Category Archives: Democracy, Governance and Activism

My first glimpse of Madiba

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela lovingly referred to as Madiba, was on a rush visit to Nairobi on a cold July morning in 1990. It was rumored that he was gravely ill from pneumonia and was visiting  one of our elite private hospitals for personal medical care  .. 27 years on a prison island can take a physical toll on any human body.

We were marched off from class in pairs of 2, holding hands to wave at the great man as he passed by our school. It was traditional that foreign dignitaries in presidential motorcades be greeted by eager flag waving kids wherever they went – it rejuvenated our President and bolstered his ego.

I was given a Kenyan flag to hold and given a spot right by the roadside. As minutes turned to hours my initial  excitement turned into restless anxiety and then boredom. The teachers insisted we practice waving flags so as to keep us occupied. Just as the teachers were losing hope – a policeman zoomed by on his BMW motorcycle. The kids arose in anticipation, then another motorcycle, then five more – the policemen were immaculately dressed with their shiny bikes and their white kidskin gloves. Mandela was on his way.

The presidential motorcade sped by us like lighting as we peered back eagerly trying to capture a glimpse. Then it happened. A frail old man with a feeble smile and piercing eyes raised his hand and looked out of the black Mercedes limousine. It was him. Mandela had smiled at us – for an 11 year old it was the closest I had come to history and although I didn’t realize it then something powerful had just taken place.

Mandela has come to signify the African spirit. Even at his frailest he had the presence of mind to acknowledge the kids who stood 2 hours for sight of him – Mandela cared. His steady gaze diminished all doubts that his love for life was waning and that he would return stronger.

This was my first glimpse of Nelson Mandela.

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Zimbabwe: How to get Mugabe out

By forcing the opposition to abandon the election, Robert Mugabe has undermined his position. Mr Mugabe may cling to power for a while, but his grip is weaker. Zimbabwe needs help from the West. But most of all it needs its African neighbors to tell the tyrant unambiguously to go – and to snuff him out if he refuses. It can be done.

The economist mulls over the question further:

  1. Refuse to recognize any administration led by Mr Mugabe. The European Union, the United States and much of the rich world will ostracize him. Now is the time for Africa, especially the influential regional club of 14 countries known as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to act.
  2. South Africa remains the key. Humanitarian aid must continue to flow into Zimbabwe, but targeted sanctions already enforced by the EU, the Americans and other governments against Mr Mugabe and 130-odd of his closest comrades, who are banned from visiting the penalizing countries and have had their assets there frozen. Depriving Mr Mugabe’s cronies of trips to a decent country that works could have a salutary effect.
  3. The African Union (AU), which embraces all 53 of Africa’s countries, should also be far more robustly involved. Unlike the SADC, which is often paralyzed by its search for consensus, the AU’s rules provide for decisions, specifically including the imposition of sanctions on errant members, to be taken by a two-thirds majority.
  4. The United Nations, too, must be ready to help. South Africa has been disgracefully blocking discussion of Zimbabwe in the 15-strong Security Council, of which it is a current member.

Zimbabwe is a resource-rich country with a core of well-educated people, millions of whom have fled abroad and must be wooed back home. Mr Mugabe may cling to power for a while, but his grip is weaker.

read more | digg story

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Between God and Mugabe

Ethan Zuckerman, a man who does so much in so many fields of developement, sums up the common man’s frustration with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe after the news that Tsvangarai pulled out of Zimbabwe elections. Here is what he had to say:

“‘Only God who appointed me will remove me — not the M.D.C., not the British,’ Mr. Mugabe vowed in the city of Bulawayo on Friday. ‘Only God will remove me!’”

Are you listening, God?

Need we say more ?

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Event Summary: Africa as the New Asia?

Today on June 22 from 11am – 1pm a good number of Africa minded individuals from different professional backgrounds met to offer their thoughts on technology and Africa at the beautiful Stanford Golf Course.

The event was sponsored by the SF Bay Area IPN and was titled, “Africa: The Next Asia?”  It was kicked off by a panel discussion featuring Aleem Walji from Google‘s Africa Initiatives, Leila Chirayath – founder of Samasource, Arathi Ravichandran of Vipani , and Joseph Nganga, an expert in energy innovation and Board member of Carolina for Kibera . Topics explored were Africa’s steps in development; opportunities and obstacles to sustainable prosperity; to what extent should Africa mirror what we see in Asia?; and what are the challenges and/or potential benefits of following this road?

The Panel was kindly moderated by Ellen Leanse, who is a Bay Area Business Strategist, and Author. She works with early-stage and established companies to accelerate business growth through innovative business, marketing, and product strategies. Ellen also actively supports education and micro-finance organizations in East Africa, and she is currently writing a book based on recent experiences in Kenya.

