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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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21 November 2011

Transforming Small and Medium Enterprises through Strategic Information Systems

Written on November 21, 2011 by Reuben in

About two years ago we reflected on the Information Technology and Communication (ICT) for Development, looking specifically at EASSy, SEACOM, and GLO-1 Submarine projects. The hope was that these projects would transform Africa’s place in global society, unfortunately the Africa Competitive Report 2011 reported that African economies' export growth rates continue to lag behind, more than those of other developing regions. Those who followed the implementation of those projects expected citizens of the continent to have access to high-speed Internet at low cost. Unfortunately this has not been the case as the continent continues to suffer from contextual, strategic, and operational problems.

The continent lacks production and export diversification making it susceptible to external economic breakdown. For the African continent to attain sustainable growth there is a need to develop a well-diversified export sector to reverse its marginalization in the global trade. African governments need to invest heavily in information technology and telecommunications infrastructure, in order to create enabling environments that attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and promote the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). In most African countries SMEs represent the largest proportion of established businesses, thus their role cannot be under-estimated with respect to economic growth, employment, and gross domestic product (GDP). Enabling ICT environments would help SMEs respond to business environment pressures, while fulfilling customers’ demands and gaining competitive advantage, as they cannot rely solely on the limited domestic markets.

In Africa, mobile phone usage has grown exponentially, thus we need to create mobile-enabled or techno-enabled economies. Today, SMEs could take advantage of mobility-enabled devices such as blackberries, PDAs, digital cameras, and laptops as entry points into new business landscapes, especially e-commerce. It is a must that SMEs adopt information systems and use them beyond accounting and cost control to help create new technical paradigms for future growth. Thus, enabling SMEs to access adequate information and consider a number of parameters as they plan for long-term goals. Africa’s economies need to look at information as a mode of development and the adoption of technology as a powerful working tool. Accessing information will guarantee that the Small and Medium Enterprises are competitive in a knowledge intensive market, and also guarantee the continuity of local societal values.

The challenge is that all the information systems are predominantly developed for Western conditions. Though some of the systems can be easily adopted by SMEs in developing economies, we cannot make implicit assumptions about infrastructure efficiency and availability. In developed nations, the technological dynamics of the telecommunication services have provided these nations with an added advantage to capture all markets globally. The presence of FDI in African countries could stimulate growth by helping to develop technology infrastructure, technological capabilities, managerial skills, and provide technical assistance to Small and Medium Enterprises.

In countries such as Singapore, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, SMEs have an important place in economic growth. In order for Africa to achieve the millennial goals or attain developed nation status there is a need to create enabling environments, adopt new technological skills, and allow new sets of leaders to transform governments. In 1995, Singapore reported 65,000 SMEs dominating retail and wholesale trade, thus supporting economic growth. African countries could learn from countries like Singapore, where foreign investments and local enterprises are heavily promoted simultaneously.

It is important that SMEs acquire the technical know-how and take advantage of information technology to rapidly differentiate their products and services. There are SMEs in African countries that are taking advantage of information systems to improve their strategic position and access to global markets, but the numbers remain small. With the growing influence of the open-source movement, technology is more affordable and indispensable than ever before. As a continent, we cannot overlook local enterprises’ ability to sustain economic growth.
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18 April 2011

Côte d’Ivoire – Intervention: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

By Nadia Ahmadou (Masters Candidate in African Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland.)

The media spotlight this year has been focused on Côte d’Ivoire following a disastrous outcome to the first election in the country after about five years of civil strife. The latter was a result of discriminatory policies separating and dividing people along ethnic lines and restricting access to equal opportunities based on such ethnic discrimination. The social construction behind this ethnic divide was borne out of political machinations to resist the threat of strong political opposition and to maintain a strong hold on power by those in charge at the time of the initiation of these policies. History of course dictates that once one starts constructing the identity of thousands of people on faulty grounds, this can only lead to disgruntlement and strong desires for change. The subsequent result of this problematic division was a civil war that plunged one of Africa’s economic strongholds into a crisis it is yet to recover from.

Throughout the civil war and the period covering peace initiatives, the international community including the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) was heavily involved in attempting not only to bring an end to fighting but also to reconcile the differences that led to the war in the first place. The UN as a result has had blue helmets based in the country from 2002 till today. Their main responsibility after successfully brokering a ceasefire and a number of peace accords was to organize elections and ensure that these were conducted in a transparent manner and respected by all. These elections were held late 2010, after years of postponement. As most analysts envisaged, the elections did not lead to the desired peaceful outcome as the results were questioned by the regime in place at the time. Despite the fact that the primary mandate for releasing and enforcing these results lay with the UN, it was unable to enforce this mandate.

Côte d’Ivoire has consequently remained mired in this conflict limbo, with the extra ironical status of being the only country with two presidents: one recognized by the international community and the other self-legitimated. In addition, armed groups across the divide began urban warfare using light and heavy weapons that increased the casualty toll most significantly on the side of the civilian population living in Abidjan. After a number of failed diplomatic initiatives, led by the AU with the support of the UN and ECOWAS, to resolve the issue, it became imperative to consider other resolution methods. As always, the conundrum faced with military intervention stayed the same: Is the use of force to achieve peace legitimate, especially when exercised by external states?

France, under the umbrella of the UN, illustrated this conundrum by deploying its military capacity to destroy the armed reserves of the self-legitimated president, paving the path for the opposing armed force to gain access to him, and thereby dismantling the organization behind armed activity in his favour. Debates have sprung up regarding this involvement and whether or not it is an infringement of Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereignty; or an exercise of undue force or if it fits within the framework of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, as observed by the International Community.

In the simplest terms Côte d’Ivoire’s riddle boils down to that old International Relations puzzle: Do external states have the right to intervene militarily within the bounded territory of a sovereign state such as Cote d’Ivoire? To what extent do we justify the killing of hundreds of people by applying a quick-fix solution to a problem that requires long term processes? Does the use of violence to promote peace not beget future violence instead? On the other hand, surely to stay silent to the plight of those already dying at the hands of militias and armed forces is as criminal as forceful intervention?

We must recognize that long term processes do require a clever mixture of short and medium term actions in order to start processes in favour of the long term. In order for the necessary reconciliation initiatives to begin in the country, there is a need for the right kind of framework to support this. This framework would necessitate an environment that ensures the safety, security and comfort of those residing within it. Given this particular context, the only way to achieve this peaceful setting was to rid the country of the various militias, mercenaries, other armed groups and regime supporting the mayhem. Experience showed that non-violent marches incited even more nefarious action on their part, with the death of civilians, and a body count that rose daily. Was the remaining option then not making use of regional and international armed forces to stop hostilities? How else could the ordinary unarmed person be protected from such violations? Given the limited resources of those on the ground, and the glaring absence of the state as a primary protector, who was to be responsible for ensuring this civilian protection? Was the international community supposed to sit by and watch the beginnings of genocide? Had the world really not learned from Germany, Serbia, Kosovo and Rwanda among others? What about the botched interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq? What lessons have we learnt from those?

