(NYT) Carson Endorses the Demagogue

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

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On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.

Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.

What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.

This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:

“If America is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America. Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.”

This is the same Ben Carson who used this closing statement at the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C., by imploring Americans to join him “in truth and honesty and integrity.”

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
And yet, on Friday, Carson endorsed one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in recent presidential election history, a man for whom “truth and honesty and integrity” are infinitely malleable, and easily discarded, concepts, and whose rallies have been plagued by vileness and violence.

Carson, like so many conservatives, isn’t truly interested in unity as much as silent submission, a quiet in which one can pretend that hostility has been quashed, all evidence to the contrary.

These are folks who view discussions about reducing racial inequity and increasing queer equality as divisive. They are people who see efforts to protect women’s health, in particular their full range of reproductive options, including abortion, and to reverse our staggering income inequality as divisive. Indeed, the very words white supremacy, privilege, racism, bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and poverty are seen as divisive.

Somehow, they think, these very real oppressive forces will simple die if only deprived of conversational oxygen. In fact, the opposite is true. By not naming these forces and continuously confronting, they strengthen and spread.

Carson’s endorsement further tarnished his already tarnished reputation. He validated and rubber-stamped a grandiloquent fascist who is supported by a former grand wizard.

All Carson’s calls for civility were in that moment proven hollow.

No wonder so many Americans despise politicians and see them as soulless and without principle. And although both these men pride themselves on being political outsiders who’ve never held political office, they are undoubtedly political animals and relentless personal brand promoters who chase a check over a cliff.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. Carson and the real estate developer are not so different from one another in this predilection for outrageous utterances, it’s just that one smiles and the other scowls.

This is the same Ben Carson who called President Obama a psychopath who is possibly guilty of treason and was, oh my, “raised white.” He has accused President Obama of working to “destroy this nation” and compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers.

This is the same Ben Carson who on a radio show in 2013 said of white liberals:

“Well, they’re the most racist people there are because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box — you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”

This is the same Ben Carson who has compared women who have abortions to slave owners, who said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — yes, he’s obsessed with slavery — and that being gay is a choice because people go to prison straight and leave gay. On the issue of whether a Muslim should allowed to be president, he said:

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson isn’t the only one. Chris Christie’s endorsement of the front-runner is just as baffling and unprincipled. As The Los Angeles Times put it:

“Christie had spent years curating an image as a policy-focused administrator who reached out to Muslims and Latinos, and he was rewarded with rock star status in the national Republican Party. Now he’s backing a candidate who has insulted minorities, shown a casual disregard for policy discussions and is reviled by the party’s establishment.”

And yet it is Carson’s endorsement that I find more interesting, not because it will have a greater impact, but because he and the front-runner are two sides of the same coin: they are both dangerous, but one is a narcissist who just might win the nomination and the other is a near-narcoleptic who never had a chance.

The article was published in the New York Times.

(Washington Post) What Stacey Dash gets very wrong when she calls for ending BET and Black History Month

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 1.53.13 PMBy Janell Ross | January 21

So, there really was no need — no need at all — for The Fix to weigh in on the mushrooming controversy about this year’s crop of all-white Oscar nominees.

This is interesting and arguably important cultural news — not politics, per se. But it became political when the actress and Fox News commentator Stacey Dash decided to share her views on it. Then, while she was at it, Dash decided to tell millions of people that the celebration of Black History Month and the very existence of the cable entertainment network, BET, are counterproductive and perhaps even racist endeavors, that should be ended.

Just to be clear, this is what Dash said:

We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. If we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the [NAACP] Image Awards, where you are only awarded if you are black. If it were the other way around we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard. Just like there shouldn’t be a Black History Month. You know, we’re Americans, period. That’s it.

Dash has a right to her opinion. She has a right to express it where she wishes. And we also have a right to point out that, on both the facts and the philosophy behind them, she is just about dead-wrong in ways that matter far from the entertainment news page.

Dash’s comments — part and parcel of a set of widely deployed but utterly false equivalencies — are essentially repeated, with some modifications, somewhere in America every day. They form a portion of almost any discussion of race on and in conservative media outlets. They come up at public events as if they are really novel and grave philosophical questions. And, because this pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook is so widely believed, they are ideas that really shape our politics and all too often linger in the background of horrible news events.

And, of course, on Wednesday we saw just how quickly Dash’s ideas leaped from her mind to the Fox News audience to the loudest bullhorn in all the land: Donald Trump. Trump repeated Dash’s sentiments in a Wednesday television interview.

Now, there are just a few problems.

First off, Dash got her facts plain wrong.

