Monday, July 28, 2008

govts of national unity are bad for democracy

It is now clear that the warring political factions in Zimbabwe will in the coming weeks form a government of national unity, comprising members of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU/PF party and the opposition Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party.
To common Zimbabweans, whom peace and order had become elusive in the past months, this should come as a relief. They expect the country to become stable and probably the inclusion of the West’s blue-eyed boy Tsvangirai into the government will help resuscitate their ailing economy.
On the surface, this looks a juicy deal; but deep down it is a total travesty to justice and democracy. The purpose of holding elections is to enable voters pick a candidate they consider favourite. The criteria of choice may differ from aspects like tribalism, ability to solve economic problems or even physical appearance; but the rationale is that the most popular candidate at the end of the day should be declared victor.
But looking at this new fashion of coalition governments, it is obvious that Africa is slowly murdering the purpose of elections.
In Kenya, which also has a government of national unity, it was common knowledge that President Kibaki had been given a bloody nose by Raila Odinga’s ODM. Unwilling to hand over total power and with blood being shed, Kibaki agreed to ‘share’ power. Of course the biggest beneficiary here was the loser in the elections.
The same scenario replays in Zimbabwe. Defeated on March 29, Mugabe made it very difficult for his opponent to freely campaign in the run-off. With his thugs, he terrorized opposition supporters until Tsvangirai threw in the towel.
Knowing how illegitimate his government is, Mugabe is now willing to ‘share’ power. Probably cede some cabinet posts to the opposition and create a semblance of normalcy.
The truth is that the biggest loser in these arrangements is democracy. We should not conduct elections where people are sure they will rig blatantly and thereafter give a few concessions to their opponents and all seems well.
Of course the opposition can be blamed over this. One wonders why they would choose to share power with people they have defeated in elections, but probably their decision is understandable.
They are like the genuine mother of the baby in the Biblical story of King Solomon, who unwilling to see her baby chopped to be shared with another woman, offers to give up on her claim, just to make sure that the toddler lives.
But the bottom line is that many leaders, unwilling to leave power, are going to use this new phenomenon as a soft landing. They will rig opponents out of victory and offer the olive branch to in form of a government of national unity.
Curiously, it is the West fronting this mode of election dispute resolution in Africa. It should be rejected totally. We either have elections where the winner is declared fairly or we just forget about polls. There should be no middle line between democracy and totalitarianism.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

For You Mummy; Eternally indebted to u

At times I wonder how I emerged top of my poetry class at university. True, I was able to cram facts on the classical poets, mastered the epic of Beowulf, memorized the tales of Canterbury and off the fingers reeled facts on the Romantic poets---but surely, how could I, who even never wrote a single personal poem, emerge top of that class?
My conscience feeling betrayed, I today have decided to write a poem here (and you guessed right), it is dedicated to my mother, Felly. She turns 60 this December 12th and friends—guide me, what can I do to celebrate the life of such an inspirational woman?

Mummy; eternal grateful I am
Like the cow that watches over the newly-born calf
You guarded me jealously at birth,
Like the kangaroo that carries its young in a bag
You made sure I was tended to in childhood
Mummy—you went naked to see me clothed
On a hungry stomach you stood, so that I could feed
At five, you dragged me to watch my first stage play
I followed not, but you insisted I pay attention,
How I quacked when the boy passed near me, heading to the slaughter
Little did I know that he was the Ikemefuna I would later fall in love with,
Little did I know that I would grow to worship Achebe.

Mummy—you shaped my literary skills
Gave me abridged versions of Tom Sawyer
Warned me against taking on Huckleberry Finn’s manners
Told me to shun Okonkwo’s and Othello’s temper
And close to my mum I should be like Paul Morel.

Mummy—you have watched me grow
Like the tendril in the rainy season
From the mucus-dripping toddler
To the ranting blogger

I stood by and watched you teach
Little did I know that the quest would drive me
In front of hungry souls
And explain Jane Eyre to them
Like you mummy, I became a teacher.

