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As there are different authors for the articles on this blog, each article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

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28 December 2009

Is Splitting Democratic Republic of Congo the solution for the Great Lakes Region? Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

Patrick Litanga is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in African Studies at Ohio University.

It has been 11 years since the second rebellion started in 1998; we, actually, know that it was not just a rebellion. Although the Congolese rebel, Jean Pierre Bemba, was gaining momentum in the region of Equateur, Uganda and Rwanda were deeply involved in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as they were attempting to “punish” their former protégée, Laurent Desiree Kabila. In May 1997 Laurent D. Kabila, a drop out mentee of Che Guevara, basically rode to power on the shoulders of Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni. Unfortunately, in 1998 Kabila’s collaboration with Museveni and Kagame went sour, a collapse that saw Uganda and Rwanda’s troops attacking the east of DRC. Since DRC was militarily and economically inadequate, to say the least, Kabila sought help from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola; this is how the Congolese second war came to be known as “the first African World War”. From 1998 to 1999 these six countries: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola had active troops in DRC; they fought and mined whatever minerals they could, coltan, diamond, cassiterite (tin ore), etc. By 2000 all other foreign troops had left DRC while Kagame and Museveni’s troops continued their activities.

Today, 11 years later, 5.4 million deaths, countless internally displaced Congolese, and millions others in refugee camps in neighboring countries, the east of DRC is still unstable and Uganda and Rwanda are still involved. To put it into perspective, the Congolese conflict, the deadliest conflict since World War II, has taken away roughly 5 times more lives than the 1994 Rwandese Genocide, about twice the population of Eritrea, and way more lives than the Iraq, Afghanistan and the Kosovo war combined, yet the international community is doing almost nothing, and some are even proposing to split DRC in 3 or four countries, explaining that DRC is too big to be a unified country. This proposition simply implies that the Congolese people are incapable of dealing with their own issues; it also hides the fact that foreign companies, both African and European, are illegally mining coltan and diamonds, exploiting wood and many other resources in the east of Congo. From its genesis, the Congolese conflict was not simply a national affair, it was and it is still an international affair, therefore it requires an international approach.

However, my purpose here is to ask us Africaninsts and readers of Bokamoso Leadership Forum (BLF) blog if splitting DRC is the best option for peace in the Great Lakes region, keeping in mind that when Mobutu was backed by the CIA from the 1960’s until the beginning of the 1990’s very few people, if ever, had voiced the idea that DRC was too big and ought to be split. In addition, breaking DRC down in 2 or 3 countries would create at least one more landlocked country in the Great Lakes region, which has had armed conflicts since the 1960’s, and today some scholars have labeled it as the “corridor of war”. Third and most importantly, who should decide and what should be the criteria of splitting DRC?

These questions also arise as a reflection of the series that was run by the BLF blog on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs), and their possible role in the facilitation of nation building in African countries that are emerging from conflict. The TRC was part of the peace agreement signed at the Inter-Congolese Dialogue that brought the conflict to its ‘end’ in 2004, in Pretoria South Africa. As part of the institutions forming part of the transitional government, Joseph Kabila signed the TRC law that same year. The TRC’s responsibility was to establish the truth about the political, the social and economic violations that took place in the DRC between 1960- 2003 in order to promote healing and reconciliation. However, the president of the TRC Bishop Jean-Luc Ndondo in 2008 attributed the failure of the Congolese TRC to unfavorable political conditions, while the international community condemned the formation of the commission due to the continuance of violent events in places such as Kivu. Therefore, the Congolese TRC unlike the Liberian, South African had little international and domestic support due to the continuance of tensions in the country. One can argue, unfortunately, that its failure was inevitable.

Could it be then that the failure of the TRC here has led to this view that ‘splitting’ the DRC is a better alternative to nation building? If so, then does this mean that justice can only be established by destroying the rebuilding process? Would we not then be trying to foster nation building based on ethnic associations/ geographical locations that the TRC was trying to heal rather than political ideologies? Who is going to pay for the injustices of this “first African World War”? All these questions directly oppose the reconciliation and most importantly, and unfortunately, posit that DRC cannot be reconciled. Lastly, would the splitting of the DRC be setting a precedent for a future North and South Sudan as two different countries? And sadly, is splitting truly the only chance at peace for the African post-colony 50 years after colonialism? 

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15 December 2009

International relations and diplomacy: Reflections on SA 2010 and the power of sports

by Kombe Kapatamoyo a former graduate student at Ohio University. Kombe is currently a PhD student at West Virginia University.

The World Cup next year will be South Africa’s largest sports event. It will not only bring many nations together in one part of the world, but the world’s attention will be focused on this particular country. Because of the attention received, many nations have used such sports events for political reasons. Now, South Africa as a host of the 2010 World Cup has the rare opportunity to foster beneficial economic and political relations with the visiting countries. This article seeks to highlight the role of sports in the consolidation of intranational and international relations.

Sports are a universal enterprise of all nations. The fans love the competition, love cheering for their favorite teams and just enjoy an atmosphere that is a break from daily issues. The great thing about sports is that it can be a pure pursuit that has a common basis. Therefore, sports can rise above international politics. Using football as an example, a player from Saudi Arabia will play the game in the same manner that a player from Mauritius or South Africa will. This gives an instant and common foundation that people can build relations on.  One might argue that sport is perhaps one of the few spheres where nations can wage war against one another and its over after 90 minutes, at least for football. In the one month it takes to complete the world cup, teams will compete to claim the prestigious title of World Champions. Competing nations invest a lot in these competitions and the fervency with which nations support their teams is almost as intense as waging a war between states.

Sports have also become a method for countries that are facing internal struggles to start diplomatic relations.  For instance, while Ivory Coast was going through qualification for the 2006 World Cup, its National Football Association was hesitant to support the team due to the political turmoil within the country that began in 2002. However, the Ivorian football team wanted to end the divide of the nation between north and south and believed that participation in the World Cup would bridge this divide.