The BET Awards, hosted by Black Entertainment Television (BET) since 2000, aim to recognize talent in whatever shape, form or racial and ethnic package, particularly that which may not be celebrated elsewhere. And in the 15 years since the awards were created, white artists, actors, technicians and entertainers of all races and ethnicities have been nominated and won BET Awards. Most have been black, but certainly, really, not all.

To get specific, a quick look at the names of nominees for BET Awards since 2012 and the count of non-black artists nominated approaches two dozen. And that, again, is just the last three years. The same can be said about other years and BET Award winners.

And BET’s non-awards programming — while reasonable fodder for other critiques, I would say — also by the way includes white, black, Latino and Asian actors. Doubt that? Take a look at the cast list for shows such at “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane” and others. We could go on.

Finally, while the NAACP Image Awards were created in 1967 to recognize the “outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors,” there is nothing about that criteria, the list of nominees or award winners since that must be or is all-black.

In that list of nearly two dozen non-black people nominated for BET Awards are people like Justin Timberlake, Iggy Azalea and others. Singer Sam Smith won a BET Award last year (that story is interesting for other reasons too). Latina actresses America Ferrera and Sophia Vergara have each been nominated for NAACP Image awards four times. White actresses Dakota Fanning and Sandra Bullock have also been nominated. Angelina Jolie has also received more than one Image award nomination. And, little people like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Carlos Santana, Bono, Al Gore and Smith have all won NAACP Image Awards too. That’s all true.

BET exists in part because networks like MTV refused to air music videos created by black artists. Something similar can be said about the still-apparent reluctance of the Academy — the trade group behind the Oscars — to meaningfully diversify, and the many studios, producers and directors in control of content or the performances ultimately considered for a golden statue. And we can look to Oscar’s long history, its nominee list and a rundown of past winners to prove that too.

Sally Stiebel and Mark Ein attend the BET Honors 2012 Pre-Honors dinner at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on January 13, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
So those are the facts. Now what about the broader social and political philosophy embedded in Dash’s comments? Think on this for just a moment, because the following list is also connected to Dash’s jumbled ideas.

How often have you heard some person express somewhere the notion that white Americans aren’t allowed to name an organization, a school, an event, a place “the white” anything? For these people the tyranny of political correctness makes such a thing impossible.

How often have you heard that racial and ethnic minorities are, unfairly, free to do just the opposite, subjecting white Americans to a kind of ceaseless, in-your-face reverse bigotry and themselves to a type of elected segregation each day? How many times have you heard someone say that the very existence and name of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and any number of historically black colleges, universities and organizations represent a modern-day kind of racism which is bizarrely accepted because the people who benefit or are at the helm are not white? Finally, how many times have you heard someone say some version of this: “Where is/why can’t we have a ‘White History Month?'”

This is harsh, but it must be said. We don’t believe that anyone allowed to use the stove alone is actually that obtuse. This is only the kind of thing that a person can say after first deciding to willfully ignore or embrace half-truths and falsehoods concocted to distract or even displace the well-documented reasons that black organizations and institutions exist. And, you also have to be willing to ignore what they do and who they serve now. Further, to believe that white history, white contributions to the arts or anything else are ever neglected, rejected or omitted wholesale in any setting in the United States requires all of the same.

White Americans are the group with the longest and richest history of race-related violence, racial exclusion enforced by violence and intimidation and — even as of today — allowing all manner of major and essential social structures and services to remain substantially separate and unequal. White Americans have benefited from this system and still do today. Some more than others, to be sure, but, that’s the truth. And, maintaining these distances and benefits typically rank among the goals of those who seek to create exclusively white institutions, organizations and places today.

To put this really simply, the NAACP and the KKK are not the same. Black History Month and a white nationalist celebrations are quite different. They don’t do the same things. They don’t have the same goals, and they have not shaped America in the same ways. To pretend that such a thing is even close to true is to tell oneself a mighty set of mind-warping lies. It insults the bravery of the men and women — black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American — who did the work to secure hard-won bits of equality. It ultimately gives those who engage in this line of thinking cover to avoid truths about this country’s racial past and present. But that does not make it accurate.

Dash’s claims that the existence of Black History Month and things like BET, the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards are what impede American progress toward racial oneness lie somewhere between that school of thought and what her defenders will no doubt say is genuine hope. They will claim that Dash was expressing a sincere and well-intentioned wish that black culture, black art, black history, black life will take a place at the table with every other venerated, researched and carefully documented American thing. They will insist that, on its face, there is nothing at all wrong with that.

They will insist that should be a goal in a pluralistic and democratic society. They will ignore what is and talk about what should be. They will pretend that if black, Latino and Asian Americans just stopped talking about race and ethnicity and shuttered every institution and organization created to recognize, accept, educate, employ or empower them when no one else would, racism itself would somehow magically disappear.

Yes, for those who agree with Dash, racism will dissipate via the ultra-reliable route of denial.