Here were some excellent notes via twitter for the event from @tylerwillis captured via summize :

Realtime results for #ipn:africa

0 more results since you started searching. Refresh to see them.

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Policy Notes on Africa for the next U.S President


Yesterday I had the good fortune of attending an event titled “Africa: The Next Development Miracle?” The lecture was hosted by the World Affairs Council Peninsula Chapter, and the speaker was Prof. Jeremy Weinstein, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University and Director of the Center for African Studies.

The primary question for the evening was whether Africa will be the next development miracle or should we be prepared for continuing instability, violence, and economic stagnation? Also, what should the United States’ policies be?

Professor Weinstein presented his list of “Policies for the Next president” which I found interesting and felt summed up his lecture well:

  1. Security is a prerequisite to sustained growth (based upon the Copenhagen Consensus)
  2. Recognizing the critical role of institutions especially domestically driven institutions
  3. Encouraging experimentation with different models for development
  4. Using aid to support reform (such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation which has been a center piece of the Bush Africa policy)
  5. Providing assistance to where we know it works (HIV, malaria, water, education)
  6. Prepare for major disasters and shocks perhaps as a consequence of climate change
  7. Make Globalization work (not just trade but migration, property rights and the subsidization of appropriate essential technology)

While the jury is still out on what measures are best to encourage positive growth in Africa, the need for better policy to support thriving economies in Africa cannot be disputed.

There is still an unrelenting flow of disturbing headlines, soaring food prices and shortages, continued violence in Darfur, stolen elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya. Nevertheless the overall picture is far more positive. Africa is observing positive economic growth; democracy is on the rise; and great progress is being made in the fight against disease, as hundreds of thousands of Africans now have access to life-saving anti-retro viral treatment.

What policies have worked for your country and what policies and/or initiatives should the next U.S President support ?

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China and the importance of a robust civic society during a crisis

The importance of a robust civil society can be invaluable during a time of national crisis as shown by the current events in China.

China has found itself in the unusual position of being showered with international praise, both for its reaction to the disaster and the openness with which it has allowed the details to be reported. In the past when the government was under-resourced and overwhelmed by natural calamity, and was quick to bury the evidence of their incompetence – but the openness has given them access

The NYTimes reports that from the moment the earthquake struck on May 12, the Chinese government dispatched soldiers, police officers and rescue workers in the type of mass mobilization expected of the ruling Communist Party. But an unexpected mobilization, prompted partly by unusually vigorous and dramatic coverage of the disaster in the state-run news media, has come from outside official channels. Thousands of Chinese have streamed into the quake region or donated record sums of money in a striking and unscripted public response.

Here is a story of one such concerned citizen from the NYTimes.

Hao Lin had already lied to his wife about his destination, hopped a plane to Chengdu, borrowed a bike and pedaled through the countryside in shorts and leather loafers by the time he reached this ravaged farming village. A psychologist, Mr. Hao had come to offer free counseling to earthquake survivors.

He had company. A busload of volunteers in matching red hats was bumping along the village’s rutted dirt road. Employees from a private company in Chengdu were cleaning up a town around the bend. Other volunteers from around China had already delivered food, water and sympathy.

“I haven’t done this before,” said Mr. Hao, 36, as he straddled his mountain bike on Saturday evening. “Ordinary people now understand how to take action on their own.”

If we put this in the African context, social media and mobile technology has shown how important it is to enable citizen journalism in the time of crisis. The recent violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa highlighted the need for a better flow of information during such times – The Ushahidi engine, a tool that was built to document post-election violence in Kenya, is now being used to track reports of xenophobia in South Africa at a site called United for Africa.

The Ushahidi team just won first place at the NetSquared Challenge. Eric, Ory, Juliana, David and the team are looking to further develop the platform, spread the word and explore how the platform can be implemented in future crisis situations.

Want to help? Want to know more? Be sure to follow Ushahidi at these places:

Ushahidi Facebook group
Ushahidi Twitter

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Peace in Kenya, New Years in February and a Baby Rhino named Annan ..

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya (L), and Raila Odinga prepared to sign a deal on Thursday in Nairobi.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Early intervention by high profile negotiators and pressure from world leaders is key to resolving conflicts (incl. President Bush who played a critical role through his envoy Condoleezza Rice)
  2. A free media and technology are vital to a transparent democratic process
  3. Democracy matters in Africa

So finally there was some agreement on the road to PEACE for Kenya …

After 2 months of bitter violence and intense drama, Kenyans turned a corner — from Power-Grabbing to Power-Sharing, old-guard Mwai Kibaki and opposition aspirant Raila Odinga decided to bury the hatchet on February 28.