At this point in time, we have a chance to seize upon the World Cup as a method to showcase to the world the power of South Africa as a nation and Africa as a continent. The notion that nations use international tournaments, like the Olympics and the Football World Cup as a platform to exercise ‘soft power’ is worth examining. The US in 1936 had Jesse Owens, an African–American man; participate in the Olympics as a sign to the German government of their lack of support for the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies.  As the World Cup has worldwide media that follow the month-long event, how will South Africa together with her African partners use this opportunity to reveal the deep hope for a brighter future that most Africans have? How can this tournament be used to demonstrate the pride and dignity of a continent whose history, pride, dignity and innovation has long been undermined in international relations? How can this continent which has given birth to Mandela, Nkrumah, Biko, Mogae, Lumumba, Madikizela-Mandela, Annan and many other heroes show the world that so called ‘soft power’ is indeed good for the whole world not just Africans?

In light of the role that sports have played in international relations in the past, South Africa’s successful bid to host the World Cup has shown the country has come a long way since the days of apartheid. It has also given South Africa the opportunity to divert the focus from ongoing problems such as wars in Sudan and DRC, stagnant economies in different African countries and citizens who still lack basic amenities. This doesn’t mean that these challenges should be ignored, but this is an opportunity to show that change has also come to Africa through South Africa.

Additionally, the world cup is being held in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies therefore  it is important to note the huge potential that South Africa brings to the table in terms of politics, economy and other areas that can foster development. For instance, on December 7th 2009, President Zuma visited his counter part President Banda of Zambia to establish and renew standing Memorandum of Understanding in the manufacturing, education and health sectors. This can be extended further not just to the SADC region but also to the entire continent and globe as well. Having risen from a past that was devastating on more than half of its population, South Africa can take the lead in roles of mediation and conflict resolution – the cases of Zimbabwe and Sudan, it can also solidify its role on the international scene as a heavy weight in international relations.

More questions will always be raised than answered when looking at an issue like the strength of a nation in international diplomacy and international relations. South Africa by being host of footballs’ greatest event must highlight the good that has been achieved in the country and on the entire continent. From successful democratic elections in Ghana, establishment of a government of unity in Kenya and the weathering of the economic crunch in emerging and established economies like Botswana and South Africa itself, Africa has and is still a resilient continent to contend with in all spheres.  Also, not only should the spotlight be on national governments but also on individuals that have dedicated their life’s work to the betterment of others. For instance, initiatives such as ‘The Elders’ brought together by Mandela is one that can be highlighted as one that has reaches outside Africa to the rest of the world.

Globalization has proved that politics of isolation are things of the past. International relations and diplomacy through sports and other mediums are the tools needed to forge a strong rainbow nation and continent. Regardless of the inroads we have made since the end of apartheid, South Africa has the opportunity in the World Cup to act as a shining beacon on the continent and once again, raise our voices in articulating Africa’s issues. As the song “My African Dream” states for Africa “there's a new tomorrow…there's a dream that we can follow.” And just like the slogan says, “Its Africa’s turn”.
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07 December 2009

The Africa You Should Know: Reflections on HomeComing

by Dr. Andy Ofori-Birikorang. He is a recent PhD graduate of Ohio University

Five weeks after relocating back home to Ghana, am beginning to see the two ‘Africa’s’ that regularly contest for coverage in western media, ‘The Africa people know’ and the Africa ‘People should know’. I am an advocate of the latter. In the last five weeks since returning home to Ghana for good from the USA (I lived in the USA from August 2003 to October 2009), I have been trying to assess how palpable the two ‘Africas’ manifest on the ground. I must admit that this piece is limited by space to capture all the issues of the “known” and “should know” about the continent. But it presents brief illustrations from Ghana on some major, but current issues of contention on the two ‘Africas’.

In the spring of 2009 the African Student Union of Ohio University held their annual African Cultural Week; they organized a one day awareness exhibition on Africa dubbed “The Africa You Should Know”. The idea behind the exhibition was to highlight the beauty of Africa to counter the stereotypes and negative images which the American media regularly feed their audiences about the continent. According to the organizers, these negative portrayals have come to represent the ‘Africa people know’- the one that the American media have consistently portrayed on television and in the newspapers. The organizers of the event believed that for Africa to attract investors , improve tourism, and earn international respect for its citizens, Africans (and Africanists) living at home, and especially those in the Diaspora must seize every opportunity that comes their way to dispel the negative information that scare away investors and tourists, and present Africans as groups, who, without external Western support/aid, are incapable of managing their own affairs. Audiences need to know or must be educated on the other Africa: ‘The Africa people should know’- that beautiful, serene, communal and vibrant Africa. The effect of the exhibition on patrons of the event and the local media was not measured. However, individuals who are passionate about the continent agree that, to change such negative perceptions and elicit the desired positive responses towards the continent, the exhibition in Athens must be replicated in several countries and on regular basis by Africans living in the Diaspora.

Environment: The ‘known’ Africa will dominate headlines on coverage of the environment of the two major cities in Ghana. My personal experience with driving in the cities sent me back to school on how to drive defensively in lawless, chaotic traffic. In the past year alone reports indicate that 144 individuals in the Ashanti region of Ghana alone lost their lives in road accidents. Results from the 9 other regions have not yet been released. The chilling effect, on ones’ safe arrival home, of escape from fatality on Ghana’s major highways is one reason why religion has, in larges doses become opium of millions of Ghanaians. Who else is responsible for such escape but the God they serve? Since escape from the jaws of Mr. Death occurs round the clock, God should be praised 24/7. It is one reason for some of the all night-long cacophonous sleep-stalling blur of music and tongues speaking that have, in the name of freedom of worship, become nuisance to many peace loving citizens. Another spectacle is the way young boys and girls still criss-cross vehicles paths amidst the heavy traffic to trade and hawk their wares;some young enough to be categorized as child labor. Many are oblivious of their plight. Some fodder for the “Africa you know” pessimists.
Despite the filth that seems to engulf some notable suburbs of the cities, I am impressed with the incessant campaign to keep the cities clean. City officials have robustly tried to keep the cities dirt free and have intensified efforts to remove all unauthorized structures. Most of the highways have been rid of litter. Sanitation along some highways in the cities is comparable to some major roads in any millennium city anywhere.

