Monday, July 21, 2008

Re-thinking the U.S foreign policy

The post Second World War epoch was marked by increased global hegemony by the United States due to its military might and growing economy. The United States took the lead in the reconstruction of Europe immediately after the Second World War and in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia in the late 70s. Maintaining its military bicep but slowly losing its grip on world economic leadership to new players such as China and other countries in south east Asia, the United States has retained its position in the 21st Century as the world’s watchdog. Although the United States has exercised its moral obligation to police the world to maintain international order, some efforts have been regarded as purely selfish and some actions so unilateral that some members of the international community have distanced themselves from them casting a long shadow on the US world leadership.

This discourse looks at examples of some actions that have been seen to aggravate rather than reduce global tension. Here we should also look at whether this aggravation of tension has contributed to the creation of the so-called failed states and whether these failed states have had anything at all to do with international terrorism. Recommendations in various areas of American foreign policy have also been made.

Actions by the United States

A good example of actions regarded as selfish and unilateral by the United States include the recent invasion of Iraq in the name of ‘war against terror’. The act by the United States and its 'coalition of the willing' has been regarded as aggressive and has been looked at with skepticism because it followed the 9/11 attacks in the United States although Iraq was not connected in any way to the perpetrators. Another reason for the United States’ toppling of Saddam Hussein was the allegation that he was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction which up to now have not been shown to the world to justify the invasion. Critics have, therefore, regarded the Iraq invasion as a calculated move by the oil starved western economy to ensure a grip on supply of the much needed fossil and to prepare the country as a spring-board for United States activities in the Middle East. Suffice it to say that there is growing evidence that more damage than healing has been inflicted in the country through the use of force. Iraq is slowly slipping into a collapsed status as the central government cannot contain the insurgents that are fighting it. No wonder the urgent calls for a time table for the pull out of foreign troops in the Arab country.

Some commentators have even gone further to accuse the western nation of imposing its Jeffersonian way of governance on other countries as a way of creating a world community that thinks and behaves like the United States as a solution to a new world order. Today, the entrenchment of liberal democracy is being used as an antidote and indeed immunization against possibilities of the creation of breeding grounds for terrorist activities. The move, however, has been received with opposition and insurgency in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As much as liberal democracy may be one of the solutions to a stable and prosperous nation, the question has always been whether the approach and motives employed by the United States are right in the first place. Bush’s post-9/11 policy has been geared at regime change with emphasis on military intervention as seen recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Collapsed states and international terrorism

The unrivaled global hegemony and military dominance of the US after 1945 has been characterized by an increased number of collapsed states. This was mainly the result of the Cold War and a fight for allies and fighting launch pads especially in places such as Africa. The World Bank identifies more than 30 low income countries as being under stress or with dysfunctional governments including; Afghanistan, Cambodia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Burma, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. Other 50 nations have been described as fragile.[1] Many of these troubled states embarked on their downward slide during the Cold War when the United States and the then Soviet Union chose to support some sections or leaders against others in the countries in an effort to amass world allies. Two questions arise from this state of affairs: Is the US continuing to contribute to the number of collapsed states through its use of military force when dealing with regimes that appear to be threatening international order and US national security even in modern times? The second question is whether the United States and other developed countries can now enjoy peace and security when pockets of unstable areas still exist in other parts of the world.

