Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Welcome to the World, Republic of South Sudan

The world just welcomed South Sudan as a member of the International Community. This marks the end of a bitter war of over 50 years between the south and the north – at least on paper. Reminiscent of the 1960s African independence era, many countries have taken turns to send good wishes to the new nation. The messages have been messages of hope and goodwill for the United Nation’s youngest member.  For many of us, our prayer and hope is that Southern Sudan will not go the way many African countries have gone since the independence era in the later part of the 1950s. The 53 countries of Africa provide enough examples about the consequences of greed and bad governance. My message to South Sudan is, there is no need reinventing the wheel – please just learn from the mistakes of your brother/sister African countries. Specifically, you must try to avoid these destructive pitfalls

Ethnicity/Tribalism – Africa is a mosaic of ethnic groups and contrary to what many experts thought in the 1960s, it is obvious that ethnic identifications will remain with Africa for the foreseeable future. For many African countries, the oppression of colonialism untied the different ethnic groups to fight for independence. Yet, as soon as the common enemy, the colonialist was gone ethnic difference sprang up and many people began to jostle for power using their ethnic affiliations. From Nigeria to Somalia and from Chad through Dr. Congo to Zimbabwe it has become obvious that the excessive use of ethnicity in the political, economic and social arena only spells doom. Today most of the conflict spot in Africa have as their underlining course, the issue of ethnicity. To our brothers in South Sudan we admired how Dinkas, Shilluks, Nuers, Acholis and Lotuhus have all banded together as brothers and sisters to secede from the brutal rule of the North. Remember how important your unity has served your independence course and do not let your ethnic and tribal differences spell doom for your young nation. Look to the examples of Botswana and South Africa and work hard to foster a society that affords equal opportunities to all and also allows the various ethnic groups to compete within the bounds of a democratic state.

Irredentism – Irredentist tendencies have led to unnecessary tensions between Ghana and Togo and between Senegal and Mauritania. In the case of Somalia and Ethiopia and also the countries in the Congo basin irredentism has led to full fletched war that has claimed many lives and destroyed national economies. We know as part of the vestiges of colonialism, the Acholi people located in the southern part of your country have their brothers and sisters living in Northern Uganda. Learn the lessons of Ghana and Togo, Senegal and Mauritania and the countries in the Congo basin. Do not interfere in the affair of the Acholi people in Northern Uganda. The Ugandan’s will not take kindly to any unwanted interference in their domestic affairs. You are becoming a nation at a time when there are numerous international institutions to channel any grievances you may have with Uganda in respect of the Acholi people to. No matter what you do try to avoid any confrontation with Uganda or any of your neighboring countries. Good neighborliness is good and you may also need your neighbors as leverage for any curve ball Republic of Sudan may throw you. 

Military Coups – Thank God the Americans, the French and co are helping you to design a modern military force. Please make sure that you build a professional military force that will respect the principle that civilian control of the country and the military is sacrosanct. You have to draw a wide margin between yourself and military coup d’états. Once again you have numerous examples in Africa to tell you about the ills of military dictatorships. No matter how brief these dictatorships are they bring so much economic retrogression that you want to steer as clear from them as possible. First during military rule, security issues become the number one concern of the state and every other important issue become relegated to the background. Second, in today’s world it is all about credit ratings and the perceived or real risk of doing business in a country. In any case you find yourself in a continent that is noted by the international business community as the most risky place to do business. Thus you have to make a conscious effort to distinguish yourself from other African countries and prove that there are minimal political and military risks for doing business in your country.  

Good governance – My brothers and sisters in South Sudan, I cannot stress this point enough. If you want to be a well respected nation then you must strive to pursue the principles of good governance with all your heart and with all your soul. Build strong instructions and not strong personalities, pursue participatory democracy that ensures the rule of law and respect for human beings. Build a government that is transparent, responsive and accountable to the people. Mr. Salva Kiir Mayardit, congratulations for being the first elected president of the Republic of South Sudan. Please, when you exhaust constitutional mandate just leave gracefully like President Kufffour of Ghana or Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali. Distance yourself from any advisors who will urge you to change the constitution to extend your time in office.  They are sycophants who are probably thinking about what they will continue to get from you. As Kenneth Ashworth said, “sycophancy is like elephantiasis. The longer it goes untreated the more stolid and immobile it makes you.” Just look at what became of the attempts of Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to pursue third terms in office. And certainly don’t be an albatross around the nation’s neck like Mobutu of Zaire or Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Make no mistake if you try to perpetuate yourself in power you will be removed. According to Victor Hugo “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” Don’t make the mistake of arguing that you are the only one who has the power and knowledge to govern Southern Sudan. Trust me no one is a repository of all knowledge. Togo and Gabon have fared much better after Eyadema and Omar Bongo even though both of men felt they were the only ones who had the ability to govern their respective countries. Just leave gracefully and you wouldn’t have to face the disgrace of being drag out of power like Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire. 

