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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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22 February 2010

Looking Beyond Nigeria’s President’s Health

Agaptus Anaele is a graduate student at Ohio University and a Nigerian

The cry over the absence of Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from office is not waning. The endorsement of his Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, by the Legislative Assemblies is unable to calm the furor stirred by the failure of Yar’dua to transmit power to Jonathan before his medical trip to Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009. The frenzy assumed a crescendo with the alleged dichotomy among the Federal Executive Council members loyal to Yar’Adua and supporters of Jonathan. The situation is shrouded in arguments and counter arguments, altercations, intrigues, and permutations as politicians jostle for supremacy. This is not the best of times in Nigeria’s political history, and certainly does not help its global image. The crux of the matter is that Nigeria’s ailing president Umar Musa Yar’Adua failed to transmit power to his vice before his medical trip to Saudi Arabia. By his act, Yar’Ardua has allegedly violated provisions of section 145 of the Nigerian constitution.

Nigerians expected the Federal Executive Council, and the National Assembly to declare President Yar’Adua unfit in accordance with Section 144(1) of the Nigerian constitution, which stipulates that the President or his deputy shall cease to hold office if two-thirds majority of the members of the executive council declared that the President or Vice-President was incapable of discharging his functions . The declaration is followed by a medical examination, which will be made available to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the incapacitated officer’s removal. This process is being hampered by the cloak of secrecy around the president’s health status.

The controversy generated by Nigeria’s political situation is understandable given the demands of public office, and Nigeria’s prominence in Africa.The state of health of every individual should be a private affair, but not when it concerns a president of a country like Nigeria with 150 million people. Nigerians deserve to know, more so since his absence is over heating the political system.
The trend in Nigeria is somewhat disturbing given that the imbroglio might distract leadership from tackling the challenges facing the country. While, I share in this genuine concern, I also recognize that this is a trend in the democratic developmental process.

It may seem like the macabre dance, one-step forward and two steps backwards, but I believe it is a learning process. Political and constitutional developments in Nigeria are best understood within a three- dimensional perspective which assumes that every democratic nation passes through three main phases of development, the early years or the classical phase; the later years or neo-classi- cal or human relations phase; and, the years of maturity and full development. It assumes also that political and constitutional experience and developments, though connected in several ways, are distinct and so can be isolated. What is happening in Nigeria is an epoch-making development stage.

In spite of its chequered experience, Nigeria has made considerable progress in political and constitutional development since independence in 1960. Some aspects of these developments are worth highlighting. Nigeria has experimented with five constitutions, the 1960, 1963, 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions. The 1999 Constitution gave birth to the present Fourth Republic, though with problems for which it faces that require amendment.

Some of the lessons learned by Nigerians during these exercises are enduring. The lessons have been taught and learned that no constitution is perfect; that ineffective constitutions can be amended or completely altered that constitution making, whether under a military or civilian regime, calls for adequate consultations and experimentation. Any constitution hurriedly drawn up and not tried stands the risk of failure when subjected to the pressure of political, legal, economic and social forces.

Also worth mentioning is that hitherto, the Nigerian media was gagged, but the trend has changed. Numerous media organizations have emerged in Nigeria and the number continues to increase. This indicates that freedom of speech has improved. Recently, Nigerian newspapers were awash with the imprisonment of influential individuals, detention, and prosecution of past governors. Similarly, there are many landmark judgments where opposition camps dethroned incumbent governors who stole electoral mandates. Again, this symbolizes restoration of hope in the judicial system. Nigeria’s anticorruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, are both household names in Nigeria. We need to stop seeing only the negative sides in African governments and begin to focus on solutions. As Africans, every criticism we receive should propel us to a realization that there is an urgent need to do more.

The decadence and the many years of military rule, which was characterized by infrastructural decay, may not be turned around in ten years. It is important to recognize that there has been some stability in the effort which started in 1999, when Nigeria regained democratic governance. There are still problems, but the intensity and the scope differ. The world over, there are challenges. These challenges, as long as the human race remains, will task the minds, the skills, and the intellect of leaders across the world.

