Archive for War and Peace

Parliament/Congress Duty (as in Jury Duty)

I went for what turned out to be a two hour walk earlier today as it was a beautiful day, and that I also wanted to think about some of the projects I am working on. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to come up with any breakthroughs or solutions to my problems as my mind kept wandering in a million and one directions, which I was only happy to indulge.

So out of the blue I started thinking about elections and how incumbents will do everything in their power (legal or otherwise) to stay in power; and the violence associated with elections (before and after) in a lot of countries; campaign financing and the inevitable corruption that comes with it; the time MPs/Congresspeople spend raising money and campaigning instead of doing their jobs; etc…

The obvious question then is: do you need elections in order to have a democratic system or live in a democratic society? Or is there another way to enjoy the good things that democracies bring, and eliminate most, if not all of the problems associated with elections?

The solution I came up with was this (and it would surprise me if I was the first one to propose this idea, but I am too lazy to do a search): instead of having elections for parliament or congress, etc. every 2/4/5 years, why not randomly pull a name out of a district’s eligible/registered residents and require that individual to serve in the coming parliament/congress for 2 years? This is how jury duties work in some (most?) democratic systems, where citizens are required to serve when called, unless they have a reasonable excuse that prevents them from serving. So if it works for the legal system, why wouldn’t it work for selecting MPs/Congresspeople? As an MP/Congressperson the newly chosen people would still draw a decent salary plus expenses, and will have available to them professional staff or civil servants, just like current MPs/Congresspeople, which should address hardship issues and the steep learning curve that comes with the job.

This would eliminate most of the issues I listed above, and I would also add that it brings with it additional benefits that do not exist with election based democratic systems.

First, with the current system most people know that there is no way that they would ever become MPs/Congresspeople since they know that you either need to come from a prominent family, have a ton of money, or have great political connections if you are ever going to have any chance of getting elected, which I would argue makes people to become politically disengaged.

However, If we all knew that we could one day be called to serve our country, and that every two years we have 1 in 1000 or 10000/100,000, etc, chance of becoming a council person/state representative/MP/Congressperson, then I would argue that most of us would become more politically aware and involved, and would be more likely to pay increased attention to issues that affect our community, country, and even the world. As such, we would attempt to form views on the issues that affect our families and communities before hand, and would probably get involved in our school systems or health services, etc., in order to have a better understanding of how they work and problems that need addressing. In short, I would argue that more people would become involved in their communities and politically engaged, and even pay more attention to global issues, which can only be a good thing.

The second benefit I see is that if a district is populated by different ethnic or racial or political groups, where say one group makes up 40% and another 60% of the district, in the current system it is very likely that the majority will win every election, shutting out the minority group and leaving their issues unaddressed. In the new system, however, the minority will have a 40% chance of one of their members being chosen at every election. It is possible that the majority will resent this, but at least they know that they have a higher chance of getting one of their own selected next time around.

Another benefit I see is that since women make up more than 50% of the population of most (if not all) countries, this random parliament/congress duty selection system will ensure that the law making institutions in a country will reflect the true make up of the country’s population, and as a result the laws passed will more likely be designed to address issues that women consider important.

I am still debating whether this should also apply to the office of the president/prime minister though. On the one hand I believe that every citizen should aspire to and have an equal chance of becoming the head of state, but, the job of a head of state demands more, so may be we should still have elections just for the head of state? Then again, could anybody in Zimbabwe/Cameron/Libya/etc., do or be worse than the current office holders?

For this to work you would need to make sure that the random name selection process is truly transparent and the systems used are thoroughly inspected and certified by independent organizations in order to prevent the gaming of the system.

What do you think? Would this work, or do you have a better idea? I haven’t listed any cons, so I would love to hear why you think it wouldn’t work.

