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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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