December 6th, 2013

I feel empty today with Nelson Mandela gone from us. All of us as human beings experience a time or actually several times when we know that a relative or friend is about to leave us but that when it actually happens, the pain is hard. I never knew Mandela personally but when this news came, it hit me hard. As a result of his death, I and many others have lost a political leader who will give us the personal comfort and pleasure of telling the world the hard truth about any of the issues facing the world, from health and social problems to politics. It was such a pleasure for me to watch Mandela look anybody in the eye (through the media of course) and tell it like it is. For more than 3 decades of his public life you could count on him being forthright even when it was painful for you to hear. You could also be comforted by the fact that what came from his mouth carried a universal moral force and truth, even if you were on the receiving end of his utterances.

As an African, two such examples come to mind. After being sworn in as President of South Africa he gave a speech (in Cairo, I think) in which he said we all need to face up to the fact that many parts of Africa have been misgoverned for years. Sitting in that audience were many of those African leaders who had misgoverned their own countries or inherited countries in political and economic shambles as a result of bad governance. He was bluntly telling them that he had learned from their mistakes and would by implication steer South Africa in a different direction. And while he tried to do so during his stewardship of South Africa’s affairs for five years, many of those attending that Cairo speech or hearing about it through the media seem to have missed the message. I can recount here several examples of such countries and you readers can too. From economic mismanagement, corruption, rigged elections and renegade judiciaries, the continent of Africa crawls in hunger, disease, lack of opportunity and political slavery, as a result. Civil war and conflict are taking its toll on ordinary people yearning to live freely and peacefully. Yet Mandela’s South Africa is such a contrast to all of this misery. Sure, South Africa’s economic and social problems are legion but through Mandela’s leadership and example that country is an island of political stability on that continent. They will find it easier to solve their problems under a free and democratic dispensation. For a country that lived under 300 years of raw racism and racial oppression, South Africans are a shining example of what human beings are capable of building from the ashes of their own past. Can other African countries learn this simple lesson?

To me, Mandela’s lasting legacy is his determined refusal to let anger and bitterness become the guiding principle on how a new South Africa would be established. There is no doubt that deep inside him was an angry and bitter man for what the apartheid regime had done. Who wouldn’t? But he was determined not to let his former tormentors say “we told you so” in order to excuse their evil deeds. Again what a contrast with some current African leaders. After 30, 40 or 50 years, you still hear some of these African leaders blaming the colonial powers for everything. You have heard such ridiculous statements as lack of efficient agriculture, industry or access to health being the fault of colonial legacies, even after at least a quarter century of so called independence. And you still hear justification of lack of democracy and political freedom on ‘foreign’ influences intent on ‘destabilizing’ society.  Mandela took responsibility for molding a new nation and he said he would do it the right way, including abandoning political power after one term in office because, as he implied, there were more important things about political stability for a society than one person staying in office despite his or her popularity. You can count on your first two fingers (Nyerere of Tanzania and Chissano of Mozambique) where an African leader has done this.

Since Mandela’s death was announced I have watched television commentaries from around the world,  all of them telling the story of a great, good and modest man who was revered all over the world. One commentator said that he may be a son of Africa but he belongs to the whole world because of who he was and the public and private examples he set in his life.  Yes, he belongs to the world and “for the ages” as President Obama said, but for Africans he is one of us. One of us was capable of being a good leader, plain and simple. To you the other African leaders what is your excuse for not following in his footsteps?

August 19th, 2013

So much for the talk of Africa headed in a democratic direction. We have just witnessed open theft of an election in Zimbabwe when it was clear from the beginning that President Robert Mugabe intended to rig the polls in his favor. Ever since he was forced into a coalition government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) he has been preparing his ruling ZANU-PF party and its functionaries to make sure that all state institutions would be used for rigging the election at the end of July, 2013. I have written in this blog before that Zimbabwe was not ready for free and fair elections because there were no credible institutions or mechanisms in place to ensure an outcome anywhere near what can be described as a free and fair election. I said then that Zimbabwe had recently adopted a new constitution but several laws, including free elections, free speech and association, broadcasting, to name a few, had yet to be amended or completely rewritten to reflect the new constitution. Even voter registration procedures needed to be revised in line with the new constitution. None of this had occurred when the elections were held, when in fact Mugabe held all the levers of power. Could there really have been a free and fair election when the fox was still guarding the chicken coop?

What is most disconcerting is the behavior of the African Union (AU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) who rushed to endorse the election results. They couldn’t possibly have believed that the election was credible. Or are they simply tired of having to deal with Mugabe and the crisis in Zimbabwe? Had they not reread their own rules for democratic elections in the region when they endorsed these farcical elections and went further by rewarding Mugabe with the rotating Chairmanship of their organization, for 2014? Having guaranteed the people of Zimbabwe that they would foster democratic rule in the country when they forced Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to form a unity government in 2008, they proceeded to abandon their own promise by violating their own rules.

