jacob zuma: why crash so soon?

Update: President Jacob Zuma agrees that he fathered a child out of wedlock with the 39 year-old daughter of one of his friends. Mr. Zuma is 67. In his statement the President said that he had done the “cultural imperative” of admitting to having fathered the child. A few suggestions for Mr. Zuma and those around him:

– having three wives is bad enough. Concentrate on the job. South Africans are looking up to you

– please fire your communications director. You are really bad with PR

– you are embarrassing the entire Continent. Not just yourself and your immediate family but the entire Continent. The whole 700 million of us.

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma may have fathered a love child last year. The South African president just recently got married for the fifth time (he has three wives). He is estimated to have about 20 children. Recently when confronted about his rather colorful matrimonial situation Mr. Zuma shot back with the claim that anybody who was against polygamy was a cultural bigot.This is total horse manure. Mr. Zuma should know that culture is not static and that an attack on his wayward habits is not an attack on Zulu culture.

Until recently Mr. Zuma had exceeded expectations. His cabinet appointments (i thought) signaled his pragmatism. He stayed clear of the incendiary demagoguery that characterizes the ANC’s youth wing leader, Julius Malema. Even the media had warmed up a bit to the man who had to wiggle out of corruption and rape charges to become president. For a moment I thought that Mr. Zuma was going to be the nice blend of populism and realistic politicking that had so much eluded the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki. South African land reform, a fairer redistribution and creation of wealth (through a more transparent BEE and faster job creation), a reduced crime rate, etc etc seemed somewhat doable because the core of his base was the working class. But as is fast becoming apparent, it appears that the man has decided to let his personal life interfere with his job. I hope this latest incident will embarrass the ANC enough for the party to ask Mr. Zuma to go easy on the distractions and concentrate on his job.

Update: This is the last thing that SA and its ailing economy needs. The tabloid-like headings are soiling the SA presidency.

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please do away with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung”

Big business and economic development in “pristine lands” is awful. Especially if you grew up with the comforts of indoor plumbing and general over-abundance of the purest hedonistic-capitalist kind. It is only when you have the choice to pop in and out of “tropical obscurity” that you would find the intellectual courage to defend a way of life that is just above that of man circa 1750 A.D. Suddenly you find yourself forgetting the basic fact that it is underdevelopment that makes infant mortality, HIV infection rates, gender inequality and a whole lot of other maladies most acute in your presumed tropical paradise.

I am beginning to read things to the effect that the development of a port in Lamu (Kenya) is bad – both for the environment and the local people and their culture. I don’t buy most of the stuff though. The likes of Gettleman want us to believe that people in places like Lamu are inherently anti-development. According to him the people of Lamu “say they are not especially well suited for the mechanized world.” Good for them. They would much rather live with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung” than have a modern port constructed in their district. This is total horse manure.

Firstly, the environmental costs of having a modern port in Lamu will surely be outweighed by the socio-economic benefits. Oil exports from Uganda and Southern Sudan, among other trading opportunities in the wider region will surely create jobs in the area. Secondly, why should we assume that exposure of Lamu culture to the wider (albeit still not completely apparent) Kenyan Culture is necessarily bad? Aren’t cultures supposed to change with time? Plus if Lamu culture cannot keep up after such an encounter it should be allowed to go the way of the dodo. That is why we build museums.

If it can be done – as it should – the construction of Kenya’s second port in Lamu should be a foregone conclusion. The Kenyan government should make this crystal clear to all the environmentalists and anthropologists concerned.

obama is coming to Africa

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Accra, Ghana in July of this year. Mr. Obama will hold talks with his Ghanaian host Mr. Atta Mills, the President of Ghana. Accompanying Mr. Obama will be his wife Michelle. This will be the Obama’s first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa since Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, was elected president of the United States.

It is my hope that besides the expected fanfare that will greet the Obama’s in Accra there will be a sober discussion of the problems afflicting millions of Sub-Saharan Africans – from poverty, to aids, to conflicts to poor governance. I hope that the US president will be as candid as is diplomatically permissible in telling African leaders to style up and realize that the region will continue to remain the global backwater if they do not stop their kleptocratic ways.

I also hope that the president will talk frankly about US commitment to improving living conditions in Africa by allowing for more free trade between the Continent and America (and please do something about the farm subsidies that are killing Global South farmers, Mr. President). President Obama will also most certainly continue former president Bush’s generosity to Africa in tackling AIDS, TB and Malaria through PEPFAR – although minus Mr. Bush’s crazy (religious??) objection to the use of contraceptives in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

I dare say in advance, Akwaba Mr. and Mrs. Obama.