Although one cannot in good conscience support military intervention as the only recourse to peace, given the current facts, one cannot in equal good conscience condone sitting back and watching the continued abuse of human rights. This even more so as all peaceful measures had failed and did not promise to succeed in time. The framework for military intervention set up by the UN and contained in Chapter 7 of its Charter permits such forceful action. As much as we should not condone violence of any kind, we need to recognize that some values are so fundamental that there is little other recourse than forceful intervention in order to protect those most vulnerable to the conflict.

Whether or not France and the International Community acted with the interest of Ivorian citizens in mind is doubtful. This recognition however does not cancel the atrocities that were occurring at the time of intervention, or the fact that said intervention, dubious as it was, brought most of these troubles to an end. At the same time one cannot ignore the potential for abuse, not only by external states in the pursuit of economic interests, but also by accepting that very seldom does violence engender peace. The clearest conclusion derived from this particular case: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The debate is moot, rather than spend energy determining the legitimacy and purpose of military intervention in Côte d’Ivoire, we should be more constructive and ask: What’s on the table for the future with regards to reconciliation and development?
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11 April 2011

Gendering the local: the curious feminist and African knowledge production

Siphokazi Magadla, is a Junior Lecturer at the Political and International Studies department at Rhodes University, South Africa.

The third annual “Global Symposium” by the Barnard Liberal Arts College for Women based in New York City took place in Johannesburg, South Africa on 15 March 2011 under the theme “Women Changing Africa.” Among the key women leaders in the symposium was Senator Aloisea Inyumba of Rwanda, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank Gill Marcus, Chairperson of the South African Law Reform Commission, Yvonne Mokgoro and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and former Senior Director of the World Bank Dr Mamphela Ramphele. It was Ramphele’s assertion during the symposium that the characteristic of a true leader is their “understanding that the personal, the professional and the political have to cohere in our ¬everyday lives.” She argued that her generation in realizing this link “had to create spaces for dialogue, not only about the struggle for freedom from apartheid but also with how to make the “three Ps” come together.”

In this article I argue that in order for the space for the “three Ps” in leadership and knowledge production to be possible, we have to realize that our personal, professional and political daily realities remain dominated by a violent patriarchal discourse that while privileging mostly men, holds hostage our ability to create a true community of men and women dedicated to the creation of a continental project that will see an Africa that lives up to our best aspirations.

To live up to the theme that charges us to commit ourselves to “celebrating our own: the power of local knowledge” and in thus do “our best to bring to the light the best of our local knowledge, our ‘traditional’ or cultural institutions and strategies, and show how useful these can be in the 21st century” then we must be prepared to acknowledge that the “center” in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s concept of “moving center” was by all means a patriarchal one. It is a center premised on a violent masculinity that is rooted in the violence of colonization as well as the violence of the decolonization project as argued by Fanon’s thesis “on violence” in the classic “The Wretched of the Earth.”

By patriarchy I use bell hook’s (2000) definition in “Feminism is for everybody” that patriarchy is the assumption that men are superior to women and therefore they should rule over women. I also use her definition in “Feminism from margin to center” (1984) that feminist politics is a “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” This means calling for an end to the domination of one gender by the other which is most visible in the infatuation with the control of women’s bodies not only in conflict Africa, but even in ‘stable’ regions like Southern Africa where rape continues to be the biggest cause of insecurity for women. Thus an end to sexist patriarchy opens up an important space where self-actualized women and men at the personal, professional and political spheres can give their utmost best to end other struggles such as racism, class elitism, and imperialism that the African intelligentsia is up against.

It is imperative to emphasise that a submission to the reality that ‘gender matters’ in Africa too must be committed to a nuanced creation of knowledge representative of all Africans. Paul Zeleza maintains in “Gender biases in African historiography” (1997) that equal representation of men and women needs to go beyond the romantic myth in most of African historiography “that the roles of women and men were equal and complementary in traditional, harmonious, pre-colonial Africa, or that the lives of notable, exceptional, heroic women were celebrated” because upon close inspection of ‘great texts’ on Africa, there is a dominant celebration of the “lives of great men…[while] women remain largely invisible or misrepresented in mainstream, or appropriately ‘malestream’ African history.” Moreover a quick examination through some of the leading scholarly articles on African great thinkers and intellectuals reveals this trend of absence of women thinkers being recognized and venerated.

Oumar Ba in the preceding article argues that the politics of selective memory are “disastrous to our societies…”. I agree with him, and also argue that an inclusive remembering in knowledge making in Africa will be one that is curious about women, or at the very least curious about the gender dynamics of the ‘thinking cadre.’ Cynthia Enloe (2004) in “The curious feminist: searching for women in a new age of empire” argues that in order for us to be serious about the gendered nature of our epistemic communities we need to take women seriously.

Whenever therefore we converse with male thinkers such as Kwame Nkrumah, we must also be curious about the lives of women in Africa. When young intelligentsia like Zukiswa Mqolomba urge us to build a new cadre to “move beyond deconstructive theories to constructive theories for Africa’s development” we must there too, be curious about how this intelligentsia is to provide new constructive alternatives of masculinity and femininity not premised on violent domination.

I therefore conclude that an important step to emancipatory projects by the African thinking class will have to start when the intellectual class consciously brings women into the “historical center” (Zeleza 1997) and the present contemporary center. In our research projects and scholarly output we must always be cautious about assuming gender neutrality and start building curiousity about the gender dynamics at play in how men and women could be similarly or differently affected by our academic products. Just as Cornel West argued that democracy and race matter, I argue that gender matters - in everything.

A first and practical step to building academic and intellectual curiosity about women’s lives is to start by remembering and proclaiming their names. When we remember great men, we must recall that they were there with great women. This is aligned to the prophetic spirit of the past under which American Author Alice Walker argued that “how simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers names.” Unless we address the monster that is patriarchy in our homes, offices and politics we risk losing a special space where without the hindering of sexism we can all truly be human beings thus “humans in a process of being” as prophetically put by Paulo Freire in the “Pedagogy of the oppressed.”
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04 April 2011

The personal and the creation of knowledge

Oumar Ba is a graduate student in Political Science and African Studies at Ohio University.