It was obvious even three months ago that Zimbabwe would be where it is right now.  With the same incompetent and corrupt politicians who ran the country aground for 30 years. Except that this time they have had their legitimacy restored by an African community that seems to have been determined to run away from Zimbabwe’s problems, except of course for Botswana, whose government went against the tide and called for an audit of what actually went wrong in the Zimbabwean elections.

There is a lesson for the overwhelming majority of ordinary Zimbabweans who held high hopes for a change through these elections. There is always a tomorrow, and in politics it sometimes happens sooner than one expects. Your lesson is to hold your leaders and civil society to a higher standard than they exhibited in the last five years. Disunity and opportunism in the opposition ranks added to this disappointing result. I watched in horror and teary disappointment when opposition parties openly castigated each other and civic society groups openly and vehemently disagreed with the opposition party on strategies.  President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party must have been chortling when this was going on.

Those opposed to Mugabe and what he has done to the country for the last 30 years forgot one simple truth: you cannot topple a dictator, especially one as strategic as President Robert Mugabe by going it alone. As Professor George Ayitteh, a Ghanaian economist, academic, author and President of the Free Africa Foundation said in a discussion with an MDC activist and parliamentarian, it takes a coalition of forces to defeat a dictator. By failing to bring all opposition forces together, he asked the activist, “Were you sleeping?”

The number of individuals and/or institutions that were urging opposition forces in Zimbabwe to unite against Mugabe is too numerous to recount here. By not uniting, they lost to Mugabe through a strategic blunder. And in my opinion, by working with Mugabe in the last five years and playing by his rules which changed on a daily basis, they might as well have been taking a sleeping pill.

Nelson Mandela was in the news recently, again. He is out of hospital, again, and for the third time since last December, giving the international community a scare. At his age, we should all be concerned; we don’t want to be without this simply good and strong man, who ushered in freedom for a part of the world where everybody thought racism, bigotry and plain hate would go on forever and only be wiped out by torrents of human blood. Recently, his former lieutenants in the African National Congress (ANC) visited him at his recuperating home, took pictures with him and let the world know that they had done so. But there was an outcry from just about everywhere. Critics claimed that the ANC was using Mandela for their opportunistic goals and that Mandela was forced to be with them when he should have been resting. This last point about Mandela being forced to be with the ANC top brass just galls me. Of course the top brass was using Mandela, and they would be engaged in political malfeasance if they didn’t. Who doesn’t want his or her pictures taken with Mandela? Ask Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton. But Mandela being forced to do anything? Have some of you been asleep in the last two decades? Or were you away on Mars not know that Mandela is a man who will not be forced into doing anything he does not believe in, no matter by whom? He did not spend 27 years in prison for a principle only to be coerced into taking pictures that he does not want to take. He may be frail physically but from what I hear he is still as sharp as a tack upstairs. Find something for which to criticize the ANC, or better still, get a life.

And also recently, Zambia’s Vice President, Guy Scott, went on a verbal rampage against South Africa, according to an interview with a British newspaper. He was defending Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, of all people, against what he said were South African President Zuma’s “exaggerated sense of South Africa’s standing in the world.” Apparently, Zuma told his other southern African heads of state to ‘leave Zimbabwe to me” when it came to resolving that country’s political and economic crisis. Scott put a strong defense of Mugabe including justifying what he has done to his country on Zimbabwe’s past racism under white rule. He claims that Mugabe actually wants out of power, including losing an election. Scott, like the current President of Malawi, Joyce Banda who was also recently on a state visit to Zimbabwe, appears to be the last converts or shall I say victims of Mugabe’s charm. Many people (and I can name countless African, American, European and Asian leaders) have taken Mugabe at his word only to be outmaneuvered by that sly fox. Perhaps Zuma is on to something about the actual facts on the ground in Zimbabwe.  He, of all current heads of state in southern Africa, knows how racism and bigotry can warp a leader’s mind. He lived under apartheid and fought and won against it, and is working hard to establish a truly democratic South Africa from under that pile of rubbish that all South Africans inherited.  Perhaps when he tells the likes of Guy Scott about leaving Zimbabwe to him, he knows what it means to resist imitating the methods of your past abusers.

Scott also attacked South Africa in harsh language, calling it “very backward in terms of historical development” and South Africans thinking that “they’re the bees’ knees” when “actually they’ve been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world.” He also said that he suspects that South Africa’s blacks “model themselves on the whites now that they’re in power.” He did add though that he dislikes “South Africa for the same reason that Latin Americans dislike the United States, I think. It’s just too big and too unsubtle.” It is for this last statement that we must forgive Scott’s verbal diarrhea. There is an element of not just envy here on his part but frustration in having to deal with a big brother so close to you. I witnessed this when I lived in Toronto. Canadians I came into contact with talked about the US as a political and economic giant whose every move you must take note of, and this could be quite suffocating.