What we can say about Dash — an actress best known for co-starring in the 1995 movie “Clueless,” a spin-off TV show and playing the female lead in a series of films and television shows marketed primarily to black audiences — is that she picked a mighty odd place to dive deep, given her own career history. Dash’s acting resume (click the link above) includes a multi-episode arc on a show called The Game. One of those episodes ran on BET after the show switched networks and BET essentially rescued it from cancellation.

The inaccurate information and false equivalencies she dispatched in that Fox News interview rest on Dash’s shoulders. She said them. But Fox also began making Dash a network regular, providing social and political commentary after the actress declared herself a Mitt Romney voter in 2012, was attacked for it online and later made some disparaging comments about President Obama. That appears to be about the sum total of Dash’s commentator credentials.

There are many well-informed black, Latino and Asian actors and actresses who may even share Dash’s views who could have been summoned to explain them without the factual problems and absurd equivalencies that riddled everything Dash said. They probably wouldn’t have expanded their view on what’s really an inside-the-entertainment-industry controversy to include so many other things or at least have been mindful of where and how they have earned their own living. And certainly, there are many, many black conservative historians, social and political scholars, former candidates, political consultants, pollsters and researchers who, at the very least, know something about American history and their own respective industries.

It’s really up to Fox News to answer this question: Why aren’t more of those people on air?

UPDATE: This post has been updated to include information about Dash’s role on a BET television program.

The article was published in the Washington Post’s The Fix.

(AfricaNews) Equatorial Guinea begins polls’ census

Photo Credit: AfricaNews

5 days ago

Equatorial Guinea has began the election census process on Friday in preparation for the Presidential elections.

The official radio station announced that the voters’ census for the presidential election will begin on January 15 and finish on January 30.

The presidential election is planned to take place in November, but according to some sources in Malabo, it could be moved forward to June. The previous election saw a total of 291,000 registered as voters.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has lead the country since 1979. His regime has always been under criticism for its repression to opponents.

In a joint press statement, three opposition political parties – The Social Democracy Convergence(CPDS), the Innovation Citizens (CI) and the right center Union (UCD) questioned the legitimacy of the census and also put forward their lack of transparency to the whole system.

With the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in 1990s, the country has been able to rip big but this has not reflected in lives of its citizens. Low life expectancy, limited access to basic facilities and high child mortality has continued to retard the growth of its citizens.

The article was published on AfricaNews.

(Africa News) Mauritania: Islamist prisoners launch hunger strike

Credit: Africa News

Credit: Africa News

Some 30 Islamists have launched a hunger strike at Mauritania’s main jail saying they are being punished after a New Year’s Eve escape by a high-profile prisoner facing death over an Al-Qaeda assassination plot.

The prisoners said in a statement that they had started the protest Monday at the main prison in Nouakchott, the capital, and would continue until all their demands had been met.

These included “visits by family members and for a doctor to be present on the premises round the clock for faster access to prescribed medicines,” the statement said.

The prisoners alleged they were facing “punitive measures after the escape of an Islamist prisoner we had no connection with.”

Cheikh Ould Saleck, 31, on death row since 2011 over an Al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the president, was last seen by fellow inmates at Nouakchott’s central prison at midday on December 31.

His absence from evening prayers alerted his fellow inmates who went to fetch him and found his cell locked.

A guard smashed open the door and found a flag of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African franchise, according to a prison source.

Ould Saleck and a fellow AQIM jihadi were arrested on the outskirts of the Mauritanian capital in 2011 when the army foiled their plot to kill President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz using two car bombs.

A Mauritanian gendarme was killed and eight wounded in a firefight following the failed attack, while four suspected AQIM members died.

Ould Saleck’s wife and sister, who used to visit him in jail, were arrested on January 4.

Bronx State Assemblyman Michael Blake Reelection Fundraiser (AfricaTVUSA.net)

On Thursday, January 7, Dr. Dennie Beach, Dr. Samuel Jones and Ibrahima Cisse with sponsorship by the African Union Expo LLC, Go Africa Health LLC and Go Africa News LLC, hosted a fundraiser on the Upper East Side to raise funds for the reelection campaign of Bronx State Assemblyman Michael Blake, who represents the 79th District in the Bronx.

