Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The British Aristocracy & Zimbabwe

On the eve of our 32nd independence anniversary, I would like to point out to readers some keen links between my beloved nation of Zimbabwe and card-carrying members of Britain's aristocracy.

In the picture above are, from left to right: Robert Mugabe, Lord Soames and Prince Charles. Lord Soames, the heavy-set and jovial figure in the middle of the picture, was the last Governor-General of Southern Rhodesia, serving from Dec 1979 to April 1980. Prince Charles had arrived in Zimbabwe just prior to independence in 1980 to represent the British Govt at the Independence ceremony.

Now, although Prince Charles was already involved in a relationship with Lady Diana Spencer (his future wife), his official hostess/consort to the Independence ceremony was Camilla Parker-Bowles, an old girlfriend with whom he had kept up a relationship & who he would marry years later. Here she is pictured below (in a much younger-looking photo).

But Camilla Parker-Bowles was already married to one Colonel Andrew Parker-Bowles, who just happened to be stationed in Zimbabwe as the senior military liaison officer to Lord Soames . And below is a picture from late 1979 of Colonel Andrew Parker-Bowles (on the left) and the Zanla Commander, Rex Nhongo (in the middle of the picture, dressed in military fatigues).

If this all sounds too strange to be true, just bear in  mind that the British aristocracy are known for their complicated romantic entanglements, as well as for their love of all things African. This genuine love is reciprocated by African leaders like President Robert Mugabe and President Jacob Zuma who are famed for their Anglophilia (and indeed, for their own complicated romantic entanglements).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kamuzu Banda's State Visit To Zimbabwe

Like many Zimbabweans, both at home and in the diaspora, I've spent the last three hours or so eagerly following President Mugabe's much-anticipated return from Singapore. I've been following the blow-by-blow accounts on Twitter and in Zimbabwe's media-sphere. This brouhaha surrounding President Mugabe's return has been surreal; almost like the 3rd coming of Christ! In its strangeness, I was immediately taken back over two decades ago to the surreal drama that surrounded the visit to Zimbabwe of Malawi's octogenarian President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. 

Prior to his touchdown, protocol officers were already working behind the scenes to ensure that the trip went smoothly. Now, here's where things started to take a bizarre turn. Zim Govt officials working on the visit slipped out the information that Ngwazi -- as Kamuzu Banda was titled -- had some strict demands that needed to be met. First of all, he insisted that his convoy of motor-vehicles be larger than that of our President, Robert Mugabe. Secondly he insisted that the welcoming coterie of dancers from the Womens' League should have his photo on their brightly-covered outfits and not that of our President. A tall order, I would say! Even authoritarian regimes in one-party states would have had trouble meeting the demands of the Ngwazi. 

When Kamuzu Banda did land in Harare, he did get the extra long convoy of cars, but his other request was fudged and fiddled with. And there he was: almost ninety years old; doddering and senile; spitting into a spittoon; with his nurse/hostess/paramour (Mama Cecilia Kadzamira) constantly by his side. Throughout all of this drama our President, Robert Mugabe, kept a wry smile while the protocol-officers kept a straight face. But all was not well, and everyone could see it. We Zimbabweans wondered out aloud, how a President who was close to ninety and worse for the wear was still hanging onto power. How could this be? 

Well, little did we know that over two decades later, many Zimbabweans would be forced to ask the same questions about our very own leader, as he himself disembarked on a plane from Singapore. How can a leader who is close to ninety and obviously worse for the wear still obstinately cling onto political power? How can this be? They say that history repeats itself first as tragedy, and then as farce. I can confirm that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Education Is The Key

I finally got to watch an earlier edition of BBC's "Africa Debates", that was held in Accra, Ghana on Jan 27th. It made for some interesting viewing. What captured my attention was a comment made by one of the panelists, Kuseni Dhlamini of South Africa. He said that many African Govts deliberately abandon the public-education sector in order to disempower the citizenry, and to preempt any checks on their overwhelming powers from a literate populace (demanding economic and democratic justice).