No amount of praise here
Equals the sacrifice made

But rest assured—you are dearest to me mummy!
Happy 60th birthday mummy!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

for Mugabe's praise singers

To understand this piece in entirety, one must have read another blog It is a blog i contribute to with a couple of other Africans across the continent. Two bloggers there (Kay, a South African and Paul, a Kenyan), think Mugabe is a victim of witch hunt by the western media--. I choose to respond to them thus:

I have read your pieces Paul and Kay on how you believe Mugabe is a victim of harsh western press and unnecessary meddling of affairs by western powers. I have seen the passion with which you have come in defence of this despot. But again rules of common sense dictate that everyone should have a say; however thwarted that view may be.
So, do you in all wisdom believe that about a third of Zimbabweans have fled their country because the western press paints Mugabe as a villain?
Do you imagine that the pictures of people whipped and wounded in Harare and other suburbs are just a creative work of videographers and western photo journalists (who interestingly are banned from Zim)?
Do, you, Paul and Kay think that over 150,000% inflation is a mere joke perpetrated by some Ivy League economist at the World Bank headquarters and therefore not true of what is happening in Zimbabwe?
Are you, trumpeters of Mugabe, convinced that the bread queues and endless fuel lines we see relayed from Zimbabwe are fictitious?
Tell me, you who sing Mugabe’s praises--- was it fair to conduct an election where your major opponent at any slight occasion was detained by the Police and never allowed to address rallies. Have you ever fought a chained opponent? How difficult was that victory?
But again, I blame you not. Many of us are still caught in the wave of defending Africa, however grim things are. That is the only way we can prove our ‘patriotism’.
Call me unpatriotic but I will not back a leader who borders on dementia. Call me a traitor but I will not sing praises for a man, who led a country to prosperity only to hasten its downfall.
Label me a bootlicker of the west—but if they are the masters we have to worship in order to have stable economies, fuel and bread in proper supply, then so be it.
Guys, lets face up the reality. Mugabe is a mess. He can cling to all straws, point fingers elsewhere, but truth be told, he bungled in his economic policies. He screwed up. The people rejected him but the military keeps him around.
The west can be blamed for exaggerating, but reality is Zimbabwe ha gone to the dogs.
My only regret is why the ICC did not issue those indictments for him, although Bashir does deserve them too—just like many other African leaders.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Religion, rebellion, dog fate of the banished

APIRE, a failed student-turned-rebel, returns from his bush exploits to find his wife in the bed of a parish priest, the Rev. Fr. Dila. He executes both of them and hands himself over to the Police.
This is the thematic gist of Fate of the Banished - rebellion, religion and despair. Apire, his wife and Fr. Dila are the central characters upon whom this story, told in pure African English, rotates. Like in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, you cannot fail to distinguish the African overtones, even if the story is told in English.
Although Ocwinyo says at the beginning of the book that events in the story have no connection with true historical occurrences, through deduction and nomenclature, we can authoritatively state that the book is set in Teso.
The reference to cattle raids and a rebellion, which Teso once experienced, all back up this assertion. The author critically analyses the question of religion, especially the tenets of the Catholic Church like celibacy, wondering whether they are still relevant.
Through a lengthy critique (ironically authored by Fr. Dila), questions are raised about modes of worship, the nature of sermons and their relevance in the African context. The book may not be as damning on the Catholic Church as Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but it also raises critical questions that the Church may need to think about. The novel’s plot is uniquely backward-looking. It opens with the scene of the murder of the priest and the adulterous wife, but only at the end of the book, are we able to know why this gruesome act has happened. Ocwinyo does this with great narrative skill and suspense that you cannot help but keep turning the pages.
Other notable narrative skills include episodic incidents, dialogue, situational and dramatic irony, characterisation and allusions, especially biblical.
Through Apire, Ocwinyo tackles the plight of many people who, because of fate, end up where they should not. His father is murdered as the family watches. His mother becomes a celebrated drunkard. Apire drops out of school after picking a fight with a teacher and when he gets a job as a driver, he cannot keep it because the boss’ wife, like was the case with the Biblical Joseph, wants to have sex with him.
The way events turn out, it looks like Apire was banished from the word go. That explains the relevance and pregnancy of the title.
The story Ocwinyo tells is not entirely new, but we must credit him for how he tells it. And that could explain why our National Curriculum Development Centre, which is known to resent local authors, could have relented and put the book on the A’ Level syllabus. It is crucial that schools opt for it. If not for the closer-to-home nature of the story, then at least to support one of our own.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Africa needs more Mwanawasas