Another question, albeit secondary to the two posed above, worth examining here is whether there is a direct correlation between the increasing number of dysfunctional states and international terrorism. Simons and Tucker[2]contend that contrary to a commonly held view, most of the recent international terrorists do not come from failed states nor do failed states house many organizations that support terrorism. Simons and Tucker give two principal reasons as to why failed states do not generate many international terrorists; (i) Although those who fight in failed states develop skills and tactics valuable to international terrorists, those skills are in demand locally; (ii) Lack of proper internationally acceptable credentials limits their global movements. While the position by Simons and Tucker may be true, it does not explain local terrorism that targets western or their own government interests as the case is in Sri Lanka and Spain.
What Simons and Tucker have overlooked in their argument is the fact that where there is lack of official centralized control of trade, borders and airspace, states are prone to activities such as narcotics trafficking, weapon proliferation and terrorism activities whether locally or at international level.[3] Experience has shown that states are at their most vulnerable when they are undergoing a conflict whether intra or inter state. This is what the United States has been accused of, contributing to instability through military involvement. It happened in Somalia in the 90s and it is happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although it can safely be argued that poverty is not the biggest causative factor of terrorism, considering that the plotters of the 9/11 attacks came from better off countries, it would not be an exaggeration to say that spots which lack systematic central administration can act as safe havens for terrorist recruitment and training. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is quoted as saying that weak and failing states serve as global pathways that facilitate the movement of criminals and terrorists.[4] It is imperative, therefore, that for the war on terror to bear fruits, the United States government must rethink its foreign policy. Examples such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia have shown that military intervention has not been an effective method of changing regimes. Military intervention has been seen to aggravate rather than alleviate political tensions in countries.
Areas in need of policy rethinking by the United States
The United States needs to, therefore, consider genuine nation building as opposed to regime change as a way of dealing with threats of terrorism. Some critics have argued that nation building efforts by western countries have over the years created a ‘culture of dependence’. The truth of the matter is that it all depends on how this nation-building assistance is channeled and what conditions are attached to it. The kind of nation-building aid that African countries received to deal with their foreign debt in the 70s did create dependence because of the conditions that were attached to the loans such as downsizing of the civil service and privatization of state companies. This resulted in high unemployment figures and crime in the assisted countries. African countries ended up looking back to the US and the international bodies it controls for further assistance. Genuine nation-building efforts, therefore, need to be devised so that developing countries can be self sufficient and capable to manage their affairs.
Francis Fukuyama[5] gives a general definition of state-building as being the creation of new governmental institutions and the strengthening of existing ones. Fukuyama’s call is a transfer of strong institutions from developed to developing countries. To put more words in his mouth, a functional government must be one that is able to meet the demands of its citizenry in areas such as health delivery, food security, property security, education, investment and economic growth. Only such a government will be prepared to deal with non-state actors who might want to engage in acts of terrorism whether locally or at international level using the countries as bases. The United States should refrain from lip service and embark on serious efforts to empower fragile states to be able to enact statutes so as to frame and execute policies; to control corruption and most importantly be able to enforce law and order.
Unfortunately, because of the initial motives and methods employed by the United States in the countries that it is involved in such as Iraq and Afghanistan, state capacity building is taking long requiring prolonged US military and other allies’ presence in the countries. As the world’s hegemon, the United States has a moral responsibility to ensure that there is peace and security globally but this must be done within acceptable parameters.
On a number of occasions, the United States has acted unilaterally in issues that threatened its national security. It can be argued that the war on terror has been approached in this fashion creating the impression that it is ‘the terrorists versus the United States of America and Britain’ when the truth of the matter is that non-American innocent lives are lost when terrorists act. When terrorists target American interests in places like Kenya and elsewhere, local residents are also affected. The war on terror, therefore, calls for concerted efforts rather than a unilateral approach as adopted by the United States.Unilateral actions such as the United States has undertaken have contributed to undermining the authority of world bodies like the United Nations. Continued unilateral action may as well end up removing the confidence that the international community has in the United Nations. This is another factor concerning the United States’ foreign policy that it has to reconsider: how it deals with international bodies mandated to maintain peace and order.
One other element that is vital in the fight against terrorism is the lack of definite working definition of terrorism and acts of terrorism. It is obvious that definitions by the United States have created more problems than solutions in that there is a lack of consensus by the international community as to what constitutes terrorism. Literature is full of examples where groups and organizations which are fighting for self-determination have been shut out from discussions violating the people’s right to seek self-determination. In its position as the only super power, the United States needs to redefine terrorism if the rest of the internal community can join to effectively fight it. Relations between the United States and Arab countries are another policy issue that the western country has to rethink. Over the years, the United States has conveniently selected countries that it would work with sidelining others based purely on its national interests rather than an effort to seek world peace and security. The current situation in Iraq calls for genuine talks with Arab countries like Syria and Iran but simply because the United States has its own issues with Iran, feet have been dragged in engaging Iran to resolve the Iraq conflict, so too the Palestinian issue when it comes to discussions with Hamas.
The biggest challenge that the United States faces in the 21st Century, therefore, is cleaning its reputation and integrity after being thrown into the Iraqi mud. As the world leader it needs to regain the international community’s confidence through genuine efforts to build the capacity of the countries it is involved in rather than pursuing national interests like oil or just getting rid of a regime it does not like. Increased involvement of world bodies like the United Nations will also go a long way in bringing back the confidence and trust the international community lost in the United States.

[1] The World Bank, 2005

[2] The Misleading Problem of Failed States: a ‘socio-geography’ of terrorism in the post-9/11 era, Third World Quarterly Vol 28, No. 2, Simons & Tucker, 2007.

[3] The Danger of Failed States, Foreign Affairs, Krasner and Pascual, 2005

[4] Condoleezza Rice, ‘The Promises of democratic peace: why promoting freedom is the only realistic path to security,’ Washington Post, 11 December 2005.