Politics: This subject of scorn by African pessimists has some good news for the “Africa you should know” advocates. The level of growth and maturity in Ghanaian politics is comparable to any democratic practice anywhere, including the United States. The media have been at the forefront of this democratic growth regularly lubricated by renowned local politicians who cherish freedom of choice and of expression. The level of political awareness can be gauged by the incessant phone-ins from individuals located at all levels of the social structure to the various FM radio stations to discuss local political issues. Some of the discussions by these ordinary Ghanaians are so insightful that the American counterparts of “The Africa people know” adherents will sound apologetic on discovering the new high level of political participation by Africans. More important is the high level of internal democracy that has emerged in internal structures of political parties. The party in power, in the last couple of weeks, has taken more flak from its members than from the opposition parties. The constant criticisms against the President‘s style of governance from his own party activists which they have dubbed as “too slow” has rendered the main opposition party redundant. The Republican Party in the US, from this perspective, to me, does not perform better. One more issue- The current party honored some young men and women with leading cabinet and public office positions breaking away from the history of recycling rejected politicians. They dare not fail!

Sports: the fanfare about South Africa 2010 is still on in almost all African countries. Here in Ghana, people still revel in the fact that Africa is hosting it for the first time. The world cup has provided a chance for the western media a taste of the African sense of unity, communalism and oneness of destiny. Participating African countries would on individual basis like to win the cup. But the general feeling among the Ghanaian soccer enthusiasts is that they just want an African country to lift the cup. They care less about which country. What a joy to see the cup remain on the African soil. The live draw was beautiful, simple, and transformational. I hope the western media used the event to educate their audiences about one beautiful thing they should know about Africa. I share the sentiments of all Ghanaians and fellow Africans that 2010 is Africa’s moment of glory and we need to take that glory with grandeur. One major drawback and an arsenal for the “the Africa you know” advocates is indiscipline among footballers within African participating team. A canker that on more than one occasion killed team spirit during world cup preparations. Ghana’s soccer trio of Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan have been cited for indiscipline. These players choose club over country and deserted camp without permission. Critics believe that this attitude can never happen in any European Country. Another illustration of “The Africa you know”!

Fashion: I really love this part of Africa. Africans love color - various shades and blends. Color has so much symbolic meaning and importance. But the beauty of seeing Africans, particularly our beautiful women in exquisite colorful designs from African-made garments and textiles, gracing the streets of our cities, offices, campuses, and churches, is marvelously captivating. Men and women of all ages wear with pride the African designed garment on all occasions including most formal events whose dress code used to be highly western in fabric and design. My two little daughters will rather wear their African designed dress than the western dresses I bought for them on my way home! They are so proud of it and love to cat-walk in them for the cameras! Young advocates of the “Africa You Should Know!”
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04 December 2009

South Africa 2010 World Cup Preliminary Groups

The groups for the preliminary round of the World Cup have been selected and the groups are as follows

Group A
South Africa
Group B
South Korea
Group C
Group D
Group E
Group F
New Zealand
Group G
North Korea
Cote D’Ivoire
Group H
(African countries are in bold)
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30 November 2009

Hollywood time for the Mandelas: The politics of representation

by Siphokazi Magadla and Bose Maposa.

Invictus is the latest Clint Eastwood movie coming out December 11, 2009. The movie is based on Nelson Mandela’s term as president at the dawn of the founding of the new democratic South Africa and his crusade to create a rainbow nation. Mandela’s quest for racial integration and human rights was first realized through the South African rugby team, the Springboks, which in 1995 triumphed as the World’s Rugby Champions. Named after the famous poem by William Ernest Henley, Invictus promises to recreate the historic scenes of post apartheid South Africa and the buildup to 1995, which for many South Africans, for the Africans that sacrificed so much to end Apartheid, and for the world at large, sent a clear message to the world saying: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” making true of Henley’s famous words.   Nelson Mandela is played by Hollywood icon Morgan Freeman, while the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. The trailer is chilling as one is reminded of yet another historic moment that is upon South Africa in the next 2010 FIFA World Cup-and once again, the country will be playing host.

Another Hollywood movie in the pipelines is about the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela ex-wife and for many South Africans, the Mother of the Nation. A BBC article reported on November 19 that Jennifer Hudson is to star as the powerful Winnie. Looking at Morgan Freeman attempting Mandela’s unique voice and imagining Jennifer Hudson as the strong, powerful and beautiful Winnie, one cannot help but wonder, does a story about Winnie and Nelson Mandela really need to be portrayed by famous Hollywood actors to gain the world’s attention? Is it necessary that such powerful African icons be represented by foreigners? Or aren’t Africa’s actors famous or saleable enough to play Winnie and Mandela?

The Last King of Scotland, the 2006 film based on Uganda’s Idi Amin saw Forest Whitaker win the highest honor of Best Actor in the Academy Awards of 2007 for his portrayal of the Ugandan dictator. A year before that however, Tsotsi the South African movie, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, a first time for an African movie. Tsotsi had a cast of internationally unknown actors, of which the lead actor was just as unfamiliar even in his native country South Africa. This is unlike Catch a Fire starring Academy Award winning actor Tim Robbins and Derek Luke in the life story of Patrick Chamusso. Although the movie was afforded critical acclaim, it nevertheless did not gain the same attention as Tsotsi. As well, when reflecting on the success of the 1992 hit movie Sarafina, one wonders why the movie producers who chose Morgan Freeman and Jenifer Hudson did not think of African actors. Are they not best suited to tell African stories? Despite the fact that Whoopi Goldberg played a significant role in the movie, it was Leleti Khumalo, a South African, who was the main actor. The same Leleti Khumalo who starred in the 2005 Oscar nominated film Yesterday.

The HBO TV series, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, based on the best-selling novels by Alexander McCall Smith about Precious Ramotswe, the only female detective in Botswana, stars Jill Scott. Despite local (in Botswana) auditions to find the lead actor, it was reported that no local actress was suitable for the role, and thus Jill Scott was selected. It would be difficult to start to argue if the series was adopted by HBO because of Jill Scott or because it is a fair representation of the Tswana culture. And thus the unanswered questions include: is it the reputation of the actors or the message of the movie that makes it a hit? Should we even be bothered?