But, please Vice President Scott, watch what comes out of your mouth; you are one of the leaders of an African country that has chosen the democratic way forward.  In your heart of hearts you know that South Africa is a model for all of Africa. The rest of Africa has a lot to learn from how South Africans have done things, so far. It is possible to build strong and viable democratic institutions regardless of your past history. Despite the untold suffering of South Africans for the past 300 years, they have looked forward not backward. What’s Mugabe’s excuse, or for that matter all those other African leaders who cling to power endlessly?

April 12th, 2013

 

Zimbabweans recently voted to approve a new constitution for the country and it passed by a wide margin, 93% to be exact. And it was clear why Zimbabweans approved it in such overwhelming numbers. It is a vast improvement from the current constitution, once called a ‘forest of words’ by one of the politicians who was there when it was drafted at Lancaster House in London in late 1979. It has been amended at least 19 times by President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party so that they could stack the deck and perpetuate themselves in power, which they have done for 33 years. The new constitution guarantees a variety of rights for individuals, somewhat devolves power to local entities, and also clips the wings of the President, whose powers under the old document were completely dictatorial.

No wonder Zimbabweans endorsed the new document. I have talked to several Zimbabweans who say that while the constitution is not ideal it is a step in the right direction and as one member of parliament said to me, “It can always be improved upon with amendments over time.” The parliamentarian added, “Look at the number of amendments the American constitution has. We too can begin to work to create our own perfect society from now on.” Unsaid in this response from the member of parliament is the hope that Zimbabwe will now choose the kind of public servants that will promote free institutions and a free society, in stark contrast to what has been the norm in that country until now.

But even as the constitution has yet to be officially implemented, Zimbabwe is planning to hold elections not later than September, 2013. I suggest that these elections are not necessary. Zimbabwe can wait a little longer before they go to the polls.  Here is why. There are several laws, including free elections, free speech and association, broadcasting, to name a few, that have yet to be amended or completely rewritten to reflect the new constitution. Even voter registration procedures have to be revised in line with the new constitution. How can all of this and much more be accomplished in time for elections in September?

Acting with Impunity

The eagerness to have elections is on both sides of the isle in Zimbabwe. The Movement for Democratic parties wants elections because they are confident of winning them, even under current conditions. But will they or can they prevail in an election whose rules are still ones written under Mugabe. Already, election violence is on the increase with ZANU-PF thugs threatening voters in the rural areas where they do so with impunity. And the most vile exhibit of these activities was the recent arrest of human rights advocates like the lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa who spent several days in jail because she dared to defend clients of hers who were themselves being arrested for simply being MDC politicians. And all complaints and protestations from the MDCs and their leaders went unheeded.

Mugabe and ZANU-PF want elections as soon as possible because they hold pretty much all levers of power. Even under the so called unity government, the world knows that Mugabe and his lieutenants have had a free run, sometimes flagrantly violating agreements that they reached with their government colleagues from the MDC. The Minister of Justice has allegedly disinvited a United Nations observer team that was coming to work out details about how that organization will be involved in the upcoming elections. The Zimbabwe government had asked the UN to partly fund the elections. It does not take a clairvoyant to see what ZANU-PF has in mind about how these elections will be conducted. Who actually believes that there can be free elections in Zimbabwe when the fox is still guarding the chicken coup?

Lessons from Kenya

I have written before that Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from Kenya, where a credible election was held recently and the losers conceded after they had followed open and previously agreed upon procedures and rules of conduct. There is good reason for this. Kenyans lived under a new constitution for at least two years before holding general elections. They worked together to test the new document, revising their laws to match it. In the process, they developed trust and confidence in each other and in how to live under the new constitution. And they did all of this working under the guidance of a President who was himself term limited. When the elections came, established procedures guided their actions even when some of the politicians had misgivings about the results. The point is that Kenya is on its way to a stable democracy.  Yes, I know that Mugabe says he is not going anywhere. But it would be the right thing to do for all the parties to maintain this unity government despite its faults and spend at least two years jointly implementing the new constitution to ensure that its engines and wheels are well oiled. Perhaps at the end of two years, Mugabe might see the need to retire and let new faces take the helm. For his legacy, he needs to be above the fray and guide the country towards a free and democratic dispensation. If only he could free himself from his corrupt and greedy lieutenants. In this he can learn from Kenya as well. Daniel arap Moi retired from the Kenyan presidency 10 years ago and seems to be living blissfully, even when he was hated by Kenyans and the rest of the world when he left.  Mwai Kibaki has also just retired and to my knowledge he has gone away quietly and peacefully.