[5] The Imperative of State-Building, Journal of Democracy Vol. 15, Number 2, Fukuyama, 2004

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Every dog has his day

News coming from the International Criminal Court-ICC in the Hague, a couple of days ago that Sudan’s al-Bashir’s name may soon be removed from the list of “their excellencies” to “wanted, dead or alive” is quite sobering to those who choose to be drunk with illusions of omnipotence and infallibility. The information has sure jolted some mighty goliaths back to their senses recognizing it as a loud and clear signal that being at the helm of state power makes one neither immortal nor omniscient. If the Sudan Czar is indeed arrested and prosecuted, it will be proof beyond reasonable doubt that indeed we all were supposed to be equal under the watchful eye of the law.

Without being privy to the evidence and supporting facts that Moreno-Ocampo has gathered against the Sudan Emir, my humble argument is that individuals who find themselves in the gap should not miss the opportunity to help turn the tide. Against al-Bashir’s loud protests of innocence, one would simply ask why and how as a gardener he allowed the ‘Janjaweed’ (which means devil on horseback in Arabic) to grow in his back yard during his watch; why and how as a steward did he allow the roof of the house to curve in and leak with him in residence?

Media reports are replete with stories of atrocities perpetrated against defenseless women and children by the wild militants in Darfur. If indeed the liberator of Sudan is innocent and has not been party to the various crimes against the Sudanese people, why then do governments exist if it is not to protect their citizens?

The charges by the ICC should remind one and all that leaders who find themselves in decisive moments of history should take the bull by the horns and refuse to ride with the tide. Sudan has defied all manner of intervention to bring peace to Darfur so that the country could move forward. We do not have to go far back in time to find perfect examples of both lost and seized opportunities, acts that left marks in the annals of human history.

Remember the Xhosa boy who grew up to be a lawyer and spent over 25 years in confinement as a nemesis of the white rulers in South Africa? At the peak of his confinement on Robin Island, it dawned on Mandela that he was occupying a very decisive position. He knew it was up to him to keep on fighting the white minority government and die on the island (and probably take his country’s hope for freedom to the grave with him) or open up to dialogue and take South Africa into a new direction. Even more surprising was his voluntary relinquishing of power after serving for a single term as president. I cannot speak as to what gave rise to this kind of decision within the African National Congress but today South Africa is writing a completely new episode to its history because of one leader’s determination to make things right while he could. If there was a man who had all the right to be president as long as he wanted, I think, it was Mandela. After all he risked his career, life and family to fight black repression.

Within the same time span, events in the opposite side of the globe were also taking a dramatic turn. Remember the grey-haired man who standing on top of a military tank single-handedly stopped a coup, voluntarily resigned from office and ushered in one of the greatest events of the epoch? Boris Yeltsin found himself in a similar gap just like Mandela did. Yeltsin will forever remain in the chronicles of human activity as the man who brought down the mighty soviet empire. Yet Yeltsin missed out on the opportunity to effect genuine democratic and economic reforms (I speak of democracy loosely for lack of another word to mean a locally desired way of participatory self governance. I have serious questions on the efficacy of the Jeffersonian liberal polity that African countries have swallowed wholesale). His administration was marked by wanton firing of all voices that did not echo with his own. He miserably failed to utilize Russia’s vast endowment of resources for the country’s socio-economic development. As a legacy of his repressive regime, press freedom in Russia remains elusive with one of the highest numbers in mysterious deaths of journalists and activists.

Our contemporary times feature a number of Yeltsins who are showing signs of refusing to take charge of the fate of their countries. Intoxicated with power and personal idiosyncrasy, they have thrown all caution to the wind and with it respect for human rights and their governments’ responsibility to bring unity and social cohesion vital for economic progress. With al-Bashir’s name now ticked for accountability, the world is waiting as to who will be next.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mwenda Njira

Mwenda Njira

Let him who is without sin cast the First Stone

Respectable countrymen and women, last week I promised to take you along on my sojourns to the land of the Swahili and the Monomotapa ruins. I purported to travel to these news making regions of the continent to see for ourselves the birthing of democracy the African style.

Instead of having to subject you to the equatorial heat and humidity of Nairobi and to expose you to the Harare bedlam, a better idea dawned on me. “What about following Uncle Bob and Africa’s big brothers and a sister to the palm trees of Sharm el-Sheik!” Yes, you have guessed right. The AU meet in the land of the Pharaohs. What transpired in the land of the pyramids was nothing short of an enactment of one of the most famous scenes in the Bible: where the ‘self righteous’ brought before Jesus a woman caught in the act of illicit carnal pleasure for judgement. Always take note, dear country folks, of the impartiality of world justice when dealing with women: only the woman was brought before the master for the administration of justice.