I am optimistic that Nigeria will actualize its huge potentials, a safe home for all those who choose to make it home, a country that will retain its pre-eminent position in the sub-region, in the continent, and globally. Like many democracies that have undergone stages of development, Nigeria is undergoing ‘democratic metamorphosis.’ I am very optimistic that it will overcome these challenges. Long live Nigeria.!!!
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16 February 2010

Leave Zuma Alone: South African Media and Jacob Zuma

By: Tiny Nontulo - Nontulo is a graduate of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and an active member of the African National Congress Youth League in South Africa

The media is a monitoring tool for the public in a democratic state. People rely on it to keep up with the functioning of the government in particular. Therefore it is important that we have an objective, unbiased and fair media that we can trust and hold accountable. However our media in SA is contrary to that.

Any sane person, who has been closely following SA political reports as they unraveled pre-elections, will agree with me that media in SA does not have much influence on ordinary South Africans. If they had, ANC would not have won elections with such a huge margin, because of the role played by the media and opposition parties to discredit Jacob Zuma. People still voted him into office regardless of the negative media portrayal about him .

The survey that was recently conducted right after the Love child scandal (by TNS Research survey) clearly showed that i that many ordinary citizens separate their approval of Mr. Zuma as president from his private life.

The President remains the highest man within the country, therefore the public will have certain expectations in terms of how he conducts his life. The media must not only portray the President in a bad manner , rather it should look at how his action could inspire many men who have not been taking responsibility of their children. It remains our responsibility, as the citizens of the country, to report in a manner that builds our country in order to start changing attitudes of many South Africans in creating a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

Central to this is the infringement of rights of the President towards his privacy, which is a constitutional duty of every South African to respect privacy. Our debate with the President should be based on the question of service delivery and how we can better the lives of the poor. I for one find it commendable that he had the courage to apologize for his actions. This could be interpreted as a sign that a politician in RSA finally cares about what the people say and feel regardless of his opinion about the matter.

Before we ride a high horse and become self appointed judges let us pause for a moment. Zuma is a reflection of men in our society. He represents 70% of married men in SA; remember the women with him are older intelligent women who have chosen to be with him.

The media is wasting so much energy on the latter issue. Do people have such pathetic lives to be so moralistic and so involved in what happens in Zuma’s life (or his bedroom to be precise). Everyday Zuma worries about what is best for South Africa, not the petty stuff published by the biased media. We all must concentrate on what he promised the people of South Africa and leave his private life alone.

Leave Zuma alone. The manner in which this issue was handled was totally wrong. We can not deny the fact that this man is our leader, we ought to treat him with respect and dignity. Publicizing his private sex life like this is totally out of order! Service, not sex should be what concerns South Africans.
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09 February 2010

Haiti - OUR Responsibility

By Jason Brayda

It is easy to be a critic of development these days. No matter what you write you would be joining a host of other authors who have become so disillusioned with development and relief aid. With so much being said and discussed concerning this, one must start to wonder why things don’t seem to be changing. Perhaps it’s too soon. I doubt it. I’m not prescribing any answers here either, I do hope however, to share a harsh and heart breaking reality that ought to spur us all on to some kind of action.

I used to play a computer game called, “SimCity”, (I think it was one of the first computer games, after Oregon Trail, ever – at least as I remember it…). It was a development game in which you had to build a functioning city. You raised money through taxes and if people were happy, had electricity, had roads, had infrastructure; you would make more money and would be able to develop further until you populated the entire land. The interesting thing with this game though was an option that you had at the beginning to choose whether or not you’d allow disasters to happen. The game was an introduction for me and probably for many others, to our capitalist development system. We were able to be in control. But it was a game, if something went wrong and we didn’t like it we could restart or go back to a saved game. It may seem like this is as far from reality as one could possibly get but the more I think about it the fewer differences I am able to see.

Disasters happen and we cannot rewind time to change that, sadly. However, like in the game, if something goes wrong the best thing to usually do is start again: clean slate, new page, new game. Or so it seems. How terribly misguided we are!

Look at history and see what has followed nearly every disaster, natural or man made. We can go back really far! But lets take a few examples beginning in the 90’s. Rwanda. Genocide. The international community did nothing as nearly 1 million people were systematically killed. A “clean slate”. In moved the big businesses to create a new capitalism. Last year the World Bank hailed Rwanda as the #1 business reformer. English, the language of business, is beginning to replace French. Even Bill Clinton (admittedly feeling guilty about his inaction) and his foundation used Rwanda as a guinea pig for health care reform, (again big business). Sri Lanka. 2004, Tsunami. “In a cruel twist of fate, nature has presented Sri Lanka with a unique opportunity, and out of this great tragedy will come a world class tourism destination.”- Sri Lankan government. Hundreds of thousands of fisherman lost their land and their chance to rebuild their lives as large resorts pushed them out of the way. Big business once again, and quickly, capitalized on disaster. New Orleans. 2005, Hurricane Katrina. Following the devastation of the hurricane as people waited on lines for relief food, guarded by the National Guard, local politicians, business people, and the US government moved on what they saw as a clean slate, a new opportunity. A New Orleans developer said, “We finally cleaned up public housing. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Even the school system was revamped. Public schools were abandoned almost entirely for privately run charter schools; it became, like Rwanda, a guinea pig for a new capitalist based school system.

