“From Whose Decisions to Whose Actions?” Reflections on UNCTAD 14, Youth Participation and Development
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over two weeks since I joined over two hundred youths from all over the world in Nairobi for the Youth Forum of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The conference was aptly themed, “From Decisions to Actions” with an apparent focus on the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the UN in September last year.
As youths, we had been invited for the first time to UNCTAD to contribute to the discourse on the key issues of education, more and better jobs and state accountability, with the ultimate objective of “Shaping the World we Want”. But did we really achieve this goal?
A fortnight after leaving Nairobi, as I look back on what was, without doubt, an enriching experience, I realise that our participation in UNCTAD 14 will surely shape the world we want, but not in the ways we expected when we were selected for the conference and definitely not through the major activities or outcomes that UNCTAD itself organised the youth forum around.
UNCTAD Provided the “Form” for Youth Participation
As is the case with most instances of social exclusion of groups in society, a few years down the line, many might be asking how and why it took most UN bodies like UNCTAD 50-60 years before creating space for youth participation in its discourses. However, UNCTAD deserves commendation for taking the first step in this respect in Nairobi. And this was indeed a first step in most ramifications: the organisation of the youth forum reflected this in the piecemeal manner the agenda and activities were undertaken and in the fact that there was no predetermined plan for youth participation in the main events of the Conference.
But this was a good first step nonetheless. Participation is often comprised of “Form” and “Substance” very much akin to UNCTAD 14’s theme that distinguishes “Decisions” from “Actions”. And by inviting us to Nairobi, UNCTAD had taken a major step in providing the “form” for youth participation in development discourses. It would however be mistaken on our part as youth, and also from UNCTAD’s perspective, to magnify this beyond what it really was: a formal recognition of the role of youth, nothing more; nothing less. Looking back now, I realise we were never really going to change the agenda of UNCTAD or indeed that of the United Nations on the key issues we discussed in Nairobi, neither were we going to significantly impact the policies and programmes of our governments back home with the outcomes of our conversation.
So Where does the “Substance” of Youth Participation Really Rest?
My understanding of the essence of my participation in UNCTAD 14 and positively of youth participation in fora of that nature came full circle in the evening of July 20; the penultimate evening of the youth forum. Due to my research interest, I had been working with the sub-group on state accountability at the forum and on that evening, for about seven hours (5pm to 12 midnight) over fifteen participants drawn from countries as diverse as Uganda, India, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, Namibia, Australia, South Sudan, Great Britain, Dominican Republic, Liechtenstein and Nigeria worked together on what was to be the Youth Declaration on state accountability.
We discussed, argued, voted and reached consensus on the use and expression of paragraphs, sentences and even words as they describe the world we want on the broad range of issues bordering on state accountability.
Back in my room that night, I put down the first thoughts of this reflective piece. The substance of our participation in the forum rests, not in the declaration that was presented to UNCTAD the day after, but rather on what we had made and would eventually make of the space created by UNCTAD for us to meet; to understand the experiences of youth in our various countries, to learn from the process of creating consensus in a room with people from all over the world, to create and sustain life-long networks between ourselves. They were, in reality, the factors that would shape the world we want on the long run.
In a fitting coincidence, shortly after listening to Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of UNCTAD who put together a final cocktail dinner for us on the final day of the forum and to whom we will always be grateful for commissioning the forum in his time, I had a fascinating conversation with one of the delegates, a young artist from South Africa. She took the trouble to explain how her art was all about providing spaces for people to meet, to dialogue and create connections. She convinced me never to disregard the importance of such spaces in fostering good in the world. And so we must all recognise and appreciate UNCTAD for providing such a global space for us to meet.
Going Forward: Bridging the Gap From Decisions to Actions
Like artistic spaces, neoliberal theorists often argue that government should have as limited a role as possible in the economy, by concerning itself only with creating an enabling room for private enterprise to thrive. In the same vein, how we thrive as youth with the space provided us by UNCTAD is left to us. It is our prerogative now to use this space to continue the conversation, to forge a common voice and demand for more spaces, to proffer and build solutions and thereby bridge the time-lapse between decisions and actions as the world moves towards realising the SDGs.