Another benefit I see to this system over an election is that the parliamentary or congressional members are almost guaranteed to come from more diverse professions than the current system, where they are dominated by lawyers. I believe that if teachers, doctors, waiters, etc., are equally represented then the laws they pass would be designed to address issues that affect them. Plus, it would help a great deal for other members to hear first hand from another member who is a teacher or a doctor when debating an education or health bill, than to exclusively rely on lobbyists and special interests when crafting and debating bills.


I said when I wrote this article that it was unlikely this was a novel idea, but I was too lazy to do a search if anyone else had a similar idea, or whether it’s ever been used. Then today I learned, while reading comments on Hacker News on an interesting article (The “overlearning the game” problem), that this was indeed a very old idea, and is called Sortition. I encourage every African democrat who is fed up of corrupt and incompetent incumbent politicians to seriously consider sortition as a viable option to elections. I intend to learn more about it now that I learned the Greeks preferred this to elections. As Aristotle said “it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected is oligarchic” (quote taken from the wikipedia article). I couldn’t agree more.

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Land Grab in the 21st Century

This has to be one of the most dangerous developments of the past 18 months. If these companies and countries continue to grab land from poor nations at this alarming rate, it is only a matter of time before riots break out everywhere and governments in these poor nations will be unable to control the rage of the hungry masses.

We have already seen unrests in several African countries in the past year as food prices sky rocketed. Just imagine the level of unrest and violence when people realize that while they can’t afford to feed their families because of sky rocketing food prices, large companies and other governments are shipping food grown in their country to feed their own population.

The level of greed, short sightedness and arrogance shown by these companies and countries is just incredible. To think that they can just buy millions of acres of fertile farm land in developing countries, especially in African countries where there is still a lot of lingering resentment left over from the colonial era, and not expect any backlash is just wishful thinking.

What is most pazzling about this report is that countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia, which currently receive large amounts of food aid because they are unable to feed their own populations, are selling fertile farm land to other nations and corporations. Food pricess in Ethiopia have gone up so much in the past 18 months that people are unable to feed their families and are resorting to food aid. How will the Ethiopian government justify selling prime farm land to other nations so that food can be exported in order for those nations to protect their citizens from wild price fluctuations while Ethiopians go hungry?

And as for Sudan, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced from their homeland in Darfur primarily because the Janjaweed, backed by the government, wanted Darfur’s farmlands and water resources. If this doesn’t tell you how valuable and scarce land is in the Sudan then nothing will.

Who is being displaced from their land in the Sudan (or Ethiopia/Zambia/Cameroon,etc.) now, so China, India, Korea and a couple of Arab nations can feed their own populations; or companies such as Hyundai and Morgan Stanley can make millions or even billions of dollars? Does this also mean that the UN, USAid and other aid organizations will continue to feed the poor in Ethiopia and Sudan while those nations start exporting food? Where is the logic in that?

Are these nations and companies doing the land grab really this naive? Or has greed blinded them to such an extent that they are unable to see the obvious consequences of their actions? This practice has to end now, and the deals already finilized rescinded before violence breaks out in these poor nations and governments start falling. Otherwise we will see levels of violence unseen in Africa in decades, and the collapse of hard won peace, stability, democracy and development.

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Zimbabwe: Final Push

Africa’s moral voice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has urged Robert Mugabe to resign or go to The Hague, but unfortunately it is highly unlikely that Mugabe will heed that advice and voluntarily leave. It is also clear that short of an outside military intervention, which is also highly unlikely, there seems to be nothing the world can do to force Mugabe out of power.

The only way this nightmare is going to end is if the people of Zimbabwe say enough is enough and take to the streets in unprecedented numbers and force Mugabe out of office. At the moment it may look like the people’s spirits are broken and they have no energy left for a final fight, but it could be that they are waiting for a signal either from their political leaders or the church or some new inspirational figure to lead them.