In his 2005 text titled “The Seven Dirty Shoes”, Mozambican novelist Mia Couto gave a striking example about Zambia. On June 5 1966, then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda gave a speech on the waves of Radio Luanda to announce that one of the pillars their country’s future had just been built. He thanked the people of Zambia for having helped build the first university in their country; an answer to his call a few months earlier by all segments of the society. The peasants donated maize, the fishermen donated fish, and the salaried donated money. In that eloquent example of a country coming together, an uneducated people invested in what they hoped would be the ticket to a brighter future for their children. They told themselves that donating food today meant tomorrow their children would not go hungry. Couto writes “Forty years later, the children of those peasants are still hungry.” Zambia did not experience any war, and the country has enough natural resources. So, what went wrong? Did the university fail the peasants?

To keep in the spirit of celebrating local knowledge production and its dissemination in Africa, this article seeks to investigate the ways in which the personality of the knowledge producers affects the role that their intellectual production plays on improving the conditions of the society, and the connection or lack of thereof, of the intellectual’s production and activism in the people’s struggle.

As it has been argued in the precedent articles, elitism and class anxiety plague the African intellectual personality and negatively affects the production and sharing of knowledge, and even its relevance in the African context. In a continent where the vast majority of the people are still excluded from the formal channels of knowledge acquisition and production, in addition to the privileges attached with the status of the intellectual, must come also the duty of serving the society, thus Chinua Achebe’s notion of the “black writer’s burden.”

Formal education is not just a right in Africa, the reality being that it is also privilege for those who have been lucky enough to have accessed it; hence it is important that we make sure that elitism does not become the end result that creates the schism between the segments of our societies. By combing through the intellectual elite of and in Africa, one can only wish we will have more people like Jean Paul Sartre, who sided with Frantz Fanon, and the Algerian people, and all the freedom fighters when doing so meant also being ostracized in one’s own country. How many among us, aspiring intellectuals, or our elders, African intellectuals would decline a Nobel Prize? How many of us would courageously realize that "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”. Would we join the battlefield if that is what our generation has identified as its mission, like Fanon did?

Academic work must be coupled with civic engagement and social activism if the African intelligentsia is to have any meaningful impact on our societies. As the previous articles have discussed the need to “move the centre”, African intellectuals must also turn around and speak to the people. We must dare to break away from the established academic circles and move towards reclaiming African languages, vocabulary, and paradigms in order to break down the clusters in which different segments of our societies engage in dialogue and exchange of ideas.

Moreover, the African intellectual must move his/her center of gravity towards those who are often called voiceless when the reality is that it is us who are not listening. We ought to create more Cornel West and less ivory tower intellectuals on the continent. We must dare to be a “bluesman in the life of the mind, and a jazzman in the world of ideas.” Even in the case we decide to (if we can afford it) always be dressed in “a hand-tailored three-piece black suit with cufflinks of 25 karat Ethiopian gold, each featuring a tiny image of Africa” as Brother West does, we must also be humble and loving out loud enough to give a big hug to everyone that we greet.

The African intellectual must also embrace the fierce dedication to African languages of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and be able to speak to an African audience. Speaking of and to political authorities the language of truth is also a route that is still not fully paved in our academic circles. In his latest book “Sortir de la grande nuit: Essai sur l’Afrique decolonisee” published in October 2010 (and dedicated to Frantz Fanon and Jean Marc Ela “two thinkers of the unlimited future”), Achille Mbembe calls the current African political elites “satrapes”, which can be loosely translated in English as “bloodsuckers”. He also writes that in many instances, the African political elite conducts itself as foreign occupiers who view their countries resources as war bounty subject to pillages. Mbembe explains the reasons of his spiritual detachment from his homeland of Cameroon to the fact the elite refuses to acknowledge and recognize those who sacrificed themselves for the independence of the country, those whose names are banned from the history books: Um Nyobe, Pierre Yém Mback, Félix Moumié, Abel Kingué, Osendé Afana, Ernest Ouandié, etc.

The politics of selective memory are as disastrous to our societies as the pillage of our natural resources. Finally, to be an African intellectual aware of local knowledge creation and diffusion is also to be an agent of action for a better change, and as Fanon said, “what matters is not to know the world, but to change it.”
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30 March 2011

Building the new cadre 50 years after Fanon’s death: the place of intelligentsia in recreating societies in Africa

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a Masters in Poverty and Development candidate at the University of Sussex, England.

The year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon, highlighted by various meetings in Africa, Caribbean, US, and Europe celebrating his work, years after his passing. The relevance of Fanon’s work is illustrative of the unique and important place of the thinking class in society. The celebration of Fanon’s legacy makes it imperative for us to ask about today’s thinking class in Africa- the intelligentsia. Indeed how do we build from the legacy of great thinkers of the continent? What is the place of intelligentsia in creating and recreating societies in Africa?

History attests that the thinking class of society has always been at the helm of evolution of whole societies. Not only has revolutionary thought been construed in centres of learning, but these centres have served as launch pads for revolutionary action. The advancement of whole societies has come about as a function of internalised struggles, opportunity and time as intellectuals have dedicated themselves to rigorous analysis in efforts to understand the way societies are organised, and most importantly how they could change these. Kwame Nkrumah, Cheikh Anta Diop, Joseph Ki Zerbo, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, and Eskia Mpahlele have been quoted amongst Africa’s greatest thinkers, having ascribed ideas that became the bedrock of Africa’s revolutionary road.

Even globally, throughout the waves of globalisation (late 19th century to early 21st century), the Ivy Leagues and the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) have remained the architects of societies, including our own, producing and reproducing a scholarship that reproduces after their own likeness. The construction and reconstruction of the institutional architecture of entire societies has been a theoretical and functional response of these ‘advanced’ elements.

These scholars understood the intersection between cultural power and ideological hegemony, and how these evolve societies towards ones interests. Now more than ever, there is a strong case for developing a new cadre in Africa for Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains behind in almost every human development indicator and economic development indicator. According to the forthcoming Human Development Report, Sub-Saharan Africa countries, even those classified as middle income countries, have disappointingly low HDIs. This is largely because states have not done sufficiently well in addressing the critical components of the HDI (Education, Health, and Employment). Similarly, with some exceptions, African states have not done well enough regarding institutional and cultural reforms; and ordinary Africans are paying the price.

There are other emerging challenges that require agile and capable scholarship. For instance, the 2nd scramble for Africa’s resources, the mineral-energy complex, estimated population growth, youth unemployment, rapid urbanization and urban poverty; all require a different approach to scholarship. Food security also remains a major threat to the continent and several African countries live on food aid, despite having arable land and human resources. Africa remains challenged on a number of fronts, including democratic governance, participatory democracy, and social inclusion. Bearing in mind the glaring complexities that face Africa’s, the reconstruction programme is, in essence, therefore a call to building the new cadre.