South African Elections

On the 22nd of April South Africans will go to the polls to elect their new president. There are no prizes for guessing who the winner will be. Everyone expects Jacob Zuma, a man facing corruption charges, to win easily. Despite the much hyped challenge from Cope, a party of ANC dissidents, the ANC with its immense ‘struggle movement capital’ will still win a healthy majority in the South African parliament.

zumaAs I have indicated before, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Zuma’s forthcoming presidency. The much-married man has a predilection for buffoonery. He is a known populist who may mishandle South Africa’s sluggish transition from the insanity of apartheid. Perhaps most worrying is his corruption record. The last thing South Africa needs in these hard economic times is a president who sends the message that it’s OK to be corrupt, as long as you have the right political connections.

That said, it is almost ineluctable that the Continent will have its leader in Jacob Zuma after the April elections. And because of that we are left with no alternative but to search for any positives that might come out of it. For starters, Zuma’s lack of formal education and the accompanying intellectual arrogance may make him more predisposed to alternative views – especially when it comes to the AIDS situation in South Africa (Mbeki strangely refused to admit the link between HIV and AIDS).

Secondly, given that he is coming in with little international legitimacy, he may feel compelled to do the right thing about Africa’s dictators and their many human rights abuses. Lastly, even his populism might be a plus. No sane person would disagree that South Africa NEEDS land reforms. Zuma may just be the one to do it, unlike the Mbeki-ist moderates who instead have chosen to focus on empowering middle class Black South Africans while forgetting the landless masses.

Let’s wait and see……..

The AIDS-TB killer monster

March 24th, is world TB Day. But this year’s commemoration was tainted by the bad news about the drug resistance strains of TB whose incidence seems to be on the rise. IRIN News (an excellenet news source on matters third world) is reporting that the incidence of the drug resistance varieties of TB are on the rise. The WHO, according to the IRIN report, blames this on “non-existent labs, lack of inspection control and diagnostics, and poor treatment adherence.” African countries are the worst affected (surprise??). Healthcare expenditure still remains low in most of these countries and the very high incidence of HIV/AIDS on the Continent only serves to complicate matters. TB fatality rate (for those with drug resistance strains) is as high as 90% for people with HIV/AIDS.

Disease treatment/control is still last-century in most of Africa. For most Africans, the choice is sometimes between putting a meal on the table or getting treatment. The other contributing factor to the many epidemics that continue to rock the continent is ignorance. Indeed drug resistant varieties of TB are oftentimes a result of people not taking their daily doses as required.

Matters are not all gloomy though. Former US president Bush’s gift of PEPFAR continues to save lives in Africa and other places. But money from foreigners is not the answer but mere band aid. The strong correlation between ignorance and poverty and disease burden suggests that education and economic growth could go a long way in terms of disease control on the Continent.I only wish that African governments took disease control, education and the economic well-being of their populations more seriously.

on this one I disagree with the church

The Catholic church continues to forbid the use of condoms and all other contraceptives among its faithful. Such teaching is mostly emphasized in the third world – Africa, Latin America and Asia – where the populations continue to remain oblivious to the virtues of family planning and disease prevention through the use of contraceptives. This at a time when the Church’s home continent – Europe – is experiencing a demographic decline. People are able to better plan their lives if they can control the number of children they have. Period. The Vatican has failed to enforce its have-as-many-children-as-you-can and don’t-use-condoms policies at home and so it trumpets them abroad – and in places with serious problems of over-population. I say this is hypocritical.

Millions around the world have died of AIDS, causing untold suffering to tens of millions of orphans. The use of condoms, although not 100% efficient, has been known to substantially reduce chances of infection. So it does not make any sense that the Church would continue to ban its use. Does the Almighty really want parents dying, leaving behind orphans who can’t fend for themselves? Does He really want families having 12 children that they can’t feed or educate? Abortion might be another issue (and genuinely so) but preventing pregnancies – without having to kill any embryos or fetuses – or avoiding diseases through the use of condoms should never even be debated. It is common sense. I don’t understand how the Church can endorse the veracity of Darwin’s theories (of course as GUIDED by God) and refuse to acknowledge this simple fact.