One cannot deny the publicity brought about by international actors, just as much as we cannot deny the pain felt by the local audiences when these actors butcher the local languages and accents (e.g Jill Scott and Morgan Freeman to name a few). Nonetheless, the ability of famous actors to gain a larger audience should not hinder us from a discussion about the implications of such endeavors. Indeed it is important to acknowledge that perhaps the role of international faces bringing attention to unknown stories catch the world off-guard to such an extent that there will be further interest in the stories coming from that country told by local artists.

While it cannot be denied that small independent movies (which usually have unknown actors as the main characters) often fail to make it big at the box office and realistically, making movies is all about making money, this should not denounce  the fact that international actors are not always needed to boost the sales of a movie. The stories of developing nations should not be left up to Hollywood to tell as Tsotsi and Slumdog Millionaire have clearly shown. Neither is it always necessary to have internationally acclaimed actors as the main actors. If the developing world is attempting a shift away from a Western type of development embedded in the dominant paradigm of the modernization theory that portrays cultures of the developing world as inferior to that of the West as it has been argued by some developing world scholars such as Columbia’s Escobar; we must certainly caution against the dominance of such paradigms in the arts.
Is it unreasonable to argue that the people of the world would still go to watch a movie about Gandhi played by a local Indian actor? So why wouldn’t we be confident that a South African actor should be given the chance to portray the world statesman Nelson Mandela? The Mandelas are gigantic African icons, known internationally, and thus their stories are sellable, regardless of who portrays them. We can even go as far as to argue that Nelson Mandela is much better known figure internationally than Morgan Freeman, much like Winnie Mandela is arguably more internationally known female icon than Jennifer Hudson.
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24 November 2009

The sugar-daddy syndrome and girl’s education in Benin: Implications for democracy

by Kristina (Nickie) Séne. Nickie is a graduate student studying International Development Studies at Ohio University.

As a direct result of the new momentum surrounding sexual harassment internationally and the continued prevalence of teacher-student sexual relationships in the Beninese education system more specifically, several Beninese NGOs initiated an “intense lobbying” campaign of the Ministry of Education, eventually leading to the signing of a new policy on sexual harassment in schools (Wible, 2005).  This sexual harassment legislation was introduced in 2006 by Lamatou Alaza, one of the three women serving on the national assembly at the time (Amusa & Mowad, 2006).  Sexual harassment by educators has been increasingly cited as a major impediment to girls’ education and development because of the plethora of dangers and risks it generates. It is a major contributor to the high dropout rate of female students, demonstrated by UNESCO’s 2006 statistics that show for every 100 Beninese girls who enter primary school, less than 39% in urban areas and 14% in rural areas are able to transition to secondary school. This is related to the fact that sexual harassment contributes to a lack of participation and underachievement and a variety of physical and mental health issues, including the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, early/unplanned pregnancy, a low self-esteem, and depression (Akpo, 2008). Reflecting on the  introductory article by Aggrey Willis, where he cited David Mailu’s cultural concept of democracy, it is evident that as we ‘move beyond the realm of politics’, the sugar-daddy syndrome is a vivid abuse of power and thus a peril to democracy.

Sugar-daddy, an American slang term for a rich man who offers money or gifts to a less rich younger female, in return for sexual favors, has been appropriated and adopted in Beninese culture coined by the French term, papa gâteau. Much like the unwarranted appropriation of the term sexual harassment, the term “sugar daddy” seems inappropriate for the uneven rates of exchange in these relationships. In a Western context, sugar daddy relationships are typically defined by an exchange of sex for luxury items, expensive purses, shoes or even cars, not small items like soap and charcoal. The monetary value of these latter items and their “necessity” makes these relationships more problematic and exploitative because of the risks involved for such small stakes of gain and make a significant difference in how we can address these situations.

In Benin, where one out of three girls does not attend school and the literacy rate for women between 15 and 24 is only 33.2%, there are a variety of obstacles girls face in gaining access to a safe and affordable education (United Nations, 2007). Several external barriers, which have been identified and recognized in Beninese government initiatives and NGO projects, include the price of school fees, poverty and societal norms and there has been remarkable progress in addressing these issues and increasing girls’ enrollment (Wynd, 1999). “Toutes les filles à l’école” (All girls in school), is an ongoing collaborative government campaign sponsored by various NGOs and international organizations, which has been successful in creating a visible space for girls’ education in the country and putting girls’ access to schooling at the forefront of public dialogue via government-sponsored billboards, radio programs, taxi drivers’ t-shirts and other communication development strategies. Yet, as Benin begins to approach a more equitable balance in female/male enrollment at the primary school level, a closer examination of emerging issues of gender disparity in secondary school enrollment has brought about the unfortunate realization that schools are often perceived as unsafe environments for girls. Led by development practitioners, educators, and researchers, this realization has led the Beninese government to pay more attention to the numerous obstacles and safety issues which restrict or limit female achievement, enrollment, and overall wellbeing inside the classroom (Akpo, 2008). 

In my own study, I explore sexual relationships between teachers and students in an ethnographic approach that attempted to categorize and conceptualize sexual harassment via culturally specific perceptions of the phenomenon. During the initial field work, I found that all parties (parents, teachers, administrators and students) were open to admitting that teacher-student sexual relationships do occur. However these parties have conflicting views as to who initiates these relationships and how they should be viewed. Although, there have been limited radio programs or television shows which have addressed the topic publically, individuals involved in these relationships typically remain silent due to the stigma attached to premarital sex and the taboo nature of the interactions. Rural media strategies must be more fully developed in order to reach populations living outside of Benin’s larger cities and regional capitals. Current laws and policies turned out to be problematic, as “protecting” girls from teachers turns out to be much more complicated than condemning teacher violators since the primary justification for student/teacher sexual relationships was more deeply rooted in poverty, development disparities, and limited social mobility options.

Sex between teachers and students emerged as a very transactional process: a direct exchange of sex for money (with poverty or development disparities as a motivating factor) and/or grades (with corruption of the system as a major factor). Although the practice of giving lower grades/scores than deserved as a punishment for girls who refuse teachers’ advances is critical and must not be undermined here or elsewhere, many relationships in schools are in fact perceived as consensual, although poverty-induced,  and involve complex levels of silent or overt parental encouragement and normalization. The implications of economic disparities and developmental opportunity become important in understanding the root causes of teacher-student relationships because they create economic incentives for students and parents to accept them.

