It’s been just over 24 hours since I touched ground in the land of Seretse Khama. So far so good. Botswana is living up to its reputation as a middle income country in the middle of the sea of despair that is the rest of the continent of Africa. The roads are nice, and wide enough. The people that I have met so far – from the few that I have asked for directions in the street to the lady manning the internet cafe that I am in right now – have all been nice. The exception was just this one lady at the local KFC (may I add that that was my first time in a KFC, anywhere) who wasn’t nice. May be she was tired. Or maybe I was being reminded by the heavens that fast food joints like these should remain off limits for me.

The economy seems to be doing well too. All around there are new buildings being erected and most of the existing ones look new (nothing like River Road, Nairobi if you’ve ever been there). Contents in the local newspapers and CNBC-Africa betray the buzz in the business world here of the government’s intention to make this the financial Switzerland of Africa. And did I mention the service delivery? Getting out of the airport was quick. Clearing through customs was easier than when I return back home to Nairobi. When one of my bags did not arrive (thanks to South African Airways), the lady at the airport was nice and was quick to provide me with the necessary information.

The feeling here in Gaborone is generally of a small town where everyone tries to go out of their way to be nice to you. I know it’s just been a day but the first impression I have of this city is positive. I am a bit worried about all the electric fences I see encircling houses in the suburbs. I hope crime is not anywhere close to Botswana’s neighbor’s down South.

Watch this space for more on Botswana in the coming weeks…..

Un shame, shame shame

The news reports are shocking and disgusting. In a report published by Save the Children, a British charity, it has emerged that UN peacekeepers in conflict zones have been abusing children as young as six. Yes six years old! After interviewing about 250 boys and girls, Save the Children found that UN peacekeepers were in the habit of exchanging soap, money, food and sometimes cell phones for sex. The interviews were conducted in Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti and Southern Sudan. The UN chief Ban Ki-Moon promised that an investigation will be conducted and that those found guilty will be punished.

What a shocker. The thought that the people entrusted with the task of bringing hope and peace to these regions are the very ones causing physical and psychological harm to children is simply despicable. This scandal also exposes the UN for the opaque bureaucracy that it is. How could this have gone on without the knowledge of New York? Don’t they have independent observers monitoring their aid missions to ensure that staff stick to the code of conduct?

If the investigation takes place as has been promised by Ban and these peacekeepers are found guilty, their punishment alone won’t be enough. The UN should compensate the families of the children that were abused. And in the future New York should keep a closer eye on its staff on peace keeping missions.

Finally, in order to avoid the mess all together, African and other similarly backward and inept governments should get their act together. It is the shocking inability of these governments to run their countries that necessitates the presence of UN peacekeepers in the first place. Perhaps the UN should have a clause stating that once a country has had peacekeepers for more than a given period of time then it should be put under a sort of “receivership.” It wouldn’t be re-colonization – as many nationalists in these countries would be quick to point out. It would be an attempt at bringing normal lives to people who’ve not lived normal lives for decades and who shouldn’t go hungry, remain ignorant and finally die because of the greed of some pin-head War Lords.

xenophobia in south africa

The images were heart wrenching. Seeing the body of a supposed immigrant on the ground, partly burnt and bleeding made me wonder what got into South Africans this past week. Apparently their excuse for killing and chasing away immigrants is that the foreigners took away their jobs and are fuelling rising crime rates.

But who exactly are the criminals here? I’d say it is the mobs that are necklacing foreigners and burning down their houses and business establishments.  And who exactly is responsible for the lack of jobs? Is it really the immigrants, some of whom have created jobs – like the Kenyan whose supermarket was razed? I would say it is Thabo Mbeki and his men. These are the people that have over the years allowed the immigrants into South Africa to begin with and have failed to create a vibrant economy that provides for all south africans. They are the ones to blame and not innocent Zims and other (Southern) Africans fleeing poverty and tyranny back in their home countries.

And in other stories, I read that there were lynchings of witches in Western Kenya. It is shocking that this type of thinking still exists in people’s heads. African governments still have a long way to go in instilling the rule of law and rational-legal attitudes in their people. It is extremely sad that almost none of them realise just how much they need to do to change the lives of their people and put them on the path to true modernity – the African way.

time to rethink the idea behind sovereignty

In the book The Bottom Billion, the author Paul Collier talks about the growing international apathy at the suffering of millions of people around the world. This, he says, has been reinforced by a general dislike of interventionist measures especially after the Somalia and Iraq fiascoes. Somalia made the US be wary of military interventions even in dirt poor third world countries like Somalia that hasn’t had a functioning government since Siad Barre was deposed in the early nineties. Enough has been said about Iraq.