Interestingly enough, all credit goes to Mr. Kofi Annan who brought Kenya back from the brink of anarchy and despair. Annan, it seems understood how critical Kenya is to regional stability and the U.N mission in Africa — Kenya is a hub for peacekeepers to Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and is a key port for most of East and Central Africa. In the past, he has come under heavy criticism for the U.N’s lethargic response to Darfur and was determined not to let this one get away. To honor the ex-UN chief and to show their gratitude Rangers at the Ol Choro Oirogua Conservancy in the Maasai Mara reserve named their new-born rhinoceros Kofi Annan .

Kenyan’s all agree that this is a fragile peace and a number of concrete steps need to take place for there to be a lasting solution – nevertheless a new constitution diluting the powers of the president is a reasonable start.

On a lighter note, there are delayed New Years celebrations all throughout the Kenyan capital as most residents felt that their new year was tarnished by the unrest and had nothing to celebrate.

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Bush, Africa, and a legacy in jeopardy

President Bush tours the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda, February 19th, 2008

President Bush tours the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda, February 19th, 2008

President George W. Bush had a chance to reflect on his Africa policy at the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda – the site was built in memory of the 500,000 Tutsi who were massacred in the Rwandan Genocide over the course of 100 days – all this as the world stood by and failed to act. Mr Bush was on a grand 5 country Africa tour – from Benin, to Tanzania, to Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. This was only his second trip ever – his first trip to Africa was in 2003.

Recently the Bush administration, together with other world governments and the UN, have come under heavy criticism for their policies towards the Genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The current administration has ineffectively pushed for sanctions, coupled with some humanitarian aid to combat Sudan’s role – and has defended its policies towards Africa by citing efforts to end Kenya’s bloody political crisis to the war on HIV/AIDS.

The Darfur issue dwarfs Bush’s accomplishments in Africa – which have somewhat been a positive island in an otherwise roller-coaster foreign policy. The administration’s accomplishments include the Millennium Challenge Corp, which provides funding to countries that adhere to democratic principles and sound economic policies; to investing $15 billion over five years to fund the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR; to investing $1.2bn for a five-year campaign to lower malaria deaths in Africa.

One thing is clear – Mr. Bush’s trip highlights how eager the people are for a more proactive US policy towards Africa as posters for Obama08 greeted the president, first in Tanzania, then all throughout his trip wherever he went.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Democracy and the Vote

With a number of younger democracies faltering early this Millennium we tend to question if Democracy is right for every country. Kenya just had a turbulent election with over 1000 dead and still counting; Pakistan lost a charismatic leader with no end in sight in the run up to their elections; and elections have segmented Iraq and Palestine along tribal lines further. Then why do we still insist on Democracy? Is Democracy the right way? At what cost?

Dr. King famously said, “Give us the Ballot”; “Give us the ballot,” he said, “and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.” He strongly believed that the ballot gave not only blacks their rights, but afforded all people their dignity. He saw the ballot as the ONLY answer to a free and fair society.

We must never underestimate the power of the ballot. Dr. King was not oblivious to the challenges that come with democracy, but his faith never faltered. Every democracy has its challenges – but ultimately the vote gives us something unique – it says we matter, we count and we can change our future.

– My tribute to a Minister, Activist, Hero, Icon

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a sad day for my Kenya !!

This post was going to be about how proud I am that Kenya has evolved as a democracy.

This post was going to about how proud I am that the election turn out rate was 70% and how people really started to believe they could change things through democracy rather than violence.

This was about how Kenya had transitioned from a Police State to a truly transparent and confident democracy – where the greater good overpowered petty tribal politics.

This was going to be about how Kenya had transitioned into a participatory democracy where mobile phones were a buzz reminding everyone to vote – how bars and local bus services insisted you show your purple finger before they served you on election day.

This election was going to be all about how transparency reigned through new media. The Kenyan blogosphere was abuzz all night with up to the minute updates and was very careful on not to report any rumors – thanks Ory of KenyaPundit and Chris of Kumukucha. The blogosphere picked up when the old guard clamped down on regular media to declare the incumbent a winner despite all accounts otherwise.

Sadly, this is a post about none of the above — despite all the best intentions of the Kenyan people the old guard Kibaki has blatantly rigged the elections in his favor. The Electoral commission of Kenya went into lock down mode and clamped down all media before swearing in the incumbent. Despite all indications that Amolo Raila Odinga was on path to win the elections by a narrow but undisputable margin – Kibaki and his cronies pulled ahead by 200,000 votes in the last 12hrs with some constituencies showing a voter turnout of 140%.

Kibaki has failed Kenya – a Kenya that handed him power peacefully in 02 deserves better. The common people of Kenya deserve better – Africa deserves better. At a time when all disputes are settled by skirmishes in Africa, Kenya was on the right path showing its resolve to democracy.

I look to the leaders of the world and hope they condemn such a blatant disregard for the will of the people – Africa needs to believe in Democracy. Kenya showed an unyielding resolve for change through democracy and it will be a sad day if violence trumps the ballot.

May God be with my Kenya ..

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