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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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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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14 October 2009

Truth and Reconciliation as a Response to American Segregation?

This is a guest post by Merrian Brooks. Merrian is a student at the Ohio University School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Slavery was fully abolished with the passing of the 13th amendment in 1865 in the United States. Far from being the end of oppression, 1865 marked the beginning of both law-based (de jure) and societal (de facto) segregation that was not truly changed until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are established to illustrate the truth using amnesty as a tool for enhancing the likelihood that that truth will in fact come to light. The idea being that truth will help heal wounds and thus give the victims symbolic retribution that will allow them to coexist with their apologetic neighbors. Had there been a TRC in the US, what form would it take? This article attempts to examine the implications of a mock TRC as a response to American segregation.

First, one has to acknowledge that segregation was not a political response to maintain power; it was rather the rule and not the exception. Laws stated that one drop of African ancestral blood made you black, and separate facilities were legal as long as they were of similar quality to what the majority was given. These laws were reflections of what the majority considered a fact. How does our mock TRC address these situations where the law denied rights by assimilating the ‘truths’ of the majority? In this case, the law eventually acknowledged a societal rights violation. With Brown vs. The board of education of Topeka Kansas decision of 1955, the chief justice that wrote the majority statement conceded, “separate facilities are inherently unequal”.  This landmark case acted as the ‘TRC’ for de jure segregation, forcing the majority to live up to its human rights ideals. This decision paved the way for the numerous statutory changes favoring integration, and provided hope and comfort to those who suffered under the laws of segregation. Though de facto segregation still has not completely disappeared, minority populations now have the legal support to live, work, and be educated amongst the white majority.

Next, the period of segregation that preceded the Civil Rights act was wrought with examples of violence and murder of blacks that involved little to no punishment by the law. In this case, there were several alleged conspiracies involving law enforcement (who were sometimes the perpetrators), non-governmental groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and other private citizens.  These groups would murder, bomb, hang, or otherwise terrorize black people or neighborhoods. When these crimes occurred, all white juries were purposely selected and those who committed the crimes acquitted. There are several examples of this including the story of Emmitt Till, the four little girls killed in a church bombing, or the violence against anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, North Carolina. Our mock TRC would have to bring forth as many as would come to expose the details of these particular atrocities. However, simple apologies for the deaths of four little girls who were killed in Sunday school would fall on deaf ears without a true promise of justice. Without jail sentences, or at least hefty civil fines, the TRC would not contribute to reconciliation. I believe this because the tragedy attached to the memory of these incidents lies just as strongly in the systematic denial of justice as it does in the barbaric acts themselves. This is where our TRC would fail most significantly. With amnesty as a tool, truth comes at the high prices of possible forgiveness of true crimes.

A TRC in response to the Greensboro Massacre was started in 2005 with significant support from the local black community. This TRC discovered the details of the massacre and publicized the complicity of law enforcement. One important feature contributed to the success of this commission; that is that justice had already been served.  Originally, an all white jury acquitted all of the whites that had been involved in the murders. Six years later a civil suit found the same men guilty, awarding $350,000 in damages. The point of the TRC in Greensboro was to discover the details of that day, particularly the complicity of police in the crime. I wonder the impact this TRC would have had, had reparations not already been paid.

I firmly believe that Black Americans do not need a TRC. For slavery it would be far too complex, and in some ways a totally inappropriate tool for multi-generational oppression. The Civil Rights Act acknowledged the truth of the crimes and handicaps blacks faced due to racism and segregation and provided reconciliation by allowing blacks to move on without fear of any law based barriers to their pursuits in life. I see in my life and those around me that the many acts that lead to integration and protection from hate crimes, has done at least as much as any truth and reconciliation could ever do.

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09 October 2009

Reflections on Botswana’s 43rd Independence Anniversary: The Youth Must Take the Center Stage of Political Leadership!

This is a guest post by Basetsana Maposa. She is a former graduate student of Ohio University
Botswana celebrated the 43rd Anniversary of its independence as a sovereign Republic on September 30, 2009.  Since independence, Botswana has flourished from a poor, undeveloped country with virtually no paved roads, no local wage labor, and an annual per capita income of less that P60 ($12) to a middle-income country. Botswana is one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that has enjoyed a relatively stable political environment since gaining its independence. The country has managed to establish a liberal multi-party system for decades even through ‘dark’ periods where most African countries were tormented by dictatorships or single-party rule. Botswana is hailed as a good example of good governance in Africa. Just recently, ex President Mogae became the second recipient of the Mo Ibrahim Prize of Governance.