The complexities of parental complacency came up repeatedly as research participants suggested that low-income families were more likely to accept teachers' advances because of a combination of the monetary benefits of these relationships and as a result of the loss of negotiating power between parents and their daughters. Many student participants made a distinction between rich and poor students emphasizing that rich girls exchanged sex for grades whereas poor girls were more likely to accept their teachers' advances in exchange for money or gifts. The direct benefits of sleeping with teachers included extra points on assignments and exams, more leniency in the classroom, peer prestige and material gifts like cell phones, shoes, jewelry, bags, fabric or pocket money to purchase small everyday items such as phone credit, soap, snacks and meals, hair braiding, or make-up.

Top-down government policies addressing sexual harassment have proven to be insufficient, granting the media the critical role of changing local perceptions of the phenomenon and creating more open space for dialogue addressing these issues at the community level. If the media is to effectively execute its role as society’s watchdog, there is a need to resurrect this public dialogue, and direct it towards pragmatic solutions. Viewing the girl students’ role in the phenomenon as active agents, initiating, accepting and refusing these relationships versus helpless victims should aid in changing development strategies.
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16 November 2009

Is GIS/Mobile Broadband demand for South Africa 2010 the answer to better governance?

by Reuben Dlamini

With the 2010 World Cup Soccer in South Africa seven months away, avid soccer fans have been watching relentlessly as Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria (South Africa as the host nation has automatic qualification) secured their place and representation of the continent of Africa by qualifying for the event. Much of this uncontrollable anticipation and excitement by fans of the ‘beautiful game’ has been evident in the growth of blogs and other technological enhanced driven tools.  This avid growth which has led to an increasing digitally-mediated discussion about the World Cup is representative of Africa’s unprecedented broadband growth within a short space of time. It is perhaps more exciting to note that this demand for faster connection and up to date information about the World Cup qualifiers can potentially have long lasting positive impacts on the way governments such as facilitating better and faster communication between government ministries thus facilitating collaboration; this at the least would help end the frustration of lack of access to government data. As well, this growth in broadband will enable security agencies to use real-time systems to map patterns to fight crime and other social impediments that is currently facing many African countries, such as the host South Africa.

The huge investments on infrastructure development especially in telecommunications will not go unnoticed. AfricaNext Investment Research group expects Africa’s broadband markets to grow more than fourfold in five years to 12.7 million users from 2.7 million in 2007.  Internet accessing via portable computers and via cellular networks would benefit users a lot as mobile broadband in some areas can be the best alternative for end users. Mobile broadband describes various types of wireless high-speed Internet access through portable devices, and it has various network standards like now popular 3G and MiMax. Mobile operators are leveraging the popularity of cell phones to get a share of the fixed broadband market. In fact, they have an upper hand in the emerging Information and Communication Technology network markets.

Even though fixed and mobile broadband have their own pros and cons, mobile broadband is the best alternative for Africa as it is completely based on the wavelength of mobile phone networks, while fixed broadband can induce unnecessary attenuation. Another advantage of mobile broadband is that you can take it with you wherever you go. Even those who reside in remote areas will get a chance to access emails, check the results during the games and keep them updated on the latest news.  In the past downloading in mobile broadband has been a problem, but with the billions of dollars being invested in telecommunications infrastructure such challenges will be conquered. As we invest huge amounts of money on fixed broadband we should remember that it could be indispensable due to its unique features.

As the continent makes progress in infrastructure development, integrated spatially oriented data will be digitized through mappings to examine patterns within data.
The application of Geographic Information System (GIS) will be a great way forward to learn from spatial data. GIS is defined as the constellation of hardware and software that integrates computer graphics with rational database for the purpose of managing data about geographic location. Governments in developing countries can map demographic attributes of various areas of interests: zoning, population density, fires, flood plain analysis, tracking crime locations, etc.

This technology has the ability to bring layers of information from multiple datasets to uncover spatial relationships for development purposes and overcome some of the challenges facing our governments. We need a system that provides a proactive prevention, fast detection of patterns of natural hazards, and forceful resolution. The technology could benefit governments more, as it permeates the ministries, links divisions, integrates data sources to help create new knowledge and overcome territorial boundaries. The tool can be useful in mapping governments’ resources and those of the constituencies and thus helping us to understand interrelationships among resources, the human environment, and physical environment of the continent. With governments facing their own unique challenges GIS can be customized to meet their needs by providing a collaborative environment, which could prove to be a valuable asset to an interconnected institution and constituencies. The decision-making process becomes distributed throughout different stakeholders.

GIS will add value to data with spatial characteristics instead of being treated as a nondynamic analyzed through static graphs, tables, and maps. With GIS on our side, we can produce geospatial representations of data and help plan for future events through various techniques that can be used for forecasting, mapping where things are, mapping the most and least, mapping change, and answering what-if-scenarios. Some of the examples in which GIS is being used currently to study how disease spreads, to develop and deliver Web-based educational resources, crop analysis, streamline national parks, etc are: in Botswana  for water resource modeling; in South Africa for coastal marine management; in Ghana for management information services; in Kenya for land resources; in Uganda for forest biomass; UNDP in Somali  for planning large campaigns such as vaccinations and the rehabilitation of water wells.

With the proliferation of affordable Internet connecting and open source technology tools there will be an improvement in collecting and dissemination of information. Most of us know that the internet evolved out of survival strategies in the military during the terrible political times of the Cold War and hence the coming of the World Cup to Africa in a much happier global event premises to positively redefine communication in Africa to a reality of social change and development.  Yet, for any of this potential to develop there is a need for a political will in the leadership as these exciting technological changes promise a potential change in the running of governments in Africa from business as ‘usually slow and mundane’ to business at the speed of lightning.
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09 November 2009

The Mo Ibrahim Prize: ‘Africa’ should be the winner

by Halif Sarki, a graduate Student at University of South Africa

The Mo-Ibrahim prize for good governance on the African continent has not been awarded this year as the Prize Committee could not reportedly “select a winner”. The Ibrahim prize is awarded after a ‘thorough’ examination, by the Prize Committee, of the prospective candidates through the microscope of an array of criteria including being democratically elected; serving within constitutional limits; and having left office in the last three years. Other key criterion includes the candidate’s contribution towards peace, security and development; and the promotion of democratic values and institutions. Does this then mean that good African leaders are hard to come by? Even more critical, what are the implications for freedom and the rule of law in Africa?