To create the needed impact therefore, our approach has to look beyond just influencing how governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions move from decisions to actions, to how we can make use of the spaces created to reach our decisions and take our actions and shape the world we want in the process.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Without a doubt, the biggest news out of the African continent in last couple of days is the decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, declaring that the President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla. The lavish improvements which Zuma must now pay for in the coming months include a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken run, amounting to over $15 million.
With the opposition now calling for the impeachment of Zuma following the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is safe to say that the story of this scandal which has dragged on for some time is not over yet. In the meantime, for those interested in issues of governance, it is imperative to highlight some very significant issues and lessons for the much talked about fight against corruption in South Africa and indeed other countries in the continent. A comparative analysis of the framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria and South Africa shall highlight these issues.
Independence of Anti-Corruption Authorities -Appointment and Removal
The headlines for the decision in Zuma’s case has been mostly about the Constitutional Court and rightly so. The bold decision of the court re-emphasizes the strategic nature of its role in democratic societies. However, the role of the Public Prosecutor should be getting as much or even more acclaim. The Court itself emphasized this point when it noted that the public prosecutor is “the embodiment of a biblical David that the public is, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath, that impropriety and corruption by government officials are“. This metaphor could not be any more apt considering this case was against the president of the country. Rare as this case is, it is no coincidence considering the independence of the office of the public prosecutor guaranteed under the constitutional and legal framework in South Africa.
Under Article 193 of the South African Constitution, the appointment of the public prosecutor is made by the president on the recommendation of the National Assembly. The latter is required to only recommend persons nominated by a committee of the Assembly proportionally composed of members of all parties represented in the Assembly and approved by 60 percent members. Based on Article 194, The Public Prosecutor can also only be removed on a finding by a committee of the National Assembly establishing grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. The National Assembly is then required to adopt a resolution supported by at least two thirds of members calling for the removal from office of the public prosecutor.
By comparison, the heads of the two strategic anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria -the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – are simply required to be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Senate. On removal, whilst an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate is required for the president to remove the head of the ICPC, the head of the EFCC can solely be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misconduct or if the president is satisfied that it is in the interest of the Commission or the public that he be so removed.
Why This Matters?
In the course of the Nkandla scandal, President Zuma utilized every possible political office and tool that owes him allegiance including the Minister of Police and Parliament, where his party the ANC holds a majority, to exonerate himself. And he probably would have succeeded, but for the courage and persistence of the public prosecutor. The fact that the president plays a rather peripheral role in her appointment and removal offered her the requisite security and therefore independence to carry out her duties without fear of removal or being influenced.
This is a far cry from the situation in Nigeria where the President plays a dominant role in the appointment and removal of heads of anti-corruption authorities and therefore displays very obvious and over-bearing influence over their activities. The fact that prospective and serving presidents in Nigeria have over the years made themselves spokesmen for anti-corruption agencies by promising to prosecute certain individuals or investigate certain issues makes a whole mockery of anti-corruption efforts. In countries that deal with systemic corruption, especially within the executive, the best a chief executive can and should be required to do is guarantee the independence of anti-corruption authorities and allow them do their work.
It may be argued that irrespective of the procedure for appointment and removal of heads of antic-corruption bodies, such individuals can still demonstrate seriousness in investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials and institutions once appointed. While this may be true, it leaves open the question of the fairness and impartiality with which they carry out their functions. This is a question that continues to bedevil the actions of anti-corruption authorities and the overall anti-corruption regime in Nigeria. Even the much acclaimed efforts of Nuhu Ribadu who was head of the EFCC under President Obasanjo were later ridiculed by claims of overwhelming influence by the President leading to selective prosecution of public officials.
It is difficult to envisage any circumstance where any of the numerous anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria will be able to hold a serving president of the country accountable for corruption under the current legal framework, and if we cannot guarantee that everyone is indeed equal before the law in this regard, then anti-corruption efforts in the country will continue in the realm of politics, instead of being about public resources, people, rights and development.
