I have often thought about going back to Nigeria to join politicians, with the express intent to turn the whole system upside down. The only thing that stops me is the possibility of being killed.
For an outsider, someone raised in a foreign country, the likelihood of death is greater because natives don’t think you are there to support them. So, if you were attacked, or kidnapped, it’s not certain that anyone would lift a finger of concern. The belief is that you, like the other politicians are there to get rich quick.
If I were to go back, somehow survive the election and become President of Nigeria, what are some things I would do?
First I would fire all politicians who have been corrupt, and extradite them to the UK for prosecution.
Then I would hire a new crop of government officials. The selection process would require an extensive, unappealing vetting system that would leave only the most scrupulous of public servants.
After that, representatives would be dispatched to each state, taking stock of the infrastructure, the education and healthcare systems and report back with local needs in order of priority and demand.
In the meantime, the House of Representatives would be busy at a new legislation tightening the requirements on corruption heavy industries beginning with oil. Legislation would require greater supervision, by random accounting reviews by rotating personnel to reduce the effectiveness of bribery.
From the local reports, the Treasury would make disaster awards to desperate locals to begin reinforcing infrastructure. An award would be announced for innovate business plans to increase employment.
A plan for growth would focus on developing human capital, educating the people to do for themselves, and creating sustainable industries for a Nigerian and ultimately an African market.
Overtime, the nation would grow, and through the efforts of ordinary Nigerians, the giant of Africa would emerge.
As fanciful and inspiring as this might be, there is no guarantee I would survive two weeks campaigning before my life is threatened, especially, if the plan above is my campaign platform. The sad thing is, there is no other way for African nations to grow if corruption is not aggressively weeded out, and human capital is cultivated. Any other ideas are short-term solutions to a systematic deeply rooted problem.
So, if that is the case
What can we do?
Would you vie for a political position in your home country?
What specific programs would work for your country to bring about change?
Can change come within the system we have now?
If you wouldn’t run for office, what is stopping you?
Is that what is stopping other potential leaders?
When and how will that fear be conquered?
Should we just resign ourselves to never reaching our potential as nations?
When people talk about failed African states, poverty, and corruption, it seems like the only solution to the problem is to fire all current politicians and elect better people with integrity. But what if that isn’t the problem? Many people talk about the political systems that not only support corruption but reward it. It seems like people who don’t take bribes or embezzle money are stupid.
Maybe they are. If the system is organized to cater to hoarding power and becoming wealthy, there is no incentive to do the public service. A majority of our government officials either stole or bought their seats, how do we expect that kind of action to act as a solid foundation? To add pressure to the equation, when elections are won fairly, the losing party feels threatened and resorts to violence. With a system like that, how can a democratic system hope to work?
Perhaps, its not meant to work. Our western cousins brought democracy, in its modern representative form, to the African continent as an alternative to our forms of governance. At the time, our tribal system may not have made sense to the colonial people, but it made sense to us. Before colonialism, government was like faith, it stemmed from who we were, our knowledge of the past, our awareness of the present and the possibilities of the future. We were able to govern ourselves because we knew who we are.
Democracy does not know the African people; it is new and untried. It was introduced when other systems like capitalism, patriarchy, sexism, were confusing mixing in and out of our cultures. In the time it has been with us, it has not settled properly amongst us. Perhaps, for Democracy to work in our nations it must take on a new formulation. Perhaps it needs to look and feel more like us, but we must invest the time and figure out what that formulation looks like. If we don’t give it the attention it deserves, it won’t treat us well.
In the end democracy will continue to support greed, and violence. Democracy will keep the rich, rich, and the poor, poor. Our healthcare will remain sub-par and our education will continue to plummet. If we do not work with Democracy so that she shares her power with all people, big and small, she will take our potential and sell it to the highest bidder.
How do we fix the system?
Is there a way that Democracy can work for African nations?
Is there an alternative to what we have now?
What would it be?
How would nations transition?
How would we deal with opposition that is bound to follow?
Earlier this year, Sengal experienced a peaceful transition of power while Mali’s tradition of democracy ended in a coup. The image above captures the spirit of successful democracy, however…
Who celebrates democracy?
What would governance be in the absence of colonialism?
Could African nations emerge and compete in a global economy without it?
If so how?
What other forms of representative government might work in African nations?
Why does it seem that competition and national success go hand in hand with democratic rule?
What role must we as emerging leaders play in our governments?
What must we demand, regardless of governing ideologies?
Image Credit: http://www.nytimes.com
Location Dakar, Senegal.
Skin bleaching is reaching a terrifying popularity within the African continent. As nations look to build their economies based on a capitalistic model, it seems the people are chasing beauty based on a European model and the only solution is from a bottle. Young women have begun to use skin bleaching to achieve the fair skin of our western cousins instead of the rich tones of our ancestors.