Mr. Mayardit, please be careful also how you deal with the press in your country. They can be your partner for development or your worst nightmare. Don’t ever think about caging the press, as the event in the Middle East has shown the press is an animal that cannot be caged by the most determined hunter or even the most fortified cage. In any case, thanks to the internet anybody can be a journalist just with the help of a cell phone. I admit that the press can be a pain in the back side and in a country as young as yours with its many challenges; an overzealous press can push the nation to the brink. However as President Clinton said, even the most controlled state cannot resist the winds of change. Press freedom has come to stay and there is nothing you can do about it. Rather engage the press, make them part owners of the development agenda is your country and when you disagree with them voice your disagreements within the bounds of law and do not seek to kill an ant with a sledge hammer.

Economy – Today, socialism and communism have been defeated in their intellectual homes. There is no doubt that capitalism and free market economics have become the dominant economic model of our time.  Please do not pursue any experiment into any African socialism nonsense. Tanzanians have still not finished paying the economic price for the adventures of Nyerere in the ujamaa socialism experiments of the 1960 and 70s. Likewise, don’t be an ideological hog and pursue capitalism like Kenyata under Kenya. Capitalism has it flaws too – look at the current economic crisis in the intellectual home of capitalism and free market economics, the United States. 

The World Bank and other renowned western economists and these days their African protégés will insist that you buy into theories like comparative advantage, economic liberalization and privatization. Although these theories in principle are very sound, they operate under certain assumptions. Examine your economy very critically before you buy whole heartedly into these theories. You must rather be a prudent pragmatist. Your attitude should be that no one principle/theory has all the answers. Your guiding principles should be, how is this policy going to advance the development agenda of our country? What are the short term and long term benefits of this policy? Work hard, pursue innovation, invest in education, infrastructure and health care and don’t use your money to buy guns. Develop a strategy to sustainably grow indigenous industries and pursue policies that will help you raise capital at home. Don’t be a typical African country and go round begging the western countries for aid all the time. There is always a huge price for aid dependency. As Carter G. Woodson once said, “History shows that it does not matter who is in power – those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning. “ 

International relations – One of the things that you will quickly learn is that the world is not fair. Don’t be fooled by the intentions of all those ‘good’ nations that are sending you good will messages. Most of them are sending you these messages because everyone is doing it and they don’t want to be left behind. Others are warming up to you because of potential benefits they are hoping to get from you, especially from your oil fields. Never let your guard down about the intentions of other countries including your sister African countries.
At the UN General Assembly you have one vote and you are regarded as equal to member nations like France, United Sates and Russia and yet you will find out that these nations and others have enormous powers within the international community that you can only dream about. You will certainly need to hold onto the coat tails of one or two other nations to navigate the treacherous waters of the international community. But don’t be a pawn for any other nation. As much as possible, adopt the strategy of the United States. Have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Since you have large deposit of oil and a vast arable land, you should be able to manage your international affairs well if you take the time to plan and strategize well.

Please be careful how you choose your friends and how you pick your fights. From a brother to brother, make sure you stay clear from any differences that the powerful nations might have. As the African adage goes, when two elephant fights, it is the grass that suffers. 

Our hope – In the end you are the hope of Africa, Southern Sudan. One of the popular refrains of the great Kwame Nkrumah in the run up to Ghana’s independence was that the black man was capable of governing his own affairs, but events in Africa following this statement have put this popular refrain in doubt. More than 50 years after Ghana the first black African country attained independence, Africans have demonstrated that they cannot manage their affairs.  Africa continues to be heavily dependent on foreign aid to the extent that we even need foreign aid to run elections. Africa leads in only the negative indicators of the world – HIV rate, poverty rate, bad governance, illiteracy etc. Our brothers and sisters in Southern Sudan, the clock has been reset for you. Please do not make the same mistakes that the rest of Africa have made in the last 50 or so years. 