Check out an exclusive video by Karimtosh Diabate of AfricaTVUSA.net. Some highlights and participants include:

  • An introduction by Yoliswa Cele, founder and CEO of Ndosi Strategies and of the mistresses of ceremonies
  • Kadiatou Fadiga, Miss Guinea USA 2011 and one of the mistresses of ceremonies
  • A speech by State Assemblyman Michael Blake in which he discusses how he got into politics and what he hopes to accomplish if reelected
  • Rafi Jafri, president and CEO of Jafri Strategies LLC
  • Mohammed Diallo, senior strategy officer and founder of Ginjan Bros. ginger juice beverage from West Africa, which was served at the fundraiser
  • Fundraiser hosts Dennie Beach, president of Go Africa Network; Dr. Samuel Jones, Go Africa’s chief medical officer; and Ibrahima Cisse, Go Africa’s chief protocol officer
  • Exclusive interviews with State Assemblyman Michael Blake and Aubrey Lynch, director of dance at the Harlem School of Arts by Madina Toure of Go Africa Network and Miss Guinea USA
  • Abdulai Jalloh, founder and president of Borderline Pictures
  • Charles Cooper, Go Africa Network’s senior policy officer
  • Mohammed Diallo, Go Africa Network’s senior strategy officer
  • Gilroy Simpson, Go Africa Network’s senior operations officer

Al Jazeera: The Retirement Trap (Video)

30 Dec 2015 10:08 GMT | Morocco, France, Netherlands, Italy, Poverty & Development

Filmmaker: Hossam Shahadat

Moroccans who have spent all their working lives in France and the Netherlands are now facing discrimination against their pensions in what has been criticised as a form of ‘retirement apartheid’.

Retired French and Italians can live anywhere in Europe without it affecting their domestic pension entitlements; but North Africans who have lived and worked in France for more than 40 years are denied the same rights.

I live alone in a narrow room, like a prison. My life here in France is more like hell, in every sense of the word.

Omar Ait Sghir, Moroccan pensioner in Paris

Instead they face a stark choice: return to their home countries and lose large slices of their pension and face medical bills they can’t afford; or remain in, say, France with their full pensions but away from their families.

“I’m sick,” says 75-year-old Mohamed Air Wakrim who has lived in France for 45 years. “If I stay in Morocco for more than six months, they’ll find out and take away my rights.”

Contrast this with the treatment of Europeans and you have what some people have called “retirement apartheid”.

“In Tunisia, I only have to pay four or five percent tax,” says Mauro Sansovini, an Italian pensioner. “In Italy, the tax rate on my pension income is between 40 and 45 percent.”

Salim Fkire, the president of CAP SUD MRE, a campaign group of Moroccans residing abroad, sums up the situation: “Mohamed and Patrick both worked in the same factory, got the same pension and paid the same taxes. Today, Patrick has the right to live permanently in Agadir… But Mohamed can’t stay in his home town for more than six months. After that he’ll have to return to France or else he’ll lose his social rights.”

There are also problems for North Africans in the Netherlands. The Dutch government tried to cut benefits to retired Moroccans by 40 percent but was forced to backtrack. So instead they introduced checks on property and began spying on Moroccans and their assets in Morocco through their embassy in Rabat, so they could deduct tax from Moroccan pensioners living in Holland.

This has led to open protests highlighting the plight of the North Africans, who have become known as ‘The Chibanis’, Moroccan Arabic dialect for ‘older people’.

In The Retirement Trap, we look at the struggle of Moroccans to redress pension injustice and escape the retirement trap they find themselves in.

You can watch the video on Al Jazeera.

 Morocco and Tunisia rely heavily on tourism and have introduced tax concessions to attract more Europeans to retire there [Al Jazeera]

(All Africa) 10 Things to Watch in Africa in 2016

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of DRC. Photo Credit: Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of DRC.
Photo Credit: Paul Kagame

ANALYSIS

By Nick Branson and Jamie Hitchen

Staying Power: Referenda in the Republic of Congo and Rwanda have paved the way for presidents Sassou Nguesso and Kagame to extend their tenures. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), President Kabila appears intent on remaining in power beyond the end of his second term in November 2016. Kabila’s political machinations have been met with violent protest and international opprobrium. By contrast in Benin, incumbent president Boni Yayi has resolved to step down when he completes his second term in February 2016.

Africa Debt Rising: Sovereign bond issuance rose dramatically as commodity markets peaked in 2014, before tailing off as the price of oil and export minerals collapsed. With budget deficits approaching unsustainable levels in many countries and the supply of cheap debt in decline, some African governments face tough choices – cut spending or dramatically improve domestic revenue collection. This new reality will be inescapable for Zambia and Ghana in an election year. In 2015, their currencies were devalued substantially and visits from the IMF further raised concerns about the sustainability of debt levels. 2016 may see the IMF revert to a more familiar role of supervising austerity measures, albeit in a less conspicuous fashion than during the structural adjustment era; whilst Ghana accepted IMF support, Zambia has so far rejected a financial bailout package.