And about abstinence. It is great, but most people never practice it. It is time the Church stopped pretending that this is a viable way of coping with the spread of AIDS. More than two decades of the disease have proven otherwise. Government health officials throughout the third world should be honest with the Church and inform them to change this weird policy or face penalties. It is lives we are talking about, not some theologian’s ideas of the ideal Christian society.

And don’t even get me started on how these weird church policies disproportionately burden women – through both risky and costly child bearing and diseases.

Just for the record, I am Catholic.

revisiting the conflict in Darfur

Today I sat in at a conference on Darfur at my school. The conference was well attended, the keynote speaker being Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  There were the usual talking heads from the UN and a myriad NGOs that are involved in one way or the other with the effort to stop the barbarous madness that is going on in Darfur. I was impressed by the fact that even though the global powers that be do not seem interested in providing any meaningful solutions to the conflict there still are people out there who are determined to do the little that they can to try and make a difference.

But I was also disappointed. Nearly all the panelists were foreigners, let’s say non-AU citizens. Now I do not mean to discriminate here. Darfur is a major problem and I know that Darfuris will be the first to tell you that all they want is an end to their hell-on-earth, regardless of where help to that end comes from. But even after fully appreciating this fact, I was still a bit unsettled by the fact that what I was seeing there is what is prevalent throughout the continent, not just with cases of armed conflict, but in other areas as well – poverty reduction, HIV and AIDS, malaria and what not. It is always the foreigners who seem to care more about the plight of the poor Africans than the Africans themselves (and their leaders of course). Why was there only one panelist from Sudan? Aren’t there Sudanese experts on Darfur, people who oppose al-Bashir’s genocidal policies and who can articulate their concerns at such conferences?

darfur_aerialForgive my digression. Anyway, the fact is that more than two million human beings have been displaced from their homes and their lives disrupted in unimaginable ways. More than 200,000 are dead. And nobody in Khartoum seems to give a rat’s behind.

Meanwhile the AU (the regional body that should be having Darfur, Somali and the DRC at the top of the agenda) just elected that clown, Muamar Gaddafi, as its president. The rather colourful Libyan dictator followed his election with a quick reminder of the true nature of African leaders – by saying that democracy was to blame for the crises in Africa. He is so full of horse manure. How is it not clear to people like this man that self-determination is the way of the future? How does he not get the fact that the days for rulers like him (and Mugabe, Al-Bashir, Obiang, and the whole brood of failures) on the continent of Africa are numbered?

some unwelcome radicalism

I am not a radical, or at least I don’t think of myself as one. But after reading this story about pastoralists in Eastern Kenyan, a rather radical idea came to my mind. You see, ever since man began living a sedentary life, history has proven that it is the best way to live. It offers security, provides opportunity for the development of a strong government, enables easy provision of essential services like education, healthcare and social care, among others. There are a few exceptions to the rule. The Mongols were a nomadic bunch that terrorized the life out of sedentary city states. But they were the exception that proves the rule. Civilization and human society flourishes in a sedentary setting, period.

So knowing this, I wonder if it would be a bad idea to make it government policy that nomadic pastoralist communities (in East Africa, the Sahel and Southern Africa) be offered incentives to settle down. Not forced, but given the right incentives. They move around not because they love to, but in search of pasture and water. The government could dig wells and start grass farms for these communities. It sounds naive and outlandish but think of the difference such an initiative would make in two or three generations.

Now before you anthropologists come for my neck I challenge you to be honest with yourselves. Why do you believe that it is OK for the such communities to live the way they do, with their short life spans and limited options while the rest of humanity does infinitely better? And don’t tell me that they are happy with their lives. I doubt that they would be if they had the options that other people have. I hearken to Amartya Sen’s arguments here. We need to expand these communities’ options if we are going to develop a single united country. They are not samples of past human existence for our study and amusements. They are people who are ends in themselves.

This reminds me of a post that I have been working on forever (still coming) on the approach to development in Africa. The prevailing mentality is that the African is developed when he is not dying of aids, malaria, hunger, civil war and the like. The current development efforts all across the continent aim at keeping people alive and comfortable at a very low station in life. I think this should change. Sustainable developmetn in Africa will only be achieved through real transformation of African societies. China is doing it. India is doing it. Africa can, and will, do it.  I know that some will argue that we should stop the civil conflict, eradicate HIV prevalence and do all other kinds of things before we think of putting refrigerators in people’s homes and housing them in modern houses. I say this is a heap of horse manure. Botswana, although with a high HIV prevalence rate, is doing fine. And the civil wars are not everywhere. Somalia, Darfur and Eastern Congo, compared to the rest of the vast continent of Africa can qualify as “isolated incidents” (yes, I can push the envelope on this one).

i don’t mean to be culturally insensitive… but

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma, the man who will almost certainly be South Africa’s next president intends to take on a third wife. Zuma married his second wife in a traditional Zulu ceremony last year. This will be his third wife.

