Give Tsvangirai a Chance

It doesn’t look like Zimbabwe’s prime minster Morgan Tsvangirai was able to raise as much money as he hoped during his trip to the US and Europe, which is unfortunate. As the article indicates, the situation in Zimbabwe is far from perfect as there are still human rights violations going on, and as such the western leader’s reluctance to provide more aid is understandable.

I was skeptical that the power sharing deal would work, and I still have my doubts given that Mugabe’s party is doing all it can to ensure that this deal fails. However, having watched and read several interviews with prime minster Tsvangirai, it clear that he is very determined and doing everything in his power to make this work. Like many Zimbabweans Tsvangirai has experienced the brutality of Mugabe’s security forces firsthand, and if he is willing to give this deal a chance, then we should give him the benefit of the doubt and wish him the best of luck.

And if the power sharing government fails, the blame will rest entirely on Mugabe and his party; and those who forced Tsvangirai into this flawed deal will have to admit that Mugabe will have to go if Zimbabwe is to have any chance of becoming a successful, free and democratic nation.

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Does Madagascar need an Army?

Madagascar, like any other nation, needs a strong and well disciplined police force; and since it is an island nation, it also needs a strong coast guard (perhaps even a navy) to protect its extensive territorial waters (e.g., protect its fishing resources from illegal fishing, etc.). But why does it need an army? What are the chances of it being invaded by another country?

In a democracy, the role of the army should be to defend the country from external aggression; not to interfere in internal politics and back one party or faction over another, and overthrow a legitimately elected government. The actions of the Madagascar army over the past couple of months have brought its very existence into question.

Sooner or later democracy will return to Madagascar, and hopefully those army leaders responsible for this mess will be brought to justice. One also hopes that the people of Madagascar will then seriously consider whether they need an army, or could the resources currently going to the army instead be put to better use — such as beefing up the police force/coast guard; or even put into education, healthcare, etc.

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Internal Colonialism

A new dam is being built in Ethiopia that has the potential to devastate the indigenous people who have lived there for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Government officials say that the dam will reduce flooding, and will benefit the people who live downstream from the dam. The thing is, the people who live downstream don’t want the flooding to be stopped or managed:

One of the senior community priests, Bargaeri, said although they were aware of the dam, they had heard nothing official.

“We will suffer because there will be no more floods,” he said. “I don’t think the government likes the Omo tribes. They are going to destroy us.”

The floods lie at the very heart of the dispute over the dam.

According to anthropologist Marco Bassi, of Oxford University, the tribes have developed sophisticated agricultural techniques that have allowed them to live comfortably and sustainably for centuries.

Each wet season, the riverside communities retreat to higher ground, waiting for the flood that inevitably comes.

Once the waters retreat, the communities move back to plant their crops on the damp and newly replenished soils.

Their cattle feed on the fresh grasses. The higher the flood, the more land is inundated, and the more becomes available to farm.

Even the highest of floods are necessary to replenish the outlying bush lands that the communities use to feed their livestock during the equally inevitable droughts.

“It looks very primitive from the outside,” Mr Bassi said. “But when you investigate it, you discover that they have a very intimate knowledge of the land and its fertility.

“Each family has maybe seven or eight different varieties of sorghum that responds to different conditions. And combined, the community has 20 or 30.

“They know how to plant in a way that guarantees enough food whatever happens through the year.”

Why is it that some African central governments believe they know what is best for the indigenous people? How is this any different than the actions of former European colonizers who took land away from the natives in Eastern and Southern Africa in the 19th century?

As far as these Ethiopian tribes are concerned, the actions of the central government are no different than 19th century European colonizers. The only difference this time is that the colonizers are their fellow countrymen: this is nothing but Internal Colonization.

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One eBook Reader Per Child

The Amazon Kindle 2 has received some very good reviews, and has in the process reignited people’s interests in ebooks.

ebook readers have the potential to revolutionize education in Africa and the developing world. The lack of text books in schools is a serious issue that hampers the education of students throughout Africa, and ebook readers could play a significant role in addressing this issue.  What if every student has an ebook reader, and gets his/her text book in an ebook? Every student would have a copy of the text books and other required and recommended reading material.  Also imagine every student getting next year’s text books and recommended reading material weeks or even a month or two before school starts? How about making public domain books available for kids to download?

