What Obama Means to Africa

Nothing could be more symbolic of Africa’s support for US President-elect Barack Obama than Kenya’s declaration of Nov. 5 as a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s ascendancy to power. But, if Africans expect Obama to dish out handouts, as some commentators in the continent have intimated, then they are clearly mistaken.

From the far flung villages of Kenya (the homeland of Obama’s father) to the cash strapped streets of Zimbabwe, Obama’s electoral victory wafted through the continent like a breath of fresh air, ushering in a new dialogue about identity, democracy and politics.

Because Obama is African by ancestry, it was always predictable that Africans would greatly celebrate his electoral win. However, it is nothing short of foolhardiness for African people to expect Obama to work miracles that will resolve the continent’s ills.

If anything, for Africa, Obama’s win must be strictly seen for what is: it’s merely symbolic. And in politics symbols do matter. Continue reading

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Obama-mania for Africa

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

First things first: (his brains aside) Barack Obama is handsome, cool, and energizing like a drop of dew on an October morn.

By ancestry, Obama is an African and it’s not far-fetched to say through him the ancestors have spoken with a voice that has resonated across the globe, rebranding the black image. Just like me, my friend Innocent has been glued onto Obama’s presidential campaign.

We both know the twist and turns of the law professor cum US Senator cum presidential candidate’s campaign trail like our hidden souls.

“Obama is a shining star of our generation, and his rise has been nothing less than meteoric. He represents a line of great inspirational and transformational leaders like Nelson Mandela, and he’s making history right before our eyes,” says Innocent.

I couldn’t agree more: if anything, Obama’s decision to run for presidency is one of the best things to happen to Africa after Mandela.

Apart from his personality, Obama’s message of hope, if actualized, is one that can potentially heal global wounds inflicted by increasingly belligerent US policies over the past eight years of George Bush’s rule. In fact, I must admit that that I have become emotionally, spiritually and intellectually hitched to the Obama star over the past two or so years of the US presidential campaign trail.

With all due credit to Obama, he has managed to build a golden stair that has resonated with many people across the world. For the first time in my life, I have absolutely fallen in love with public service life, courtesy of Obama. Continue reading

Zimbabwe’s Hungry Stomach Politics

In the run-up to the June presidential run-off elections in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s government banned the distribution of food to poor people by NGOs. The government accused NGOs of using food to campaign on behalf of the political opposition.

More than anything else the government ban on food distribution is a revelation of how much the stomach has influenced political developments in the country.

Zimbabwe is a nation-state that has been increasingly built on the politics of empty stomachs since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

A combination of widespread rural poverty and a legacy of the liberation war have in many ways nourished President Robert Mugabe’s rule since 1980.

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Unity-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has mastered the art of handing out Lazaric crumbs to the majority of the people, particularly in the rural areas, in exchange for political gain and control.

Continue reading

Mugabe’s Wrath of the State

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union has, in recent days, embarked on a warpath against civil society organizations.

 Robert Mugabe

 President Robert Mugabe: Africa’s strongman

Ordinary citizens with political views that favor the opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, have also not escaped the wrath of the state.

 Mugabe’s government accuses civil society organizations of both working in cahoots with the MDC and being funded by Western countries.

In Zimbabwe today, the venom of the state machinery, including the military, the police and the state-owned media, is being unleashed against anyone perceived to be connected to the opposition, which won the parliamentary elections in March — a first in Zimbabwe since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

Since 1980, ZANU-PF has won all the parliamentary and presidential elections by any means possible — fair, foul or murderous.

Incumbent President Mugabe, who narrowly lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 43.2 percent to 47.9 percent in the March election, blames Western forces (as he has glibly done for the past eight years) for his loss of popularity.

Ahead of a runoff election scheduled for June 27, Mugabe has invoked all the state machinery’s hell against his people, and is determined to win by any means necessary.

Throughout the country, opposition supporters have been abducted and discovered with limbs, private parts, ears and tongues chopped off in scenes reminiscent of ritual killings.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Keith Mazonde, a Harare-based nongovernmental organization worker in a Skype interview, “But the old man [Mugabe] is going nowhere.”

“I think he will win, but if you get me right, it’s a different kind from the win we know,” added Mazonde.

The clampdown of civil society organizations by Mugabe’s government comes in the wake of an order barring humanitarian aid organizations from distributing food and agricultural aid to impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe has accused humanitarian aid organizations of using food handouts to campaign in favor of the opposition. NGOs have been ordered to re-apply for operating licenses.

According to Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, HIV patients will likely die as a result of the ban on food aid because they rely on NGOs for home-based care and antiretroviral medical assistance.

“The country has become a bedlam for people seeking an honest means of living. It looks like it will get better if only Mugabe goes, and a government of national unity is the way forward,” said Obert Sherera, an NGO worker.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 185,000 children are likely to miss the essential support they need, including healthcare and nutrition, and labels the government ban against NGOs a “human rights violation.”

