM; however, some individuals out of their own initiative have offered to lobby on my behalf, to which I have always declined. I think we have a systemic problem and not one of personalities, I have been able to contribute more to nation building in a private capacity than I ever could being in government.
If we may ask another about Dr Garang, what kind of family man was he, what are some of the fond memories you have about him?
Mabior Garang: I hardly knew my father as a father; I have no memories of that. I knew my father as a revolutionary, and this is how we related to each other. It was a Comradeship that we shared, I feel honored to have been part of that history, I imagine it would be equivalent to living with Amilcar Cabal, Edwardo Mondelane or Samora Machel.
I know he was a great family man because I have pre-revolution photos and we look like a happy family, I also witnessed how much he loved my sisters, and the whole extended family. It was his love for his family that ultimately made him sacrifice everything, so that his children live in a new society where they are not second class citizens.
We also learned that you were a victim of attacks from thugs after making critical posts on face book; can you tell us what happened?
Mabior Garang: I was attacked by unknown assailants two weeks after giving a speech at the 3rd memorial for my father, I think that somebody did not like what I said. I was struck with a blow to the jaw that left it fractured in three places, I currently wear titanium micro plates (there was no investigation by the security).
I was also attacked a year earlier by security forces at my father’s grave, I had gone to mediate as I used to regularly after his tragic demise. I was surrounded, beaten with the butt of an AK 47, and told it was not the right time for me to be there (again no investigation). I have been harassed many more times for different reasons as many of my compatriots do daily.
The international Community has been most supportive of Southern Sudan; in what way do you think it can be of additional help in improving the situation in your country?
Mabior Garang: I think the international community should continue to be with the marginalized people of Sudan (South and North) and work with the people at the grassroots level to strengthen civil society. However, the ultimate reality is that we the people of South Sudan are the primary force that can stop the current failure of state, and bring us back to the promise of a new society, a promise we gave everything for. I don’t think it is too late to set things right.
On a personal note, what are your ambitions? Do you see yourself getting more actively engaged in politics?
Mabior Garang: I don’t wish personally to be in politics (in the traditional sense). I am part of a historical struggle, a people’s movement, and the objectives of this movement have been articulated clearly (in the case of Africa) since the mid 1950’s. The movement’s objective has been to create a new society, to have an African renaissance. The pre-colonial African society is no longer relevant to our current realities, while the one imposed during colonialism is foreign and also not relevant to our realities. I am committed to this historical struggle of our people (to form a new society) and will, as Comrade Madiba put it: “…do anything that history may call upon me to do…” if that means politics then I guess I will have to roll up my sleeves and get to it.
A last question, based on the volatility of relations with Sudan, and the challenges facing your country now, any prediction for the future?
Mabior Garang :The people of South Sudan and the People of North Sudan share a long history of unity and secession going back to ancient times when Kemet (aka Egypt) Seceded from Nubia in ancient times. The history of the people has been characterized by movements of unity and secession and today the objective realities have led to secession. I don’t know what tomorrow may bring; however, the future of both populations is inextricably linked.
The marginalized people of Sudan (North and South) have been betrayed by the Elites, who are the real enemies of the Sudanese people (north and south). The people of South Sudan and the people of North Sudan are not enemies; it is the Southern Elite and the Northern Elite that have traditionally been enemies. The northern and southern elite have conspired to stop the revolution from reaching its logical conclusion, (which was) the democratic transformation of the country (a Sudanese Renaissance). They are now promoting sectarian politics to ensure their survival. I know that one day the revolution shall achieve its objectives. Whether that will be in my lifetime? I don’t know!
Thanks very much again for granting this interview to Pan African Visions
Mabior Garang: The pleasure is mine
Interview: The man behind Africa’s answer to the iPad and iPhone
September 15, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Jaco Maritz*
Vérone Mankou is the 26 year old entrepreneur behind the African designed Way-C tablet computer. The tablet was launched earlier this year and attracted significant media attention. Mankou’s company VMK, which is based in the Republic of the Congo, this month also unveiled its first smartphone. How we made it in Africa asked Mankou about the business and how his company competes with the likes of Apple and Samsung.
Why did VMK decide to launch the Way-C tablet?
The project began in 2006. I was working at an internet service provider (ISP) and wanted to design a cheap computer to give access to internet for more people. After one year, when Steve jobs unveiled the first iPhone, I changed my plan and the project became the “big iPhone”, meaning a tablet.
Earlier this month VMK also introduced its first smartphone, just days before the launch of the iPhone 5. Why enter the smartphone market?
You know, when I was working on the tablet, I noticed that the biggest difference between a tablet and a smartphone is the screen size. After we launched the tablet we decided to work on a smartphone project, and now the project is finished. It’s a Android phone called the Elikia (which means “hope”).
Your products are designed in Africa, but assembled in China. Tell us a bit more about the design and manufacturing process.
You know it’s like building a house. Firstly you have an architect who draws the house and after you have the workers who will build that house using the plans of the architect, but the architect need to be there every time to check if everything is okay. And for the designing of a tech product, it’s the same.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you will roll out 3G enabled tablets.
The first version of the tablet was Wi-Fi only, and many people didn’t like this. They asked us to develop a 3G tablet, so now we are working on a 3G tablet that we will launch in the beginning of next year.
How do you compete with multinational tablet manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung?
For me Apple and Samsung are not interesting in Africa, because their cost is so high. My goal is to put a tablet in the hands of all Africans, their goal is just to make money. It’s different.
VMK has also launched a market place for African-focused apps. Tell us more about this.
I noticed that in Android Market, now called Play Store, more than 99% of apps are not developed in Africa and/or are not developed for Africa. When you search African content, it’s hard to find good ones. We decided to launch our own marketplace to help us promote African content. And for the smartphone Elikia we decided to launch a new version of our market, called VMK Market, with the possibility to buy apps via our gift card, called VMK Market Card. So now we are developing a real environment (including devices, content and monetisation) to help developers.
Our biggest challenge is just to get funding, because it’s needed to produce more products and for marketing purposes.
What is needed for Africa to become a serious player in the tech industry?
Funding and innovation.
What does the future hold for VMK?
We decided to launch a tablet and smartphone. It’s done. Now I want to give all African households access to technology, and develop a new tablet for education priced at about US$100.
