Category: Politics


AMDG

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The Night Commuters in Gulu – escaping the evil of Joseph Kony & The LRA

It was very depressing to hear that the UK had voted to leave the EU …  it is one of those moments where you always remember ‘where I was when ‘ E.g Princess Diana dying….  So when we voted Brexit I am in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, where there is a great new Jesuit school which has already become famous countrywide for its excellent academic results. This is very impressive considering that just ten years ago Gulu was being terrorised by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Kids weren’t going to school – they were being forced into becoming child soldiers.  A beautiful part of the world, that is deeply traumatised, a generation of child soldiers who had the innocence of childhood ripped away from them. Many of the youngsters were called  ‘night commuters’ who would move into the city before sunfall so as to avoid the violent raids of the LRA.  It is a salutary reminder of what can happen when politics fails, and society descends into chaos.  The level of debate was at times wanting in the Brexit campaigning, but at least it was democratic – even if it was a very poor attempt of direct democracy , when representative democracy would have been more appropriate.  However the ability to hold such a referendum, with such a level of engagement we should not take for granted and shows a robust politics which is much more fragile here in East Africa, even if it has made great progress.

 

oppositionThe excellent weekly newspaper ‘The East African’ ran a disturbing report on the state of Opposition in East Africa in its latest weekly edition (June 18-24 2016). Published in Kenya, it also covers the news in the Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda). Under the headline Who would be an opposition politician in East Africa today? It highlights the plight of Kizza Besigwe (Uganda), Zitto Kabwe (Tanzania), Raila Odinga (Kenya) and Frank Habineza (Rwanda) all leaders of opposition parties in countries that have purportedly signed up to encouraging political pluralism. Many people in the UK have been bemoaning the lack of quality debate in the recent referendum, but no-one can doubt it was an act of direct democracy (even if it possibly would have been wiser to have been left to representation democracy as Frank Turner SJ points out in an excellent piece).

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Certainly here in East Africa there seems to be various crackdowns on ways of expressing opposition. We had just arrived in Arusha last Tuesday when we heard that someone called Emilly Isaac was handed down a three year sentence for a comment made on Facebook about the supporters of President Magafuli. His comment was mild to say the least, but he still had to pay a $3ooo fine or six months in jail. Magafuli is still wildy popular due to his anti-corruption stance, but some of the sheen is coming off with alarming evidence of a lack of thick skin. Kenya is presided over by Uhuru Kenyatta whose legacy has been seriously marred by the terrible violence that marked the elections of 2007 which claimed 1300 lives. In 2014 Kenyatta made history by becoming the first sitting head of state to come before the International Criminal Court to answer for ‘crimes against humanity’. The charges were withdrawn later that year, but the prosecution claimed that this was due to the Kenyan Governments noncompliance claiming they had evidence of witness intimidation and bribery. The conclusion was unsatisfactory to say the least with Kenyatta claiming to be vindicated, but really the ICC was shown to have an alarming lack of teeth. Finally in Uganda, President Musevini has just won a dubious election, decried by many independent observers as as being rigged, with undue pressure put on the opposition, his main rival Basingye is in prison.

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downloadThere is now an excellent way of monitoring governance in Africa – provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim is a Sudanese/British Billionaire, telecommunications magnate – the founder of Cel Tel , set up the foundation when he sold the company in 2005. It awards scholarships and offers a prize for achievement in African Leadership. The Prize at $5m and $200k a year for life it is the biggest in the world, comfortably outstripping the Nobels $1.3m, and is an annual prize but not always awarded if the high standards are not met. Perhaps even more impressive is the Index that has provided an annual assessment on each countries governance. It assesses progress for each country on Safety and the Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. The East African Countries discussed here have never made it in the top ten of the 52 countries measured, with Tanzania 17th, Uganda 18th and Kenya 21st in 2013. What is brilliant about it is that you can spot trends in various areas of governance such as corruption, violence, participation, gender, infrastructure, education, health etc.