To the ordinary people of Southern Sudan, ‘fight’ with every being in you to protect the freedom you have fought so hard to win. As Thomas Jefferson said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Be vigilant and protect your freedom from both internal and external detractors. Good luck

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An African View of Memorial Day

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States. Memorial Day is one of the few national holidays in the US and it is celebrated in remembrance of the brave men and women of the armed forces who have fought and continue to fight to promote American interest and protect the freedoms of the American way of life. It is a day that is marked with pomp and pageantry, in many ways very similar to the observance of Independence Day. Irrespective of political or social status, this is one holiday that is celebrated across the land.  It is a day that soldiers, past and present are honored by a grateful nation for their sacrifices in the interest of the nation.

The first Memorial Day that I witnessed was in May 2004 and I was quite surprised about how my American friends made a big deal out of this day. Coming from where I come from, I was surprised that anybody will want to make such a big deal about honoring soldiers. It was only when I began to fish around that I began to understand the importance of Memorial Day in American Society. In fact the general election of 2004 gave me a quick crash course on the importance of the military in American Society. Candidate after candidate, both at the local and national level proudly displayed their military credentials to the electorate. It was almost like the ‘real’ American must have served in the military or at least have family members that served or are serving in the military. 

I was taken aback, wow! My question was; why should any serious politician think that they can ride on their military record for political office. What? Once again coming from where I come from, the nexus between military and politics in America just did not make sense to me.  Where I come from, the last thing anybody wants is for a military man, whether past or present to aspire for political office. In my neck of the woods – Africa - these military type people are responsible for most of the problems that Africans face today. They are responsible for the numerous coups d’état which for a period in the 1990s was the leading way of changing governments in Africa.  They are the ones who have so brutalized and abused our people that they just bad news for most people in Africa. They are known to whisk people away from their homes in the middle of the night never to be seen again. In times of relative peace, military type people have been used as debt collectors. You are better off if mother earth swallows you than if your creditor called the soldiers to come and collect the money. They act with impunity in our societies. You dare not question a soldier, not even when you are a police officer on duty.  Just about a week ago police and soldiers clashed in the Nigeria town of Badagry resulting in many deaths. The confrontation was apparently sparked when a police officer allegedly shot a soldier in a 'traffic stop gone bad'. As the African adage goes, when two elephants fights it is the grass that suffers. The people who are supposed to be protecting us are fighting. Sigh! 

My American friends I hope you have forgiven my naivety of the significance of Memorial Day.  On this Memorial Day, I honor all military personnel and their families. I wish we in Africa can also celebrate our soldiers. However, we can only celebrate them when they realize the very important position they occupy in our society – they are supposed to be the protectors of the state, not the saboteurs, they are supposed to be our defense against oppression, not the oppressors, they are supposed to be our peace of mind and not our nightmares.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

United States Double Standards?

Defenseless civilians should never be target for political and military persecution in any jurisdiction. Thus, for militarily targeting civilians, Mr. Qaddafi should be condemned in no uncertain terms and most importantly he should be held legally responsible for any civilian casualties that may occur as a result his actions. 

My interest in the ongoing Libyan crisis is United State’s response to the kind/type of legal responsibility Mr. Qaddafi should face for alleged civilian causalities. Members of the U.S political establishment as well as the media have been busy within the last week advocating that Mr. Qaddafi should be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer to his alleged crimes. Under normal circumstances, such calls would have been uneventful because it is just for this reason that the World Community instituted the International Criminal Court through the Rome Statute of 1998. We as a World Community felt that it was about time we moved away from ad hoc tribunals to a permanent international criminal body to deal with alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and acts of genocide. 

These ideas were all in good faith because never again did we want to see the massacres of the Second World War, the butchery of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda. And it was felt among other things that a permanent ICC will serve as a deterrent to the many dictators around the world who too often resort to mass murder at the slightest challenge to their rule. However, right from 1998 when the Rome Statute, the ICC’s enabling treaty was adopted, the United States together with China, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Qatar have opposed major components of the International Criminal Court. In addition to other important international legal norms such as The Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the United States has refused to ratify the ICC treaty citing concerns such as the supremacy clause of the U.S Constitution, State/Federal Rights and U.S domestic political issues. They have also argued that the administrative structure of the ICC lack proper checks and balances to potentially subject U. S citizens to it jurisdiction.