So what is the new cadre? Borrowing from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s (1993) concept of ‘moving the centre’, the new cadre should be engaged in protracted struggles to shift the centre and to usher in a world order wherein multiple paradigms are the new orthodox. Neo-liberal orthodoxy and market-fundamentalism, as espoused by the Washington consensus, have dominated our discourse for far too long and to our detriment. External forces have for too long shaped and reshaped the thinking paradigms of Africa’s development discourse. The structural adjustments instruments imposed on African states in the 1990’s, for instance, have been proven to be part of the problem, and not necessarily solutions to Africa’s labour challenges; having pursued an accumulation regime devoid of social justice. Multiple theoretical prisms that are context-specific are definitely needed to usher in a new development trajectory in Africa.

Borrowing from Evan’s (1995) concept of ‘embedded autonomy’ which is central to the effectiveness of the developmental state, the new cadre should also be autonomous in thinking (in so far as the terms of reference contribute to the identification and resolution of strategic developmental objectives), whilst embedded or grounded in analysis and in a manner that sustains working partnerships with social groups in society. Critical theory must be combined with practical and normative thinking in order to explain what is wrong with current social reality and to develop a clear action programme to change these. Since there is dialectical relationship between theory and concrete reality, embedded autonomy only enriches and affirms the basis of scientific knowledge.

The new cadre should move beyond knowledge regurgitation to knowledge production, evolving beyond the thinking paradigms of classical scholars to producing new paradigms of their own that reflect the times as they are, as they see them. For indeed: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” (Frantz Fanon; 1961). As this generation of African scholars, we too have an obligation to discover our mission, to fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity. We too carry the burden of producing scholarly work that enhances the freedoms of others.

Undoubtedly, the decade ahead promises to be dominated as much by developmental questions as by anything else and regional economies are expected to play an important frontline role. As we commemorated the 50th anniversary of African independence in 2010, the most pertinent question of this epoch remains: Whither Africa?

For this reason, it seems appropriate for a stock-taking and reflexive intelligentsia to regain lost grounds; to move beyond deconstructive theories to constructive theories for Africa’s development. The dilemmas facing Africa call upon African scholars to make concerted efforts to realize new commitments towards alternative growth paths in Africa. And in this regards “the ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr (and the neither-here-or-there ramblings of a populist on tick)” (Ahmed Baba).

 The first version of this article was published in The Thinker volume 23/2010
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07 March 2011

Aligning Knowledge Production with Substantive Development: (re-) Assessing the Role of Intellectuals in Africa

Gcobani Qambela and Bose Maposa

The role of intellectuals in Africa's development has since the late 1950's occupied an ambivalent place in mainstream scholarly debate. Thembani Mbadlanyana in his article A conversation with Dr Kwame Nkrumah: Africans as Producers of Knowledge reminded us of the critical role and need for intellectuals to carve and churn out insightful narratives on and of Africa to respond to the old adage: "From Africa Always Something New" [Semperaliquid noviex Africa]. Indeed the task of African intellectuals in this era was primarily to restore Africa’s dignity at an era of imperial intellectual scholarship that supported the colonial domination by providing ‘scientific’ evidence of Africa’s inhumanity. Thereby African intellectuals were pillars of the colonial struggle, many of whom went on to become leaders of their independent nations.

A peculiar aspect of African intellectuals, since gaining their independence, has been the inability of these intellectuals to effectively apply the knowledge that they acquired to materially and substantively improve the lives of those served. From Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah's tragic Akosombe Dam/Volta Lake resettlement programs, to Tanzania's Julius Mwalimu Nyerere's failed African Socialism/villagisation initiative, and more recently South Africa's Thabo Mbeki catastrophic response and grasp of the HIV/AIDS in the African perspective. The argument here is that as thinkers and on paper, they excelled but as doers, not at all. All these great intellectuals, some of whom later gained the platform to implement their ideas in Africa’s highest offices of the presidency failed in applying their intellect despite sound and seemingly noble ideas. This is a flaw that appears to have penetrated and perpetuated even well into 2011. This is the task of our generation of African intellectuals - creating this bridge between knowledge production and implementation to improve African livelihoods.

Eusebius McKaiser, Associate at the University of the Witwatersrand Centre for Ethics and columnist for City Press in his piece No country for young intellectuals to spread their wings pointed to the devalued role of intellectuals in South Africa (and arguably Africa at large). While countries like the United States of America, the Republic of China and the United Kingdom have invested enormous amounts into their intellectuals most African countries have not emulated this model. One striking fact, even before we blame our leaders, is to note that McKeinser states that very few academics care little for public discourse, and hence "academics within the humanities and social sciences in particular, should be ashamed of themselves... [For] they have a social and intellectual obligation - partly because they get public funding - to make sure that their work speaks to and reaches the socio-political context within which their academic selves exist".

Yet, before we praise these countries, it is important to remember that unlike most African countries, these countries have a lot of universities (where many African intellectuals can be found), thus many intellectuals within their societies, many of whom then seek various avenues to unload their work and are also ready to engage their colleagues. Furthermore, not all these intellectuals manage to reach the public; the crucial role that they serve is to keep the ‘government’ accountable and intellectually engaged, in a manner that government decisions are scrutinized and explained, and thus their policies are a result of this exchange. In addition, those intellectuals that are valued by their communities have found different avenues to address and advice the public.

African governments should also support the ‘thinking class’ in an effort to place pressure on African intellectuals to produce knowledge that is culturally relevant. For as long as African research is supported elsewhere, its output will reflect the funders. The trend will continue to be an explanation of Africa and Africans to the rest of the world, instead of a work that helps Africans contest their historical and contemporary condition.

Indeed, if we take Cornel West as an example, his ‘blues’ and rap talk, his music albums his acting roles all are a part of casting the net and ensuring that the widest possible audience is reached. Perhaps African intellectuals ought to have an even deeper dialogue of who the knowledge is for. If the role of the African intellectual in the colonial era was restoring the image of the continent claiming it for the old civilization that it has always been to the world and primarily to Africans thereby; what is the role of the African intellectual in 2011?

What the paper argues therefore is that to truly have effective and socio-politically aware intellectuals in Africa, the disjuncture and vacuum that currently exists in Africa between the production of knowledge and the socio-application of that knowledge needs to be effectively bridged. For this to happen, we need to take time and look back into our own societies and their value systems. For most African cultures, it was never about just one person, but the community at large, and this in fact was how most ‘policy’ decisions were made- through a culture of engagement.

If the first half of a century of African independence tells us anything is that it is not enough for intellectuals in Africa to produce knowledge. If we are indeed going to develop our countries, sustainably, then we must realize that everyone has a role to play. Public space is not reserved for a select few, nor is this public space compartionalized. The urgency is therefore that intellectuals depart from their secluded spaces and as McKeinser states “keep the conversation alive”. They need to play an active role in the application of that knowledge in their respective contexts. Haroub Otham for instance notes that "an intellectual [is] not only a person who is able to analyze the present but is also able to articulate ideas that would have a lasting impact on those who receive them.”