“One day it will all come to an end but for now people are living in fear,” said Nornia Dumare, a political activist in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Already, political analysts are saying that under the current circumstances it will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair presidential election.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27.

The report titled “‘Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” said that 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence have been recorded in the run-up to the June runoff election.

“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.” 

Zimbabwe: Paradise Wrapped in Quagmire

With a crumbling economy, starving population and a stormy political situation in the background, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has finally agreed to talk with the political opposition, albeit in South Africa.

 

South Africa‘s President Thabo Mbeki is playing the role of mediator between members of the Zimbabwe’s ruling party and the opposition after he agreed to take on the task in March. Mbeki is expected to produce a progress report on the crisis talks to the SADC Heads by June 30.

 

Today, Zimbabwe — once referred to as the Switzerland of Africa — looks more like a paradise wrapped in a quagmire. Much of the country’s post-independence potential is heavily overshadowed by the intractability of the political situation. Like an alcoholic, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF government has pursued self destructive policies that have brought much suffering to the majority of the population.

 

Ranked among 10 of the world’s most unstable countries in the Failed States

Index Scores 2007, Zimbabwe needs an urgent solution.

 

Dialogue between the political players in Zimbabwe is therefore seen as a latch ditch effort to bring sanity to the beleaguered country.

 

A report issued recently by 34 international aid agencies including the United Nations, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Oxfam predicted that hyper-inflation will bring the country to a standstill within six months.

 

Zimbabwe‘s inflation rate is currently snowballing over the 4,000 percent mark — the highest in the world — and there’s no let-up.

 

“The Zimbabwean dollar is now rotten,” said Dominika Mateta, a worker in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, in an email interview, “I am thinking of going to South Africa.”

 

According to the reports issued by the international agencies within six months, the Zimbabwean dollar will be unusable and services will grind to a halt. As the economy shrinks many people in the country are opting for self-imposed exile.

 

“The memorandum is talking about a situation where there is no functioning government or a total breakdown, The Times Online quoted an agency official, who refused to be named. “It is saying it is inevitable, not just a possibility. Our head offices have to know. Not many people have experienced this kind of crisis.”

 

There are fears that the collapse will necessitate a state of emergency in the country.

 

There have been many predictions of Zimbabwe’s imminent collapse before but these have never come to pass. But the battering which the economy of the country has endured over the past seven years validate the hypothesis that the bubble is about to burst.

  

Not many believe that the talks will yield anything. For a long time, talks have been mooted but Mugabe has been reluctant to commit to the process. Or, he has simply expressed interest in order to gain a political foothold.

 

Already, the exclusion of civil society organizations from the process makes it appear as if the protracted political crisis is a product of the political players in the country.

 

Many civil society organizations contend that the talks will exclude issues of social justice and socio-economic issues to the detriment of ordinary Zimbabweans. As a prerequisite to the talks, civil society organizations want a cessation of violence, repeal of oppressive legislation and an all stakeholders conference that includes political parties, labour, churches, students and NGOs.

 

“MDC and Zanu PF have send representatives to SA for talks but everyone is wondering what will come out of the talks and whether it would help improve our economy in any way,” said Michelle Dumare, an ordinary Zimbabwean citizen, in an email interview.

 

More than that, the Zimbabwe political crisis is a function of failings of institutional frameworks that never reformed to suit the demands of a post-colonial dispensation.

 

In his 27 years as Zimbabwe’s leader, Mugabe has used the non-democratic structures of the colonial government to aggrandize his power-base. Ironically, he has managed to whip up race-related issues to posture as a liberator of the oppressed black peoples of the continent.

 

Until the institutional set is overhauled, Mugabe will continue to have an upperhand in determining the destiny of the country. That is, unless, there’s a military or popular revolt against his rule.

 

Mugabe full understands this. So far his commitment to the talks is very much in doubt, and will likely put paid Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts.

 

As if sending a signal, the Mugabe’s intelligence police seized the passport of opposition leader Arthur Mutambara on the eve of the talks.

 

In early June, Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly, which is dominated by ZANU PF, passed the Interception of Communications Bill which seeks to empower the government to spy on telephone and e-mail messages.

 

This Bill further infringes Zimbabwean citizens’ fundamental right to freely express themselves without any hindrance.

 

All these factors are putting a strain to an already tense atmosphere around the talks.

 

“So yes, Mugabe is not negotiating in good faith and hence it undermines the effectiveness of this process because we don’t see any sincerity in the efforts of Mugabe because of what he is doing to the opposition,” Mutambara told SW Radio Africa, an independent Zimbabwe radio station broadcasting out of London because of repressive media laws in Zimbabwe.

 

And until there’s fundamental change, Zimbabwe will remain a paradise wrapped in a political quagmire whose fate no one really knows.

Democracy

Democracy will not come ,

Today, this year 

Nor ever 

Through compromise and fear.  

I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.  

I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.

I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.  

Freedom Is a strong seed

Planted In a great need.  

I live here, too.

I want freedom Just as you.  

~ Langston Hughes