But are these two cases enough to make the international community completely abandon millions of people to be tormented and killed by their own governments? I am thinking about the horrible situations that are currently playing out in Burma, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and many other places where governments are killing their own citizens or letting them die for political or ideological reasons. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue.

I echo Collier’s call that the international community set a precedence; that tyranny against civilians will not be tolerated anywhere on the globe. This is not a call for haphazard invasions all over the place. But there are extreme cases that should be addressed more forcefully. The genocide in Darfur should not be allowed to continue simply because Northern Sudan is a Muslim country with a potential for being jihadist. Thousands of people should be let to die in the jungles of the DRC simply in honor of that ungovernable country’s sovereignty. And does Mugabe really deserve to be sovereign in a country that he continues to drive deeper into hell? And what claim does the military junta in Burma have on sovereignty when they let tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands without help even when the international community itches to help after a devastating cyclone hit the country?

All these extreme cases should be considered as exceptions. Somalia and Iraq should not stop the international community from ever acting again in an effort to save human lives. I am not calling for a neoconservative style democratization of the world, dictators can be tolerated, but only when they are not actively killing their own people or denying them food and other basic needs. Is this too much to ask of them?

Sovereignty should not be seen as an end in itself. Political leaders should know that the international community will only let them enjoy sovereignty when they act responsibly. I happen to believe that democratic government is the ideal but different places have different needs in different stages of their history. For instance young countries may not necessarily thrive as democracies, but this does not give their leaders a right to act like the Al-Bashirs and Than Shwes of this world.

time to do away with weak african governments

Northern Sudan’s government just got its nose bloodied bad. And this by a bunch of rag tag rebels from the dusty deserts out West fighting with machine guns mounted on the back of pick up trucks. These rebels, previously confined to Darfur and other hot spots finally made an attempted march to the seat of power in Khartoum. Sudan’s skirmishes with its rebel movements brought memories of yet another African government that was nearly toppled by a bunch of bandits on pick up trucks – Chad. In Chad’s case France came to the rescue. Sudan seems to have taken care of the rebels using its own helicopter gunships and other weapons bought from the Chinese in exchange for oil.

As I have stated before, I have no sympathies for rebel movements, regardless of what their cause might be. It is in a large part because of these movements that most of Africa has remained underdeveloped because resources were shifted to fighting useless wars instead of focusing on the advancement of African people. Violent uprising will never solve any problem. Somalia, the DRC, Burundi and many others are testaments to this fact.

That said, I also think that certain African governments that are too weak to hold their own against rebels and other armed groups should be allowed to die a Darwinian death. When rebels drive for miles to the capital without being stopped by the existing government, you know there is a problem. Why did Khartoum wait for the rebels to reach Omdurman before doing anything?

Khartoum’s genocidal strongman ought to be embarrassed enough to realise that he cannot stop the insurgency in Darfur by killing the rebels and dropping bombs on innocent women and children. This week’s incident has proven that there cannot be a military solution to the rebel problem. The government of Sudan has been exposed as unable to hold its own against these rebels and therefore they have to negotiate with them and perhaps even meet some of the demands of the JEM led rebels.

these are people too….

The madness that visited Kenya in February served to illustrate just how much the international community is one of unequals. Kenya, being the hub of the region with considerable foreign investment and the headquarters of a major UN agency, was not to be let to go under. But the same is not true for the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions have died or have been displaced as a result of years and years of fighting.

I just read an article in the Economist Newspaper detailing the kind of atrocities that innocent villagers have had to go through in this horrendous war.

The big question is, why has the world forgotten these people? Aren’t they just as human as Kenyans are? Why can’t the AU concentrate even just half as much effort as it did in resolving the Kenyan crisis?

At this point it is not debatable that the people of the DRC cannot govern themselves peacefully. Order and the rule of law should be imposed on the warring factions and if necessary divide up the country in order to separate those that do not want to coexist in one nation state. The mineral resources can then be managed by an international trustee and shared according to needs of the autonomous regions.

No human being should have to go through what the Congolese have and are still going through. Not in the 21st century at least.