(1) Othman, Haroub. "Mwalimu Julius Nyerere: an intellectual in power" in Chachange, C and Cassam, A. 2010. Africa's Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere. Pambazuka Press: Uganda
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23 February 2011

Reviving Democracy and Democratic Processes in Africa

Steve Arowolo; Economist, Author and a Public Speaker

One of the ideas I find very fascinating about leadership is from David Cooper who said "Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others."The impulse might always be there to continue leading even against the will of the people but an authentic leader will never yield to such impulse, because leadership is not domination.

During the commemoration of the 90th birthday anniversary of Nelson Mandela; Professor Ali Mazrui said: “Nelson Mandela is one of the most extraordinary individuals in my own lifetime, and fortunately widely recognized by the world as extraordinary. So that’s a very important element in our situation. We haven’t had many such people in history”. Madiba became a hero not only because he fought against domination but because he surrendered political power to give way to the continuity of a democratic process at a time he had every reason to cling to it and that is authentic leadership in action. African leaders must draw inspiration from people like Mandela who epitomizes and exemplifies authentic leadership.

Africans must stand up and speak out loud against tyrannical and despotic leadership, now is the time to revive our democracy and democratic processes. We have seen what happened in Egypt and how the Egyptians took their destiny in their own hands against long years of oppressive rule and for the first time in several years we are experiencing what could happen when people begin to know the real meaning of democracy and what leadership entails. Many African countries are beginning to wake up to their collective responsibilities in accordance with tenets of democracy.

The citizens must participate actively in electing who governs them and in another sense active participation should involve ordinary citizen contesting for elective offices, nobody has a monopoly of wisdom. We are all talented and gifted in one capacity or the other. Young Africans should begin to look within and see the leadership genius in them, the future belongs to the youths and they must learn from history for those who fail to learn from history become history while they are still alive. Leadership lessons should be taught in our schools and religious centers with more emphasis on good governance and corporate responsibility as good citizens of a particular nation. People must be taught to be patriotic early in life as it is being done in some African countries.

It is axiomatic to say that a leader is not truly a success until his successors are successful, a leader must be secure enough to mentor his people into a position of leadership. Most African leaders have what I can call insecurity complex and that explains the reason why they can never be good mentors, most of them are bankrupt in character with legacy of manifold corruption and illegality of monumental proportion. Most African leaders are failing the final test of leadership; According to Walter Lippmann "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on... The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully."

We must focus on solutions, what is the way forward for Africa democracy? The answers are well spread over the lines of this article. Africans need visionary leaders, for vision is the essence of leadership, A new Africa must emerge; a new Africa with passionate and visionary leadership, a new Africa with an understanding of democracy and leadership.
When people begin to realize that they have a part to play and do their part to be part of history; then things begin to change, when the people stop the blame game and play to be the difference and make a difference, then the story will change. This is one of the ways of reviving democracy and democratic processes in Africa."Together we can revive this continent, revamp our economic orientation and resuscitate our failing democratic structures, and the time is now.

"Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others” Anonymous.
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15 February 2011

A conversation with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah: Africans as producers of knowledge

Thembani Mbadlanyana, is a Masters in Public Administration candidate at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Paris-France

I know that Dr. Nkrumah would be happy to hear me saying that, indeed, Africa has a noble and rich history. As we are deep into our conversation and trying to reconstruct the history and map out and elaborate new visions for the future of the continent, Nkrumah whispers to me, “there is a need for Africans to explain their own culture, and interpret their own thought and soul life, if the complete truth is to be given to the other races of the earth”. He insists, “the next edition of Encyclopaedia Africana should be produced in Africa, under the direction and editorship of Africans, and with the maximum participation of African scholars in all countries”. He further tells me that “if the intellectual project is to be relevant to Africans, there is a need for an Afro-centric point of view for the Encyclopaedia Africana” and he fiercely maintains that the Encyclopaedia Africana must reject non-African value judgments of things African.

I easily agree with him. I tell him that my agreement is based on my historical deduction and my imagineering of plausible and probably African futures. I remind him that, having observed Africa’s glorious past, Old Romans concluded that "Semper aliquid novi ex Africa" (From Africa always something new). I add, one wonders whether when it comes to present day Africa with regard to knowledge generation, does the old Roman saying still hold and can we confidently say today that from Africa new ideas always emerge? I ask him whether with the introduction of Encyclopaedia Africana, is there a promise that that the rest of the world will get to say in agreement once again that from Africa always something new? I tell him that, my answer to the two questions is a resolute no! Africa lost its former glory and nothing, at least for now, that has international relevance will come from our continent.
To me, the continent lost its former glory and our political history is the culprit. African intellectual traditions and discursive communities were suppressed. The new army of missionaries, social anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists trooping into Africa in the periods immediately before and after ‘independence’ would go on to deploy their ‘extroverted’ mode of writing and thinking about Africa and Africans (see writings by the late Archibald Mafeje). They made their job to narrativize about Africans and Africa from their own ill-informed perspectives.

To his surprise, I then tell Dr. Nkrumah that, the new postcolonial thinking class and the following generation of African public intellectuals also contributed to misrepresentation of Africa. They heralded a break with earlier African intellectual traditions epitomized by such thinkers as Ahmed Baba. Their central thematics were not grounded in and driven by the affirmation of African experiences and ontological accounting for the self. They didn’t show an uncompromising refutation of the epistemology of alterity that shaped colonial modes of gazing and writing about Africa and Africans. They didn’t embrace a method of scholarship rooted in the collective Self.

However, there have been some changes over the years. As an appeasement to Nkrumah, around early 70s until early 90s a new breed of African intellectuals as shown by Achilles Mbebe, started to explain their own culture, and interpret their own African philosophical thought. This new breed of intellectuals explained new experiences and ideas in the most accessible and understandable ways to the rest of society. They didn’t rely on ‘importation of ideas’ and they didn’t address African issues in borrowed languages and paradigms.

Nonetheless, this didn’t last. To his surprise, I tell Nkrumah that today’s African thinking class is preoccupied with ‘status anxiety’, how it is seen by the other in the Global North. Despite all the progress made in trying to bring back the former glory of the continent, they fail to infuse an afrocentric view in their analysis, research and writing. Afraid to disappoint him, I reluctantly tell Nkrumah that, despite all the progress made by our Radical Scholars from the Dakar and Dar Es Salaam Schools of Thought, there is still a long way to go.