African Ancestry is the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent
August 15, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Gina Paige On How African Ancestry transforms the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa!
By Ajong Mbapndah L
African Ancestry is the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent. With the industry’s largest and most comprehensive database of over 25,000 indigenous African samples, African Ancestry determines specific countries, and more often than not, specific ethnic groups of origin with the highest level of detail, accuracy and confidence. Founded in 2003 by Dr. Rick Kittles and Gina Paige, the Washington D.C. based company has today helped over an estimated 150,000 people re-connect with the roots of their family tree. Gina Paige, President & Co-founder, African Ancestry, Inc says Knowing where you’re from is a vital component of knowing who you are.
PAV: May we know how the idea of African Ancestry was conceived and how it works?
Gina Paige: AfricanAncestry.com was born out of a desire by Dr. Rick Kittles, our Scientific Director, to know where he was from. His work as a geneticist led him to explore how genetics can be used to answer the question of ‘where am I from?’ asked by so many people of African descent. Once the community learned that the technology existed, their demand for the service resulted in the establishment of AfricanAncestry.com.
African Ancestry uses DNA to determine the ancestry of maternal lineages and paternal lineages. If the ancestry is African, we place it in a present-day country in Africa and we identify the ethnic group(s).
PAV: So your results are able to place African Ancestry in a present day country and region, what technology does your company have and is there a margin of error in your findings?
Gina Paige: African Ancestry has the African Lineage Database, the largest database of indigenous African lineages in the industry. With over 33,000 lineages, we are able to pinpoint ancestry to within a 95% confidence level. The vast size of the African Lineage Database allows us to provide a likelihood measure as well.
PAV: How big is your clientele and how excited or motivated are African Americans to find out their Ancestry?
Gina Paige: More than 150,000 people know their roots through the service we provide.
PAV: What typically becomes of folks when they become connected to their Ancestral backgrounds?
Gina Paige: The journey only begins with tracing their roots using DNA. Every person we test becomes a part of our African Ancestry Family Community, where they have instant access to country-of-origin enrichment materials, other people that share their ancestries and tools and resources for deepening their experience. Additionally, many people travel to Africa, join extended networks/groups and support causes affiliated with their roots.
PAV: Where do you situate the importance of African Americans knowing their Ancestral origins and any chance that stronger bonds could be forged through the kind of services you offer?
Gina Paige: Knowing where you’re from is a vital component of knowing who you are. The ancestral paper trail can only go but so far for African Americans due to the breakdown of information during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and records are unreliable at best. So we believe it’s of the highest priority for people of African descent in the U.S. and across the world whose ancestries have been displaced.
PAV: Back to your company, any ties that it has with the continent business, professional or political wise?
AfricanAncestry.com does not have any business, professional, or political ties to the continent. We do partner with some non-profits and embassies here in US to foster an exchange between African Americans and Africa.
PAV: To those who might be interested in using your services, what does it take cost wise and how long does it take to get results?
The current promotional price is $299 to trace a single lineage. There is an additional discount if a person traces more than one lineage at a time. Many people see this as a family investment and members of families go in together to purchase a kit and they all share the same results.
For more on African Ancestry visit www.africanancestry.com
Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo
June 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo
-Maurice Carney, Executive Director Friends of Congo
By Ajong Mbapndah L
As the D.R.Congo grapples with yet another crisis with fighting in the Eastern part of the country, Rwanda stands accused of playing a leading role in fomenting the crisis. The Friends of Congo a body which gives itself the mission to raise the consciousness of the world community on the challenges of the Congo believes that Rwanda has benefitted and continues to profit from the instability in the Congo.The group recently initiated an online petition urging U.S Government Officials notable President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for action against Rwanda. Maurice Carney, co-founder and Executive Director of Friends of Congo tells PAV that the petition does not target the people of Rwanda but rather against the Rwandan government and its policies. An independent entrepreneur and human rights activist who has fought with Congolese for fifteen years in their struggle for human dignity and control of their country, Carney regrets that it is the USA and Britain that have been the biggest supporters of the Rwandan government on the international scene .The evidence against Rwanda is overwhelming says Carney who backs his assertion with a number of news sources. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, Carney sheds light on the activities of the friends of Congo, the case against Rwanda, expectations from Obama Administration, and more.
PAV: First, could you introduce Friends of Congo, its membership and mission?
Maurice Carney: First, thank you for providing us with this opportunity to engage you and your readers. We truly appreciate this opportunity. Friends of the Congo (FOTC) was established in 2004 to work in partnership with Congolese to bring about peaceful and lasting change in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire. FOTC has two basic aims:
1. Raise global consciousness about the challenges of the Congo
2. Provide support to local institutions striving to fulfill the enormous human and natural potential of the Congo.
PAV: In initiating a petition urging people to call on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action against Rwanda, you accuse that current of playing an active role in the crisis in Eastern Congo, what is the evidence you have to impugn Rwanda?
Maurice Carney: Thank you for the question, the evidence is too many to respond fully to this question. We have to make one correction however; we are not calling for action against Rwanda and her people but rather calling for action against the Rwandan government and its policies. Remember the Rwanda armed forces have invaded the Congo twice (1996 & 1998), occupied Congo (1996 – 2002) and supported proxy rebel groups inside Congo (1998 – present) and fought a battle against Uganda inside Congo (June 5 – 11, 2000) over diamonds in the home province of Patrice Lumumba. In the Rwandan regime’s second invasion of the Congo in 1998, backed by the United States and United Kingdom, it was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) led by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola that had to come to the rescue of the Congolese people and repel Rwanda and Uganda because Congo lacked an army to protect itself against Rwanda’s aggression. However, to respond to your question about the petition, our sources on the ground have confirmed the presence of Rwandan soldiers inside the Congo, Al Jazeera has interviewed some of these soldiers who deserted, The United Nations has produced the same facts in an article published by the BBC, Human Rights Watch has also corroborated the presence of Rwandan soldiers and just recently the Congolese government finally acknowledged what the whole world now knows. The evidence is compelling and overwhelming to the point that some of the staunchest supporters of Rwanda in the human rights community have now switched and are calling for accountability for Paul Kagame and the Rwandan regime.