The technology is already available to make this happen (for example, cellphone infrastructure currently in place can be used to download books). The question is, could you make a good ebook reader equivalent to one of these devices for $100 or less, with the main requirements being, say, at least a 2 GB flash storage and with the cellphone connectivity that must work in Africa (Tri Band/3.5G HSDPA)? These are not impossible requirements to meet, since for one thing there are already cellphone carriers providing next generation services in some African countries, and many more will roll out services over the next few years.

Even though the Kindle looks like an amazing device, a closed, proprietary ebook reader should not be used in Africa. So here is a challenge for African computer science and computer engineering students: design an ebook reader that can meet the needs of African students for less than $100. This is similar to the One Laptop per Child project, but better since it aims to solve an existing problem: the lack of textbooks in African schools. It would be tempting to ask the OLPC folks to tackle this challenge, but it would be much better if this was designed by African students, perhaps in collaboration with the OLPC, since they already have valuable technical and business experience in this area.

A criteria for the reader design has to be that open source software needs to be used not only to reduce the cost of the device, but also to encourage students to extend the device and create applications for it.

One last suggestion to the student designers, make sure at least numbers 5, 6 and 7 of Seth Godin’s suggestions for the Kindle are part of the spec/design.

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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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African Classical Music

What if there was an African classical (traditional) music orchestra in every major African city, where the instruments would include Kora, Balafon/Xylophone, drums, Mbira, etc., and each orchestra would also include classical/traditional instruments unique to that country?

What if each orchestra were to be tasked with composing new music in addition to performing music composed by accomplished African musicians?

And what if every African Union meeting in Addis Ababa were to be opened and closed with a performance by the city’s African classical music orchestra and a guest orchestra from another African city?

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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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I just reread this BBC article from a few months ago about how a Chinese state owned bank is investing $9 billion in the Democratic Republic of Congo in exchange for mining rights. There was also a similar article where a Chinese mining company is investing $3 billion in a Peruvian copper mine.

On the surface these investments seem exactly what these two developing countries need, but in reality the Chinese companies will end up making enormous profits:

But critics say the problem is not just fiscal privileges.

The whole arithmetic of the deal unfairly favours the Chinese. At current world prices for copper and cobalt, they claim, the Chinese side of the joint venture will make a colossal overall profit of about $42bn after all the investment’s been paid.

That is between a 4 to 5 times return on their investment. I don’t see how anybody can argue that the people of DRC are the winners here. What makes the deal even worse is:

The idea is that China will recoup its total investment within 10 years.

Thereafter the joint venture – one third DR Congolese, two-thirds Chinese – continues to exploit the mine.

Why on earth should a foreign entity end up owning 66% of a country’s natural resources? Again, how is this deal in the best interest of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

This is an ideal time to reevaluate the whole idea of giving for-profit companies or foreign government owned companies the right to exploit developing countries resources, where the investors reap extremely handsome profits while the people in those countries see minimal benefits.

Hence I am proposing forming community profit organizations (comprofit or CPOs), where these entities would bid for contracts to exploit natural resources such as minerals, oil, etc., where all the profit would then be invested directly in the local community and country: to build schools, hospitals, roads, etc. The difference between this approach and what the Chinese bank is doing in the DRC would be investing $42 billion vs $6 billion in the local community.

In order for this to work the comprofits will need to be run like proper, for profit businesses. The only difference between a for-profit company and com-profit would be where the profits go. In the for-profit case the billions of dollars of profits go to individuals and investors, while in the com-profit case the money goes to the people who own the resources. For example, why should a steel magnate be worth upwards of $20 billion or a foreign government owned bank make $42 billion while the people who own the resources get crams in return?

The challenge is the comprifit would need to raise billions of dollars in order to compete with the likes of state owned companies or huge for-profit companies that can offer $3 billion upfront to developing countries who badly need the resources. What I have a problem understanding is that why doesn’t the World Bank encourage such ventures? May be it does, and I am not aware of it, but more often than not I am reading stories of deals pushed by the Word Bank that favor investors at the expense of the people.

Comprofits could also raise funds from private investors, such as large pension funds, and other institutional investors in return for reasonable returns.

Finally, I understand that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are donating their fortunes to charities. Why not invest some of that money in comprofits? Not only would this reduce poverty and disease, increase literacy and build infrastructure, but the charities would also get a good return on their investments. I would call that a win-win.

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