We desperately need redeemers to reconnect us to the profound scholarship of the real intellectuals of the bygone era. He smiles when I tell him that, Africa needs intellectuals who are grounded on something, that is their ontological experiences; intellectuals with continentally relevant paradigms and languages; intellectuals who are preoccupied with the labour of the mind and soul not status anxiety; intellectuals that are committed to the intellectual, social, economic and political transformation of the continent and more importantly; intellectuals who are committed in assisting the continent as it is busy reconstructing its past, interpreting the present and navigating or mapping out new visions for the future.

I then tell Dr. Nkrumah that, the time for public intellectuals who excel in decontetxualized abstraction and catalogues and in methodological inexactitude is gone. As the late Archie Mafeje would say, wayward intellectuals who confuse feigned erudition with committed scholarship have no place in our society. The time for derivative scholarship is passé; it has reached its sell-by date. Nkrumah becomes so relieved when I tell him that, there is an increasing acknowledgement amongst the emerging and young cream of African intelligentsia that, there is a need to show an uncompromising aversion to the ‘epistemology of alterity’ – the ‘othering’ of Africa and Africans. I see a smile on his face when I tell him that; there is a need for the advancement of scholarship grounded in the centering of African ontological experiences.

As we conclude our conversation, we reach an agreement that, if we are going to have the rest of the world to say "Semper aliquid novi ex Africa" (From Africa always something new), we need African intellectuals who will continue infusing afrocentric views in their analysis, research and writing. We need intellectuals who will focus on churning out new endogenous ideas so that we can continue to de-whiten human civilization and paint human imperfections with a black and white colour.
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07 February 2011

Aluta Continua: what can Sub-Saharan Africa learn from the Maghreb revolutions?

By Nadia Ahmadou, MA African Studies at University of Basel

Tunisia surprised the continent and the world, by shaking up its current political spectrum through a wave of civilian disobedience and unrest. This movement is born from a host of socio-political and economic factors that plague the majority of the African nations, ranging from poor health, education, unemployment to limited access to political and economic prosperous ventures. This movement shortly thereafter produced significant results as it led to the departure of the president and a new government being set up. In addition, the mandate of this new government has been widened to include the development of hitherto poor regions of the country that suffered most from the lack of dedication of their political leaders. The movement didn’t stop there, but also influenced the birth of a similar movement in neighboring Egypt, suffering a similar predicament and clamoring high for positive change. The political movements in Egypt have been able to put to use the activities of the ordinary citizen, to what we hope will benefit them all.

As we recognize and applaud the courage of Tunisian citizens in addressing their problems directly and also for the positive influence they have had in nearby Egypt, it is important to recognize that sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the same malaises of poverty and insecurity. Are there any lessons that sub-Saharan Africa can garner from the actions of our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb to assist us equally? Of course one must always acknowledge context and I am in no way calling for revolutions to spring up across the continent. God knows, we have enough conflicts to deal with as is; one only has to look at recent happenings in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Sudan as testament. However, the hope and passion witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt must not go to waste as time goes by and other current events replace them in the headlines. It is important to examine this question so that it does not take 30 years or 21 years as in the case of Egypt and Tunisia respectively for the people of sub-Saharan African to air out their grievances. Indeed, as Africa looks to 18 presidential elections this year, Egypt included what should African people maximize their roles in the democratic exercise?

This should be a reminder to us all that real power lies within the ordinary citizen. It is the ordinary person who votes, the ordinary person who has rights, the ordinary person who has duties. Independence and the advent of democracy has clouded this and most people have forgotten that it is not the elite who own and control the rest, but rather the elite who should support and assist the rest. If those at the top who we trust to make our lives better are not doing so, then they should be replaced by people who will deliver. This replacement should not be dependent on the whims of the profiteering elite, but simply on the ordinary person who deserves adequate access to food, healthcare, education and economic opportunities. This is a key lesson for what sets to be the new nation of Southern Sudan. The citizens of this nation who decisively declared this historic division of Africa’s biggest nation need to hold these principles about leadership and democratic participation as the holy ground to which their new state shall exist. Citizens of Southern Sudan now have the opportunity to be part and parcel of the establishment and entrenchment of democratic institutions within their countries. Following the Tunisian example, they should actively participate in all levels of the process to ensure that their needs and rights are met every single step of the way. This would go a long way to prevent a descent into the civil conflicts we are currently witnessing. It would also allow for the development of a new leadership in Africa, leadership that is accountable from the onset and stays so based on guidance from those it is at the service of. On the other hand, Nigeria one of Africa’s powerhouses needs to look closer at how fast a powerhouse can fall as few of us believed that Egypt, the second biggest economy in Africa, could be today at its knees because the people are tired of a power that only serves the elites as the patronage of Mubarak exhibits. If anything, the downfall of neighboring Ivory Coast, once economic powerhouse for the continent is an additional example of how disenchantment can plunge a country into civil war. As always, the example is clear, one must prevent the worst case scenario by putting into place the right mechanisms to ensure a protection of basic citizen rights. Prevention is always better than cure.

Thomas Sankara taught us “…we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building.” (Thomas Sankara, October 1984) As we cheer on our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb, and watch the mess being made by our very own political elite with the unfolding of recent events , it would do us good to remember this and attempt to harness this power for the better. The era of the revolutionary has not come to an end just yet.
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01 February 2011

Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge

January has come and gone, and most of us have wished our compliments for the happy new year to those we know, made resolutions, some of which we stuck to, at least in the beginning, and have now had the time to know which one of those have already gone down the drain-or will soon be heading that way. But, we also know which commitments we are going to keep, and as the month ends, we grown even more positive as things become clearer that we have made the right decisions. What is left now is for us to work towards our set goals. This is true for us at Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

Therefore it is only right that on this first day of February, we launch our theme for the year - 'Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge'. This is a commitment from us that during the year, we will do our best to bring to the light the best of our local knowledge, our ‘traditional’ or cultural institutions and strategies, and show how useful these can be in the 21st century. This is not to say that all of them are or were good, or that we would like to go back, but it is rather an attempt for us, all of us, to reflect on what our rich cultures have to offer, without shame or favor, and highlight it so that in the end, before we throw everything away, we are sure that it is only the unnecessary that we leave behind.

Last year our theme of the year was “Gearing up towards the FIFA World Cup in South Africa 2010.” We examined the World Cup as an example of looking at sports as part of governance, diplomacy, infrastructure development as we looked at the impact of the world cup on telecommunications, and African ‘aesthetics’ such as the controversy of the vuvuzela. This new theme of local knowledge we intend to look at the success of the ‘African’ world cup as contributing to, and a product of, African knowledge production.

