comparative child mortality stats, and other news

The Continent still lags the rest of the world in the effort to reduce child mortality. Malaria and GI related illnesses (due to unclean water and what not) are still the number one killers of children in Africa.

For more on the child mortality stats see Aidwatch.

In other news, IRIN reports that “Humanitarian officials will look to the Chad government to protect civilians and secure aid operations after the UN Security Council decided on 25 May to withdraw some 3,000 UN peacekeepers from the country’s volatile east.” Yeah right. The rather incompetent and grossly corrupt President Idris Deby of Chad has so far failed in his quest to eliminate the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR) based in the East of the country and in Darfur, Sudan. In 2008 the rebels managed to stage a massive offensive in the Capital N’Djamena. Mr. Deby barely managed to repel them, possibly with French assistance. Government incapacity in Deby’s Chad, Francois Bozize’s Central African Republic and Joseph Kabila’s Democratic Republic of Congo continues to provide safe havens for rebel groups in the great lakes region. I am beginning to think that allowing countries with extra-territorial ambitions like Rwanda and Uganda to run AU-controlled mandates in segments of such countries might not be such a crazy idea.

it was never going to be an easy ride

The two decade-old clamour for a new constitution in Kenya has not been an easy ride. One is reminded of the saba saba rallies from the early 1990s. Most vivid of all was the shocking image of Rev. Timothy Njoya being clobbered by armed police men. Then came the Bomas constitutional conference under the NARC Administration that produced the document that was rejected at the 2005 referendum. The current constitutional review process also seems to have acquired a lot of enemies. On the surface – and this is what the mainstream Kenyan media seems to trumpet – it appears that those who are politically opposed to the draft are wary of the massive head-start that a YES victory would grant Premier Odinga in the 2012 presidential election. I beg to differ.

Me thinks that most of the political opposition to the document are founded on distributional concerns. The new set up will take a lot of power from the centre and redistribute it to the people. This will significantly alter resource allocation processes, including the management of land. It will also render obsolete the patronage networks that we call the provincial administration. It is not a coincidence that the biggest opponents to the draft also happen to be the biggest landowners, including former President Moi, among others. Imagine this for a second: President Kibaki is on the YES team, but the treasure continues to dilly and dally with the allocation of money for civic education… how can this be?

Mutahi Ngunyi has a different, but interesting take on things. Kwendo Opanga, shares his thoughts on the same, while Mutua tackles the rather risible decision of the courts to declare the current constitution unconstitutional!

clown of the month

The Zim ambassador to Washington has inspired me to begin a new monthly post titled Clown of the Month. His embarrassing actions at a recent dinner event are beyond madness. For having embarrassed not just Zim but the entire Continent with his unrestrained provincialism I hereby declare Ambassador H.E. Machivenyika Mapuranga Clown of the Month.

Just for the record, I am no fan of do-gooders who lecture the Continent on governance while turning a blind eye to their governments’ actions that impede the consolidation of good governance, among other structural barriers. That said, I think the debate should not be allowed to descend to mere name calling, a la Mugabe’s man in Washington. Mr. Mapuranga needs to grow up.

happy africa day!

Who knew? May 25th marks Africa Day. Some countries like Ghana even celebrate the day as a public holiday. The African Union is 47 today. If you ask me, I think the organization has been as effective as a parachute that deploys on the second bounce. For the longest time conflicts and disastrous leadership have plagued the Continent without much intervention from the Union (which largely remains to be nothing but an autocrats’ club).

In the spirit of the day though here is a more sanguine view of things.

Happy Africa Day!

Pan-Africanism may still be infeasible but the dream lives on. Kudos to Nyerere, Kenyatta, Nkrumah and all the other members of the Continental Pantheon who dreamed of uniting all the peoples of the Continent into one political community.

Quick hits

No surprises in the Ethiopian elections. Sunday’s elections most certainly resulted in a mandate for Meles Zenawi. It still will be interesting though to know how many seats the opposition won. Final results are not out yet.

In other news, the junta in Niger has decided that future presidential candidates must have university degrees. Don’t tell them anything about President Lula of Brazil who has done a fabulous job over the last ten years even though he did not finish primary school. My suspicion is that there is a specific Nigerien who is planning to run for office but does not have a university degree. It’s hard to imagine that the junta had the plight of Nigerien peasants in mind when they came up with this requirement.

And lastly, it is beginning to appear like the referendum on Kenya’s new constitution may not be a done deal. The NO camp just got more ammo thanks to this court ruling.

27-year old mother of nine, and four months pregnant

It is no secret that if standards of living are to improve on the Continent the rate of economic growth must outstrip that of the population. Sadly, Africa’s demographic transition continues to be a dream deferred. High (gendered) illiteracy rates, ignorance about (and church opposition to) contraceptives, antiquated cultural practices, among other things continue to reproduce all over the Continent crazy scenarios such as this in Madagascar: A 27-YEAR OLD WOMAN WHO HAS NINE CHILDREN AND FOUR MONTHS PREGNANT. This is insanity.

Quoting Donasine (said mother): “We are farmers, but without rain we were not able to grow anything. Every year I have another baby, and I am worried – I don’t have anything to feed them.” Add to this not being able to educate them or provide them with proper healthcare and you’ll see the utter abomination that is the continued anti-contraceptive movement in segments of African society. I am not saying that the Continent is over-populated. Far from it. China supports way more people with less arable land. What I am saying is that we are not in 10,000BC and therefore people should plan their lives better, and that it is the duty of government, the church and other relevant social institutions to ensure that people are aware of the alternatives they have. It is about time we stopped hiding behind culture and God and what not and see things for what they really are. Women like Donasine do not have ten children because they choose to do so. They are forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control.