The Prize Committee is comprised of internationally respected figures such as, among others, Mohamed Elbaradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (AIEA), the former Organisation of African Union Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim, the former Finnish president, Marti Ahtisaari and Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan who also chairs the committee. The laureate chosen by the committee is to receive a hefty ‘cheque’ of US$5 million over ten years with an additional US$200,000 per year for life thereafter. Since the establishment of the Mo-Ibrahim foundation in 2006, the selection committee has never failed to announce a winner. Previous recipients include former Presidents Joachim Chissano from Mozambique (2007), Festus Mogae from Botswana (2008), as well as Nelson Mandela from South Africa who was an honorary recipient in 2007.

The question on everyone’s lips when the prize could not be attributed this year was obviously, ‘why?’ thus entrenching the feeling that there must be a few former presidents on the African continent who objectively deserve the illustrious distinction. From the top of the head one could nominate, as potential laureates, former South African President Thabo Mbeki or former Ghanaian President John Kufuor or even former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for their commendable achievements in their respective countries and in Africa at large. Some would add to those three the likes of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah from Sierra Leone or Mathieu Kerekou from Benin. All five potential candidates seem to meet the preliminary criteria as they were all democratically elected; all served within constitutional term limits; and all left power in the last three years. So what is to be understood in the non-attribution of the prize this year? The ‘why’ question still lingers even weeks after the decision was announced as there has not been an official explanation given. 

Since the exhaustive list of criteria used by the Prize Committee remains elusive, one cannot fully and accurately analyse the selection of a particular candidate or, in this instance, the selection of no candidate. This, however, should not undermine the integrity or objectiveness of the committee but rather encourage the latter to maintain its purportedly high standards for assessing African leaders.

 The choice not to award the prize could therefore point to a deteriorating quality of leadership in Africa.  We can submit that the recent spite of unconstitutional transfer of power in Madagascar, Mauritania, and Guinea as well as the disregard for the constitution in Niger and Zimbabwe seriously tarnishes Africa’s remarkable progress on the path of freedom and the rule of law. Even then Africa’s democratic evolution remains appealing. African leaders now tend to use constitutional means to legitimise their rule. This is a considerable leap from the total autocratic rule of the early postcolonial years. One should bear in mind that it took centuries of wars and reforms to arrive at the ‘polished’ western model of democracy that we know.

Yet, I will argue that the selection criteria should be weighed against the structural and systemic challenges faced by African leaders, and the consistent democratic progress on the continent since the early 1990s. In that case one would certainly have to recognise that leadership in Africa has substantially improved and that such improvements should be acknowledged. If still no suitable candidate, then one could humbly suggest that the selection be widened to include civil society and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as individuals whose efforts undeniably contribute to the socio-economic development of the African continent. The recent granting of the Right livelihood award or more commonly known as the Alternative Nobel to the Congolese Rene Ngongo of Greenpeace prize is one such example.  The award in itself demonstrates that no one prize can fully satisfy the need to reward the many individuals who contribute to development. Furthermore, it demonstrates that there are Africans, not only Presidents, capable of good leadership.

Africa still has a long way to go and positive efforts along the road should be acknowledged rather than painting the whole continent with the same brush of failure. For a continent faced with many challenges, the call for good leadership remains critical in all sectors. Whilst Presidents are the head, we cannot deny the importance of the rest of the body.  Those answering the call for good leadership must be acknowledged beyond the state houses. 
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01 November 2009

How good is African media for democracy?

by Aggrey Willis Otieno. Aggrey is a Communications and Development Ford Foundation International Fellow at Ohio University.

Seen Jacobs contends that the health of democracy in 21st century is associated to the health systems of communication. The dynamics of democracy are closely associated to the practices of communication, and societal communication increasingly takes place within the mass media. Concern for democracy therefore necessitates a concern about the press. Consequently, the role of the press in agitating for democratization should never be disregarded in any analysis. Unfortunately, discourses on democratization in Africa are usually presented by the western media as though they are entirely foreign to Africans and yet on the other hand the media in Africa has always turned a blind eye to the exigencies committed by the political elites to the masses.

Media development in Africa can be grouped into three epochs: colonial, transitional and post-transitional. During each era, the media exhibited editorial policies and norms that reflected the ideological and socio-political milieu of the continent.  In the colonial era, the media mirrored the settler-colonial philosophy of the state and social schism along racial lines. Its successor in the post-colonial transitional era depicted the revolutionary vehemence of the emergent black political regime whose stated ideology of socialism regimented African countries under an authoritarian state. In a dramatic turnaround from the nationalist campaign promises for a free press and free expression in independent African nations during this period, media was coerced to support the governments of the day. In this set-up the clarion call has been: You are either with us or against us. Within this breadth, one can analyze the segue of democracy within the African continent.

Despite the fact that in modern times the concept of democracy as it refers to Africa has been reduced to elections, multiparty system, and universal suffrage, pre-colonial Africa boasts of different concepts of participatory democratic governance which evolved and survived until the European invasion of Africa in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, as this era falls outside of the realm of media development in Africa, little can be said about its relation to the concept of democracy. Nonetheless, this era helps us define democracy as it is understood by African communities.

This broader concept of democracy includes David Mailu’s cultural definition of democracy in which African democracy, like philosophy, had to be lived.  For him, African communities were socially and politically structured so that “everybody participated according to his ability, age, status, and wishes . . . everybody was invited to the democracy cooking pot”. African democracy, therefore, went beyond the realm of politics; to form an integral part of the peoples’ culture, which allowed everyone a sense of belonging. It was a “practical democracy as opposed to conjectural democracy,” which required people to be more sensitive and responsible for their neighbors’ well-being. Mailu’s definition of democracy has been echoed by leaders such as Mandela as well, who has constantly declared that he learnt about democracy from the manner in which his father ruled his chieftaincy in the village of Mvezo in the former Transkei in South Africa.