As in 2010 many African nations celebrated 50 years of independence, the limited inclination to blow our horns in boistorerous celebrations, is revealing of the necessity to go back to the basics as we look forward to another 50 years of African politics, economics, culture and community which is the home of the ‘local’. As over 18 African countries will be hosting elections this year, it is worth revisiting and redefining if need be our ‘local’ understanding of leadership, participation, democracy, governance and indeed the local as it relates to the nation and the nation relating to the continental. What is the ‘local’ in Africa in 2011? What is knowledge? And indeed what is power? Thus, we invite you to share your thoughts with us as you have done so spectacularly in the past year, to send us articles related to the theme 'Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge'. Share with us the brilliance of your culture and your local knowledge system, after all, its 20elevation aka 2011, let us celebrate our own!
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26 January 2011

Deconstructing the role of the African First Lady in post-conflict reconstruction: the peculiar case of South African First Ladyship

by Siphokazi Magadla, Dimpho Motsamai and Melanie Roberts

The term First Lady and the institution of First ladyship is a precarious role due to its “extra-constitutional” nature. Given that the role of the spouse of the president is not mentioned in the Constitution; and the position is neither elected nor appointed, it is technically not an office. However, many of the first ladies in the modern era have enjoyed office space, a budget, and staff of considerable size. Robert Watson in “Toward the Study of the First Lady: The State of Scholarship” argues that the office of the first lady can therefore be regarded as an office without portfolio, statutory legitimacy, electoral mandate, or clearly defined roles and responsibilities, making it unaccountable to the public and difficult to study. Traditional first ladies have functioned as their husband’s trusted confidante, key supporter, and couselor in time of national crisis as well the nation’s primary hostess. Others have transgressed this traditional role by actively taking part in the election campaign of their husbands, editing their speeches, lobbying for their legislation, championing particular causes and travelling internationally as part of the presidential envoys.

Feminists argue that Eleanor Roosevelt’s departure from the traditional role of first ladies in post-depression America illustrates the transformation of women’s role in conditions of national instability. While the role of African women in peace, security and development are rooted in post-colonial struggles, their dominance in peace and security has been exacerbated by the post-colonial intra-state conflicts. It is the excessive nature of violence against women that has led to calls for a greater role of women in peace making, peacekeeping and peace building; also putting to the spotlight debate about the contribution of First Ladies in Africa. However the role of the First Lady as an unelected actor thrust into public life by virtue of her relationship with the elected president, has contributed to the ambiguous role of the First Lady as a political player in domestic, regional and international spheres. Is it possible for the first lady to play different roles in African politics as well as being able to positively influence societal social cohesion and moral rejuvenation in her country and beyond? Therefore, a key question is how can these women utilise their strategic proximity to the highest office in African states, to contribute meaningfully to advancing peace and security?

Since South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994, there have been several first ladies who have played various roles in the country’s politics. The list of these women include: Marike De Klerk, Graca Machel, Zanele Mbeki and more recently, President Zuma’s 3 wives (Sizakele Khumalo, Nompumelelo Ntuli and Tobeka Madiba). South African first ladies have traditionally played an important role in the transitional period and in the processes leading up to the consolidation of the country’s democracy. Marike de Klerk was the leader of the National Party’s women’s league during president de Klerk’s presidency. In 1993 she was awarded the ‘Women for Peace award’ in Geneva for her role in promoting the well being and development of rural women. During this period, de Klerk had expressed pride in her husband’s role in bringing an end to Apartheid. Graca Machel, the widow of Mozambican president Samora Machel, and currently the wife of South African liberation icon, Nelson Mandela, is a renowned humanitarian who notably produced the landmark UN Report on Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. Machel is best known for her work and contributions in Mozambique during the 70s, when she was the Minister of Education and Culture. She continues to lead various humanitarian focused projects- particularly those relating to refugees and children. Zanele Mbeki established an independent reputation beyond her role as the wife of former president Thabo Mbeki. She is the founder of South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) that was formed at the backdrop of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City, Johannesburg, in 2003 paving way for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This brought together Congolese women from different party lines, exclusively to encourage the inclusion of women in Congolese negotiation party teams; to ensure that gender is identified as a principle, goal and outcome of the peace settlement; and that peace agreements promote and are aligned with, international policy instruments and legal conventions. Mbeki also established the ‘Women’s Development Bank’ which advocates for social and economic development in poor communities.

South Africa finds itself in a peculiar situation as for the first time the country has three First Ladies. This is occurring at a critical period for South Africa when the country serves on the UN Security Council for the second time, from January 2011. The advocacy of woman, peace and security issues during this period is and should be an obvious priority for the First Ladies. The current First Ladies have largely remained out of the public space, with the exception of the recent formation of the Nompumelelo MaNtuli-Zuma Foundation and the Tobeka Madiba-Zuma Foundation. The MaNtuli-Zuma Foundation has more recently provided assistance to women whose houses were destroyed by fire, in Weza Village, Willowvale, Eastern Cape. The Madiba-Zuma Foundation focuses on health with First Lady Madiba-Zuma currently charring the Forum of African First Ladies Against Breast and Cervical Cancer. The First Ladies growing public role raises the question of how the three women coordinate their projects. Should South Africans expect the founding of the Makhumalo-Zuma Foundation? What does this mean for the budget of the Office of the First Lady? Moreover, how can the First Ladies compliment the work already done by their predecessors, in the realm of post-conflict reconstruction? Certainly, the slow yet decisive emergence of the MaNtuli-Zuma and Madiba-Zuma foundations is indicative of the power held by the First Ladyship even in the context of a polygamous presidency.

Evidence from the rest of the continent demonstrates the growing importance of the First Lady as a political player. The pragmatic founding of such institutions as the Organization of African First ladies against HIV/AIDS established in 2002, (in close collaboration with UNAIDS and the International AIDS Trust) work in reinforcing policies and programs against HIV/AIDS, advocacy, resource mobilization and development of partnerships at national, regional and international levels. This resulted in the declaration of the African First ladies Against HIV/AIDS on the occasion of the AU Summit, Kampala, Uganda, 25-27 July 2010. The alliance of 22 first ladies, known as ‘African Synergy Against AIDS and Suffering,’ was formed in 2002. Collaborations to date include the opening of maternal health clinics, HIV treatment centres, orphan care programs and vocational training schools in Guinea, Niger, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mali and Cameroon; as well as numerous other initiatives and advocacy efforts throughout all 22 member countries. Indeed, the launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 by the African Union underscores the extent to which a gender conception of security and development is being adopted internationally and on the continent. The precedent already set by former South African first ladies in the realm of peace and security highlights the instrumental role the South African First Lady can play in engendering peace and security in the continent.
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10 January 2011

The Housing ‘problem’: Words and Misconceptions

By Sarita Pillay,

In early December, while watching the evening news, I became suddenly acutely aware of a problem with the South African government's approach to housing. I watched with a sense of disbelief and outrage as the infamous 'Red Ants' tore down hundreds of homes in Ramaphosa, Ekurhuleni. The local government justified the destruction of the homes and displacement of families by highlighting the 'problem' of the makeshift homes being built on the land illegally. However, there were two worrying things that stood out from the local government's approach which could be applied to the national government's sentiment.