Following severe drought in the late eighties and early nineties, Somalia was a hot spot for international aid. Relief food poured into the country, yet people still starved. An Ethiopian businesswoman has said, “famine happens not because of lack of food but because of lack of access.” In Somalia relief food was controlled by the government and clan leaders. Starving people had no access when they most needed it. Those that controlled the relief food (aid) controlled how development happened. Like the days of colonialism, as European powers invaded Africa one of the first things they did was control food production by putting it under lock and key and making people now work for them in order to get the food they needed to survive.

In George Orwell’s incredible book, 1984, as Winston is under going electro-shock therapy he is told, “We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back… We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” Compare this to disasters. Compare this to aid. As people now turn our eyes toward the devastation that followed the earthquake in Haiti let us consider these things and what is happening. Most of us are aware of the mass amounts of aid being raised to help Haitians. We must ask ourselves who is getting this aid and who is controlling it? And most importantly what are we doing about it?

A very close friend of mine is a reporter and is currently in Haiti doing all he can and trying to tell a story of a silenced nation. He recently wrote about the absolute devastation of Port-au-Prince. Commenting on the presence of the US military “safe guarding” relief food. He also commented on one English phrase he heard every where he went, “I am hungry.” (if you’re interested in some of these articles they can be found at www.worldnextdoor.org).

All of this seems entirely overwhelming and incredibly heart-breaking, there is no easy direction to go. The harsh history of humanitarian relief and development is a sad one, but one which hopefully we can be learning from. Rather than remaining immobile, ignorant and uncaring, we must do something. We are all responsible for what we know. And though we all have different passions, gifts, and talents we must reserve a place for Haiti. For too long Haiti has been suppressed and discriminated against. This disaster appears to have broken a nation. Let us mourn and remember. Let us never forget what is going on. And as Haiti is bound to fade from the media let it never fade from our conscience. We must remember, we must pray, we must do all we can and the best we can to encourage our brothers and sisters in Haiti. There may be overwhelming problems, even unsolvable ones, but we must not lose hope. Haiti must not become another wholesale international privatization enterprise or laboratory for some western project. Haiti will rise as grassroots organizations, its public sector and the people are empowered. Let this be our wake up call. Let this also be our wake up call that the way our capitalist system has approached aid must begin to change. And that it must begin with us.
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02 February 2010

AVATAR: Noble Savages meet the White Messiah in Colonial Struggle

By Catherine Cutcher and Siphokazi Magadla

The science-fiction epic Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time. Since its release in December, box office sales have reached $2 billion. Avatar has been awarded two Golden Globes for best dramatic motion picture and best director. At the upcoming Academy Awards, the movie is expected to receive more Oscars than Director James Cameron’s other film, Titanic.

The film’s success raises several questions. If Cameron is indeed the self-proclaimed “King of the World,” why should we even bother critiquing Avatar since the rest of the world seems to be bowing at his royal feet? As one commentator sarcastically commented, “Recession? What recession?” – how can a film gross such huge profits in our so-called difficult times?

In this article, we argue that Cameron may be a genius for making a film with a message for everybody - from technological geeks, environmentalists, multinational corporations, to pan-theists – but the movie relies upon an extremely problematic plot. Avatar is based on a narrative framing the protagonist, Jake Sully, as the “White Messiah” savior of the exotic “Noble Savages” who are the Na’vi. This plot is not only inaccurate, but it reveals the age-old debate of whether colonialism was positive or negative for formerly colonized societies. As Avatar suggests, the exploitation of indigenous communities was not so bad, especially because some of the colonizers - after contributing to the destruction of their subjects - actually fell in love with their subjects and presumably, love conquered all!