PAV: On Eastern Congo, you must have more information than we do, what ignited the current crisis there and what does Paul Kagame and Rwanda gain or seek to achieve with his involvement in the crisis?
Maurice Carney: Rwanda has benefitted tremendously from the instability in the Congo. The main benefit Rwanda gets from destabilizing Congo is financial. According to Dow Jones Newswires, Rwanda benefits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from Congo’s tin, coltan and tungsten: http://conflictminerals.org/2010/05/ Bloomberg news reports that Rwanda is one of two (The other being Malaysia Smelting) top traders of Congo’s conflict minerals (Coltan, Tungsten, Tin) http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?sid=a1p3C4mCsY2o&pid=newsarchive The Six-day war is a classic example of Rwanda’s intentions in the Congo. Rwanda fought its ally, Uganda in Kisangani, DRC for six days in 2000 over diamond concessions killing an estimated 1,000 Congolese civilians and wounding scores.
PAV: What is it you expect President Obama and the US Government to do and if the evidence on Rwandan involvement is that strong, why is the International Community not taking stronger action to call that country to order?
Maurice Carney: Our expectations of the Obama administration is simple – implement the very law that President Obama sponsored and passed into law as a senator in 2006. We are asking nothing more and nothing less. The international community has taken several actions against the Rwandan government (See the UN Mapping Exercise Report of 2010 and the Spanish Court Rulings of 2008 against 40 top officials of the Rwandan government, also see the 2008 Sweden and Netherlands actions against Rwanda that led to Rwanda arresting its proxy inside Congo, Laurent Nkunda). It is mainly the United States and the United Kingdom that have protected Rwanda diplomatically and politically. In addition, like Israel, Rwanda has opted out of many of the international bodies that other governments have subscribed to. For example, Rwanda is not party to the International Court of Justice, which ruled in 2005 that Congo is entitled to $10 billion in reparations from Uganda because of its crimes against humanity and pilfering of the Congo. The court would have likely ruled the same against Rwanda but Rwanda is outside the jurisdiction of the court.
PAV: If we are correct there was a Congressional hearing in the USA not long ago where Friends of Congo talked about the crisis, did you secure any promises and if Congress did not act after the hearing what are the chances that the petition will push them to act now?
Maurice Carney: We are fighting a just cause and not leading a campaign. We are convinced if we continue to apply pressure we will prevail. Remember, the United States was in support of Apartheid South Africa but activists persevered and eventually got the United States Congress to change its policy and laws toward South Africa. Dr Martin Luther King put it best when he said the moral arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. We are in this for the long haul in the spirit of Dr King. There is growing pressure on the Rwandan government and we are confident that if we continue to apply pressure we will prevail.
PAV: Elections that took place a few months back in the DRC did not go so well, how efficient has President Kabila been as a leader and how well is he handling the current crisis?
Maurice Carney: President Kabila is an illegitimate leader of the Congo. He appropriated power through force and not by the will of the people. He is handling the situation better than expected considering his track record in dealing with Rwanda where Rwanda has had its way in the Congo at the behest of Kabila. Let’s make no mistake however, the fact that a weak illegitimate regime is in place in Kinshasa, renders the Congo less effective in dealing with this matter.
PAV: The DR.Congo has not known peace since the late 90s, what in your opinion needs to be done to provide lasting respite for Congolese?
Maurice Carney :Several things need to be done to advance lasting peace in the Congo and the region:
1. The West needs to cease its support (military, financial, training, intelligence) of the strongmen in the region (Museveni of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda, and Kabila of Congo)
2. Rwanda needs to enter into a dialogue with the FDLR. An inter-Rwandan dialogue is needed.
3. Democratic institutions must be strengthened in the Congo
4. Multinational pillaging of the Congo must cease, the people cannot continue to live in abject poverty while foreign corporations continue to benefit at the expense of the people
5. A Congolese state and military accountable to democratic civilian leadership must exercise authority over the entire Congo
PAV: Do you agree with those who think D.R.Congo is just a victim of its resources, that its vast mineral wealth is the bane of all its problems?
Maurice Carney: No the Congo is not a victim of its resources. The idea of a resource curse is preposterous. Congo is a victim of greedy men (local elites, neighboring leaders, corporate predators the likes of Dan Gertler, George Forrest and the Blattners, etc) who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. Congo is a victim of companies such as Banro, AngolGold Ashanti, Freeport McMoran, ENRC, The Forrest Group, Glencore, OM Group and the nearly hundred companies identified by the United Nations as systematically looting the Congo: http://conflictminerals.org/us-canadian-companies-involved-in-congo/
PAV: What was the reaction of the public to the documentary “Crisis in Congo, Uncovering the truth” produced by Friends of Congo and any projects in the pipe line?
Maurice Carney: Thank you for asking. The response has been remarkable, especially where it counts most, inside the Congo. The film is being screened throughout the Congo. People in China, Japan, Australia, India, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa and many more countries are screening the film. We have translated the film in French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and more language translations are underway. We were not expecting such a strong response to the film. The film is merely an excerpt of a feature length work that we are in the process of completing. We developed the short to put on President Obama’s desk to remind him of the law he got passed as Senator. Yet, film festivals, libraries, high schools, colleges, universities, conflict resolution organizations and ordinary individuals are screening the film and using it as a teaching tool.
Our main focus right now is the fifth anniversary of Congo Week, which will take place from October 14 – 20, 2012 throughout the globe. Communities across the world organize events (screenings, teach-ins, fundraisers, rallies, etc) in solidarity with the people of the Congo. Since 2008, over 60 countries and 300 communities have participated. We encourage people to join us in transforming the heart of Africa by signing up for Congo Week at congoweek.org
“Parlement” did more than Selfish Politicians in the fight for Change
May 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Corantin Talla re-visits the students’ movement in Cameroon
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Created in 1991, the Students Union body at the University of Yaoundé dubbed “Parlement” was a fundamental actor in the early stages of the struggle for democracy in Cameroon. Many believe that the threat posed by the activities of Parlement at the lone State University of the time precipitated the creation of other Universities by the government across the country. Led by Corantin Talla, the Association was a thorn in the flesh of government. Talla says multiple frustrations on the living and studying conditions led to the creation of the Association. Though the government accused the Association of been a fabrication of the opposition, Talla says Parlement was created by Students to cater for their interests. The strategic alliance it formed with the opposition was to sanction a government which had failed to respond to the grievances of the students in particular and Cameroonians in general, he explains. Talla, who graduated in 1992 with a Degree in Biology, says he was perplexed when the former Minister of Higher Education Titus Edzoa expelled him from the University when he was already on exile in Nigeria.