Firstly, the language used by the local government raises some concerns. As homes were being torn down and possessions damaged, no reference was made to people and their livelihoods but instead all we heard was ‘shacks’, ‘illegal settlements’, 'structures' and 'squatters'. The power of words can never be underestimated. Language plays a role in avoiding the true nature of the ‘housing problem’ and poverty in South Africa. By using words which desensitize and remove the human element of the situation, government officials succeed in downplaying reality.

Removing people from places where they have shaped their livelihoods and established their homes therefore becomes a process, a formality. The reasons why individuals have chosen to live in these areas, the conditions which force them to create makeshift homes in places near the city, the challenges they face daily through lack of sanitation and electricity, all of these factors become masked behind the usage of certain words and justification of tackling illegal land occupation. Unfortunately, the media often serves to perpetuate these terms.

Secondly, the removal of people from settlements which have been established illegally was brandished as a solution in solving the ‘housing question’. Now, even Friedrich Engels in the late 19th Century could have told you that the simple destruction and removal of informal housing settlements provides nothing but momentary ‘success’. The housing problem, namely the reality of informal houses, lacking durability, sanitation and/or electricity, is a feature of all of South Africa’s cities. In 2008, 1 in 10 South Africans were estimated to live in informal homes. Although the removal of the families living in that particular informal settlement in Ramaphosa may have provided momentary clear land and less of an ‘eyesore’ for passing vehicles - that is about the only ‘success’ established.

This approach is particularly worrying as it creates a sense of complacency in dealing with the establishment of informal housing settlements. The removal of those families living in Ramaphosa settlement will only spur the establishment of an informal housing settlement elsewhere (and, likely, nearby). Even where alternative housing is provided, in many cases these houses are located on the outskirts of urban areas where residents are made to live far from work and the convenience of urban life. In this case, the informal settlements continue to spring up in urban areas. So although the local government official who featured on the news that evening in December may have been proud of the fact that the ‘illegal settlement’ had been removed, it did little to remove the probability of a similar settlement being established nearby.

The housing problem is bigger than a few sheets of corrugated iron, a few cardboard boxes and makeshift toilets. The housing problem cannot be reduced to ‘illegal settlements’, ‘shacks’ and ‘squatters’. Arguably, the housing problem can only be truly solved by reshaping the way in which our economy and society functions - a world in which the few have a lot and the many have a little, where these conditions are perpetuated and it is almost impossible for the cycle to be broken.
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03 January 2011

How about we quit holding elections?

By Oumar Ba, Bokamoso Leadership Forum

Elections are expensive. Really expensive. I propose that the African Union convene a group of experts to do a cost/benefit analysis of elections in Africa. In the meantime, let me explore the ways in which elections are costing many African countries so much money and time that they are hindering their “development”.

First cost: money. One has to print the ballots, transport them, pay the electoral personnel, pay to transport people to the meetings during the electoral campaign, buy them sandwiches and a bottle of Coca Cola after they have spent a whole day clapping and screaming their candidate’s name. Moreover, the new trend in African politics is to hire Western polling companies, and communications firms, etc...

More often than not, during the electoral campaign, which lasts many years in some cases, the ruling party hijacks the governments’ vehicles, gasoline, chauffeurs, TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, journalists, and its security forces to protect their candidate(s).

The cost of elections in Africa can be also tallied in the terms of human lives lost, stores looted, crops ravaged, careers ended, schooling time shortened, and dreams shattered.

As I’m writing this article, Cote D’Ivoire has two presidents, and two governments. Laurent Gbagbo was “elected” in 2000, and after a failed coup two years later, the country was divided de facto with the loyal army controlling the South, and the rebels re-baptized Forces Nouvelles occupying the North. Gbagbo’s presidential term ended in 2005, but he managed to stretch his rule by another 5 years, postponing the elections multiple times. Finally, according to many reports, when French pollsters assured him that he will win the elections without any problem, he decided to hold them. The rest of the story is still breaking news...

Back to the elections cost, why in the world should people decide to go to elections without a prior firm decision to respect the vote of their constituency?

Elections cost us valuable time. Many African countries are in a permanent state of electoral crisis. President Wade of Senegal announced that he will seek a third term two years before the end of his current term, despite the fact that the Constitution, which he drafted himself, clearly limits the number of possible terms to only two. That, coupled with the fact that he named his current Prime Minister as the head of his electoral campaign committee, one will wonder who the hell is running the state. I mean, do we elect our leaders so they can keep trying to get reelected, or so they can take care of our business? Former President Tandja of Niger is still under house arrest for having tried to do the same...

Another example of this silliness is Burkina Faso. Blaise Compaore came to power in 1987, after the coup that killed Thomas Sankara. He won the elections in 1991, and 1998. Lifting the constitutional ban that limited the number of terms to two, he was re-elected in 2005 by 80% of the votes. In November 2010, he won again 80% of the votes, which really didn’t surprise anyone. Since we all knew what the outcome of this election would be, why not save the money and not waste our time re-electing the man? How about a vote by acclamation? Are you listening, Hosni Mubarak? You too, Paul Biya.

At least, Laurent Gbagbo has put his PhD in history to good use. He knows that when the contender wins the election and the incumbent decides that he isn’t going anywhere, we can have a power sharing agreement. I think that if the winner of the election settles for the post of VP, he is not worthy of the trust of the people, and it shows that he just wants his piece of the pie. Yes, Mr Odinga and Mr Tsvangirai, I’m talking about you.

I can only imagine the dreadful atmosphere in the conference room in which the presidents of the 16 countries that comprise ECOWAS decided to send Presidents Pires of Cape Verde, Koroma of Sierra Leone, and Boni of Benin to go ask Gbagbo to leave office. I mean, the possible choices for such a delegation are extremely limited. The presidents need only to look at each other to realize that very few of them are well suited to ask Gbagbo to accept the wish of the Ivoirian voters.

Finally, I was discussing with a friend a few weeks ago about the fact that plastic bags are banned in Rwanda. Although Paul Kagame has an outrageous human rights violations record, one must recognize that as a president, he is getting things done. And yes, he got elected with a landslide too, and I told my friend that if he leaves power after his current and last term, he will be a respectable man. My friend said that he probably still be around and said just two words: “Vladimir Putin.” I hope he is wrong.
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