Archive for February, 2008

sorry, boo

February 20, 2008

source: xkcd

Why can’t we have better intellectuals ?

February 16, 2008

In the same week, two of Africa’s leading intellectuals have managed to publish pieces on the Kenya Crisis that I wouldn’t have saved, let alone published on this uniformed and amateur blog.

Ali Mazrui, takes a break from defending sharia in Northern Nigeria and discussing identity to ask “Which prince charming will revive democracy in Africa ?“. The list of “murderers” of democracy in Africa is problematic but the conclusion that implies that South Africa can give it a “kiss of life” is even worse both because of the choice of “prince charming” and because of the idea that democracy can somehow be imposed in a top-down way by some benevolent foreign intervention.

George Ayittey, take a break from talking about corruption to say, with a profusion of caps and exclamation points that “Kenya does not have to re-invent the wheel” since there is an African solution to solving the crisis: holding a national conference. In this case too, there are all sorts of problems with the arguments and the analysis of past events. But this sentence, taken from the piece, says in a succinct way how I felt while reading it:

We need an intelligent opposition to make democracy work in Africa – not the rah-rah noisy opposition

This is all very disappointing. If our respected intellectuals are too lazy to make well-thought and patient analysis and can’t write it soberly, how do we expect our politicans and our voters to somehow show restrain and not behave in a reckless manner ?

I will probably write more about the arguments later but for now, read them yourself and just for fun, try to guess which arguments disturbed me so much.

The protests in Mozambique are disturbing

February 16, 2008

And so is the GlobalVoices coverage (though I understand Global Voices just reports and in this case, reports from one source).

I actually wrote a long post explaining why I’m disturbed but I guess my sense of solidarity and my lassitude prevent me from posting it. In short, no this is not the masses rising and demanding responsibility from their government or some sort of new dawn. A peasant rebellion would be (but then it will be allied with imperialists, wouldn’t it ?). It’s refusal to understand that Mozambique’s resources are limited and that something got to give one way or another.

But yeah, which rural health program or which road will be cancelled to subsidize fares in Maputo ?

Kenya question

February 12, 2008

Has anyone been nerdy enough to compile and publish a total tally of the votes in the parliamentary elections by party ?

Even nerdier, why isn’t anyone working on maps ? At the constituency level, I mean.

A bad idea from Kenya

February 5, 2008

Via Global Voices, Oscar Obonyo says:

Judging from events of the just concluded presidential polls I opine that Kenyans ought to change the existing electoral laws to subject the holder of the Office of President to elections only after a straight term of ten years.
Why cant we face it? That an African President “cannot lose” an election and revise our electoral rules accordingly.

I agree that the possibility of reelection for incumbents in countries with a strong executive is a recipe for meaningless elections. And it does make sense to set up term limits accordingly. What I don’t understand is why Obonyo proposes a single ten years term and not just a single five years one. May be he simply doesn’t know that some countries did or do set up limits on consecutive terms. As a matter of fact, most latin american countries have during the past century adopted such a measure to prevent election-related troubles and the rise of life-presidents. Venezuela from 1959 to Chavez, Costa Rica since 1948, Panama since 1989, Colombia from 1910 to 2005 all have experienced stability and peaceful regime changes (and even economic growth) thanks to it. Mexico went even further as it bans any previous president, even provisional ones from assuming office a second time. Why don’t we learn from those examples ?

I also think the talk about term limits is a bit overrated. For one, changing the president is not changing the regime, as the long rule of CMM in Tanzania, BDP in Botswana or the even longer PRI rule in Mexico has shown. And even in real competitive set-up, nothing prevents the incumbent from rigging elections to favour his hand-picked successor (Preval’s first term in Haiti and the most recent Nigerian election come to mind). And I’m really surprised designing systems that would limit presidential powers is never part of those debates.

A good interview on Oil in the Gulf of Guinea

February 4, 2008

A Second Hand Conjecture has a nice interview of John Ghazvinian author of Untapped: The Scramble For Africa’s Oil. I usually stay away from most discussions on oil in Africa because most are not about oil or Africa but really about Bush or China, but I liked this one. Here’s one interesting quote:

Oil, as I keep trying to say to people, is not by itself something evil. It’s just a black substance that comes out of the ground. It’s what we do with it. What I try to point out in this book is that there are a lot of reasons why it makes life more difficult in struggling African countries. The first step is awareness of what some of those issues are. How we actually resolve those? I’ll be the first to throw up my hands and say I don’t know.

One of the things I’ve been talking about a lot as I talk about with the book, is the importance of job creation and the importance of creating stakeholder economies in the same way we have in the West around the oil boom. The real tragedy of oil exploration is that it’s capital intensive and skills intensive, but it’s not labor intensive. It doesn’t create a lot of jobs. Even the few jobs it does create are generally done by expats.

I don’t understand why the multinational oil companies –at least the Western ones that claim to want to help– don’t come together and create something like an African oil university somewhere in Nigeria or Angola, where they can train locals to become petroleum engineers. One of the really interesting things about the oil industry is that they are constantly complaining about a shortage of skilled petroleum engineers. This is an aging industry, most petroleum engineers are now in their fifties, they’re not being replaced quickly. They desperately need skilled labor and it seems like a very obvious place to try to train some of that labor would be in Africa.

Hat Tip Omodudu

FYI: there’s a nuclear reactor in Kinshasa

February 3, 2008,,1954795,00.html

Weird and complicated story involving Uranium deposits, the nazis, Einstein, Hiroshima, some american payback, a non-proliferation deal, economic/strategic sabotage, Mobutu love for prestige projects…

Anyway, the western news outlets who reported the story were all concerned about Al-Qaeda or whatever getting their hand on enriched uranium but I’m a bit concerned for the risks the people in Kinshasa (and Brazzaville) are facing.

Savimbi is confusing

February 1, 2008

Between this quote:

“I am not communist because it serves no purpose. Nor am I a capitalist. Socialism in this country is the only answer. Those who led the country to independence cannot become the exploiters of the people. We want a socialist system, but which? There is the orthodox one and the extremist one. We want the democratic one, social democracy.”

and this one:

“I am against nationalization; it is a disease which saps the strength of a national economy. The real question is the renegotiation of allowable profits. Foreign companies need their profits, they would not invest without them. But the people of Angola need their share. When Angola is independent the investors must know that the people will have a greater share.”

Add his Maoist roots and his attacks on the conservative FNLA for being “western imperialist stooges”, and I’m really wondering why this guy was the Heritage Foundation’s and Reagan’s darling.

The Cold War was indeed a weird period.