Zimbabwean politicians must trust each other before they can agree to work under rules and procedures commonly agreed upon. They simply do not at the moment. There is fear from the current ruling elite about what might happen to them should they lose power. And no amount of assurances from the MDC will mollify them except by working together with the MDC for a little while longer. In the scheme of things two years is a short time. A constitution survives only when the citizens of a country think it is good for them and they decide to keep it.

By Japhet M. Zwana and Handel Mlilo

People are always harping on the lack of democratic practices in Africa. But once in a while Africa surprises the world by doing a few good things. In Malawi, this past spring, a President with a penchant for dictatorship and eccentricity died and instead of maintaining what he left behind, Malawians, under their constitution chose to follow a different course. AVice President who had disagreed with her boss took office and all Malawian institutions fell into line in accordance with the constitution of the land.  The current President has since reversed many of the former President’s policies that had plunged one of Africa’s poorest countries into further misery. Malawi’s leaders simply decided that they would follow a different path that many African countries are now realizing is the best way: they followed their constitution, one that they themselves had written.

In Ghana, the same thing happened. A President died suddenly. A few hours later, the Vice president was sworn in, with all the country’s institutions bearing witness. All of this happened when Ghana is in the midst of an election where all kinds of machinations could have happened. Instead, the new President will govern the country until elections in December, 2012 are held, on schedule and in accordance with the country’s constitution.

Even in Mali, where a coup had interrupted one of the continent’s stable democracies, civilian leadership has been restored, with renegade soldiers in that country feeling the wrath of Africa’s institutions like the African Union and ECOWAS. Malians have no other recourse save to return to the democratic path that they had established for themselves for at least two decades.

More Needs To Be Done

All of this is good news for Africa. But what needs to be done to keep such examples going? Africa’s youth are its future. And this is where we need to concentrate on. President Obama said of Africa’s youth:  ‘It is hoped that bringing young leaders and activists together in this way will allow them to learn from one another and help them deal with challenges they and their countries face.’ He said this to about 115 young people from Africa who attended a White House conference on ways to improve their societies. Establishing democratic dispensations in their countries is the biggest challenge for without democracy in these African countries nothing else can be solved. Let’s be blunt here: you cannot feed people who are hungry, or heal them of pandemics, or establish educational institutions that serve their children well, or even maintain their traditions and culture if the people themselves are not front and center of what ‘must be done’ within their own way of life. In other words, to help themselves, they have to have a say on how this will be done and by whom. So, any group of ‘African young leaders and activists’ gathered for the purpose of finding pathways to improvement of their countries, should also be candidates for a heavy dose of instruction in democracy.

So, the next time the US State Department or any organization contemplates inviting future leaders of Africa they should zero in on those nations that sorely need strong drilling in democracy. Those that have gotten their houses in order should be complemented and encouraged to do better and can be used as mentors or examples at such conferences. But attention and effort should be exerted on the laggards. It is the business of young Africans who come from dictatorial regimes to learn about the true tenets of democracy wherever they find it since they do not stand a chance of doing so within their own borders. We all know the few countries that qualify as dictatorships and patently undemocratic and need to register. And the State department knows who they are. And the central tenet of what they should learn is summarized by this quote from the head of Cote d’Ivoire’s Independent Electoral Commission. In it, Youssouf Bakayoko articulates the quintessential truth about good governance and the quality of those who govern, particularly in the context of Africa. He states, ‘….the mission of politicians is to serve the interests of the people who elected them. Whatever the regime, the people are the sole trustees of their sovereignty and should be the sole beneficiaries; the princes who rule over us are only its humble and temporary representatives.’ (AFRICA POLITICS, 12/16/11)This concept has been hard to come by in many parts of Africa. It is slowly getting traction, but it must be reinforced.

Africans Are Fully Capable of Practicing Democracy

Democracy in Africa wears two faces. Accordingly, Peter Lewis, Director of African Studies at Johns Hopkins University: “Some countries have vibrant political scenes while others go through the routine of elections but governance does not seem to improve.” (African Studies Association Workshop, May, 2012) He made his observation as a researcher who co-directed the Afrobarometer Survey of public opinion on the Nigerian elections of 2007.  We argue that vibrant political scenes are a prerequisite for good governance. And vibrant political scenes are based on a foundation of democratic institutions.