Nevertheless, critics are raving over this film. The filmmakers spent over $300 million on special effects and to develop the language of the Na’vi alien culture. Science fiction fans are shocked and awed by the computer-generated imagery (CGI) and 3-D effects. Environmentalists celebrate the preservation message of the film. Critics of the U.S. military-industrial complex view the film as a statement against corporate greed and violence. Pan-theists enjoy the natural beauty of Pandora and the spirituality of its indigenous Na’vi culture.

Despite its resounding success, the film has also raised the ire of a diversity of special interest groups, including human rights activists, feminists, social and political conservatives, the Chinese government, and the Vatican. For postcolonial scholars and indigenous peoples, Avatar’s plot is highly racist, disturbing, and offensive.

As postcolonial scholars, we must deconstruct these condescending myths of the “Noble Savage” and the “White Messiah.” Avatar’s colonialist fantasy replays common themes found throughout U.S. media, including films like Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, Pocahontas, and Fern Gully. The story goes: a White man travels to a different culture, learns their customs, falls in love with a local woman, becomes disgruntled with his own culture, and goes AWOL. He then becomes the most awesome warrior in his new culture, and saves them from the greed and violence of his own people. Despite his betrayal, he is forgiven and accepted to join the clan as an honorary member or a new chief.

A major problem with this plot is that it is only the Jake Sullys and Tom Cruises who have this option of moving in and out of cultures as they please – their own and that which they choose to master. We have yet to see films of Black people or other non-Whites having the option of surrendering their cultures for those of whom they have come to love. It is only White actors who are able to do this. Certainly, few imagine that the Na’vi, or at least Jake Sully’s girlfriend, would be able to cleanse herself of her Na’viness and join Jake’s culture. However, he not only has the privilege of becoming Na’vi, he also stands a chance of being her chief after contributing to the murder of her father.

Furthermore, indigenous groups - despite their better use of the environment as compared to Western industrial economies - should not be romanticized as worshipers of nature as we see in Avatar. This is certainly not true; it does not represent the complexity of these communities. The images of the Na’vi praying and dancing away their pain does not help in the smallest way. Surely, if colonized people could dance their way to revamping their destroyed and poor communities, they could have done that already. This exoticism of cultures is not only condescending but also underestimates the brutality of war and colonialism.

The myth of the White Messiah liberating Noble Savages is dangerous. These stories reveal some of the basest anxieties of White people living in contemporary society. The guilt of racism, slavery, and colonialism weigh heavily on the shoulders and minds of Europeans. Fears are building about survival and sustainability on a dying planet. Indigenous peoples must beware of looking to the colonizers for help with liberation. Betrayal is written in the blood, sweat, and tears of history’s victims.

In Africa and the rest of the “two-thirds world,” this story should bother us. Colonialism and slavery worked to dehumanize, divide, and conquer African peoples from each other and our land. Noble Savage myths were created to justify imperialism by explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists. These racist narratives depict non-Western cultures as less than human – as aliens or animals to be admired, tamed, and controlled. These stories are not just for entertainment. Social and political policies are profoundly shaped by stories that continue to be told about Africa in the West.

This is precisely the reason why the world should not be amused or tolerate plots found in films like Avatar. The legacy of colonialism should not be the stuff of romance because very little of it is romantic! There are plenty of stories that need to be told about the plight of hegemony that need not subject some to a position of inferiority whilst easing the anxieties of others.

Avatar raises a number of important questions: Can indigenous people – or aliens – ever speak for themselves on the silver screen? Why must a benevolent White person always serve as a bridge for American audiences to understand other cultures? Why can’t we see a story about the Na’vi defending themselves from the invasion of the humans? Or better yet, through nonviolent resistance?

When will Hollywood stop making alien fantasy films like Avatar, and instead invest their resources, energy, and attention to end suffering right here on Planet Earth? If they are serious about their message Avatar’s creators should donate a portion of their $2 billion profit to organizations working for change. They do not have to look to alien moons for inspiration. They could invest in the sovereignty of indigenous peoples through organizations like Cultural Survival, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the American Indian Movement, or the Assembly of First Nations. They could donate to environmental groups working to end mountaintop removal in West Virginia, or toxic waste dumping on U.S. Indian reservations, or logging in our national forests, or oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Some of their massive proceeds could be given to the Red Cross, Oxfam, or Doctors Without Borders to assist earthquake survivors in Haiti, or refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan, or besieged Palestinians in Gaza, or genocide survivors in Darfur, or rape victims in the Congo.

Forget about Pandora. S.O.S. from Planet Earth!
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