At the core of this practice is a narrative on the meaning of beauty, worth, and identity. When a woman buys a potion hoping to change her skin tone because she equates fair skin to beauty, it also means that she believes dark skin is less beautiful or cannot be beautiful at all. If she believed otherwise, there would no reason to alter her appearance. It also tells us that having fairer skin is a more beautiful feature, that thought alone elevates an individual with dark skin from invisible to visible after bleaching. In that one act she communicates to others that she does not think she is beautiful, but she also says that her mother is not beautiful, her sister is not beautiful, and all other women of dark complexion are not beautiful by this standard she has accepted. By extension her ancestry cannot be beautiful unless they somehow also have this desired, fair skin.
This dangerous narrative that ties beauty to skin tone would not have as much power if we were not immersed in a society that assumed, prima facie, at first glance that what is beautiful is good or worthy. There are studies that demonstrate that beautiful people get further in life, commercials that try to sell us beer based on the beauty of a thin, blonde, fair model. While those things do not logically go together, ie: you will not meet a thin blonde model if you drink that beer, and you will not become the thin blonde fair model if you drink the beer, the commercial is still effective in selling us the product as well as that belief. This invidious prolific use of beauty to demonstrate worth, and goodness creates logic for an illogical action.
In a society that elevates the sexy, the beautiful, the gorgeous and defines these arguably indefinable, uniquely, individually determined adjectives by selling us a homogenous image of fair, thin, and European, a dark skinned African woman’s desperation to change her skin tone becomes rational. Her act becomes an attempt to remain relevant, to be seen, and ultimately driven by a desire to be loved. In her rush to find a place of acceptance in a framework that is built to exclude solely to maintain consumerism, she denies herself, her family, her culture, and her people.
Skin bleaching is not simply an epidemic rooted in vanity, it is a three dimensional artifact of our society. It is a physical commentary on what we value, of what is right, what is good, what is worthy, and maybe what is progressive. So, if we wish to combat the narrative of skin bleaching and its ability to erase not only our tone, but our very African identity, then we must reclaim ourselves. We must believe that who we are is important, what we contribute to the world is invaluable, and we must believe that our people are beautiful. We must proclaim these truths and believe them because skin bleaching proves what happens when empty words fall upon desperate hearts.
So, in the wake of a new African Identity crisis:
Have you every used skin bleaching products? Why?
Is there a good reason to use them?
Is their use indefensible?
What identity will be left if we don’t do anything about skin bleaching?
What steps can we take as individuals to stop the identity crisis?
How do we confront loved ones about skin bleaching?
Is it our place to do so?
Africa is well known for its sad, tragic, and unfortunate news. What we don’t often see, or hear about is the kind of unified religious front on display in Nairobi where elephants and rhinos are being poached at alarming rates.
With the increased demand for ivory in the East, 2011 brought one of the most deadly poaching seasons for elephants and rhinos. 448 rhinos were poached last year compared to the 13 in 2007. As an illicit industry, poaching is third following drug, and human trafficking. As a result, poachers have established a $10 billion industry.
In Nairobi National safari park, 50 religious leaders stood in a circle around a pit filled with the charred remains of 13 tons of elephant ivory burned to keep it from poachers. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu spiritual leaders offered prayers of forgiveness for the harm we humans are doing to the wildlife and environment.
Why this is particularly moving, is that there are no children being killed, no extremists religious leader, nor are there any allegations of corruption. What we have is a destruction of nature, the animals with whom we share this complex Earth with are under attack and these religious leaders felt that something needed to be done. So, they got together and prayed.
Now we see a conservationist issue shift from a political issue and become a moral one. If we, as members of various congregations, see that it is our job to be, not only our brother’s and sister’s keeper, but our Earth’s keeper, many more people might be moved to do something. Maybe our small efforts to make an impact, will turn into a larger effort to preserve our Earth.
As our leaders pray, how can we act?
Is it our job to protect our environment?
How is this an especially relevant call to African nations?
What can African nations do to safeguard their environment?
Are there things African nations are doing already that are making a positive impact on the environment?
Are our ties with outside nations like China, potential obstacles to a healthy and sustainable environment?
Since Apartheid, South Africa has been making steady strides. Outside of the continent, many know it as the only post-development nation, a tourist destination spot with a stable government, and low rates of violence. A civilized veneer has swept over the nation and people just didn’t expect the massacre at Marikana where 34 miners were killed during a miners workers wage protest.
Many believed that once a nation strips itself of racist laws and moves forward towards a more just government, that the turmoil that accompanies a broken nation simply goes away. Instead what we see with South Africa is much like what we saw in Anaheim California, or St. Paul, or Israel. We are witnessing a global shift and tension between institutional powers behind corporations, and the working class and the poor. South Africa demonstrates where we could go if we don’t start to address the brutalities of living in a world that only cares about the bottom line.