Independence means different things to different people at different times. To some, it means attending an Independence Day function, singing the national Anthem or even spending some time with family and friends. Others simply mark the day as another holiday in their calendar. Independence to me includes these celebrations and continues to mean much more; it is about reflecting on a nation’s past accomplishments and the challenges of the future. This year’s independence is particularly significant for me because it is the first time in 10 years that I am home to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends. For the last ten years I celebrated this anniversary in the Diaspora and reflections on the day were clouded by nostalgia.

This year’s anniversary is also significant because it comes when the country is bracing for its 10th national elections and for the first time, I will exercise my democratic right of voting for my candidate of choice. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama centered his independence message on the upcoming general elections and stressed the importance of participation not only in the electoral process but in other aspect such as the economy. Similarly, the elections continue to attract top front page headlines in every newspaper in the country. This year’s elections are noteworthy because a record number of Batswana have registered to vote particularly the youth and women. After years of voters’ apathy, about 723,917 people have registered to vote which is about 68% of eligible voters and increase of 15% from the 2004 elections (Mmegi Online). This number might seem insignificant compared to South Africa where about 80% of eligible voters registered. It is however important to note that despite the fact that Botswana has been able to hold peaceful multi-party elections at five year intervals since 1969, low levels of political apathy remains a dominant feature in the society especially among young people.

Although electoral participation is not the only measure of civil participation in governance, it can also provide insight into the engagement in civic and political process. Anecdotal data suggest that the Batswana youth are not participating in the political process because they feel alienated from the political system and are cynical about government. However, this does not necessary mean that young people are not interested in politics.

The diffusion of modern technology to every corner of the globe has put young people at the center of communication and development paradigm. More young people are engaging modern technology applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and others to bring about social changes. During the 2008 USA presidential elections, the deployment and use of these modern technology applications made young people the hub of electoral campaigns and the engine and wheels for the change that brought President Barack Obama to power. The young people used these applications to claim leadership roles in the electoral process.  These technologies are here in Botswana and young Batswana have engaged them with the same tenacity with which their counterparts in the US and other parts of the world have done. It is imperative that we, as society, also recognize the importance of these phenomena as catalysts for social change and allow the youth to take center stage in our development process.

As we celebrate and reflect on the freedom day, it is important to remind the youth to gain faith and engage in the governance and the democratic process. Young people should also stake a claim in the leadership structures of political parties, and government. This is the surest way of pushing for a change from the status quo and transforming the leadership and political system in the country. Already young people are facing multitude challenges such as HIV/AIDS, high unemployment, alcohol use and abuse. They are also constantly blamed for all societal ills such as violence and crime. These challenges can only be overcome by including more young people in leadership positions in the country. For Botswana to fully realize the ‘promise’ of independence it should fully engage young people in policy and decision making processes. Instead of relegating young people to youth wings of political parties, they should be supported and encouraged to stand for political offices. This can only begin when government and other stakeholders start seeing young people not as outsiders or mere participants but partners in the development process. Botswana need to realize that for young people to positively impact their communities and the country, they need institutional, government, financial and media support.

Independence Day has come and gone, and the future Botswana stills looks bright. But it can even become brighter if we begin to engage more young Batswana in governance and make them the hub of our development and decision making processes. Finally, young people should not be seen only as electoral voters but as players in the political process. As cliché as it may sound, young people are the future!
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05 October 2009

A Snap Reflection on Nigeria’s 49th Independence Celebration

by Mustapha Kurfi

On 1st of October 2009, Nigeria - Africa’s most populous nation - turned 49 years. To commemorate the moment, Nigerians in the small town of Athens Ohio, converged at Bromely Hall, Ohio University on October 3rd 2009. Meeting together provided an ample opportunity to showcase our rich cultural heritage including traditional attires, dishes, and the abundant resources that could be harnessed even within the small community of Athens. Socially, it symbolized a spirit of national identity as the sense of togetherness, solidarity, and mutual excitement was vivid and alive. Consequently, the Nigerian motto (found on the Coat of Arms): "Love and Peace, Unity and Progress" was reflected. I was asked to make a few remarks on what the moment meant to me. My response was more of an optimistic thesis. In general, I feel it is from yesterday that we can better understand our today, and then get equipped to prepare for tomorrow. Added to the fact that not everyone present was aware of the make-up of this most densely black nation on earth, I felt a brief history was required.