Autocratic Africa needs an appreciable dose of civic education and it cannot be wasted on its erstwhile destroyers. They are water under the bridge. The international community must try to disabuse the future leadership of the distorted notion that the masses of the poor, the illiterate and unsophisticated are too dull to value political democracy. There should literally be a blitz of youth seminars and conferences everywhere, on the virtues of democracy not only as experienced in most of the West but also as practiced by countries like Ghana or South Africa. There is no incompatibility between African political, economic and social progress on the one hand and democracy on the other  as long as democracy is defined by these characteristics: separation of powers; representation; freedom of speech, press and assembly; free and fair elections; majority rule/minority rights; observation of the constitution,  universal suffrage and gender equality.

It is said that democracy is as American as apple pie. How about this one? Democracy is as African as wild life. Past and present dictators have given Africa a bad name rather unfairly. It is as though autocracy is exclusive to Africa. The notion of inherited and/or acquired incorrigibility of African dictatorship is implausible and a cruel excuse both by African and Western blame mongers.  T he principles of democracy and democratic values are neither novel nor alien but rather indigenous to the African continent, as Apollos o. Nwauwa said.  (Concepts of Democracy and Democratization in Africa Revisited’ Undated.) To which Basil Davidson adds, “Africa is not isolated from the global phenomenon. A more viable and sustainable solution to democratization in the continent lies in forging a new workable synthesis that derives firmly from the African past, yet accepts the challenges of present Africa.”

Yes, Africa also has, like other societies, democratic instincts. It’s Africa’s youth that can begin to learn how to practice it. But they are unlikely to learn about the virtues of democracy from their oppressive regimes. They should seek, instead, help and knowledge from those who have succeeded, on the continent of Africa itself and from outside. And it is not outside the bounds of international behavior to insist that African countries also hue to the democratic process. There is still time but it is not limitless.

By Dr. Japhet M. Zwana

The next elections in Zimbabwe (slated for 2013) will be held under a new constitution which, ideally, should usher in a new season of democratic governance. Supposedly, the new constitution will guarantee human, civil, political, and media rights, as well as strengthen Parliament and curtail Presidential power.

But the new constitution is only a first step. Honoring and preserving it is the hard part and the one that matters the most. So far, Zimbabwe’s political leaders, especially President Mugabe, have not shown that they can and will live up to expectations. You will recall that in 2008, Zimbabwe’s three political parties signed a Global Political Agreement (GPA) to jointly govern the country until a new constitution had been written and adopted. They went into this agreement because they just did not trust one another to mind the store properly without certain mechanisms in place.

Although it has been hard implementing the GPA in the last three years, (what with Mugabe reneging on many of its provisions with impunity), the world had something written down by which they could judge Zimbabwe’s political progress, and call its politicians on it when they tried to deviate. The South African government, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other international institutions has used this agreement to keep the Zimbabweans “in line’ in terms of implementing their agreed upon path to a more democratic dispensation for their troubled country.

It is fully incumbent upon the referees of Zimbabwe’s up coming national elections to require the candidates to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure that they will religiously follow a free, fair and peaceful election process and abide by the officially sanctioned results.

Why the Memorandum?

Zimbabwe has fallen so far to the bottom of the international totem poll that, once recovery has started, it cannot afford any measure of slippage. The sense of where things stand was echoed in a 2009 statement by the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation: “Over the past decades, Zimbabwe has become synonymous with autocracy, impunity and massive human rights violations. But, within Zimbabwe and in the Zimbabwe community abroad, preparations are under way for the time when the country is to be rebuilt.”

Normally, the citizens of Zimbabwe would like to trust their leadership to carry out their mandate as spelt out in the new constitution. However, once bitten, twice shy. The GPA has seen many more rough than smooth days on account of determination by one of the players to flout the rules for selfish reasons. Robert Mugabe’s ominous call recently has to be taken seriously. He said at a meeting of his ZANU-PF party, “Let’s conclude the new constitution, whether we agree or disagree. The dance we have had for the past four years is over. Let us have an election and end this animal called inclusive government.” These are words of someone with plenty mischief on his mind.

The people of Zimbabwe are fully aware that there are political entities that will be kicking and screaming against a new democratic dispensation. In the past, these entities have openly declared that elections won by a candidate other their own, (Mugabe) would not be accepted. The primary function of the MoU would be to forestall any such unacceptable behavior. The MoU (SADC and internationally sanctioned and recognized) would be a contract of necessity, one which SADC and the international community would use to bring Zimbabwe back into line.

In spite of the recent harsh social, political and economic developments in the country, Zimbabwe has a chance to find solace in the event of its liberation from Mugabe. More than thirty years of dictatorial rule is a learning curve that the citizens can use to chart a new course. To be sure, Zimbabwe is not lacking in promise. There is a strong emerging pro-democracy energy in the country. It needs to be harnessed and preserved, with SADC and the world closely watching.