It is time for Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders to tell the people of Zimbabwe that the talks to form a new power-sharing government have failed, and that except for sanctions and moral support, there is nothing the outside world can do to remove Mugabe and end their nightmare. It is now up to the people to take matters into their own hands and force Mugabe out. In addition, opposition leaders have to invite the security forces to join the people and be on the right side of history and save their country. They have to make it clear to them that they are there to protect and serve the people of Zimbabwe, and not an individual.

The cholera outbreak is the latest indignity to befall this once proud nation, and the opposition leaders can either choose to make this the final indignity, and save their nation or get out of the way once and for all and let others take charge. The people of Zimbabwe have to understand that there is nothing more the international community can do to end their suffering — they are the only ones who can end this.

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Democratic Republic of Congo: Long Term Solution

This previous post looked into the issue of warlords and war criminals in the DRC and Uganda. However, private security contractors and the UN can’t be seen as the long term solution, and other more systemic changes are necessary in order to stabilize the country.

First, a strong and well disciplined army is essential if the DRC is to remain a unified nation, and it is no secret that the DRC army is not only unable to defend its people, but some units have even turned to raping and looting.

Even though the British and possibly other western nations are beginning to train the DRC army, it is unlikely that training a few officers alone will be enough to transform the institution and turn it into a disciplined and professional army. More drastic measures are necessary to completely transform this failed institution.

Control of the DRC army needs to be taken away from the government for a period of ten years and handed over to the UN, where officers from western nations would then take the responsibility of transforming it into a professional institution. The goal has to be that by the end of the ten year period, the DRC will have an army not only capable of defending the country from internal and external enemies, but also one that understands its role in a democratic society: it is under civilian control and must respect the constitution.

Second, the DRC needs a government headed by a unifying figure who is universally admired and respected. Unfortunately most such figures are athletes or musicians, and there is no guarantee that they are competent enough to run such a large, diverse and complex country. If there is such a Congolese figure who could meet the challenge it is the NBA superstar Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo is an impressive man who is well know for his humanitarian work:

A well-known humanitarian, Mutombo started the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve living conditions in his native Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997. His efforts earned him the NBA’s humanitarian award in 2001. For his feats, The Sporting News named him as one of the “Good Guys in Sports” in 1999 and 2000,[8] and in 1999, he was elected as one of 20 winners of the President’s Service Awards, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service.[8] In 2004, he also participated in the Basketball Without Borders NBA program, where NBA stars like Shawn Bradley, Malik Rose and DeSagana Diop toured Africa to spread the word about basketball and to improve the infrastructure.[8] He also paid for uniforms and expenses for the Zaire women’s basketball team during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.[8] Mutumbo is a spokesman for the international relief agency, CARE (relief) and is the first Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Program.[9]

In honor of his humanitarianism, Mutombo was invited to President George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address and was referred to as a “son of the Congo” by the President in his speech,[10] Mutombo later said, “My heart was full of joy. I didn’t know the President was going to say such great remarks.”[11]

On paper, Mutombo has a lot of the qualities needed to successfully run the country, and may be the only individual who can unify the people of the DRC. At the very least, he would be an enormous improvement over the people who are currently running the country.

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Are Private Security Contractors the Answer?

It doesn’t look like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is going to sign the peace treaty anytime soon, or ever. It also appears unlikely that the Ugandan army will be able to defeat the LRA. To make matters worse, now the LRA has setup bases in Central African Republic, and is attacking villages in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Also in the Democratic Republic of Congo, general Nkunda’s militia is at it again attacking villages and killing civilians in the eastern part of the country, and on the verge of taking the town of Goma. Similarly, the DRC army seems incapable of protecting its people, and the UN doesn’t have enough manpower to stop Nkunda or the other militias operating in eastern DRC.

So, are the people of northern Uganda and eastern DRC condemned to forever live in fear and terror because their governments or the UN can’t protect them? The answer should be an emphatic no, and it is time the world came up with new ideas and actions to end these atrocities.