In my opinion, reflecting on the historical antecedents that gave birth to the nation will help to understand and appreciate both the beautiful aspects of the nation as well as some of the intricacies associated with impediments to development. Even the name “Nigeria” was coined by the colonial masters; from the terms “Niger” and “Area”. The country came into existence as a nation in 1914, a result of the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions and boundary adjustments with Cameroon by the British government led by Lord Lugard and supported by the efforts of the missionaries. Nnamdi Ihuegbu noted that, 
“British colonialism made Nigeria, joining diverse peoples and regions in an artificial political entity; the British, it is said, created a country called Nigeria, not a nation. The creation of this collage of people involved socio-economic and political troubles that the country once again relied on British advice and policies to help solve.” (From Colonialism and Independence: Nigeria as a Case Study)
The British, during colonial times, used education as a tool to further dominate and oppress Nigerians, a tool to cultivate a ‘proper' style of thinking.  The inculcation of this style of thinking came in the guise of Christianity.

There are over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria, of which the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo groups dominate in the north, west, and east respectively. However, no one language is used nationally, despite the attempt to employ a lingua franca over decades. As such, English is the official language. At this juncture, I wish to remind us of Walter Rodney’s assertion that, “To be colonized is to be removed from history, except in the passive sense.” (From How Europe Underdeveloped Africa). "African political states lost their power, independence, and meaning" (Quoted in Africa Under Colonial Domination). “What came to be called tribalism at the beginning of the new epoch of political independence in Nigeria . . . was itself a product of the way that people were brought together under colonialism so as to be exploited” (From Nigeria: the politics of adjustment & democracy). It was a product of administrative devices, entrenched regional separations and differential access by particular ethnic groups into the colonial economy and culture. Suffice to say that, some of the most decisive failures of colonialism in Nigeria and Africa were its failure to change the technology of agricultural production, build viable institutions capable of producing skilled labor, provide infrastructural facilities to all and make adequate provisions for technological development and sustained self-reliance.

Regarding my remarks to fellow Nigerians and the international community that we were privileged to share this day with, I acknowledged that with the current global economic crisis, each country faces challenges, and Nigeria is not an exception. There are multiple issues to face squarely, including reforms in electoral body, our education system, energy sector and so on. I told the audience that I always ask myself some questions: As a Nigerian in Diaspora, what am I doing to appreciate the good side of my country? Do I sit back and point at the “nation’ with accusing nail fingers? Do I expect angels to remedy our situation? Am I being fair in comparing the colonizer with the colonized? Was Rome or Egypt for that matter, built overnight? Is development a process or an accident? Is the International community via its powerful media providing the correct image of my country? What about the efforts made by the authorities to combat some of our problems that have been planted by colonizers? For instance, do I appreciate the fight against corrupt practices going on in the country? Are the developed nations providing the type of support needed to deal with such problems? Nigeria has come a long way in her pre- and post-colonial conflicts and experiences. Do I appreciate history if I ignore it and look at the present? And most importantly, what will the next 49 years of Nigeria’s independence feature?

Preceding this celebratory moment, on September 19th 2009, District 9 - a South African Blockbuster movie that rose to number one in the United States - was banned in Nigeria because of its negative portrayal of Nigerians. Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili criticized the movie’s portrayal of Nigerians as cannibals. Akunyili was particularly referring to the scene where the main gangster character, Obesandjo, tries to cut off and eat the arm of the film's protagonist in an attempt to gain his supernatural powers, among others. One can note the similarity of the gangster’s name Obesandjo to that of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and wonder about the international community’s perception of Nigerians. It is clear that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the next 49 years, however I am confident that all hope is not lost. History and prosperity will remember us for the positive legacies that we leave as we remain critical and optimistic.
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