Economic Opportunity: African economies that rely heavily on oil and other commodity exports – including Nigeria, Angola and Zambia – continue to suffer due to low or declining prices. But this setback also provides an opportunity to focus on diversifying their economies. In Nigeria, there is much talk of revitalising agriculture. In East Africa, efforts are being made to reduce economic inefficiencies and improve productivity: progress in regional telecom reform, for example, demonstrates much from which the rest of the continent can learn.

Insecurity in Nigeria: Many Nigerians voted for Muhammadu Buhari because of his campaign commitments to tackle corruption and defeat Boko Haram. The arrest of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki for allegedly overseeing illicit and financially fraudulent transactions worth billions of naira is highly symbolic. Despite an announcement that the government has “technically won the war” against the Boko Haram insurgency, military action has not yet been convincing and the threat remains. The renegotiation of the Niger Delta amnesty and recent agitation by Biafran separatists illustrate the security challenges facing Buhari’s government.

Urban Transport: In September 2015 Addis Ababa opened the first part of a new 17km light rail system funded in part by Chinese investment. A similar venture that forms part of the urban plan in Lagos has been beset by delays. However, Governor Ambode of Lagos State has promised that the first line will be operational by December 2016. Dar es Salaam’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system failed to open as planned in October 2015 but is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2016. New urban transport networks will need to be affordable for the everyday commuter if they are to successfully reduce congestion and improve the productivity of cities.

Flying Donkeys: The world’s first civilian cargo drone station is set to open in Rwanda in 2016. “Flying donkeys” will be capable of carrying small packages across distances of up to 80km and could help to overcome some infrastructure challenges. Regulation concerning the use of unmanned vehicles is in the process of being drafted by Rwanda’s civil aviation authority and a successful pilot should see a nationwide network of cargo drone routes established.

 

Sorting out the Union: The post-election crisis in Zanzibar has highlighted the shortcomings of Tanzania’s current political configuration and reignited calls for power to be shared more equitably among the constituent parts of the Union. Tanzania remains the only African nation to possess a dual-government structure, a lopsided arrangement that falls short of being a fully-fledged federation. Zanzibar retains its own executive, legislature, and judicial system; while a parliament in Dodoma and a president in Dar es Salaam take decisions for both the mainland and the Union as a whole. Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, may consider constitutional reform as a solution to the impasse in Zanzibar; however, he will face resistance from his own party, which has repeatedly rejected changes to the status quo.

The Prominence of Social Media: African youth harnessed the potential of modern communication tools to mobilise protests in Burkina Faso and South Africa, successfully preventing a military coup and halting significant rises in university tuition fees. Twitter hashtags are becoming important tools for mobilisation and are likely to become more prominent as the cost of communication decreases. Governments are already responding to this perceived threat. Tanzania rushed through four pieces of legislation relating to access to information, media, statistics and cybercrime in 2015, while Nigeria may adopt a social media bill in 2016.

The Battle for the ANC: In South Africa, rumours have been circulating about plots to oust President Zuma mid-term. Zuma famously usurped Mbeki as ANC president at the national conference in Polokwane in December 2007, positioning him to become head of state, following the April 2009 elections. Zuma’s decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister was an assertion of his authority that backfired. With the ruling party likely to lose control of important metropolitan authorities at municipal elections in 2016, the campaign to succeed Zuma will dominate South African politics right up until the next ANC national conference in December 2017.

A Changing Climate: In 2015, flooding in Freetown and Accra devastated urban areas whilst El Niño brought drought to rural Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Unpredictable weather will be a continuing feature in years to come, despite the agreement reached at COP21 in Paris. Long term commitments can work alongside short-term solutions: improved urban management and support for the growing of drought resistant crops like finger millet. But weather can also offer opportunity for the continent. Renewable energy, in particular solar, wind and geothermal, has been cited as a key avenue for tackling the power deficit on the continent by African Development Bank president, Akinwumi Adesina.

Nick Branson and Jamie Hitchen are researchers at ARI.

(Vice) The Year Africa’s Strongmen Embraced the ‘Constitutional Coup’

By Kayla Ruble | December 22, 2015 | 12:35 pm

Thirty-six people died in Kinshasa in January during demonstrations sparked by perceived attempts by President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to stay in power after his second and final term. A few months later and just across the border, protesters took to the streets of Bujumbura in April when Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a constitutionally tenuous third term in office.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s security forces in the Republic of Congo used deadly force against demonstrators in Brazzaville and put opposition leaders under house arrest in October, when they expressed disagreement with a constitutional referendum to allow the leader to run for a third term. And while mass street demonstrations were noticeably absent in Kigali, Rwanda’s parliament and judiciary successfully cleared several legal hurdles this year to enable President Paul Kagame to run again after his second, seven-year term comes to an end in 2017.