Scholars have indicated that in the period preceding colonial rule, Africans experimented with a variety of political systems ranging from direct and representative democracy to various forms of monarchical and decentralized systems. The indigenous political organization of the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria presents one of the most elaborate examples of participatory democracy in traditional Africa. Apart from a few centralized polities such as Nri, Onitsha, Oguta, and Osomari that were monarchical systems, the Igbo operated a decentralized political system.

Another example of participatory democracy is the pre-colonial political structure of Agikuyu in Kenya. Among the Agikuyu, as among the Igbo, there was no sole paramount ruler; eligible adults constituted the legislative assembly. “In the eyes of the Agikuyu people, as Jomo Kenyatta asserted in his book facing Mount Kenya, “the submission to a despotic rule of any particular man or group, white or black is the greatest humiliation to mankind. The genesis of Gikuyu democracy is personified in their historical-political legend. According to this legend, a tyrannical ruler who was ultimately overthrown by the people initially ruled Gikuyuland. After his overthrow, the leadership of the Agikuyu was at once changed from repression to a democracy which was in keeping with the wishes of the majority. This popular rebellion is known as itwika, derived from the twika, which signified the breaking away from dictatorship to democracy.

The Buganda Empire of Uganda is another good example of an “absolute king” whose powers were checked by parliament. While the Kabaka (the king) was, in principle, supreme, he governed the kingdom in conjunction with a prime minister (katikkiro) and a parliament (lukiiko) that not only ensured representation according to the notion of modern democracy but also limited the powers of the king to avoid tyranny. 

With the European occupation of Africa, we see the development of a media that reflects Europena ideologies concerning Africa. European colonial occupation and the ensuing colonial rule disrupted these political systems. The existing indigenous democratic values were destabilized and replaced with the dictatorship of the colonial governors. Unfortunately, the totalitarianism and wanton brutality of the colonial governors was adopted by African nationalists and later aped by African post independence leaders such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Idi Amin of Uganda, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Mobutu Seseseko of Congo, and Daniel Moi of Kenya. Akin to colonial rulers, these leaders became very imperious and viewed almost all forms of criticism and disagreement against their policies as treason. Hence, the fundamental principle of African traditional government, that is, rule by consent of the ruled was all but shattered by the imposition of colonial rule and was scathingly mangled when the one-party state allowed the emergence of ambitious, corrupt, and tyrannical African leaders, many in military uniform, after independence. So far the multi-party democracy has only worsened the situation.

As evidenced in Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea have taken deliberate steps to limit media scrutiny. Rwanda, Kenya, Gabon and Ethiopia have demonstrated similar tendencies. This calls for a more viable and sustainable key to the problem of democracy and democratization in the continent, as Basil Davidson posits, that lie in forging a new practical synthesis that derives “firmly from the African past, yet fully accepts the challenges of the African present”.  The task of the African media therefore is to claim their space as the fourth estate. It’s the duty of the media to remind African leadership and the world at large about their deep democratic tradition that African governance emerges from without of course glossing over the tragic legacy of colonialism.

It is thus crucial to note a number of developments have given rise to a new generation, albeit a minority, of more assertive, independent journalists. Free and efficient media can play a vital role in improving democracy in Africa. Lessons can be learnt from the experience of Al-Jazeera satellite Television. Though it went on air in 1996, it has improved transparency and accountability across the Middle –East.  However, is the African media- the fourth estate in Africa up to the task given that they are mostly owned and controlled by the African political elites? How can it be strengthened to effectively play its role as the watch dog and agenda setter? What alternatives do we have with the advancements in information and communication technologies? What about the Face book/twitter generation? Is there space for community media? Is it possible for us too to have a Pan-African broadcaster with similar consequences as Al Jazeera?

This media and democracy series by the Bokamoso Leadership Forum will explore in detail some of the themes introduced here. 
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26 October 2009

Leadership and the Nobel Peace Prize: the Case of President Obama

by Nadia Ahmadou. She is a Junior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa

The recent  granting of the Nobel peace prize to American President Barack Obama was followed by significant brouhaha over whether he was deserving of such a distinction; after all he had not proven himself to be deserving of such  honorable merit. Comparison was made with scientists who spend years toiling over ideas without any results not being accorded a similar honor; and the arguments have continued on, all arriving to the one conclusion that no substantive achievement can be tied to the granting of this award-an award considered premature in nature. Focusing this down to the continent of Africa, especially taking into consideration President Obama’s clearly identifiable African heritage, these arguments expose a number of questions and gaps present within this specific prize-giving culture as it relates to African leadership.

When looking at the awardees on the African continent, it appears that we have succeeded in being the shining stars of the wider political sphere in which we have been the recipient of most of the awards. Here I cite significant figures such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Wangari M. Maathai who were all congratulated for contributions to peace, democracy and sustainable development. When we sift through the politically acceptable rhetoric of peace, democracy and all this wonderful terminology that characterizes the politics of our continent, it all boils down to one word: HOPE. These individuals were successful in instilling HOPE in the people of the continent towards the development of a vision for a better, peaceful and more prosperous Africa. No brouhaha was made over the awarding of the prize to these prestigious individuals who rather, were applauded and benefit from global respect as a result. I do not for one second claim that these individuals did not do more beyond instilling hope, but simply make the claim that at the basis of their previous and subsequent achievements lies the simple fact that they contributed to birth of a general feeling of hope and belief in better futures; a feeling that forms the foundation of concrete steps taken afterwards for change.

Why then is it so hard to recognize this when it comes to President Obama? It is true that he has yet to prove himself with regard to numerous promises made to the world regarding nuclear issues and related peaceful activities. However, one cannot and should not underestimate the power behind the simple emergence of this individual as President of the most powerful state in the world. During and after his campaign, President Obama served as inspiration for millions of previously disadvantaged people who had lost belief in the power they could exert as individuals to not only change their own lives but to change the lives of others as well. In a continent plagued with strife, poverty and disease, one must not underestimate the power that faith and belief can have on instituting change. In fact without belief in change, change rarely occurs. In the same vein, Mandela and Tutu served and continue to serve as beacons of hope for change in an otherwise bland sphere, characterized by rotten politicians who put themselves before their people.