It is clear that unless a powerful western nation intervenes and defeats these warlords and war criminals (similar to Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone), which seems very unlikely at this moment, other more radical options need to be considered. One of those ideas has to be bringing in private security contractors; with a clear mandate of bringing those war criminals to justice.

It is clear that private security contractors are not going to be cheap, but the LRA has already inflicted a heavy human and material cost on the people of northern Uganda, and will continue to do so not only in Uganda but in South Sudan, DRC and CAR. The toll on the DRC is even higher, with some estimates of 4 million deaths in the last decade, not to mention the looting of the country’s resources.

So the question isn’t ‘can we afford private security contractors?’, but ‘can we afford to continue doing nothing?’.

There needs to be a clear rules of engagement for the private security contractors before they are deployed:

  1. Ideally this should be approved by the UN Security Council, and the countries where the private security contractors will be operating.
  2. Civilians have to be protected, where the security contractors must do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties.
  3. A clearly defined goal: capturing or eliminating specific war criminals.
  4. A clearly defined time line: e.g., capturing/eliminating LRA leadership in 24 months, etc.

This is a potentially controversial idea and likely to be criticized by some quarters, but something needs to be done now to end the atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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No Deferment on Bashir Arrest Warrant!

It is really maddening, but not surprising, to read African leaders “demanding” the UN Security Council defer the indictment of the Sudanese President Bashir for “genocide for mass killings in Darfur” by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. This is yet another example of African leaders looking out for one another at the expense of their own people.

According to the Guardian article, arguments used against the indictment include the situation on the ground could get much worse, and the Sudanese government and its supporters may make it impossible for aid agencies to care for the Darfur refugees, which are valid concerns.

What is baffling is one argument used by the African leaders, that the International Criminal Court is “picking on Africa” by indicting Bashir. Are they serious?!?! Are they saying that African war criminals should be exempt from prosecution because they have already gone after the former Liberian President Charles Taylor? So no more African war criminals should be prosecuted until another war criminal from a different continent is prosecuted first? Or do we have to wait until one war criminal from each continent is indicted before we go after another African war criminal? Just incredible! This is mind bogglingly stupid and heartless! Any African leader who uses this argument again should be mercilessly ridiculed.

What is heartening is that the victims themselves want Bashir prosecuted:

The strongest counter to this position comes from an unexpected quarter – from Sudanese human rights and civil society activists who would surely bear the brunt of any government backlash. They insist that there can be no trade-off between justice and peace in Sudan.

“The survivors in the camps say only justice can make a difference. There can be no peace without justice,” Salih Osman, a human rights activist from Darfur and a member of Sudan’s national parliament, said during a visit to London this week. “The survivors say: ‘We have nothing to lose. There is no peace, and there is no deployment of the hybrid force.’

Who should the UN Security Council listen to, the self serving AU leaders who are protecting one of their own or the victims themselves? OK, if that isn’t convincing enough, how about taking Bashir’s past actions and history into account?

The second point Sudanese dissidents make is that the Bashir government only responds to pressure. It does the minimum necessary to deflect international scrutiny and as soon as it detects a relaxation, it goes back to business as usual. Bashir responded to Moreno-Ocampo’s announcement by going to Darfur for the first time and making a reconciliatory speech admitting there could be no military solution.

Osman Hummaida, another human rights activist went further in arguing that an indictment could usher in a more conciliatory government in Khartoum, which would strengthen the prospects for peace in Darfur and the south.

“In terms of the political agenda, it has impacted positively. It has demoralised the hardliners. The people backing reform are in a better position now,” Hummaida said.

“There are people in the [ruling National Congress party] NCP with a heavy financial interest. They want to engage with the international community and they may not let one person stand in the way.”

If these aren’t convincing arguments in favor of issuing the arrest warrant against the Sudanese president, then I don’t know what is.