Now in the USA for some 17 years, Talla who says self serving and opportunistic opposition leaders derailed the struggle for change is proud of the contribution that Parlement made to the struggle. The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon Talla contends but regrets that the change that Cameroonians yearn for remains elusive. A graduate of Public Administration from the University of Florida, Talla who currently works for a Global Information Technology says it is time for patriotic forces to synergize resources and strategies towards the common objective of building a truly free and democratic country. Talla still believes that the Youth hold the key to the change Cameroon needs and for this to happen, they must break free from the faux mentorship and leadership of politicians who continue to use them in furtherance of selfish designs.
.PAV: Corantin Talla, you were the leader of the students’ movement in Cameroon known as “Parlement” may we know how it was created?
Corantin Talla: The “parlement” was created as a result of the multiple frustrations of university students about their living and studying conditions. Moreover, the students were vehemently opposed to the cancelation of the election of their representatives by the then minister of high education, Joseph Owona. In fact, the university was overcrowded; there was no adequate library and other amenities for students were so lacking. More importantly, the university administrators as well as the Minister Owona Joseph were trying to impose their handpicked student representatives after unilaterally canceling an ongoing student election. The above-mentioned reasons led to the creation of ‘Cameroon Students’ Parliament’, dubbed ‘Parlement’, on April 2nd, 1991. The main leaders at the inception of parlement were Talla Corantin alias General Schwarzkopft, Yimga Yotchou Blaise alias ‘Abu NIDAL’, Waffo Wanto Robert alias General Collin Powell, Chebe Elsie alias Margaret Thatcher and many other less known members of the initial leadership. As far as the name Parlement is concerned, I personally chose that name for our student movement on April 2nd, 1991 and publicly announced the creation of the Parlement in front of thousands of students that day, in front of the restaurant U. I chose that name because it was a forum where all the students could utter their grievances so that we could deliberate on the appropriate demands and actions against a government that had failed to resolve our problems.
PAV: Who were some of the people you were associated with in the leadership of the movement and there is this confusion as to who actually was the students leader, was it you or was it Senfo Tokam?
Corantin Talla: The real leaders of parlement included the names I gave you earlier and other students like Chah Orlando, Eyock, Njock, Chebe Pius, Bakeson Rick, and Christopher Atene Acha. Senfo Tonkam was not a member of the leadership at the inception of that popular students’ movement. I was the President of Parlement and Senfo Tonkam was the President of ‘la coordination des Etudiants Camerounais -CEC (National Coordination of Cameroon Students). The CEC was a legalized organization, whereas the ‘Parlement’ was a clandestine but legitimate movement of pro-democratic students. Senfo Tonkam even granted an interview in Cameroun Tribune in which he denounced the activities of the Parlement. It is amazing how the CEC later claimed to be the Parlement. That is the true history of the creation of Parlement.
PAV: We will like you to clarify a few things that were said here and there about the parlement, one it was a tool used by the opposition to fight Biya and the CPDM and secondly its membership was full of Anglophones and Bamileke students.
Corantin Talla: The Parlement was a movement created by the students in the interest of students. The parlement was never a tool in the hands of opposition. But at one time we formed a strategic alliance with the opposition under the banner of the ‘coordination des parties politiques et associations’, (Coordination of Opposition parties) and later on under the banner of ‘Union for Change’ and ARC-CNS. We participated in those opposition gatherings because we wanted a change of the regime that failed to solve students’ problems in particular and Cameroonian problems in general. In short, the parlement was an independent association of grown up students who knew how to think and organize themselves.
PAV: It may have started as a student movement but it aligned itself so strongly with the opposition, why so considering that as students at the time, the CPDM government had you guys on a reasonable monthly allowance, and took care of feeding with a restaurant at your disposal?
Corantin Talla: The monthly allowance and restaurant were just tools used by the government to distract the attention of students from their critical problems, such as the lack of academic infrastructures and the lack of elected student representatives, who could serve the interests of the students instead of promoting the interests of the government on the Campus. It was okay for students to sing ‘Paul Biya toujours chaud gars” during the national day. But it was not okay for them to have dissenting ideas or to freely choose their leaders. That is one reason why my comrades and I decided to fight the system from the nation’s capital and later expanded our battle fields in the provinces.
PAV: So what became of your comrades, it appears you guys all faded into obscurity as there is no visible face playing a leadership role in Cameroon politics
Corantin Talla:It is true that many comrades have abandoned the struggle for several reasons. But there are still many of us who continue to fight for the course of genuine democracy in Cameroon. I personally continue to fight from my exile in the USA as you can see from the multiple protests we have organized in front the Cameroon embassies on several occasions when there are critical issues that occur in the life of our nation. For instances, the NGO called Conscience du Cameroun that I head, in conjunction with other associations of the Cameroon Diaspora organized a huge protest against the change of constitution in 2008, campaigned for a boycott the 2011 election mascarade in Cameroon.
We also engaged in many lobbying actions in the USA and Europe under the Banner of the United Front of the Cameroon Diaspora. We will continue to fight for the change of the current regime that lacks the political will to facilitate the implementation of political reforms that could bring about genuine democracy and a state of law in Cameroon.
As the president of Conscience du Cameroun, I am tirelessly working to sensitize and mobilize young Cameroonians in particular and Cameroonians in general for the final assault on the system that has pauperized the vast majority of Cameroonians; given up our land and all our natural resources to foreigners; that has perverted the moral values of Cameroonians and transformed our country into an ocean of corruption.
PAV: Parlement was indeed a strong force for change, in retrospect, do you have any regrets or do you think things would have been done differently by your group to help the struggle for change in Cameroon?