It is obvious that the awarders of the Nobel Peace Prize should have allowed for President Obama to prove himself before awarding him with the Nobel Peace Prize. They could further benefit from identifying specific criteria to use in identifying credible candidates for the Peace Prize. However, this lacuna should not qualify as an excuse to undermine the power of change he has contributed to instilling in millions of people across the world. The euphoria for change that overtook myriads of Africans watching and listening to his opening speech should not get lost in this debate over whether or not he is deserving of this prestigious award. Leadership is not the special skill of a select few. It can be found in the most ordinary of people and witnessed in their everyday lives. For notable figures such as Mandela, Tutu and Obama it is also reflected in their ability to contribute to encouraging the development of similar leadership skills within us, the ordinary people watching them on our television screens, listening to them over our radios, and reading about them in our newspapers. Africa, and the world would do well to remember this and in the words of the man himself…YES WE CAN!
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19 October 2009

Final notes on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Series

by Damilola Daramola

In reflecting on the real (Liberia and Ghana) and potential (Kenya, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and the US) effects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, a few things are present across the board:

Although the TRCs have been created to facilitate an atmosphere to air out the wrongs rooted in the past, there is yet to be an agreement on the progress that these commissions are making. As Samuel Johnson mentioned in the introduction of the series, the hardest part is “ensuring reconciliation and establishing justice.” How is reconciliation ensured and justice established? An example was examined in the case of Liberia, where the TRC recommended that current president be banned from public office due to her previous efforts in the civil war. The question will have to be asked: Is her role in the civil war far more damaging than what she has achieved now as the first woman head of state in Africa? After all, it would appear that by winning the previous elections, her efforts are a step forward in the bigger picture of rebuilding the country. How will justice be established in this situation without destroying the rebuilding process?

In examining the possible effects of TRCs in Kenya, Maingi Solomon raised the issue of unbiased commissions when politics in Kenya (and most parts of Africa) is heavily ethnocentric. Is it possible for a TRC to be established and implemented when the divisions are based more on ethnic roots than rational political ideologies? As was discussed in the article, prior political parties had been formed on the basis of a temporary pact between two (or more) ethnic groups. The leader of one group is elected to the presidency and sooner or later reneges on the pact and continues to assign positions based on ethnicities rather than actual qualifications. As such, when acts that violate human rights are perpetrated, ensuring reconciliation will have to begin with reconciliation among the varying ethnic groups. The issue with that is there is usually one ethnic group which has always been in a position of power. Can reconciliation occur without that particular ethnic group giving up its apparent position of privilege? A case, not discussed within the series but worthy of mention, is the Nigerian Civil War where the Ibo people wanted to separate from the Federal Republic due to persecution by the northerners. If a TRC was established in Nigeria, would one of the requirements be that an electable candidate from Eastern Nigeria descent be placed on the ballot of a major party? After all, the Nigerian presidents since the Civil War have either come from the North or the West. Or would that be equating reconciliation with political representation? In addition, is there true reconciliation without a structural change such as the presence of the Ibos in national governance?

One of the major points of contention is the role that current leaders play in the success of implementing a TRC. Although this commission should be separate from the political leadership of the country, the nation’s leader at the time of establishing the TRC is also relevant. The leader at the time might be on the end of justice or injustice depending on their ethnicity or position during the war/ moment of human rights violations. It is relevant that the leadership not only acknowledge that the wrongs committed should be righted, but that the leader also ensure that the country’s other leaders submit to recommendations of the commission. As Tawanda Sachinkoye mentioned in his article, it is important to the leaders, be it political or ethnic, be prepared to take the leading steps in not only acknowledging the wrongs but also apply consistent and genuine efforts towards justice. This brings us back to the role that current Liberian president ought to play in the TRC’s findings that implicate her in the preceding civil war. If there is to be a breakaway from the violations committed, shouldn’t she then be willing to admit and then subject herself to the TRCs rulings?

Although it would seem that the hardest part of the success of TRCs will depend on ensuring reconciliation and establishing justice, Andy Ofori-Birikorang’s article is a reminder that the truth telling part in itself could also be tainted. Borrowing from Siphokazi’s comments on the article, the media within a country is as polarized as the politics of the country itself. Hence, the reports that are made available can be swayed depending on the side that the particular medium is on. In comparing this to U.S. politics, there will be a sway depending on whether the news report being given is from FOX or MSNBC. There is a Latin phrase that says “Who will guard the guardians” i.e. if the media is expected to be unbiased, who will ensure that they remain that way? The question has to be asked if the reports of the hearings that are made available to the general public are unadulterated. Even if the truths told are not being swayed by the media, how can the media convey the thoughts of the citizens without passing their thoughts on the process? The point here is not objective commentary, but rather balanced commentary that does not paint who becomes the enemy as the Ghanaian media according to Andy advocated.  Are we then surprised that even the crisis that led to the coup this January in Madagascar began with the closure of the television stations owned by Andry Rajoelina, the disc jockey who has since risen to power? What does the TRC in Madagascar look like? As Domoina pointed out, the establishment of a TRC in Madagascar is as good as another soap-opera.

Finally, Merrian Brooks examined the issues that would originate were a TRC formed in the United States to deal with the events that happened in the civil rights era and prior. Although some of the events mentioned in that article were more recent (1960s), some of the ills go back to the times of the American Civil War (1860s) when the Confederate States argued that a ban on slave ownership would violate their rights as American citizens. In the end, one has to wonder how the passage of time affects the impact and revelations of a TRC. How can the actions of the slave masters on the slaves, the United States on the Native Americans, Nazi Germany on the Jews, higher caste members on lower caste members in India and so on be reconciled with present times when the perpetrators of these acts have long passed away? Although, future generations will never be made to forget the horrors of the past primarily because the conditions that haunt their communities echoes the injustices of yesterday.

In the end, it is relevant that the past be revisited as often as possible so that generations to come are reminded of the wrongs that have happened in history, the question will always be how the truth is revealed and how the justice that these revelations require will be enacted. For Africa and its countries’ trapped in Paul Collier’s “Bottom Billion” the quest for justice and a reconciled nation is not an option but a necessity.
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