The author also gives another great example of how indicting the then President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, for war crimes may have hastened the fall of his regime. If members of the UN Security Council vote to delay the indictment, one message they may send to Bashir’s victims, however unintentional, is that his crimes aren’t on the same scale as that of Milosevic’s.

I hope the Security Council and the ICC do the right thing and give the people of Darfur the justice they want and deserve. If not, it may be necessary to start an online petition demanding the UN Security Council not defer the indictment, and that the ICC issue an arrest warrant.


The ICC “asked for more evidence” before it decides on whether to issue an arrest warrant. Lets hope this isn’t a sign of the ICC succumbing to the pressure of the lobbying by the African leaders.

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Friend of Kenya grieves

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that those of us who are of east African origin, wherever we may currently reside, looked up to Kenya as a shinning beacon in a troubled and turbulent region.

That is why I was very excited to hear the results of the early returns which showed many of the incumbent MPs, especially those who were accused of wrong doing, had lost their seats. It gave me hope that maybe the rest of the countries in the region, and even Africa as a whole, would follow the example set by Kenyan voters; that is, voters will hold elected officials accountable for their actions. Unfortunately all that was undone by cowardly election officials and by selfish, power hungry politicians.

As far as I am concerned, both the president and Mr. Odinga have forfeited their right to become president: The president for declaring victory too soon and being sworn in even though there was plenty of evidence that showed there were irregularities with the reporting of the results. Another reason why the president has forfeited his right to the presidency, and why he needs to resign, is the killings of demonstrators by security forces who apparently were given shoot to kill orders. The orders may not have come directly from him (either the interior minster or the police commissioner may have given the actual order), but ultimately the buck stops with the president.

And Mr. Odinga does not deserver to become the next president of Kenya for failing to demand an end to the senseless killings on Kenyans by his followers. Even though it looks like Mr. Odinga was cheated of the presidency, and he initially called for calm, he should have demanded that his followers refrain from killing Kikuyus for several reasons, one of the reasons being Kikuyus or other ethnic groups were not responsible for the vote rigging. In my opinion this glaring failure disqualifies him from becoming the next president of Kenya. His failure to demand an immediate end to violence demonstrates he lacks the required moral authority and leadership skills he is going to need if he is to lead a country that is going to need to heal the deep wounds it suffered during this crisis.

The main blame for this crisis rests squarely at the shoulders of President Kibaki though. Instead of recognizing that Kenya is the beacon of hope for the region, and that it needs to lead by example, he chose to follow examples set by Ethiopia’s and Nigeria’s recent, largely discredited elections. He saw that the leaders of these countries were able to getaway with blatant disputed elections and thought if they could getaway with it, he should too.

The opposition should have responded by peaceful demonstration, the way Ukrainians did when their election was stolen from them. There is no reason why Africans can’t express their grievance without resorting to violence. We are no more predisposed to violence than our brothers and sisters in other continents are, despite what some people may believe. We have to stop following political leaders who are only interested in their narrow political agenda, and are willing to do and say anything to achieve it.

My biggest fear now is that Kenya will be permanently scarred by this, and will never be the same again. I hope and believe this isn’t going to be the case though. I believe kenyans can and will overcome this tragedy and come out the stronger for it by vowing never to kill another kenyan for political reasons.

In my view, one way to recover from this crisis is to start by forming a national unity government until presidential elections are re-run. This national unity government should be lead by somebody respected by most, if not all, Kenyans. I am not Kenyan, so have no right to suggest a name, but if I had to pick one then it would have to be Nobel peace prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai.

The second step in this process would be to hold a truth and reconciliation like hearings to grieve and forgive. The final step in this recovery process would involve the erection of a monument to remember the lives lost in this senseless violence, so Kenyans will never forget what happened and will never let it happen again.

We Africans have to understand that African lives are just as precious as the lives of those from other continents. We can’t resort to killing our neighbors every time we disagree with them, be it for social, economic or political reasons. After all, no politician is worth a single life, let alone hundreds or thousands of lives.

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