Ok, look, the news just trickled in that Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa had died in a Paris hospital. And as I was punching away this eulogy, more news trickled in that actually, he was not dead but “steadily” recovering after being treated for hypertension.
So, I am at a loss, but either way, I have chosen to proceed with this piece. A prosaic ode to a man I think this continent should not afford to lose now---not with the crisis that is Zimbabwe eating away at the southern end of this continent.
And it is with justifiable reason that I demand the Lord just waits a little bit longer before turning him into past tense.
I never praise politicians. Infact if you look at this blog critically, politicians are the fodder upon which my cannon survives. I tear them.
But look, Mwanawasa is not your typical African leader—he is unique and in a nice way.
In 1990, when it was clear Zambia had had enough of the old man Kenneth Kaunda, it was a foregone conclusion that the opposition Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) was coursing its way to victory.
All they needed was a stable anchorman and many wanted Mwanawasa to hold the mantle. Unprecedented in Africa, he turned down the offer. Guess what? He admitted that he was “young and inexperienced” to be president!!
Isn’t this a joker? Do I need remind you that Samuel Doe of Liberia assumed leadership at barely 25 years, what of our Kabila Junior in the Congo after his father’s assassination? His nose was still dripping with mucus when he began leading his people.
Even Jakaya Kikwete in Tanzania had to be restricted for about 5 years (and detained as foreign affairs minister) so that he could get enough experience. Otherwise, he was willing to take on Mkapa the first time, and trust me, he would have floored him.
So, here is a politician, who the prospect of being president is dangled before him, but has the balls to admit that he just can’t take the job yet. Look around Africa now, sure, how many presidents do we see, who assumed the throne too early? Gamblers on the job. I bet 95% of them still need induction that is if they qualify for it anyway.
But what makes Mwanawasa stand out, is his transparent approach to issues. When Chiluba made attempts to amend the constitution to allow him rule for life and the whole of Zambia was up in arms against him, he handpicked Mwanawasa in 2001 to succeed him. Look, in 1994, while serving as Chiluba’s vice-president, Mwanawasa threw in the towel. He accused the government of excessive corruption and called it a day.
Show me one African politician who quits because the system is corrupt and I will prove to you that we are on another planet, not earth. My guess actually is that droves would leave a government even bring it down, if it became accountable. African politicians thrive in corruption!!
So, Mwanawasa quits but Chiluba thinks he can use him as a pawn. He helps him get elected (albeit questionably) and LO! The immunity Chiluba had hoped for froze. Mwanawasa took the lead in opening Chiluba’s closet. You see, the short unionist (Chiluba) had caught the capitalist bug and literally looted his country. So, a horde of graft charges were opened against him—and his “pauper” told him to face the music.
Others may say Mwanawasa betrayed Chiluba, but I insist that leaders should be held accountable for their actions while in power. To loot, plunder, kill and maim and think you will make off because you have a pauper successor should be no security.
And now, there is this boil called Robert Mugabe. The madman of the Rhodesia. A liberator, whose people now need to be liberated from. he has run down the economy, exiled a third of his people, conducted a one-man election and still has the guts to call himself a liberator.
You see, this madman has scared everyone in Southern Africa from condemning him. The “mighty” Mbeki has chickened out. Others are merely producing muffled sounds, but Mwanawasa, who chairs SADC, has told Mugabe to his face that he disgraces this continent.
No wonder Mugabe must have been the happiest, when just after landing in Egypt for the AU summit, Mwanawasa was taken ill—Mwanawasa, who was expected to stand up in the club of looters (called presidents) and tell Mugabe to style up!!! Why did I hear someone say that Mugabe’s sangoma could have been behind Mwanawasa’s illness?
The bottom line to me though is that Africa needs more Mwanawasas---stand up and be counted!!