Some of you remember well how the crowd left in shame, one after another, when Jesus asked that whoever had never sinned should cast the first stone to condemn the woman. Was Jesus encouraging women to leave their marital homes in search of wanton pleasures of the flesh? By no means! The simple lesson was that humans should not haste to judge lest they are judged themselves. Almost 2000 years later, the famous episode repeated itself in Egypt a few days ago as ‘righteous’ statesmen and women of the world bayed for Uncle Bob’s head after his famous one-man election recently.

But before I explicate what transpired within the walls of Peninsula Hotel in the Red Sea town, allow me to grab my cup of tea, my sweater and make myself comfortable on the goatskin stool-thanks to Chibwe the Great-may he rest eternally. Coming from the warm beaches of the Red Sea, I find the Chipeloni winds from the Soche Mountain quite bone-chilling. As I sit down to sip my warm mandimu tea, I hear the Great one in his deep baritone voice, “You should grow more flesh to keep yourself warm my boy.”

I take out my woolen jersey from my suitcase and get to sit on the goatskin stool only when Nangondo, mother of our five children, is not around. I was allowed to have the ancient wooden stool in the living area on condition that I cover it with white dowels that Nango had crocheted. I even promised to have the stool in the sun as frequently as possible so that it does not produce any funny odours. Is it not amazing as to what great lengths men take to please a woman? As for me, it all started with having to take daily showers if I had to win over Nangondo’s love, then a pretty form two girl at Stella Maris Secondary School in Blantyre. A daily shower was quite a shift in my lifestyle from a shower every fortnight at St. Patrick’s Secondary School at Mzedi. Get me right. It was not as though I did not want to bathe but Mzedi could be cold in winter and the Montfort Brothers in their wisdom had all dormitories fitted with cold showers only. Well, that helped to save on bathing soap too. So what was a man supposed to do? Stink as a he-goat, of course. Nango changed all that. It has been said and I agree that, usually, behind every successful man there is a woman.

The lemon tea is already doing wonders. I can no longer feel my lungs within me. Back to the glittering sand of Sharma el-sheikh beach shall we? Well, when I heard that the political gurus of the African continent were gathering in Egypt, I had ruled out Uncle Bob’s attendance. Was it not rife in the media from Mbabane to London, Cape Town to Washington D.C that the great African comrade of the Chimurenga fame had no business going to the august summit? Under what legitimacy would Uncle Bob be mingling in the company of honourable sons and daughters at the helm of decent African politics? A fighter that Mugabe is, he does his homework well and knows his facts, perhaps a little bit of the Bible too. He had as much legitimacy as Uganda’s Museveni and his movement system, Kenya’s Kibaki whose hands were still wet from the blood of thousands of people who died in the aftermath of the recent general elections. No summit had ever questioned life presidencies of individuals such as Brother Leader of The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, their very host-Muhammad Hosni Burak-president of Egypt since October, 1981. Was Mugabe any worse than the whole holier than thou lot?

Your very own, Mwenda Njira the traveler, was there when the chartered Air Zimbabwe Jumbo jet stooped down and threatened to plough through the Egyptian bitumen. Without the slightest hesitation, the old soldier accompanied by half a dozen strong and well-fed men (one wonders where they get their food from amidst the six million percent inflation rate chaos) in dark suits and glasses and a score more members of his entourage emerged from the huge aircraft before being rushed to Peninsula Hotel.

I know, dear folks, that you are wondering as to how the nosy Mwenda Njira gets to go around the globe and be able to tell you about these things. Do I have a Jumbo jet at my command like the Chimurenga comrade does? By no means!

Let me divert a little from the Red Sea resort story and sell you into my small secret. You see, Chibwe the Great, did not attain his title through child play. The old man earned every grain of that accolade. His fireside stories were replete with his military adventures in the jungles of Burma during the Second World War.

No one and nothing could stop his reminiscences of how African members in the King’s army could turn enemy fire into useless smoke, “When the amaliongo fired their bullets they turned into smoke. We just coughed and moved on,” he would say sucking from his thick pipe and occasionally laughing at his own jokes. Chibwe told of stories of how they could produce a whole army battalion from the dust collected in their worn out army boots.

“In those days, my children, local knowledge was used for the benefit of all African brothers against the common enemy. Lero dziko lazondoka.” I can hear his lamentation even today.

I had the rare privilege of learning at his feet back in Kandota Village. He was larger than life itself. Chibwe taught me the greatest remedy to life-the ability to laugh at oneself and to learn from one’s mistakes. He taught me all the tricks I needed to survive in this turbulent life.