For more on this check out Kristof at the Times.

all systems go for kenyan referendum

Kenyans have the chance to vote in a new constitution come August 4th. The referendum vote has created a divide in Kenyan society, pitting clerics  and politicians allied to William Ruto against Kenya’s wider political establishment. Kenya’s quasi-dyarchy fully backs the new document. The church opposes the document on the grounds that it allows for abortion and disproportionately favors Muslims by providing for Kadhi’s courts. William Ruto and his allies do not like the document because it will perpetuate the centralization of land management, something that is dear to the hearts of most of their constituents.

The new document is not perfect. But it’s infinitely better than the colonial constitution that we have had since independence. For one it provides for separation of powers. The president and his cabinet will no longer be members of parliament. It also gives parliament more teeth. The provision to channel funds to local governments is a brilliant idea. Corruption will make a dent on the funds, no doubt, but local elections should attenuate the effects of graft. I only hope that county governments will be allowed to compete with each other and experiment with policy.

If I were to make improvements to the document I would provide greater autonomy to major towns and cities. I would also stagger elections so that not all parliamentary elections coincide with presidential elections. I would have given supreme court judges lifetime security of tenure. Lastly, I would have granted Mr. Ruto his wish and decentralized the management of land – but set national minimum requirements with regard to land use and taxation, especially of idle land.

economic matters

The 20th World Economic Forum on Africa has been meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Participants at the forum stressed the need for the Continent to move to the centre of the global economy. The emphasis on agriculture was particularly encouraging. Food, textiles and construction should dominate the Continent’s Planning Ministers’ agenda.

The need for urgency was best illustrated by one participant who described the modern African farmer as still being “the woman with a hoe, firewood on her head and child on her back.” The same participant also made note of the fact that 80% of food production on the Continent is done by such women.

More of this here.

Also, the Atlantic has this nice piece on Sino-African (or is it Afro-Chinese?) relations.

Kadhi’s courts and abortion revisited

It appears that after more than 20 years of waiting Kenyans will finally have a new constitution after August 6th. The Attorney General Amos Wako (I can’t believe this man is still in office) published the document today. The electoral commission will formulate the referendum question and announce the campaign period for the August 6th referendum. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the document will be passed by a majority of Kenyans. The latest poll indicated that 64% of Kenyans support the document compared to 17% who oppose it.

The Church and a section of politicians are opposed to the document because of its wording in relation to abortion and Kadhi’s courts (see below) and on matters of resource allocation.  With regard to abortion, my stand is that the constitution does nothing against Kenya’s conservative bend. If anything it still needs some doses of liberalism on family law and social justice in order to protect our mothers and sisters and other marginalized peoples from the rather dated views of the Kenyan patriarchy.Our mothers and sisters are not crazy child-killers. They too are very conservative when it comes to abortion. In this case the law will only serve to bring out of the shadows the thousands of illegal abortions that result in the death of many women in our towns and cities. Also, if the church is so concerned with abortion, how about doing so by promoting birth control? I still don’t get the church’s justification for its consignment of millions to an early grave (thanks to HIV/AIDS) and orphanhood because of its bizarre policies on the use of contraceptives.

And on the Kadhi’s courts: the wording speaks for itself. It only applies to Muslims’ personal issues and even then only with their consent. No Christian will ever have to face a Kadhi. Plus as I have pointed out before, the church’s attempt to impose Christian morality on Kenyans through the constitution is not consistent with their opposition to Kadhi’s courts.

On Abortion:

Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

On Kadhis’ Courts

(1) There shall be a Chief Kadhi and such number, being not fewer than three, of other Kadhis as may be prescribed under an        Act  of Parliament.
(2) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed to hold or act in the
office of Kadhi unless the person—
(a) professes the Muslim religion; and
(b) possesses such knowledge of the Muslim law applicable to any  sects of Muslims as qualifies the person, in the opinion of the
Judicial Service Commission, to hold a Kadhi’s court.
(3) Parliament shall establish Kadhis’ courts, each of which shall have the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it by legislation,   subject to clause (5).
(4) The Chief Kadhi and the other Kadhis, or the Chief Kadhi and such of the other Kadhis (not being fewer than three in number) as may be prescribed under an Act of Parliament, shall each be empowered to hold a Kadhi’s court having jurisdiction within Kenya.
(5) The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts.

Yar’Adua passes on

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua died today. According to the Nigerian constitution Goodluck Jonathan who has been acting president will formerly assume office as president of the federal republic. Mr. Yar’Adua had had problems with his kidneys going back to his days as governor of Katsina state. May he rest in peace.

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate had this to say about Mr. Yar’Adua’s passing on:

“What passes for the Nigerian nation is nothing more than a tragic arena, and Yar‘Adua is only the latest tragic figure. The vampires, including those within his own family, turned him into a mere inert resource for their diabolical schemes. They have a reckoning with their conscience, assuming they know what the word means. One can only hope that, while mouthing sanctimonious platitudes such as ‘Power belongs to God,’ they have now learnt that the politics of Do-or-Die cannot guarantee who does and who dies. They must stop playing God. I pray for the repose of the soul of their latest, much abused innocent victim.”