The author of this article is Dr. Japhet M. Zwana, a retired professor and administrator at the State University of New York (SUNY) System. He is former Resident Director of Syracuse University’s Abroad Studies Program in Zimbabwe.

 

 

April 14th, 2012

We know what happens when the democratic path is forsaken for short term gains. In Senegal, a sitting President tried to renege on a constitution that he himself had written. When he was in the opposition, he saw the dangers of unlimited time in political office and decided that Presidential terms need to be capped. But once in power he decided to change that and give himself another term. Fortunately, the voters in Senegal decided on the second round of the election they would rid themselves of this potential threat to their democratic tradition. Senegal has had 50 years of peaceful, free and fair elections in which Presidents retired voluntarily or accepted defeat and handed power to those that the Senegalese had chosen. He was wise enough to recognize reality and conceded defeat.

In Mali, a 20 year history in which a unique form of democracy had embedded was destroyed by parts of the country’s military that were only looking for their own selfish ends and not those of their country. Two months before a general election in which Malians would have chosen new leaders, these soldiers decided they would dictate the course of Malian history without the consent of those they sought to govern. The result is now evident. They have had to go back on their stupid actions and pledge to restore Mali’s constitutional order. How this is going to be done is still a matter of discussion.

But the damage has been done. A democratic tradition that Malians were proud to have has been broken. The idea of Malians living by and obeying their own rules agreed to and adopted by them has been shattered. But look also at what has happened. Rebels in the north of the country, with alleged links to international terrorists and a previous association with the deposed Libyan Kaddafi have split the country in half and now a peaceful and democratic country is on the brink of a civil war, and we all know the consequences of African civil wars. Destitution, destruction, deprivation and death now await a people that honestly thought that they had found a peaceful way forward and had twenty years in which they thought they had laid a solid foundation.

There is a lesson here for all of Africans. Africans can follow the Senegalese tradition, and similar examples in other parts of the continent where democracy is honestly taking root or we can muddle on with the kinds of shenanigans as evidenced in Mali. Fortunately, the African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS have stood their ground on Mali, and thanks to the new Ivorian President who just went through a painful experience in his own country, they have made it plain to those idiot soldiers in Mali that the country must be restored to its democratic institutions “or else.”

Facing stiff opposition from everywhere in Africa, the Malian soldiers capitulated and restored the constitution. But a price is being paid. A civil war is now certain with rebels in the northern half of the country declaring their own separate state. The duly elected President was forced to give up his office for an interim regime until scheduled elections are held.

The lesson here is that Africans need to be the guardians of their own inexorable march to freedom and democracy.  Freedom and democracy mean only one thing: the right to have and make a choice.  Look at what Malian soldiers have tried to stop. There was a legitimate President elected under a free and fair democratic system. He was about to leave office after two terms in which he had been elected freely and fairly. This month, April, there would have been elections in which Malians would have chosen a new President and government, until a bunch of clowns intervened, for whatever reason. ECOWAS and the AU should have demanded the restoration of the duly elected President until the next elections when Malians would choose a new President. The bigger lesson here is that renegade soldiers or other infantile groups must never be allowed to alter constitutional orders at will. Pointing a gun at a Presidential palace in a country that has found its own peaceful, democratic forward must never be tolerated anywhere on that continent. And this is what ECOWAS and the AU should have stood their ground on. A duly elected president, and one committed to an orderly democratic process based on the will of an African people must never again be sacrificed the way the Malian president was.

And now because of the mess that these Malian soldiers have caused, a civil war is coming to an otherwise peaceful country, now split in half by rebels with international terrorist ties; with ties to an African dictator, Kaddafi, whose people removed him violently from office. Did innocent Mali honestly have to be visited by such a tragedy?  Can you imagine a Congo, Sudan, and yes, Rwanda, Liberia or Sierra Leone in a country that had said to itself: “We’ve found a way forward.” All I can say to the AU and ECOWAS is use this one as an example of “never again.” Restore Malian dignity and constitutional order in the way the Malians twenty years ago said they wanted it to be. Tell the world that as Africans you will settle for none other.

December 19th, 2011

On a recent visit to the African nation of Benin, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech which did not get the international attention that it deserved concerning the plight of Africa. His Holiness did not mince words. He denounced oppression and corruption in many African countries, warning that it would lead to violent upheaval. He called on African leaders not to rob their citizens of hope, not to “cut them off from their future by mutilating their present.” The Pope bluntly stated that Africans like all other peoples of the world “have manifested their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions.”  He used the example of the new state of South Sudan, a country born as a result of conflicts that “have originated in man’s blindness, in his will to power and in political and economic interests which mock the dignity of people and of nature.”

 Powerful words indeed and long overdue. The Pope’s speech, given in front of politicians, religious figures and diplomats was an appeal based on a simple premise that human beings aspire to liberty and that in the case of entirely too many African countries, injustice, corruption and greed, lies and violence have led to misery and death on that continent.