So, among the tricks that the Great one taught me, was the use of the Flying River Reed-FRRII. I gave the denomination II to the one I use after the initial one developed by Chibwe was buried together with him when he passed on. FRRII is a powerful piece of ingenuity man has ever made. Shooting between Blantyre and London in .34 seconds it outperforms any known flying object invented on this planet. It takes a little longer though to get to places such as New York and Rio because of the vast bodies of water that one has to fly over. Chibwe in his greatness did not manage to perfect his art when it came to crossing vast water bodies. Perhaps that will be my challenge before I join him in the land of the ancestors. I will not divulge any further details about this flying object. I plan on having it patented before mass production for commercial purposes. When that is accomplished, ladies and gentlemen, Mwenda Njira will not be sitting here on the goatskin stool, sipping lemon tea and telling you about other people’s political prowess. But that is a story for another time. Back to Peninsula Hotel, Egypt.

I watched with interest as the Zimbabwean entourage arrived. I expected a cold shoulder reception by the Egyptian Czar. Well, the newly elected leader of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Robert Gabriel Mugabe was treated to a red carpet just like the rest. Pictures were taken and video was shot as Uncle Bob joined a lavish lunch by the host, Hosni Burak.

As you might have heard, beloved country folks, when the moment of truth came in that kachipinda komata, there was no single soul that had a moral ground solid enough on which to stand to accuse Mugabe of stifling democracy on the continent. Uncle Bob has never struck me as a religious person and I was sweetly surprised when he tactically employed the biblical principle to save his own neck at the summit by courageously declaring, “ Who ever has a clean democratic record in his country, let him be the first to point an accusing finger at me.

Mwenda Njira

I am a traveler and I love my job. I like to watch and observe. The best thing about being an observer in anything is the opportunity to watch without being involved. A spectator is able to watch from the safety of the sidelines, skills and blunders of football players without getting a headache for losing a match. Well, you can rise up on your feet once in a while to shout at the players when they work your blood pressure up by missing an opportunity..”iwe ukanaponya chonchi!”and you end up hitting the spectator in front of you…but it ends there. Palibe kukatentha gombeza kunyumba chifukwa cholephera pa masewera.

This, my dear country folks, is what I intend to do through this column, talk about issues from the sidelines. Issues that I will observe as I sojourn throughout the world. The idea will not be to demonise anyone or any group of people but that together we should be able to laugh at ourselves and learn from our mistakes. That has really helped me.

Oh, can you believe I am deep into conversation with you before telling you who I am? Describing myself and telling others about my name has not been an easy feat for me. Well, where do I start from? Perhaps I should start with the name. I was christened at birth as Elijah by my good old grandfather, Chibwe the Great, may his soul rest in eternal peace. He was a church minister by calling and a soldier by profession and that explains the choice of Elijah as my name. As I grew up I found the name to be too perfect. People expected a lot from me than I could deliver.

At school I was expected to be super intelligent and all knowing. Like the biblical prophet, I was expected to find solutions to people’s problems, do miracles and be the leader in any group I found myself in. I remember one day, a standard one pupil fell into an old pit latrine and the whole school was sent to search for me. I was cracking BODMAS with friends when the word came that the headmaster wanted me at the old pit latrine. Moved by the agony in the voice of the little boy down the latrine, I did not hesitate when the headmaster suggested they tie a rope around my waist for me to go after the boy, “You were endowed with such a height that we are sure you will not drown down there.” The headmaster observed as they lowered me down the dark smelly hole. My friends said I had been down the latrine for less than five minutes but to me it was the longest and most dreadful experience that I had ever gone through. As they pulled us out drenched in maggots and caking human excreta, everyone shouted my name....Elijah! Elijah! Now, such Rambo adventures were not characteristic of me and the name weighed heavily on my being.

I have always enjoyed playing second fiddle, watching from the backbench or the sidelines as Chibwe the Great would call it. If my right hand helps someone in a situation, I go to great lengths not to let my left hand know. So at age 21 when I was legally called an adult, I changed my name to Mwenda Njira, short for Mwenda Njira Wangodutsa Sanatchole Mnkhwani. Funny name ha? Yeah! Funny and safe and harmless…and long too. You should listen to my azungu dudes pronounce it. The best that one of my friends can manage is Muwenida Nijira.

Enough about my long funny name. I guess you are still asking as to what I do for a living. Well, I am a traveller. Get me right here. I am not a tourist. A tourist wonders about aimlessly admiring beautiful sights along the way. I travel purposely appreciating and learning from how people around the globe live and organize themselves to create a better world.