Since the ICC came into force in 2002, the United States has vigorously pursued Article 98 agreements with numerous countries around the world that enjoins such countries from ever extraditing any U.S personnel to the ICC if they should be indicted by the ICC prosecutor.  

The million dollar question is, If the ICC is not worth support and ratification why is the U.S strongly advocating that Mr. Qaddafi should be brought before it? This position clearly smacks of double standards. With one breath the U.S is refusing to subject their citizens to the ICC, yet they think a citizen of another nation should be put before the ICC. I couldn’t help but think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Metamorphosis – The Eliot Spitzer Way

I just finished watching Eliot Spitzer’s CNN hit show ‘In the Arena’ on CNN. Since the show started, I have never ceased to admire the eloquence, oratorical skills and the debts of intellectual knowledge Mr. Spitzer displays on TV. Although the show is currently not the top rated cable TV news program, most people agree that it has broadened the quality of intellectual discussion on TV. For me, Mr. Spitzer’s performance on the show makes him a star that is bigger than any ratings the show has garnered so far. He has acquired a faithful audience for his show and his performance is no different if not better than most of the television anchors today.  Yet it surprises me to think that this was the man who was so ruled out by many of ever having a public career just recently. When his scandal hit the airwaves three years ago I was one of the many people who hastily concluded that Mr. Spitzer has dug himself a hole so deep and wide that not even the saving Grace of Christ can give him a second chance in the public domain. I am eating ‘humble pie’ right now because he has metamorphosized so drastically and endeared himself so much to the public that you cannot recognize the Eliot Spitzer who stood pitiful on national TV admitting to patronizing high end prostitution and the Eliot Spitzer who sits gracefully in the anchors chair on CNN brilliantly discussing and analyzing the many important issues of American politics. 

For those of you who know very little of Mr. Spitzer, here is a little background. Eliot Spitzer a product of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and also Harvard Law School. After a stint in private legal practice, Mr. Spitzer was elected the 63rd Attorney General of the State of New York. As the AG of the State of New York from 1999 to 2006, Eliot was so successful in pursuing white color crime and other civil wrongs that he was labeled the Sheriff of Wall Street. Although he made many enemies as he relentlessly pursued the fat cats on Wall Street, he endeared himself to the ordinary people of New York and the country. It came as no surprise when Mr. Spitzer was sworn in on January 2007 as the 54th Governor of the state of New York after a successful electioneering campaign. By December 2007, although his approval rating had taken a dive as a result of dealing with a number of divisive policies like gay marriage and immigration, he was still very popular in the Democratic circles. With a good educational background, a stellar public service record and a sharp intellect, many people mentioned him as a possible future Democratic nominee for president. In fact by February 2008 some pundits were already tipping Eliot Spitzer as one of the front runners for vice presidential candidate if Obama was lucky to clinch the Democratic nominee for President.   

All these came crushing down when the New York Times reported in March 2008 that Eliot Spitzer had previously paid up to $15,000 for high priced prostitution services. A couple of days after the initial report, like the proverbial dog with his tail between his legs, Eliot Spitzer, flanked by his visibly shaken wife were broadcasted live on cable TV to the entire world announcing his resignation. The fall was very devastating especially as the weeks and months that followed was filled with daily commentaries, innuendos and parody of the Spitzer scandal. Contrary to what many people thought, Eliot has managed to save his marriage and he has gradually worked his way back into the limelight. There are even rumors of a possible run for public service again.

Watching him on TV a couple of minutes ago, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the guy is a chameleon – maybe a good chameleon if there is anything like that. He has been able to adapt so well to his new life. One thing I have quickly learned in my rather young existence is that life and its circumstances are full of twists and turns – a lot of surprises. You fall when you least expect – and the fall can be very distressing and life threatening when you go down from such a great height like Mr. Spitzer. One thing that I have also realized is that the successful people are those who are able to get up from a fall, wipe their tears, straighten their dresses, deal with the embarrassment and then get right back on the road again. Although I pray that I never experience the humiliation and disgrace people like Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Clinton have experienced in their lives, I pray that I develop their kind of tenacity and hardwork which helped them to get back on the road of success after they has fallen so hard.