It was rare that a week went by without discussion related to these East and Central African leaders’ efforts to seek a third term in office. All four leaders have been accused of human rights abuses during their tenures, with some of the loudest allegations related to crackdowns against opponents and protesters who pushed back against the maneuvers to extend presidential mandates beyond existing term limits.

Despite the controversies, the leaders kept their titles and remained at the top. This made 2015 the year that the region’s strongmen found ways to legally cling to power. Using a term recently coined by Human Rights Watch, it was the year of the “constitutional coup.”

“Military coups are no longer de rigueur,” HRW deputy director Anneke Van Woudenberg and researcher Ida Sawyer wrote in Foreign Policy in November, noting that the shift was partially caused by the African Union’s decision not to recognize administrations that achieve power by force. “Instead, African leaders who are unwilling to abide by term limits, or unfavorable election results, prefer to simply change the laws and constitutions that stand in their way.”

Constitutional changes and legal judgments helped pave the way for these presidents to pursue lifelong leadership. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, it was a proposed amendment that would have postponed the 2016 elections until a nationwide census was completed — a move critics believed would let Kabila sidestep constitutional term limits and stay in power for several more years.

After the deadly protests in January, the proposal was revoked. But in the months since, the government has detained protesters and opposition members in an attempt to silence peaceful activists, according to a December report from Human Rights Watch. It’s still unclear what Kabila will do.

Next door in Congo,  Sassou Nguesso used a constitutional referendum to lift both the age and term limits that would have made him ineligible. The changes passed with 92 percent voting in favor — although the opposition accused the regime of lying about voter turnout — and the president is expected to move forward and call elections by spring of 2016. Experts say he is unlikely to step down willingly; he has after all been president since 1997, and before that from 1979 to 1992. Sassou Nguesso has not groomed a successor who would protect the president from international criminal cases and look after the assets his family has secured during its reign, according to Stanford University fellow Brett Logan Carter.

“Sassou Nguesso doesn’t want to risk this,” Carter said ahead of the referendum vote, noting the leader has likely become more fearful after seeing fellow African strongmen like Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré fall from power. “There is no one else for Sassou Nguesso to transfer power to, so in a way he’s been forced into this position.”

Most recently, Rwanda held a constitutional referendum of its own on December 18, giving the public the right to chose whether to change the constitutional term limits. The country’s parliament and judiciary had already lifted several hurdles to allow President Kagame to extend his rule, and the referendum was seen as the final step. According to official results, 98 percent voted in favor of the changes that, in theory, will allow the leader to serve another seven-year term, followed by two five-year terms. In other words, he could be in power until 2034.

Earlier this year as the parliament and judiciary began to clear the way for these changes, University of Buffalo political science professor r Reverien Mfizi — a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — explained that all those legal steps were part of an attempt to give the process a sense of legitimacy.

The constitutional changes have been framed, Mfizi said, as a normal process of Rwandans deciding for themselves whether or not Kagame gets to seek another round as head of state. All of this occurred without any public protest — in fact, the government has frequently referenced a nationwide poll showing an overwhelming majority was for Kagame running again.

“Kagame is a very smart, very thoughtful leader. I don’t always agree with him, but you have to admire how clever he is,” Mfizi said. “What’s missing from that story is it’s virtually impossible to oppose the regime.”

But arguably, the highest-profile power grab this year with the deadliest and most destabilizing effects came from Nkurunziza in Burundi. Almost eight months after the leader announced third-term plans, pushing demonstrators out into the streets to protest the move, the country has been engulfed in continued political instability and violence.

Nkurunziza pursued a new term despite a clearly outlined two-term limit in the constitution, which was established in 2005 as part of the Arusha peace agreement that ended the country’s decade-long civil war. The constitutional court cleared the former rebel leader to run, saying he had been appointed to his first term in 2005, not democratically elected.

Protests quickly turned violent as police cracked down on demonstrators, while opponents and Nkurunziza supporters clashed with each other in the streets. As dozens were killed and tens of thousands fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries including Rwanda, Tanzania, and the DRC, Nkurunziza pushed on with his reelection campaign — even as regional and international organizations and governments called on him to step aside. He ultimately claimed victory at the polls in July, and the crisis shifted to politically motivated violence, disappearances, and assassinations on both sides.

A Burundian protester during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, on June 3, 2015. Protesters said they were disappointed that East African leaders didn’t ask President Pierre Nkurunziza to give up his bid for a third term. Photo by Dai Kurokawa / EPA

The situation has hit a critical point in recent weeks. To date, at least 300 people have reportedly been killed and more than 200,000 have fled the country since the violence began in April. On December 11, armed assailants waged a series of seemingly coordinated attacks on three military bases. Gunfire rang through the capital all day as security forces clashed with the fighters, and the next day 87 bodies were found on the streets of Bujumbura. In the day after the attack, a report from the International Federation for Human Rights found 300 young, unarmed civilians had disappeared, 154 of whom have since turned up dead. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein became just the latest to stress the looming risk of all-out conflict, stating that Burundi was on “the very cusp of civil war.”