Now, I have nothing against Zulu customs and traditions. But there is something to be said when the man poised to be the most powerful African leader decides to behave in this manner. South Africa, because of its big economy and history, is seen by many as the leading country in Africa. Nelson Mandela ranks high in the pantheon of the great sons and daughters of the continent. Mbeki, although mostly delusional (I had so much hope in him though), didn’t go on a marrying spree. As the de facto leader of the continent we demand better than this from Zuma. We have seen (with deep embarrassment) the sorry affair that is the life of the King of Swaziland. Let not the same become of the leader of a democratic, and supposedly modern, republic like South Africa.

Most importantly, I am uneasy about Zuma’s habits because of what it means for women’s rights in South Africa and to a great extent on the entire continent. It should no longer be deemed appropriate for a man (and especially a public figure like the president) to run around with as many women as he wants. If prominent leaders like Zuma do it, the local man in the streets will follow suit. What this means for Africa’s HIV/AIDS situation, not to mention other venereal diseases and the loads of children that will result from these bad habits, is unfathomable. I am not making a cultural argument here. I am simply stating that when a man marries more than one wife it takes away any leverage his wife may have on him. It is also an expensive affair. Zuma may be able to afford it, but most African men can’t. But they do it anyway, resulting in loads of uneducated, poorly raised children, most of whom die before they are five. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM. Plus it doesn’t make any sense. How is he (Zuma) going to be a caring father if he has three homes to attend to? The presidency must be a demanding job. It says a lot about Zuma’s work ethic when he prepares for it by taking on a hugely demanding task like marrying a third wife (as if being in a monogamous marriage is not exacting enough). Either his presidency will suffer or his marriages will be neglected – or both. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t turn into an annual spectacle like the (in)famous one by King Mswati.

Mr. Zuma, the daughters of Africa deserve better. Your bad habits, and those of your neighbor, King Mswati, continue to denigrate our mothers and sisters. I don’t care what motivates your actions – tradition or otherwise. This is simply unacceptable for a public figure. Period. The saddest thing about this is that Mr. Zuma will still be elected president of South Africa. He was accused of corruption. He has not been faithful to his TWO wives. But he will still be elected president of South Africa. South Africa, the land that gave us Mandela, Winnie, Sisulu, Tambo and many others of their ilk, can do better.

Kenya sees HIV prevalence rate drop, more needs to be done

The government has announced a drop in the HIV prevalence rate in Kenya from a high 14% to a relatively low 5%. These figures were announced by Prof. Were, the chairperson of the National Aids Control Council. Prof. Were also added that the number of people on ARVs had increased from a paltry 2000 five years ago to 150,000 in 2007.

This is good news. However, a lot more needs to be done. West African countries like Senegal have showed that with government commitment and cultural changes the scourge of AIDS can be kept at bay.

Among things that ought to change are traditional practices that belong in the pre-AIDS era. I am talking about wife inheritance in my home province of Nyanza and sharing of material during communal circumcisions across the country. Other areas to be looked at are religious practices and teachings that may encourage the spread of the disease. Being a Catholic, I am embarrassed by my church’s insistence that people should not use condoms even as they die like flies from this terrible malady. The government should talk straight with the church on this issue and require them not to preach from the pulpits anything that might jeopardize the success of the national anti-AIDS campaign.

Kenyans also need to change certain social practices. A friend of mine told me that when she visited Africa – South Africa and Swaziland – she was struck by the utter lack of faithfulness among couples. This might explain the high AIDS prevalence rates in Southern Africa and is also true in East Africa. Kenyans need to be more responsible with their sexuality by planning well with regards to matters sexual. The government and interested groups ought to be more aggressive in their family planning and sexual education initiatives in order to ensure that the gains that have been made in the last six years are improved upon.

I believe that with a concerted effort from the government, churches and cultural icons – like the Ker in Luo Nyanza for instance – Kenya can achieve a prevalence rate of less than 1% in the not so distant future. The majority Muslim countries of West Africa have managed to have low infection rates with little resources and so can we in the East, and possibly lend our ideas to the Southerners who are the worst affected by this scourge.