 Obviously, the Pope did not mean to imply that this was a problem of Africa alone. But the fact that he chose to make such a speech in Africa for African ears must be welcomed by us all. There has been a lot of progress lately in bringing democracy and human rights to many African countries but there are still stark realities of oppressive regimes continuing to drag their people down the path of deprivation, destitution, devastation and death. We need people of the stature of the Pope to continue to expose these regimes for what they are. When a Pope Benedict or an Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa speak out, the world pays attention, even more so than when powerful international politicians do.  And some of these oppressive regimes know that the word of these clergy has more impact with their own citizenry than that of politicians. Their citizenry actually feel empowered to resist when they hear that they have the sympathy of such religious leaders.

 Bluntly, there should be more Benedicts and Tutus speaking constantly and consistently about some of the rotten regimes that still exist in Africa. I would like modern day religious leaders to be as forceful in opposing black dictatorships in Africa as they were in fighting the apartheid, racist and/or colonial regimes of the past. In too many cases there have been excuses made for black African dictators and criticisms of their evil has been hesitant or muted. In many cases, the racist card has been used and when that has happened those who should speak out dive for cover.  But freedom, democracy and human rights in Africa need the loud and piercing voice of people like Benedict, Tutu and another cleric born in Uganda, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York in England, who is famous for taking on leaders all over the world and in any forum when he sees injustice being perpetrated.

 If the world truly endorses the human values of freedom, human rights and democracy for Africa as well, then speaking out forcefully and consistently is a moral imperative. There has been speculation lately about whether the Arab spring will shine on sub Saharan Africa as well. When it does, those in the street or square protesting will need the loud and public support of clergy of every religion. We know what some of these African dictators are capable of doing in order to maintain their power and privilege. Only men and women of the cloth looking over these dictators’ shoulders at all times can put some restraints on them.

November 16th, 2011

Quietly but firmly, Zambia is emerging as a mature country, leading by example not only in southern Africa but throughout the entire continent. Here is why. Recently, Zambia had an election for President and parliament. The incumbent, Rupiah Banda was defeated by the new President, Michael Sata, in what was described as a free, transparent and peaceful election. The incumbent conceded defeat, praised Zambians for conducting themselves maturely, handed the keys to the new person and went back to his farm. Rumor has it that the loser was tempted to contest the results, even declare himself reelected but was persuaded that the decision to award Mr. Sata the presidency was final.   The commission supervising the elections performed credibly and the will of the Zambian people was carried out.

Here is what is important about what just recently took place in Zambia. This election was one of a string of successful and credible elections since the mid 1990s when the one party state was abolished and a new multi party democracy established. The good news in all this is that Zambians have been scrupulous in adhering to their constitution and the rule of law. Many Zambians in the establishment, we are told, did not want Michael Sata to be President of the country. Actually the first President of Zambia, the venerable Kenneth Kaunda is said to have described Mr. Sata as “not presidential material at all.” But we are also told that it was Kaunda himself who advised the defeated president that he had no choice but to accept the results because the people of Zambia had spoken, and done so decisively.  Also, all institutions in the country quickly fell into line when the election commission announced the results, further solidifying the concept of continuity. In addition, the Zambian electorate did not award the new President an absolute majority in parliament. He is having to govern with the assistance of opposition parties. And another unheralded result from this latest election is that Zambia has a white Vice President, elected as part of Mr. Sata’s team. As a southern African country where a majority of people of European origin live on the continent of Africa, Zambians are comfortable with putting a man of his background a heartbeat away from their Presidency. This is saying something.

“Keeping” Democracy

So why is this important? First, Zambia is demonstrating to the rest of Africa and the world that it is maturing as a country. Zambia’s leaders have since the 1990s demonstrated that they are capable of establishing and then maintaining democratic institutions. They have no problems with trusting the Zambian people to choose their rulers. And each election seems to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions. Many African leaders can learn a very good lesson from this, especially neighboring Zimbabwe. There is nothing wrong and there is everything good and positive about conducting free, fair and peaceful elections. When a people have made their decision, you can retire to your farm or comfortable suburban home and live happily ever after! Zambia has two former Presidents who were thrown out of office and are safe and comfortable in their retirement. In fact, former President Kaunda is now a very busy man, again. The new President is dispatching him to various foreign capitals on diplomatic missions.

The news from and about Zambia is very pleasing. From a political angle, this is another success story for Africa. This is a country that has risen from the depths of despair. Until the 1990s Zambia was a political and economic basket case. Partly as a result of bad political and economic planning, but also because of being on the front line of the liberation struggles in the rest of southern Africa, Zambians experienced untold suffering for at least three decades. But they have persevered and remained true to their own democratic principles. Now things are looking up.