This statement was glossed over and the panelists went on to deliberate over other issues. But I feel that education (or the lack of) is the key issue bedevelling the African Continent. To be educated is to be empowered. Having a thorough and comprehensive public-education system is the greatest duty of any developing country. It's even more important than the other essentials of development: roads, rail, potable water and telecommunications.

I'll use Angola and Mali  to show how nations disempower their citizenry through their sinister education-policies (or the lack off). Angola receives anywhere from $50Bil to $75Bil yearly from oil sales, and yet illiteracy -- in that country of 18 million -- is over 50%. Why is this so? Well, Angola's ruling elite knows all-too-well that if literacy rates reached over 90%, then people will be empowered enough to demand more democratic rights and accountability, and that would be the end of the corrupt rule of Angola by a narrow coastal-based elite. So, their solution to this convoluted dichotomy? Kill off the public-education sector and keep the masses in a state of ignorance and misery. That way, they'll never have the wherewithal, the means, to demand for their rights.

In Mali, the noted intellectual Cherif Keita has stated that during the reign of military dictator Moussa Traore, the most determined defiance of his regime came from Mali's public-school educators. So what did the evil dictator do? He deliberately maligned the public-school sector, stripped it of resources, and eventually forced many capable teachers to flee to neighboring countries.

That's how the erstwhile dictator of Mali got rid of his most fierce opposition (and wrecked the future economic prospects of his country in the process). So there it is: Education (or the lack off) is the key in dictating the democratic and economic progress of a country.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mali: The Entente Cordiale Unravels

The Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali, which precipitated the military coup in that country, has finally put to rest the neat arrangement between the British and French in Africa, known as The Entente Cordiale. Well, now there are more players in the game: The Americans, The Chinese, and Militant Islam. 

Militant Islam is in an all-out war for the hearts-and-minds of Muslim West Africa and the Chinese need resources to fuel their economic expansion and new markets for their products. On the other hand, the Americans need to check Chinese interests in Africa; to halt the spread of militant Islam (in their wider "war against terror"); and to supplant the French as the dominant power in French-speaking West Africa. With a Malian military-regime facing its back against the wall, and a Malian populace hungry for Western modernity, the Americans will be free to implant themselves into the Malian political-economic sphere.

The coup in Mali is thus a God-send for the Americans, and they will milk it for all its worth and spread their regional-influence. Add to this are the Malian people themselves, who no longer see France as their dream nation. Now their gaze is turned to America: to Hollywood, to The American-Dream, to the NBA, and to the urban culture of Black-America. 

It's not incidental that coup-leader Sanogo was trained in America and speaks passable English. A generation ago this would have been unthinkable. Many of the new Malian elite are educated in America and are comfortable with English. The days of a neatly-guarded area of West Africa under French control are now truly over and The Entente Cordiale has finally unraveled.

Mali Coup & Elections in Senegal

Being a keen follower of African affairs is likely to give you cardiac arrest. The highs and lows are just too much! Just a week ago I was in the depths of despair after a military coup had toppled Mali's democratically-elected leader, Ahmadou Toumani Toure. I was beside myself with agony, and couldn't believe that such a calamity had befallen one of Africa's democratic success-stories.

From the depths of such lowly despair I was catapulted to giddy exhilaration, only a few days later, when Senegal's octogenarian President, Abdoulaye Wade, gracefully conceded defeat and bowed out of office. Having lost the election he even called the incoming President, Macky Sall, to concede defeat and to wish him well.

To think that I had gone to sleep on the eve of the election having "conceded" the Presidency to the incumbent, President  Wade! I thought that nothing would stop him from "cooking the books" and charging into a third term. But, alas, I had misread the situation on the ground. A unified opposition, a vibrant press and a (somewhat) neutral electoral-commission had ensured the impossibility of President Wade even attempting to "cook the books" and winning at the polls.

Such are the highs-and-lows of observing African-politics; the despair and exhilaration all rolled into one -- enough to give you a massive heart-attack!