In a victory for the beleagured judiciary in Uganda, a magistrate has acquitted Kizza Besigye of all remaining charges arising from his leadership in peaceful protests against the government of Yoweri Museveni. Besigye has repeatedly lost to Museveni in national elections, yet he remains the most potent symbol of opposition to a leader who frequently acts in an autocratic manner. The decision by Magistrate George Wetyekere provides a reminder — which the judge made explicit — that Ugandans have the right to publicly demonstrate against the government.
To be sure, Museveni’s animus towards Besigye has reached epic proportions, so that his harassment of Besigye is unlikely to end. But the ruling offers a hopeful message to ordinary Ugandans that their president cannot act with impunity against his critics.
In Zambia, if you’re running for president, best to know, who is your Daddy?
The so-called “parentage” clause is being used as a club by opponents of Zambia’s president Rupiah Banda, who might be considered the luckiest man in African politics. Banda was elevated to the presidency by the death of his predecessor and then won election in 2008 after his leading opponent ran a mistake-filled campaign.
Desperate that Banda may win again, political opponents are asking questions about Banda’s father — and alleging that he was really born in neighboring Malawi and not in present-day Zambia as required by law.
Former Zambian president Kenneth Kuanda was also battered by such allegations, and after he’d served a president too.
The trouble with parentage clause is that they poorly reflect the colonial history of the region. Both Malawi and Zambia were part of Britain’s colonial regime and movement between colonial entities by Africans was normal, if not encouraged by the British. There was a similar mobility in France’s African colonies. So it is not too much to say that many of today’s politicians in Africa have parents who were in the prime of their lives prior to the border-obsessed post-colonial era which ended some 50 years ago. With the advent of nation-states in Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the long experience of easy movement within sub-regions of the African continent was quickly forgotten and national identity took on towering legal and sometimes cultural significance. Ivory Coast is another country where parentage of political leaders has become, unfairly and irrationally, a testing ground for legitimacy.
The corrosive effects of an unthinking nationalism continue to bedevil African politics. Banda may not deserve another term as Zambia’s president but defeating at the polls is a necessary exercize that cannot be avoided by resorting to re-engineering his personal biography, fictitious or not.
On the north coast of Jamaica, the echoes of West Africa were many. Chizo and I spent the first five days near Runaway Bay, an incomparable stretch of coast where Christopher Columbus allegedly put anchor on one of his voyages to the Americas. Another day we headed into the mountains, winding our way through narrow roads on our way to Bob Marley’s birthplace at Nine Mile. Among the Rastafarians, Africa of course holds a special place, and not only Ethiopia but also Ghana and Nigeria, from which so many Jamaicans are descended and which contributed greatly to the politics of Pan-Africanism. Jamaica also provided Chizo with her first visit to a majority-black country outside of the African continent. We had the vacation of our lives, enjoying the food, music, people and ocean. Besides celebrating her birthday, we also celebrated the birthday … of AfricaWorks, now 5 years young.
Jeffrey Gettleman’s excellent article on the Somali famine presents a useful reminder of Amartya Sen’s famous insight that famines, chiefly, are human constructions. The persistence of famines isn’t a tragedy but rather a consequence of social and political breakdowns. In the Somali case, the country’s long civil war– and the tactics used by contending factions — means that famine is a tool of combat rather than the result of “food shortages” as such.
Because famines usually arise from dysfunctional distribution of food resources (rather than from an absolute shortage of food), aid agencies are inevitably limited in what they can do to alleviate famines. Moreoever, realities on the ground mean that famine aid inevitably benefits combatants as much or more than the truly needy. In Somalia, political dysfunction mocks the good intentions of relief agents. That famines are man-made does not obviate the need for famine relief efforts. However, the social construction of famines ought to give rise to a parallel public understanding of why famines persist and the limits of humanitarian aid.