The traveller and observer that I am, I just came back from the United States of America, and Zimbabwe to watch campaigns and actual elections. I was there in the land of George Washington when Obama unleashed the historic nasty left punch knocking Hilary out of the American presidential race. I am trying to make American politics sound exciting here. The truth is, the Obama-Clinton politicking was the most boring contest I have ever witnessed. You see it lacked the drama of venomous tongues that are characteristic of real politics. The Americans are yet to learn how to scandalise one another at public rallies, in the media and at religious gatherings. Their legislators are yet to be schooled on what it means to spar with the speaker of the national assembly and hold a nation at ransom until their demands are met. The dishonourable members of the US congress are not daring enough to be able to roll up their sleeves and sort out disagreements outside the chamber one on one. Is that not pathetic? They surely know how to take out excitement from politics in the name of discursive democracy.

Before I headed for Harare to see how Uncle Bob was preparing for the next term of office after his opponent chickened out of the contest, I braved the last winter breezes to hear the next president of the United States of America. I woke up quite early on that day and joined the crowd that was already gathering on Court Street in Athens, a small town in Ohio.

No one paid particular attention to me and I liked it that way. My lean tall figure with a narrow face decorated with thick eye brows and short clipped hair was less attractive than the breath-taking and scantly dressed bodies of the students from the local university. I fastened the buttons of my double-breasted jacket. It made me look awkward among the students who were mostly in jeans and sports attire that being a Saturday. I cared less and just braced for a long wait.

I did not feel bored with the waiting. I watched as the crowd increased in the street. A young man in his early 20s emerged from behind a parked ambulance carrying a placard that simply read “Obama for President 2008.” He was followed by another whose banner read “Change we can believe in. My attention was soon grabbed by a girl who wore a very tight pair of jean shorts in spite of the chill that was now reaching to my bones and threatened to solidify me. On the back of an equally tight black T-shirt that barely covered the rich endowment on her chest were emblazoned the words “Totally fallen for Obama.” She elbowed her way through the crowd and disappeared at the top of the street. I shook my head and heard the voice of Chibwe the Great as he used to say, “May the Lord have mercy on the soul that will be deceived by those looks.”

I was still thinking about the girl’s strange expression of political support when a group of three young men all dressed in the American flag colours appeared from nowhere carrying the largest banner of the day. On the banner was a sheepishly smiling face of George W. Bush. Below the smiling face were crookedly handwritten words “Clinton lied and no one died. I lied and thousands have died.” I almost joined his Excellency the US president in his smile.

I did not have much time to think about the smiling Bush and his message. A convoy of three cars appeared from the direction of the road that was not blocked by police. Six men in dark suits and equally dark sunglasses jumped out of the cars before the all familiar face of Barack Obama appeared from the doorway of one of the cars. Smiling and waving at the crowd that was now standing still, mesmerized by a Martin Luther King Junior brought to life. Obama proceeded to the podium where some college students had been taking turns warming the stage singing and shouting about change whose time had come.

“It is good to be back in Ohio. How are you doing Ohio?” Obama roared in the microphone his voice resounding across the street and driving away the chill that was beginning to make my feet feel numb. I could feel my heart starting to beat faster. “Take it easy, you are just one lucky fellow watching from the sidelines. You are not even a citizen, what’s the excitement about?” Chibwe the Great whispered in my left ear.

“But what’s causing all this excitement? Look at how transfixed the whole street is by Obama’s voice.” I whispered back to Chibwe the Great. Smiling he whispered back to me, “He has his roots in Kenya remember?” Nodding I agreed with the all wise one.

When my attention was drawn back to the street before me, a female voice shouted, “We love you Obama.” I stood on my toes to see who it was. I was not surprised to see big mama in her tight short and T-shirt. She was now carrying the American flag and was waving it across people’s heads as if to increase the chilly breeze that defied layers of clothing.

“I love you back Ohio,” Obama responded before he began to elaborate on the purpose of his visit. In his Ciceronian eloquence, he went on to talk about the need for affordable healthcare for all Americans, the need to bring back jobs from overseas and create more at home and the need to bring American troops back home from the war that should never have been authorised. The street resounded with handclapping and whistling. He went on to explain how as a former community organizer he was fit to be America’s next president since he identified well with the people and their needs. More handclapping. About his co-contender in the democratic camp who had just tipped the hat after a resounding knockout in the primaries, Obama simply praised her as a formidable contender. He said Hilary had made history just as he had done and will play a vital role in his administration should he be elected president.

As I stood there shivering in my leather boots, I shook my head in desperation.