Corantin Talla: The students of Parlement selflessly gave their all to bring about positive political change in Cameroon. They were not, like many opportunistic politicians of that period, interested in holding government or political offices. They were the true combatants. But unfortunately, they were betrayed by their own people they helped to free from prison like Daikole Daissala, Issa Tchiroma Bakari and the likes of Kodock, Bello Bouba and other power-hungry selfish opportunistic politicians. Despite all the drawbacks as a result of those multiple acts of treason by senior politicians, the former Parlement leaders, most of whom have been in exile for close to 2 decades, are finalizing plans to return to Cameroon to finish the battle for democracy they started in 1991.
PAV: Looking at the generation of students in Cameroon today, what do you think of their response or involvement in the challenges facing the country?
Corantin Talla: The youth of Cameroon feel betrayed by politicians of both sides of the political spectrum. Hence, their lack of interest for politics and their distrust of the political system. The youth of Cameroon should cease to be the followers of discredited politicians and take their destiny into their own hands and demand for democratic reforms in Cameroon. The youth and conscience du Cameroon will work hands in glove to bring about genuine democratic changes in Cameroon without counting on divine intervention or any foreign power. In short, the youth should rise up and create the necessary counter-power needed to force the dictatorial Regime of Biya to leave power and give way to genuine democratic reforms by a transitional leadership chosen by the people.
PAV: You now head an Association known as Conscience du Cameroon; may we know what it does and what bearings it has on the political landscape in Cameroon?
Corantin Talla: Conscience du Cameroun is an American NGO that the government of Cameroon refused to register in Cameroon in 2009. However, as an organization whose mission is to promote democracy, peace, and development in Cameroun, we have organized many protests in the USA against the Cameroonian dictatorial regime; we have participated in the creation of the United Front of progressive Cameroon movements in the Diaspora. And more importantly, we have help Cameroonians in the Diaspora in terms of academic, legal, and professional integration.
We have also created a synergy between progressive forces of the Diaspora and local progressive movements. We have helped to strengthen the civil society in Cameroun. Now, our main goal is to sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians
so that we can bring down the current regime or force them to agree to a consensual implementation of political and electoral reforms that will bring about genuine democracy in Cameroon. We reject the recently voted electoral code in Cameroon and warn the government about the consequences of their unwillingness to open the political system to genuine democracy for the sustenance of peace and social cohesion in Cameroon.
PAV: You certainly interacted with a lot of political leaders in the 90s and there are all still in place today, which of these leaders impressed you most and what is your take on the democratization process?
Corantin Talla: None of the leaders impressed me the most. But I did recognize the then courage of Fru Ndi, the selfless leadership of Pr. Jean-Michel Tekam, the determination of other leaders of the opposition as well as the students’ members of le Parlement. I thank all my former comrades of le Parlement wherever they may be today and call upon them to get ready so that we can be back to finish the job of liberating our people from the shackles of neo-colonialism and local dictatorship of President Biya and his creatures.
PAV: Cameroonians agree the need for change is even more acute today than it was in the early 90s but things are not evolving as fast as many want, where do you think the change Cameroonians want is going to come from and how?
Corantin Talla: The change in Cameroon will come from Cameroonian themselves and not from some hypothetical external or foreign power. We Cameroonians have to wake up from the Stockholm syndrome and take our destiny in our own hands. We should not count on any godly help but on our own actions. The civil society and genuine opposition as well as the progressive movements of Cameroon in the Diaspora should form a united front for political reforms in Cameroun. And then the front should sensitize and mobilize Cameroonians towards the creation of a powerful counter-force to the entrenched dictatorial regime of Yaoundé.
PAV: Last question Sir, your reaction to the recent arrest of Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and Minister Marafa and your opinion on the whole operation Sparrow Hawk which has seen the arrest of Government Barons
Corantin Talla: The arrest of anyone deemed corrupt, including Marafa and Inoni is a good thing for the Cameroonian people provided that the judicial system is not used to punish innocent people. Nevertheless, all the thieves and embezzlers should be arrested without discrimination. More importantly, in the end the man who incarnates the system, President Paul Biya, should be held accountable for his own economic crimes.
PAV: Thanks very much for granting this interview
Corantin Talla: Thanks very much too.
Senegalese Democracy Is On The Right Course
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Prof Souleymane Diagne on the demise of Wade
By Ajong Mbapndah L
The palpable tension in the build up the election contrasted sharply with the final outcome in the recent elections in Senegal. President Abdoulaye Wade was defeated in the second round by his former protégé Macky Sall. In a salutary show of political maturity that speaks volumes on the state of democracy in Senegal, defeated President Wade was the first to concede with warm words of congratulations for Macky Sall. Considering that this is the second time in recent times that a seating President was not only defeated by the opposition but left power without the kind of drama and rancor that is the norm in many other African countries, Prof Souleymane Diagne says democracy is on the right path in Senegal.A philosopher of great international repute cited by the authoritative French paper Le Nouvel observateur as one of the 50 thinkers of our time, Prof Diagne says the promises made by Wade to bring change to Senegal were ultimately his undoing as there were too lofty to be fulfilled. Though Wade gets credit for respecting the will of Senegalese, Prof Souleymane says it could not be otherwise since the margin of defeat was comparatively high.
Senegalese people are a very impatient people he says in a veiled indication that Macky Sall may not have much of a honeymoon. Diagne who is a member of the scientific committees of Diogenes (published by UNESCO’s International Counsel of Philosophy and Social Sciences), CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa), and of the African and Malagasy Committee for Higher Education (CAMES), as well as UNESCO’s Council on the Future. Currently a Professor of French and Philosophy at Columbia University, Souleymane Diagne believes that in a continent where democracy is struggling to take root amid incredible odds, the resilience of the Senegalese people may serve as inspiration for other African countries.
PAV: After another successful election with a candidate from the opposition defeating a sitting President, is it safe to say democracy is firmly established in Senegal?
Prof Souleymane Diagne: -I think that we can say yes. The first political change that happened in 2000 was a major change for the Senegalese democratic institutions of course but to have a repeat is a major achievement especially at a time when stakes were so high with the huge disputes over the third term agenda of President Wade and the dispute on whether he was eligible to even run at all. It was a happy ending with voting deciding. If it was not voting, it would have been the streets .It was a peaceful political change where the incumbent lost and congratulated the winner in what was a major test for democracy in Senegal.
PAV: Outgoing President sometimes came across as a stubborn leader, were you surprise with the grace which he embraced defeat?
Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Yes somehow. Prior to the elections his declarations just not envisioning the possibility that he could lose were worrisome. Many people were worried that he did not consider the prospects of losing and things like that but at one point he must have reminded himself of the example set by his predecessor Abdou Diouf. The idea that there was already a deep history with Diouf conceding gracefully must have been a positive precedent. There are many people who think he had no choice though considering that the margin of defeat was even more than that of Diouf when he lost to him. He could not have done otherwise.
PAV: He came in with a lot of promise and was virtually forced out by Senegalese, what went wrong with the Wade Presidency and the “Sopi” or change it was expected to bring?
Prof Souleymane Diagne: -Well in retrospect historians will say it was predictable. Basically Sopi was running a very populist campaign against a President in charge of the structural adjustment programmes .His predecessor who succeeded Senghor in the early 80s was the President under whose watch the unpopular structural adjustment programmes were enforced with the degree of poverty and social discontent that came with it. It was an opening for the opposition which proposed a programme promising jobs, better economic conditions etc. Wade did this with the Sopi which was a promise that things will be better. It was a populist message but those kinds of promises are very hard to deliver and he certainly did not deliver for the twelve years he was in power. In the end his own promises were turned against him.
PAV: May we know some of the achievements recorded by Wade, in other words what would you consider a legacy of the Wade Presidency?
Prof Souleymane Diagne:-What his main legacy might be is the renovation of Dakar which is very different today in terms of fluidity of traffic and sidewalks. Many people from the opposition have said and rightly so that Senegal is not just Dakar. Another aspect of infrastructure is the new airport he wanted to construct in Dakar. He said during the campaigns that he wanted to launch it before he leaves.
So those infrastructural aspects could be considered a legacy. Obviously he would like people to consider the African renaissance monument a legacy but it has been very controversial especially in terms of appropriation. You can build anything but sometimes when people do not see themselves in it, it will not be a good legacy.
PAV: Macky Sall served as Minister and later Prime Minister under President Wade, what are some of the major challenges that he faces and how might he be different from Wade?
Prof Souleymane Diagne: -It’s going to be different. During Wade’s Presidency, a forum of the opposition and the civil society realized there should be a change in institutions because Senegal inherited from France a system where the President had too much power. There is need for more balance in the system with parliament more empowered. The opposition and the civil society agreed on this amongst others in a conclave boycotted by Wade. Its conclusions were accepted by Macky Sall .Under him Senegalese institutions may change with more power to the parliament, a huge step forward for democracy.
Second, the Presidential terms will revert back to five after been raised to seven by Wade. So the Presidential term of office will be five years renewable once. While Sall might have served as Minister, Prime Minister and President of the Assembly under Wade, it must be recognized that the reason he fell out with Wade was the desire to exercise oversight and accountability in government actions. Wade’s son was summoned before a parliamentary commission to explain usage of money for the agency he was in charge of which was building infrastructure in Senegal. He was ready to fight corruption and wanted power to be accountable. His campaign gave reason to believe that he will fight corruption.
PAV: Is there a way that he could channel the positive energy generated in the youth, civil society, personalities like Youssour Ndour and Jacques Diouf as they sort to defeat Wade into the realization of some big achievements for Senegal?
Prof Souleymane Diagne:The manner in which his government was choice of members has been favourably received. It has people from the civil society .People like Youssour Ndour should be able to serve the Senegalese Culture well.
At the same time you must understand whoever is in power in Senegal will be dealing with a very restive and impatient people. Senegalese are a very impatient people and do want to see results.
PAV: What lessons do you think the rest of Africa should learn from the elections especially in those countries where the democratic experience has not been as exciting and successful as in Senegal?
Prof Souleymane Diagne: In a continent struggling to have democracy, where poverty is high, and there is so much demagoguery, it is so easy for populist discourse to blind side people from the main issues. Any successful election is an encouragement. At one point the Senegalese example was considered flawed but there is a kind of resilience of democracy by African people who want democracy. It is the path to unity, only truly democratic countries can come together to form the kind of confederation or union the continent wants for its salvation. So any good news from any country is good news for the continent.
Inspirational Leadership Critical For Africa – John Kufuor
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Sit Tight Leaders betray trust of the people says Former Ghanaian President
By Ajong Mbapndah L.
He may be out of Office but the esteem he enjoys across the globe makes you wonder if he misses anything about power at all. Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor is a prominent figure in the small but growing club of elder statesmen in the continent. For leaving power after two terms (2001-2009) Mr. Kufuor is revered by many across the continent. Out of office Kufuor who served as Chairperson of the African Union from 2007-2008 is still engaged in multiple activities most with a bearing on development in Africa. He is Chairman of the Interpeace Governing Council, World Food Ambassador of the UN against hunger, member of several boards including the Leon Sullivan Foundation, and the Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa just to cite a few. Not the type to shy away from a good course, President Kufuor was recently introduced as a Special Envoy for Neglected Tropical Diseases by the Global Network for Tropical Diseases at a Luncheon in Washington DC. In a chat with PAV, President Kufuor said, his desire to improve on the quality of life not only for Ghanaians but also for humanity makes him ready for service whenever he is called upon. The future is only getting brighter for Africa he enthused but cautioned that inspirational leadership was needed for the continent to reap premium dividends from the courtship it is getting from the rest of the world. Urging leaders to respect trust bestowed on them by their people, President Kufuor says those using messianic instincts to remain in power for ever act in error. Given the opportunity, African people will make their own way forward successful says President Kufuor .
PAV: H: E congratulations for your nomination as new special envoy for neglected and tropical diseases, may we know what this means for you, Ghana and Africa?
John Kufuor: Very Important because neglected diseases have been causing havoc to our communities. There sap our efficiency and productivity among our working communities, our children and make the old unhappy. This can be seen in our villages with diseases like guinea work, river blindness etc. So I feel humbled and honoured that the Global Network should invite me to be its Special Envoy to advocate support from around the world for the fight against these neglected diseases and also to advocate among the recipient countries and heighten the awareness of the dangers posed by these diseases to our people. It is a big thing and I welcome it. I believe the fight is been joined and with the political context that my coming in is calculated to bring, both the local and international community will get up and do more about relieving people of these diseases.
PAV: How does this new assignment tie in with some of the issues that dominated your Presidency in Ghana?