The bloodbath began because a group of miners were tired of working for the equivalent of $500 a month. That is how much their lives are worth to Lonmin and this is why things became desperate. I was not there, I did not talk to these miners, I don’t live their lives, but I can appreciate the feeling of being economically starved, working a job that could kill you but making next to nothing because your job is replaceable, not high-skilled and undervalued within the capitalist model. No one cares how many children you have, or that you want them to be fed, let alone educated. There is no consideration what kind of life you want for the people who depend on you, so you strike hoping you can change that. The sad reality for the miners is that if some miners chose to work, Lonmin could simply fire strikers and replace them with other South Africans too poor to worry about better conditions, reasonable pay, or justice. Without solidarity, there is no power.
Unfortunately, the democracy established in South Africa doesn’t automatically cure the ills of discrimination, it doesn’t ensure that the poor are heard or safe. Instead, democracy can be the very vehicle that ushers in tense situations like the one in Marikana. In a capitalistic society, people are seen less and less as people and more as cogs in a wheel of profit. This simple fact makes it easy for a London based company to fire striking miners instead of consider their demand of roughly $1,500 a month. It becomes easy to allow miners to live in squalid iron shacks. It becomes easy to ignore the powerlessness of the men in the mine and how that led to the protest, the demands, and the violence. When I look at what happened in South Africa, yes I see the residuals of apartheid but those residuals have turned deadly in the wake of an economic system that beats the powerless into submission in exchange for a profit; this should be a serious concern for African nations, yes, but also for the world.
To read a few different perspectives on the deaths in South Africa check these out:
As we move forward:
How can African nations work to truly empower their citizens?
What role does Lonmin really play here?
Can we begrudge them their bottom line?
Does it matter who is right in this situation?
What else has this massacre taught us?
What is the value of the laborer in modern economies?
Is it appropriate that the miners have been portrayed in main media as violent and somewhat responsible for the violence?
The Gate Keeper:
Kagame, the RPF, and the M23, what do they all have in common?
President Paul Kagame, is a man of infamous history. He was part of the military party that captured Kigali in July of 1994 to end what is known widely as the Rwandan genocide. However, the same Rwandan President was accused of ordering the surface-to-air-missile that murdered the then acting Rwandan President, Juvénal Habyarimana, and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, which effectively began the genocide.
If the allegations are true, Kagame orchestrated a bloody governmental coupe that left him on top literally in place to become president of Rwanda. While he has since gained the respect of the international community for the success Rwanda has become since the genocide, there are still those who suspect his motives.
A Spanish indictment alleges that the RPF military, the military power that reports to Kagame, were in violation of several counts of genocide and human rights violations in Rwanda, but also in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1990-2000. Why?
A UN report on the Illegal Exploitation of Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC sites three reasons: a number of Rwandan companies that have ties to DRC resources seem to be controlled by the RPF, Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame’s political party. Secondly, Kagame’s personal position in the State has evolved making him an important player in the control of Congolese resources because of his control over the military; his relationship with Rwandan businesses operating over the border in Congo and various structures that support illegal activities has strengthened. Lastly, Kagame and his administration have indirectly established climate conducive to illegal exploitation of natural resources.
Now that the DRC is in turmoil with the rebel M23 rebel forces holding the northern DRC region against government forces, Kagame’s name and administration is under suspicion again. This time, Kagame’s administration may have organized, recruited, and armed the rebel M23 forces.
Of course Kagame has vehemently denied any involvement in the chaos in DR Congo and has said Rwanda has nothing to gain from such madness. The question, however, is whether that is true.
While Rwanda may not have anything to gain, Kagame and his associates, if the UN report are to be believed, may. Governmental upheaval creates a perfect setting for continued exploitation of a nation rich in natural resources like DRC. If that is the case, the aggressive actions of the UN might make sense.
Currently, UN forces seem to be doing more than simply protecting civilians by returning rebel fire in civilian zones. Preemptive strikes have been taken against rebel forces, the same rebels allegedly tied to Kagame. Without these strikes and strategic movements by the UN forces, the Congolese government would not be able to fight back as effectively as they have.
It would seem that the UN has taken a side in this fight, but the question is whether this is simply a result of a broadly read mandate that allows UN forces to protect innocent civilians, or whether this is actually an opportunity for a collective push back against further exploitations by a questionable Rwandan regime lead by a questionable Kagame. As with politics we don’t have most of the answers but it is still worth asking some questions.
We know history is written by those with the most influence, power, and money. Whose version of history should we believe right now Kagame, the UN, Congo?
Who are we not hearing from in this political conflict and is the absence of that voice intentional or incidental, and does it matter?
What does the struggle for power in DR of Congo tell us about how African nations work for or against one another?
If the allegations against Kagame are to be believed, what should be done, by whom and how?
Even if Kagame is in fact using his influence to arm and spur on M23 in DR of Congo, should the UN take such a broad reading of their mandate to protect civilians as a way to fight against M23?
We know that other nations routinely take advantage of the African continent’s resources, who would you prefer take advantage; your neighboring African nation, or an outsider like the UK, US, or China?
For further exploration into the conflict in Congo check out the videos and pieces here:http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2012/08/20128825149263825.html