The UN in Africa

AMDG

Last week I spent a very interesting few hours visiting UNON, the United Nations Office in Nairobi.  I was checking it out akaribunis a place to bring students on a visit next year as part of their induction in East Africa. Globally the UN now has four permanent bases, New York where the general assembly of its constituent 193 member states takes place every (the Holy See has permanent
observer status). There are two more offices in Europe, in Geneva, Vienna and most recently one has opened up in Nairobi in 1996.  Many have argued that it was long overdue to give the UN a sure footing in the continent of Africa, where its original and overriding purpose is to promote peaceis often under threat.   Its environment  programme (UN and habitat programme (are headquartered in Naorobi, but many of its other programmes / funds / commisions also have offices there.

Many  feel the UN is in crisis  – some world argue, given its impossible remit, a state of permanent crisis, its faces the challenge to be semper reforandum – always reforming.   The core dream and vision of the UN is worth fighting for. Riddled with politics, often rendering it ineffective ( Russia & China’s unscrupulous use of the veto in the security council for example) … it is still the only supranational political body that can be called on in a crisis, and often the only one with the clout to get warring parties around the table.  The extraordinary meeting of the Security council in Narobi bringing together the Sudanese on November 2004 is a recent example.secretary-general_ban_ki-moon_right_meets_with_sudanese_foreign_minister_ibrahim_ghandour_oct_2_2015_-_un_evan_schneider-e7ab4

Currently the UN has a succession crisis as they look for a new secretary  general. The recent leadership of the South Koran, Ban Ki Moon has been disappointing, seen as being too protocol bound, lacking the dyanimism and diplomatic genius of his predecessor Kofi Annan.  So there is a sense of urgency to select a leader, in what appears to be the most transparent process yet.   The PC option is to have a women from Eastern Europe, with two Bulgarian canditates spoken of.  But one of the things that has discredited the UN so often is being sucked into the quagmire of ideology and development politics, part of the reform must be shedding the Political Correctness for a more meritocratic way of operating. The farcical appearance of the Vatican before the Comittee for the  Rights of the Child (CRC) was widely criticised for being an axe-grinding exercise, not sticking to its remit.  It seemed to have written the report before hearing an evidence, and like the end of the film Spotlight it conflated what had happened 20 years ago with the present, with no acknowledgement of the serious distance the church has gone in protecting children – for excellent analysis of this read here.

All of the good and bad of the UN are visible in its office at Nairobi, we need to engage creatively with it, accepting and building on the good and recognising and letting go of the bad, if we want to make the world a better place.

AMDG

cannonizationThere are a small group of students and myself getting ready to travel to Tanzania and help out at one of the Jesuit schools in Dodoma.  Tanzania is a relatively stable country in East Africa thanks to the legacy of their great president at the time of independence, Julius Nyerere.  Amongst that generation of independence leaders in Africa,Kenyatta,  Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe – Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere stands head and shoulders above them. He became a Catholic at the age of 21, and when independence came in 1961 it was achieved without bloodshed, partly due to Nyerere’s widely recognised integrity and respect and also his good relationship and co-operation with the British Governor Sir Richard Turnbill.  Although many would argue that his policy ‘ujamma’ (extended familyhood) was economically disastrous, as were his links with Mao’s China.  However he relinquished power peacefully, unusually for that generation of leaders, and although Tanzania was a poor and one of the least developed countries in East Africa, it was peaceful and has since proven to be safe from the bouts of tribal violence that have affected surrounding countries and is threatening to rear its ugly head again in neighbouring Burundi.

The capital Dodoma is in the center of the country (275 miles away from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest and richest city and economic hub).  Nyerere moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma in 1974 in order to create a centralising force in the country to unify the different tribes so they didn’t feel isolated from the coastal Dar.  In January 2005 the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a case for the beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently.  Last years visit by Pope Francis rekindled hope that Nyerere may be one day declared a saint – link.  The Jesuits have established a parish and schools in Dodoma, and when I used to visit with groups of sixth formers from London we would stay with the Jesuits and help out in the school. The last time I went in 2011 we were privileged to have an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Tanzania Mizengo Pinda.  Pinda, an ex-seminarian would attend Sunday Mass at the Jesuit Parish and then had the reputation for being clean, and straightforward.  He retired in 2015 from being prime minister and political life after allegations of corruption (BBC link).  Maybe my question at the beginning of the interview, although uncomfortable was a little prescient?    The video quality isn’t great but the questions and answers are informative.  When we put the video on YouTube back in 2011 on returning to the UK is was rapidly taken down by someone ….  maybe it will stay up this time!

 

 

 

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