John Kufuor: Well, health and education are both basic and crucial when it comes to development. If you talk of human development and you do not talk of education, and you do not talk of health, then I do not know what it is to talk about. This appointment ties in with what efforts I made while in government to improve on the quality of live for Ghanaians.
PAV: You are Chairman of the Interpeace Governing Council, World Food Ambassador of the UN against hunger, member of several boards including the Leon Sullivan Foundation, the Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa etc where do you get the energy and how do you juggle all these activities?
John Kufuor: Well, I want to say that I come to politics with a missionary call to help improve on the quality of live for people not only for my people in Ghana, but also for humanity. Where ever I can contribute to improve on quality of living, I am always ready to be of service. I believe people see this in me and this is why people invited me to be part of the venture that brought me here.
PAV: We ask the questions because the continent has leaders who have been in power for thirty years and counting, do you share the concerns of Africans on this disturbing trend?
John Kufuor: First I believe in the self confidence of the African people that given the opportunity, they will make their own way forward successfully. So anybody who pretends to be the messiah because that’s the mentality of those who stay in power indefinitely is making a mistake. You swear by the constitution when you take power and by the same constitution, you must step down when your time or term is up. If you refuse to step down, you are betraying the trust of the people. Any leader who respects the trust of the people he leads would not want to perpetuate himself in power especially against their wishes.
PAV: The continent recently had coups in Mali and most recently Guinea Bissau as one of the Elder Statesmen, what is your reaction to these developments?
John Kufuor: Our continent is very big in terms of land mass and population and faces many challenges. I hope the African Union would use this panel of the wise and other agencies to get people to dialogue and try to resolve the many problems besetting the various countries and people. It is important that in moments of crisis the African Union should show the necessary leadership.
PAV: For the first time an African in the person of Ngozi Okonjo Nweala contested for the presidency of the Bank and lost how much of a blow is this for Africa?
John Kufuor: Well actually those of us who know and appreciate the competence of Ngozi and her expertise in the management of the World Bank are sorry she did not make it. The bank is a world body and the world is made up of so many countries and diverse people. Today our sister did not make it but as you observed, it is the first time, I believe the next time an African candidate will make it just as Koffi Annan also broke into the scene at the United Nations. Africa should bid its time and not give up.
PAV: President Kufuor a prediction on the future of the continent as we to round up?
John Kufuor: I think it is showing so much promise now. The continent is getting lots of attention from all sides of the globe. From the East, China, Japan and India are courting Africa. From the west America and Europe are doing same, Russia does not want to be left behind. This shows there is something about Africa and we must not only be proud but be very ready for that. However leadership is very critical. We must get leadership that will inspire us with confidence and pragmatism instead of dwelling on ideologies we have neither thought through nor understand. If we were to do that and negotiate well with all our friends and partners, Africa will take center stage in the world.
PAV: President Kufuor thanks for talking to PAV
John Kufuor: Thanks
-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.
Africa is Extremely Important To US Foreign Policy
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Bruce Wharton Deputy Asst Sec for Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of African Affairs
By Ajong Mbapndah L
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have Africa very high on the U.S Foreign policy priority list says Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the State Departments African Bureau. Although President Obama in his fourth year in office has made it to Sub Saharan Africa just once, Mr. Wharton uses a broad list of very high U.S government Officials who have visited the continent to stress the importance of Africa in the Administration’s Foreign policy. In an interview which took place towards the end of last year, Mr. Wharton’s expectation that Secretary of State will return to the continent in early 2012 was on mark as Hillary Clinton recently rounded up another trip to Africa with stops in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Cape Verde. The Obama Administration according to Mr. Wharton sees partnership in its relationship as oppose to patronage. The USA is not in open competition with China in Africa he says, opining that both countries bring very different things to the table. Whereas the Chinese are interested in raw materials, Mr. Wharton who has served in South Africa and Zimbabwe says his country is more focused on building human capacity. The United States he believes however has a responsibility to urge American Businesses to take a fresh look at the opportunities that abound in Africa. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, the affable State Department Official offers insight into the USA Foreign Policy in Africa and the logic behind some positions taken by his country in Libya, Ivory Coast and the D.R.Congo.
PAV: Pan African Visions is grateful for your willingness to grant this interview Sir, may we know the place that Africa currently occupies in the U.S Foreign policy?
Bruce Wharton: President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have placed Africa very high on our foreign policy priority list. A number of reasons for that of course. First of all, there are deep deep connections between the USA and Africa. I think the aspirations of the African people and nations and the United States are very similar. We want freedom to express ourselves, we want the opportunity to grow a strong economic future, we want to be able to choose our governments and choose the way forward. So Africa is very important to the USA.
PAV: President Obama at the sunset of his first term of Office has been to Africa, well Sub Sahara Africa just once; in the face of this how do you convincingly make the case that the USA is sincere and willing to step up its cooperation with Africa?
Bruce Wharton: Well again I maintain that Africa is extremely important to our foreign policy. You are right the President has only been to Sub Sahara Africa once. I know that he wants to return but let me point out that the Vice President has been to Sub Sahara Africa. The Secretary of State has been on two really extensive trips. In 2009 she spent nearly two weeks on the continent; I think it was ten or eleven days. Just this year in 2011, she spent another week on the continent. I expect she will go again early next year. We have had our Under Secretary for Political Affairs go to the continent. The Under Secretary for Global Affairs has been there. My Boss, Assistant Secretary Carson has been there many times. So I think it is important to point out that a lot of very high level American Officials have spent time in Africa. The Presidents’ Global Health Initiative has dedicated $63 billion to health initiatives around the world. That is a global number but if you look at the countries that benefit from the Global Health Initiative, a majority are in Africa. So I think President Obama is building on the good work that was done by his predecessors.
PAV: There are many who see great need greater partnership between the U.S and Africa, there are also many who are increasingly wary of what the US actually wants in Africa especially in the lines of interventions like the one your country was engaged in Libya, how does the U.S draw a line between its own interests and the respect of what Africans actually think is right for their continent?