“So they call this an election campaign?” I asked myself as the six men in black whisked Obama back into one of the three cars. I found the American politicking to be very boring. Right from the pretty blonde who did not hide her crush on Obama to Obama himself. They were all disappointingly boring.

“These American politicians need to be taught real political language and befitting campaign tricks,” I said to myself noticing that Chibwe the Great had decided to call it quits so I could not ask him his opinion on the Obama speech. Just as I respected his decisions when he was still breathing, I respect his decisions now as a shadow that guides my wandering soul.

Anyway, I must go now to Nairobi and see how Odinga is doing in the new group that he has found himself in. I hear his bodyguards and those of his boss, Kibaki nearly exchanged blows at a public rally recently. Now, that is politics, mwamuna nzako ndi pa chulu umalinga utakwerapo. Ndapita...let us meet next week and I will tell you stories of how the Swahili and the Shona are birthing democracy the African way.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

latest paper on the street in Malawi!!!

Introducing The News, a publication of The News Media Group Inc., Blantyre, Malawi.

Responding to the need for contributing to media outlet plurality and the provision of alternative sources of news in Malawi, The News Media Group Inc. launched on June 20th, 2008 The News!!! A weekly newspaper (coming out Friday) owned and managed by private individuals without political or oligarchic connections. The News is a brainchild of Frederick Ndala-seasoned journalist with over 7 years experience working with The Daily Times; M.I. Ziwoya Gama-veteran journalist with over 30 years experience working with Montfort Press in Limbe and Malawi News ( he was among the first indigenous editors for the famous Moni Magazine) and of course yours truly, Fletcher, coming into the business with about 10 rains experience working for The Nation and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.

The main objective of the The News Media Group Inc. is to provide a professional and objective alternative to information and entertainment to readers in Malawi by breaking the trend of media politicking due to ownership and affiliation influence. All the three main media houses: The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Television Malawi and The Malawi News Agency are heavily controlled by the state often shutting out alternative voices. The two other main papers, The Nation and The Daily Times are owned by individuals who have political connections, a factor that often compromise their objectivity in news coverage.

The News Media Group Inc. believes that for communities to be able to make informed choices, to be able to participate effectively in discursive national development processes, they must have access to information and be able to express themselves freely. It is the desire of the The News Media Group Inc, through the publication of The News, to provide this much needed public sphere in Malawi to promote dialogue on local and national issues.

We are already serving all the three regions in Malawi, South, Centre and North and we hope to increase circulation so that people can enjoy objectively reported news and of course crazy entertainment. Attractions in this new publication include: The News Babe-page 3 feature of successful girls ready to be role models for their young counterparts; The News Between the Lines-a corner for readers' to express their views on local and national issues; Accountancy Corner-for those in the accounting profession; Histo-Politics Forum-taking you back in time to people and events that made today's Malawi; Mwenda Njira-a satirical approach to day to day occurrences both local and international and of course breaking news which only The News can reveal. So, next time you go out to buy newspaper look out for white letters against a red background.

  • newsroom, editors' cubicle computerization and networking
  • personnel training
  • a printing press so that we can increase both circulation and frequency
The News-Real Stories about Real People

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Way to go Ibrahim

The initiative by Mr. Ibrahim is laudable. It is time we started looking for solutions from within the African continent rather than continue to depend on the west for support. Mr. Ibrahim's initiative will be a better incentive for African leaders to perform well. To agree with him, THE DAY THAT AFRICA WILL NO LONGER NEED FOREIGN AID WILL BE THE HAPPIEST DAY OF OUR LIVES. WAY TO GO IBRAHIM MAY YOU RECEIVE BACK MANY MORE FROM THE POCKET THAT YOU TAKE OUT THE PRIZE MONEY!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Tragedy That is Darfur

"An Efficient and Effective African Union for a New Africa," reads the motto of the newly re-organized Organization of the African Unity-The African Union. Some of the ideologies behind this re-organization were the spirit of Pan-Africanism as a starting point for the continent to find its place in the world. An analysis of what the African Union has achieved in the years that have gone by does not show quite an impressive picture. Whether the Union is living up to its motto of being and efficient and effective organization for a new Africa is a matter of personal opinion.

In my opinion the African Union risks falling back into oblivion of history as just another form of human fellowship without a mark on the face of the earth if the present generation of leaders does not do something about Darfur in Sudan. What started as a political wrangle has degenerated into a humanitarian tragedy with women and children being raped and killed each passing by. As always the whole world is crying for the (western) international community to do something about the situation. The leadership in Sudan has not shown interest in ending the massacre of its own people. While fellow African leaders are burying their heads in the sand another Rwanda is underway on the continent. Opposition the United Nations' efforts to send a peace keeping force into Sudan, Al-Bashir says any country that sends troops into Sudan will be regarded an intruder and the action will seen as a hostile move.