Those of us who are Zimbabwean can only admire what Zambians have done for themselves. During Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle Zambia bore the brunt of the ferocious military power of the white Rhodesian regime. They never complained but actually increased their support for Zimbabwe’s freedom fighters. And at every international forum they carried the banner for Zimbabwe’s freedom. They are now carrying the democratic banner for Africa. We would do well to help them keep it hoisted.

A young South Sudanese woman said shortly after the country’s new flag was raised on July 9, 2011, that she was aware of the problems that the country was facing but that for that day, she would savor the moment and celebrate her new status. Indeed the world should allow her this precious moment and rise with joy for her and her fellow South Sudanese. I have worked with  many South Sudanese in the Washington, DC area and have heard harrowing stories of what has taken place in that unfortunate part of Africa in the past 50 years. Specifically, I have met a few of the Lost Boys of Sudan and I am moved to tears each time a story is told or repeated about the suffering that they went through. But I have also been impressed by the resilience of the South Sudanese young men and women and what they have achieved for themselves as individuals once they came to the United States and what many have told me they would like to do for their new country when they get an opportunity.

Recently, I had a chat with two such men and my thoughts to them are worth repeating here. South Sudan has 57 years of contemporary African history to learn from and I hope that they and their new government take the correct lessons from it. I told them that there are no short cuts worth pursuing when it comes to governing a country. Only those countries that take the long view to development succeed. I gave them the example of Botswana, like theirs a country that was very poor at independence (with only 8 miles of paved road and a capital city situated in apartheid South Africa) but now considered one of the most successful on the continent. I stressed to them that countries like Botswana had the vision to know that there are no alternatives to good governance except through democratic means, including the rule of law and the maintenance and protection of free institutions, and, above all, governing according to the will of those who are being governed. I told them that the pursuit of false “isms” as a way of maintaining dictatorships has been the curse of the continent and the reason why Africans come almost always dead last in all kinds of international statistical indicators, in the economy, health, education, and development in general. African countries that have realized this and changed their ways, like Ghana, are now on the road to prosperity and permanent stability.

I also told my South Sudanese friends that democracy is something that can be learned, and Africans, like any other societies on the planet, are very capable of internalizing it and practicing it within the context of their own special local situations. There are remarkable stories on how some African countries, like Mali and Botswana, have gradually established themselves as genuine democracies.  Mali no longer makes the news because elections there are quite routine. This unlikely democracy has been successful because its democracy is rooted in the seeds of that country’s tradition. Mali has a decentralized administration that gives real authority to previously voiceless local governments. “The term for it in Bambara, the principal local language, is mara segi so, which means “bringing power home.” Botswana combines its democratic process with a traditional Kogla system of open debate and consensus and that political system has had a 50 year foundation of total success. “Because of this tradition, Botswana claims to be one of the world’s oldest democracies.” In both countries, elections are free and fair, held on schedule and results ratified and accepted. The people there can genuinely say that they are free to pursue productive lives because they live in free and stable societies. I told the South Sudanese that this was indeed a no brainer for their new country, if only they would take a deep breadth and look at the ugly alternatives that have been the norm in many African countries

I ended by warning my South Sudanese brothers about the twin evils of ethnic divisions and corruption. I only needed to mention Rwanda, the Congo, Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone for them to know what I meant exactly. And I also mentioned the oil or mineral revenues of Nigeria and Angola going to Swiss bank accounts while children starved and hospitals full of AIDS patients had no medicine. International news outfits like Al Jazeera are now reporting complaints about some South Sudanese leaders only lining their own pockets and filling their individual stomachs even as the country is yet to stand on its own feet. I urged them to work hard to prevent this from becoming a major pandemic in their new country. These twin evils have ruined once promising African countries and they are the sole reason why democracy and stability fail to take hold in Africa. Real authority and power at the local level goes a long way in preventing incompetence, tribalism and corruption at the national level.

Finally, I personally feel conflicted about the break up of an African country, like what has happened with the Sudan. I have always believed in African unity and hoped that the continent could thrive and prosper and avoid all these interminable conflicts if it developed common political, social and economic institutions. I fully understand why some of these countries choose to break up. Why would you want to promote a bigger African institution with a capital city further away when the capital city you have now and is nearer is unresponsive to any of your needs and demands; when your history and experience with your current rulers is one of incompetence, degradation, poverty, disease, war and certain death. But I have faith that democracy is actually taking hold on the continent for many countries. There truly has been an African spring in the last few years even though there are still many countries holding on to old oppressive ways and some drifting further away from free institutions. Perhaps when most of these countries become truly democratic, then a more perfect African unity can be pursued.