Bruce Wharton: Well, I think one of the characteristics of the Obama Administration is a new approach to International Affairs especially in Africa. It is more of a partnership rather than a patronage relationship. We have worked hard to build a strong relationship with the African Union for example and with regional organizations such as ECOWAS, the EAC and SADC. The Libyan example is an interesting one. I will tell you that we responded, NATO and the USA responded to what we perceived as an emerging humanitarian crisis in Libya. We did not act alone. The Arab League essentially demanded that the world intervene to prevent Muarmar Kaddafi from inflicting harm on the 700000 people that were in Benghazi at the time. Kaddafi’s aircrafts, artillery and troops were rolling into Benghazi and the world was seriously concerned that we were about to witness a slaughter on the scale of the Rwandan genocide. So the United Nations Security Council issued security resolution 1973 demanding action implementing a no fly zone. The Arab League asked the world to protect the people in Benghazi. The US and NATO began to work on this. There was a meeting in London to which the African Union was invited, there was a subsequent follow up meeting in Paris to which was invited to attend. I can’t explain why they were not able to attend .So NATO took action and the African Union felt there had been left out but I don’t think that takes into account the impending danger in Benghazi or the United Nations Security Council Resolution or the Arab League’s call to relieve the situation.
PAV: We asked this question because the position of the African Union was at odds with what the British and French backed by the US decided to do in Libya, African leaders and indeed a number of Africans feel that there was actually much to the intervention in Libya than meets the eye.
Bruce Wharton: It was a humanitarian intervention. Muarmar Kaddafi and the Government he controlled was making war on its own people and I think after the events in Rwanda in 1994, the determination the world made was that we will not stand by and watch that happen again. So the world intervened to protect the people of Libya.
PAV: Africa is today a source of great competition certainly for its resources and huge market from the Chinese, Canadians, Indians, the Europeans etc, what does the U.S bring to the table , in other words if you had to sum up a solid case for Africa to prefer partnership with the U S over other countries with competing interests.
Bruce Wharton: I don’t think it is an either or equation. I think that Africa can benefit from Chinese interests, Indian interests, European interests, American interests and from South American interests because the Brazilians are very active in parts of Africa. Everybody brings something different to the relationship. The Chinese are very interested in raw materials and good at building infrastructure. The U S, our special relationship is building human capacity. Trying to help people become Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers and strengthening Institutions. So I do not see it as a head to head competition with the Chinese. I think we bring different things. We do think the United States does have the responsibility to urge American businesses to take a fresh look at Africa. We think there are economic and trade opportunities that American businesses have not yet seen. We for example will be leading a big Trade Delegation to Africa early next year as a way to get American business to take a fresh look at Africa. We are excited about potential for the economic growth of the continent and will like American businesses to be part of that.
PAV: The U.S is a country known for democratic values, rule of law and respect of human rights that are the envy of many. These are values many Africans have been fighting for, these are also values held hostage by a lot of leaders with doubtful legitimacies across the continent, how does the U.S navigate between legitimate aspirations of African people and the whims and caprices of leaders especially in countries where there seem to be vested interests?
Bruce Wharton: That is a good question and part of the answer is that Africa is not a single place. There are 53 countries in the continent, in Sub Sahara Africa; we deal with about 45 of them. Each one is different, each one is unique. There is no single approach that makes sense. I think we have to deal with the culture, history and reality of each country separately. We do believe we have to do the best job possible to listen to the people of Africa and respect the dreams and desires of people of individual countries. So for example in Cote D’Ivoire we and ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations believed that the results of the Presidential elections held there showed very clearly that Alassane Ouattara won. So we then worked with the International Community to try to make sure that the wishes of the people of Ivory Coast were respected. Gbagbo left power and Alassane Ouattara was allowed to occupy the Presidency.
On Zimbabwe where we have profound concerns on the elections that have been held there in the last ten years, we have sort to bring targeted sanctions to a small number, less than two hundred individuals and enterprises that we believe are working against the wishes of the people. More recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have openly expressed our concerns about the severe short comings in the electoral process. We don’t know that those short comings changed the outcome so we think the important thing now is to keep peace, to take a technical look at the electoral process, figure out how we can support a process where people of the D.R.C are satisfied with the results and can move forward. Again each country is at a different stage of development. Botswana and Mauritius have this whole democratic cycle. This is the first time that the DRC has ever managed its own elections in a very long time so we have to take those differences into account.
PAV: In making these decisions, does the US arrive at its own conclusions or goes along with position of its more entrenched European allies in the continent? In Zimbabwe Britain the former colonial master calls for sanctions ,in Cote D’Ivoire France the former colonial master recognizes Ouattara and in both cases the USA does same, how much of the decisions are based on independent assessment and how much is based on going with allies with greater interests?
Bruce Wharton: The answer is we arrive at our own conclusions about situations in each country and the best response to it. In Cote D’Ivoire we had teams in close contact with election observers. Of course we shared notes from people with the United Nations but ultimately our judgment that Ouattara had been elected with some 54% was based on our own data collection and data that was shared with us from international organizations such as the Carter center and multi-lateral groups such as the United Nations.
In Zimbabwe, again I think we have reached conclusions on our own about the legitimacy of elections in the last ten years. Those conclusions are shared by other people as well. I think SADC, the international organizations and other countries believe that the elections have not been free and fair, those are our conclusions. We don’t copy others.
PAV:As Africa grapples with the challenges of democracy each time elections take place, the US seems to have a way of categorizing them free and fair with examples in mind been Ghana, flawed with examples been the way the last elections in Zimbabwe or Ivory Coast were characterized and a more nuanced reaction that leads to many scratching their heads, the elections had irregularities but it is doubtful if this could affect the overall conduct of elections, is this not often a way to bail out those in the good books of the US as is the case with Desire Kabila in D.R.Congo today?
Bruce Wharton: Well first of all there is no such thing as a perfect election and we have proved that in our own country. We have issues with elections in our own country. So an election is always a process .There is never a perfect example. Like I said earlier, I don’t think it is fair to hold a country like the DRC to the same standard that you will hold a country like Botswana, or the United Kingdom or the USA. Many countries in Africa are very young democracies. Their independence only came fifty years ago
It’s enormously complicated, infrastructure is poor and institutions are weak. The key to us is whether or not we think to the best of our ability an elections reflects the will of the people .Sometimes it is very hard to tell and you know in case of the DRC we simply don’t know .The game then becomes how best we can help to improve on next elections and how best we can support the people in Congo who are working towards a better election.