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.

a tribute to Africa’s greatest son

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the former president of South Africa and arguably the greatest African ever in recorded history celebrated his 90th birthday the other night in London in an even attended by big shot politicians and celebrities. Listening to the comments made by those in attendance reminded me of just how important this man has become – not only to Africa but to the entire world. “He embodies the stand against injustice and poverty the world over,” one commentator said.

To me, the most striking thing about Madiba is that although he spent most of his life fighting against the evil apartheid regime in South Africa, the post-apartheid Madiba did not harbour the hatred or anger that you would have expected from someone who suffered so much under the system, including 27 years spent in jail. Instead, Madiba managed to channel the goodwill he earned towards reconciliation and a focus on issues affecting the poor and forgotten people of this world.

Perhaps a closer scrutiny of his personal life may reveal some faults – as I found out when I read his biography last summer. But these faults only serve to confirm to us that he is indeed human, and thus make him even more precious because his achievements are simply beyond most of us. He is easily the greatest African to have ever walked on this planet in all of recorded history.

He has undoubtedly entered the pantheon of hallowed Africans in history. Thank God for Mandela and may Africa bring forth more sons and daughters like him, especially in these very difficult times.


chadian rebels finally routed

Chad, like most of central Africa, is a sad story. After days of fighting, reports indicate that the government of Idriss Deby – possibly with some help from the French – has managed to to repel rebels from the capital and gain “total control.” The question is, for how long? This was the second time in a few years that the rebels had marched into the capital and threatened to topple Deby. This was also a confirmation that the government of Chad remains weak and unable to provide security, let alone development programmes, for its own people.

The story of Chad is a story that is repeated many times on the continent of Africa. You always have very weak governments that are unable to provide the most basic of public goods to their people but that are propped up by the West- the French being the number one culprits here. The French were friends with Bokassa and Mobutu, among other francophone-African dictators who brought much suffering to their own people while maintaining strong ties to Paris and having frequent state visits to the Elysee. The opposition to these weak governments is also just as weak. The many rebels movements fighting silly wars of greed devoid of any ideological significance are too weak to win. Instead they put their countrymen through wars of attrition that keep them forever stagnant in pre-modern subsistence existence. The same applies for Political opposition parties. Think of Zimbabwe. Everyone wants Mugabe out, except Tsvangirai and Mutambara – the two men who have refused to join forces within the MDC in order to unseat Bob.

More than two decades after Achebe wrote about it in Nigeria, the trouble with Africa still remains simply and squarely a problem of leadership. There is nothing inherently wrong with Africa or the African people. The only strange thing about Africa is its ability to keep churning out more Mobutus, Bokassas and Amins and very few Mandelas.

Going back to Chad…… may be it is a good thing that Deby is still president. However, deep down I think that that Africans should think hard about their many weak and unviable states. The DRC, Somalia and many states in the Sahel some to mind. If these countries cannot get their act together they should be left to the mercy of “evolution of states” so that in the end we can have states that are viable and able to provide for their people and not kleptocracies that only benefit their leaders’ kinsmen and a few multinational corporations.

the anc, has the movement outlived its purpose?

There is no question that the ANC, Nelson Mandela’s party, will rule South Africa for many years to come. Like most independence parties on the African continent, the ANC has immense political capital because it claims almost all credit, and rightfully so, for the success of the liberation struggle against apartheid and its evils.

But does South Africa still need the movement-style organization of the ANC? Movement parties are populist, unpredictable and are not suitable for a stable country on the path to economic development. Post-apartheid South Africa needs not a movement party but a party driven by issue oriented democratic ideals. If the country is to realize economic growth and social stability the ANC has to put its house in order and embrace institutionalized internal democracy and transparency.

South Africans should be watchful of the populist politics that is driving the upcoming ANC elections – which will effectively choose their next president. Jacob Zuma, a man who has appeared in court on corruption and sexual offense charges and who has no formal education is poised to clinch the party chairmanship from the embattled Thabo Mbeki. Zuma’s only credentials are that he feels the mood of the crowd and panders to their dissatisfaction with Mbeki’s rather lackluster performance on issues of wealth redistribution and tackling of the aids disaster.

To some extent this is all Mbeki’s fault. His presidency has not met the needs of the largely poor party masses and their vote for Zuma will be nothing but a protest vote against him (Mbeki). Zuma does not represent change. He has no concrete plans for wealth redistribution to the black majority or to tackle social evils like high crime and the country’s astonishing HIV infection rate. He is a man who is on record to have said that his only form of protection after he had had sex with an HIV positive woman was to take a quick shower.

Hopefully the ANC delegates at the upcoming congress will see the light and settle for a compromise candidate that is not as polarizing as either Mbeki or Zuma. But if the party chooses to continue wallowing in mindless populism, the main casualties will be the South African people.