In response, the African Union took a major step and approved the deployment of 5,000 peacekeepers to be sent to the country. Known as the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, the plan is backed by the United Nations Security Council, while the Burundian government has said it would not allow foreign troops to enter its borders.

“If the situation continues, the African Union and international community cannot sit by and watch genocide, if it is going to develop into that,” said Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairman of the African Union Commission.

The international community now awaits formal notice from Burundi and for the AU to decide whether it will send troops anyway, even if the Bujumbura authorities do not approve. Meanwhile, how Nkurunziza responds internally will be key. For months, observers have cited the leader’s perceived will to get a third term at all costs.

“Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”

A lot of the discussion surrounding Nkurunziza’s political ambitions has centered around his belief that he has risen to power by God’s will. The born-again Christian leader has stuck to the divine narrative particularly hard in recent months, even thanking God for winning the July elections and saying God would take care of the country’s rebels.

His fellow strongman on Burundi’s northern border, Rwanda’s Kagame, has questioned both Nkurunziza’s power grab and his belief in God. In a November speech, Kagame said Burundi should learn from the experience of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, while calling out the government’s failure to stop the internal violence.

“Burundi’s leaders pride themselves on being men of God, some are even pastors,” Kagame said. “But in what God do they believe?… Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”

The article was published on Vice News.

(New African) Guyana calls for African diplomatic help

New African Magazine | 13 November 2015

Guyana has called for diplomatic assistance from the African continent as it seeks to deter aggression from neighbouring Venezuela over a border dispute, writes Ifa Kamau Cush.

guyana african diplomats The provenance of Venezuela’s aggression against Guyana is its 1841 protest against Great Britain’s delineation of Guyana’s western boundary, eponymously known as the Schomburgk Line, named after Robert Schomburgk, a British surveyor and naturalist. At the time Guyana was a British colony.

Incapable of confronting the British militarily, Venezuela asked the United States to arbitrate the dispute. The US government convened an American boundary commission in 1895 in which Venezuela participated “enthusiastically”, according to historical records. The British government participated under protest. Venezuela was enthusiastic because America was its ally; thus, it expected a favourable outcome.

On 3 October 1899, the American boundary commission rendered its decision: the Schomburgk Line will stand! Venezuela ratified the commission’s decision.

For sixty-three years following that decision, official Venezuelan maps showed the Essequibo region as belonging to Guyana, says the Venezuelan author Francisco Toro, writing in the 12 June 2015 edition of the Caracas Chronicles.

According to Toro: “If you know anything about international law, you probably know that accepting territory as belonging to someone else on official maps puts a serious dent on any attempt to convince people that, ‘Oh wait, that land is mine’.”

Immediately after Guyana became independent from Britain in 1966, Venezuela took advantage of Guyana’s small size and population and began plotting to seize the Essequibo territory. In fact in 1969, Venezuelan-trained and equipped Guyanese secessionists declared an “Essequibo Free State”.

Guyana’s current president, David Granger, wrote about this insurrection in his 2012 book, National Defence: “Armed with rifles, machine-guns and anti-tank ‘bazooka’ weapons, the rebels easily seized Lethem, the district centre, and all outlying areas, killing several policemen and imprisoning ‘coastlander’ government employees in the process.”

However, within 24 hours, the rebels were routed by soldiers of the Guyana Defence Force and order was restored.  Where blatant military aggression failed, Venezuela tried bribery and resorted to economic sabotage. In 1978, during a state visit to Guyana, the Venezuelan president, Carlos Andres Perez, offered to finance the upper Mazaruni hydro-electric project if the Guyana government would agree to cede 31,000 square kilometres of territory to his country. Guyana’s then president, Forbes Burnham, rejected the proposal outright!

Venezuela subsequently opposed all efforts on the part of Guyana to obtain the financing needed to exploit its hydroelectric potential, frustrating the country’s industrialisation programme in the process; thus stultifying its economic growth. Fast-forward to 2015 and the same strategy by Venezuela, of using military threats, bribery, and the co-option of Guyanese citizens, still prevails.

Over the past several years, the Venezuelan government has purchased rice from Guyana at obscenely exorbitant prices – paying almost twice the world market price. Political observers saw this as a gimmick on the part of Venezuela to build a constituency of Guyanese rice farmers and their beneficiaries to pressure the Guyanese government to accede to Venezuela’s territorial demands, similar to the strategy employed in 1969 when Venezuela organised Rupununi ranchers to secede from Guyana.