The talk about Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance will not yield any fruit if leaders on the continent continue to turn their back on the Sudanese tragedy. The failure by the AU to initiate real action at its recent heads of state meeting has been big disappointment to peace loving Africans. The AU's recent press statement through its Peace and Security Council-Sept 4, 06 is so mild and does not seem to recognize the human catastrophe that is Darfur. The Council casually talks about a transition of the end of the AMIS mandate in Sudan and the coming of UN peace keepers as if it is a hand over of night shift between two train drivers. It does not give the Sudanese leadership any conditions or sternly remind it of its obligations to the safety of the Sudanese. This is a wake up call to the leaders of the continent to come out of there deep slumber and take up issues with their Sudanese counterpart if indeed the AU is to live up to its motto of being an efficient and effective organization for a new Africa. Africa has looked up to the west for salvation for a long time. We have swallowed its medicine and it has hurt our stomachs. It is time we solved our problems by being responsible and answerable to our brothers and sisters on the continent. If the African Peer Review mechanism is just an economic white elephant, the AU will remain in pages of history books without a real impact on the lives of people that the organization vowed to ameliorate.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Of Malawi's Economic Growth and the Reality

Business: Economy’s harsh reality
by Taonga Sabola, 09 April 2006 - 06:49:10 Picture this. An economic growth forecast of seven to eight percent, bumper maize and tobacco harvest, an aid programme with International Monetary Fund (IMF), a declining fiscal deficit...The list could go on. What more does one need? Is this not honeymoon time again? At one point, even Britain’s locally-based top economic advisor, Alan Whitworth commended government’s management of the Treasury purse. And just last month, an IMF mission leader Calvin Mc Donald had more goodies for the ear; just the news anyone would have loved to hear. “In assessing performance under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) [lending programme with Malawi], the mission found that all quantitative targets through end-December 2005 were met,” he said. “There has been progress in implementing structural reforms, although at a lower pace than anticipated. Hence, most structural targets were only met with a delay,” he added. But unfortunately, the sweet-sounding story seems to end there. What remains thereafter is a berating noise of reality as it hammers at the ear. If one were to ask Simeon Nfunokutcha, the tale of reality on the ground would be told without a twist. Nfunokutcha is a second-hand clothes vendor at Ntcheu boma. He does not deny what the high-sounding messengers of the economy are saying—but rather that what they have to say is hard to believe and no different from the rhetoric he has grown tired of hearing in his 29 years on earth. For this Ntcheu clothes vendor, the economy cannot be said to be fine when he is struggling to put food on the table to feed his family of four children. From sun up to sun down—Monday through Sunday—Nfunokutcha waits for customers to come and buy from him. But to his awe, hardly a handful is turning up these days, he says. Those very few that come go back as fast as they arrived, most times cursing under their breath for the “high” prices he is pegging to his used clothes. “To me the economy can only be said to be in good shape when commodity prices are kept under control. There are no signs to show that the economy is in good shape,” he told Economic Report. Mabvuto Tebulo is a hardware trader in down town Blantyre. In recent years, life for him has been another nightmare with no signs of getting better. Tebulo reminisces that the old days of former President Hastings Kamuzu Banda were far much better. “In the days of ‘Angwazi’, we did not worry about economy this and economy that. You did not need to worry about how the economy was doing. But now, the economy is stupid,” he said, rather out of anger and frustration than anything. Everyone seems to be complaining, anyway. So when Economic Report bumped into Thomas Matewere at Bvumbwe produce market, his reaction could have been easily discernible. Not too long ago, Matewere ‘graduated’ from Secondary School with an MSCE, thinking everything would be rosy. In his mind, everything was going to be simple; knock on a few offices in town, and a clerical job would be had. He even thought lamely about buying his own Toyota Carina after a year on that job. Reality however, had its own lessons to teach. To Matewere’s utter disbelief, the job he had always dreamed of was nowhere to be had. Roam the streets for a year he did, even though he knew he was not born a cell phone handset. When the soles of his only pair of shoes started to give in—what with walking long distances in search of the job—Matewere became wiser; there are no jobs! It was then that he settled for vegetable business at Bvumbwe, where Economic Report found him. “A lot of school leavers can’t get a job out there. I know many friends in town who have settled for mini-bus touting,” Matewere, 25 said. Sadly, that is the reality—not the rhetoric—for most Malawians.