However, with the election of a new government headed by President David Granger on 11 May 2015, observers believe that Guyana now has a leadership made up of individuals who are more patriotic and committed to the preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity. No wonder, soon after the May elections, Venezuela stopped purchasing rice from Guyana, hoping, experts believe, to trigger unrest in the rice-producing areas of Guyana.  Additionally, with the announcement by ExxonMobil of the discovery of oil in Guyana’s territorial waters, Venezuela has once again invoked what Francisco Toro describes as a “childish fantasy” the idea of the country being a “threat to world peace”.

Last May, the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, reacting to the oil discovery in Guyana’s waters, issued a decree claiming the area as Venezuela’s.  A well-placed source at the Washington DC-based Organization of American States urged Venezuela to respect international law in its dispute with Guyana. The source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, noted that President Maduro’s decree “affects Guyana as well as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Columbia”, raising tensions and contributing to the destabilisation of the region.

While President Granger sees Venezuela’s decades-old aggression as “a fishbone in our throats”, choking his country’s economic life, he, nevertheless, is committed to a diplomatic solution. In that regard, his government has reached out to several global, continental and regional bodies, including the United Nations, the African Union, Caricom, and the Commonwealth to build global opposition to the Venezuelan aggression.

“We are a small nation of less than one million people. Venezuela has a population of over 25 million,” says Granger. “A military confrontation between our two nations will not be in Guyana’s best interests.”

Legal experts believe that a settlement must be imposed by the International Court of Justice. However, Maduro’s government in Caracas, bolstered by support from what Dr. Gerald Horne of the University of Houston describes as a “feisty and combative” elite, is reluctant to take this matter before an impartial panel of judges, fearing another 1899 result, a good 116 years after Venezuela ratified the American boundary commission’s ruling which established the western border of Guyana.

What is happening reminds one of a pattern of Venezuelan behaviour towards its small island neighbours in the Caribbean. In 1816, after Simon Bolivar, eulogised as the founder of the Venezuelan nation, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Spanish forces, he landed on the shores of Haiti to be enthusiastically welcomed by the Haitian revolutionary leaders who, a few years earlier, had routed France’s slave-owning army and established an independent African state.

The Haitians gave Bolivar boats, arms and soldiers. That assistance enabled him to eventually defeat Spain, creating the country we now call Venezuela. Strangely, after defeating the Spanish forces with the arms, materiel, and men provided by Haiti, Bolivar’s Venezuela refused to recognise Haiti’s independence, thus, hastening that country’s capitulation to France’s $21.5 billion extortion requirement, camouflaged as repayment of French expenses on the island. It took Haiti over 150 years to repay. The country never recovered!

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author of the seminal work, The Open Veins of Latin America, said this about Bolivar’s perfidy in a 2004 article in Progressive magazine: “Not even Simon Bolivar recognised Haiti, though he owed it everything … Haiti gave him everything with only one condition: that he free the slaves [in Venezuela] – an idea that had not occurred to him. The great man triumphed in his war of independence … Of recognition, he made no mention!”

This is why many observers say Venezuela should not be allowed to continue to treat its African-descended neighbours in such a cavalier manner again. It is why Guyana’s new government under President Granger is appealing for diplomatic support from all African nations, and other nations of goodwill, to help bring Venezuela to see the wisdom in good neighbourliness and stop bullying little Guyana for a piece of territory whose boundaries were settled 116 years ago.

Ifa Kamau Cush

The article was published in New African Magazine.

(Face2Face Africa) Dozens of Wives Divorced after Zanzibar Elections

women1According to civil society organizations and women’s rights groups, nearly 50 women who took part in Zanzibar’s elections have been divorced by their husbands, reports Reuters.

While Tanzania is already a month under the stewardship of new President John Magufuli, Zanzibar has failed to name a successor due to “gross violations” that occurred during their election.

Still, opposition party Civic United Front (CUF) insists that they won the election against ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi, and these tensions have bubbled over into many households, with husbands reportedly abandoning their families over politics.

However, while the Zanzibar election “remains undecided,” the future of some families is not.

According to Tanzania Media Women’s Association Coordinator Mzuri Issa, the Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association, and Zanzibar’s Mwanakerekwe District Kadhi Court, 47 women were divorced by their husbands for voting against their husband’s wishes.

In fact, the elections became such a hotly contested issue in the archipelago that some women have admitted that they did not take part in the election due to the threat of divorce and/or violence if they participated.

Issa explains, “Some of the women were not allowed by their husband to vote but those who refused to see their right trampled on were either divorced or abandoned.”

And one unnamed woman told Zanzibar’s Daily Newspaper, “I thought it was just normal and free in a democracy to differ in politics. But unfortunately, my husband was adamant to the end and decided to divorce me. He has even decided not to bring basic needs to our young children.”

The article was published on Face2Face Africa.

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