The first lesson from the Zuma case is therefore that granting independence to anti-corruption authorities is a prerequisite for any viable anti-corruption effort. It is time for Nigeria and other countries with similar legal frameworks to amend their laws accordingly.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On Tuesday 8th March, the world marked International Women’s Day 2016: Various events were held in New York, Geneva, Ethiopia and elsewhere, numerous speeches made, Facebook posts and tweets put up and somewhere in the National Assembly in Nigeria, a Senator moved a motion asking Nigerian men to marry more wives, claiming that “the first care of a woman is marriage” and that marrying more than one wife is “a sign of respect for women”
Although the motion did not go through, and some might claim that it should be taken in good humour, it is important to note that this was taking place just a few days after another senator had, with benighted pride, referred to the need to marry Nigerian wives as a way of patronizing “made in Nigeria” products. There is absolute nothing funny in either the inapt coincidence of these statements made on the floor of the Senate or indeed in the timing.
What concerns me most however is the fact that other rational senators in the National Assembly did not speak up against these statements on the floor of the Senate, and as usual, most reactions condemning these statements came from women or women groups, with men satisfied to play a neutral role on issues bordering on gender equality once again. As considerable strides are being made all over the continent to secure the rights and protect the interests of women at political and institutional levels, perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle is the emergence of male champions for gender equality.
CELEBRATING THE PROGRESS MADE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA
In the last couple of decades, considerable progress has been made on gender equality in Africa. Facts show that, as of February 2016, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world with women constituting 63.8% of members of its lower house and 10 of the 26 members of the upper house. The top ten countries in this respect also include Senegal (ranked 6th) and South Africa (ranked 8). Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America lie at an abysmal 48 and 95 respectively. Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi are also in the top 20 in the ranking of countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions. The use of quota systems in most countries has been instrumental to making these gains.
At an institutional level, the African Union declared the years 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s Decade, with 2016 in particular being the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women. In 2015, the African Development Bank Group produced the first African Gender Equality Index offering “a snapshot of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women” with the major objective of providing the needed findings that will spur leaders, policymakers and civil society to start dismantling the barriers preventing women from contributing fully to the continent’s development.
These institutional efforts have also translated to reasonable success on the ground. Statistics show that between 1990 and 2011, almost 20 African countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment, with others making good progress. There has been a 47 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates with similar progress in other areas like employment and access to healthcare.
However, most studies show that a lot still needs to be done in furtherance of gender equality on the continent. There is a palpable disparity in progress made between different countries in the continent on most of the issues mentioned above. But perhaps more importantly, there is still the prevalence of religion and culture-based prejudices against women in most countries; prejudices that are echoed in the statements of the senators referred to at the start.
GENDER EQUALITY: A MATTER OF NATURAL JUSTICE AS WELL AS DEVELOPMENT
The fact that most men are content playing a passive role on the issue of gender equality is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the foundations and ramifications of gender equality in society. This explains why, even though the right to equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex is guaranteed in most constitutions, most men would show indifference to this right, in comparison to discrimination on grounds of colour, religion or ethnicity for instance. It is hypocritical that men would take a stand on discrimination in society on almost everything else, but not the institutionalized discrimination of women in their homes and offices and places of worship.
Discrimination against women, like any other form of discrimination questions the very conception of justice in society, but it also has ramifications for development in the continent. Women have always been economically active in Africa, albeit often as farmers and petty entrepreneurs, and in these roles they continue to contribute enormously to the welfare and life prospects of their families and children in particular. But this is changing slowly as women are beginning to occupy strategic roles in both the public and private sectors, and as the continent strives to harness its resources for development, bridging the gender gap and unleashing the full potential of women political, socially and economically could yield profound and enduring results for development on the continent.
In the light of this, the conversation on gender equality needs to progress from connotations of social norms, cultural formations and spirituality, traditional or otherwise: It is an issue of justice in society and like most issues of a similar nature in society, indifference on its own perpetrates the injustice. The patriarchal nature of present-day society mean that, without the involvement of men, progress on gender equality will continue to saunter. This is true in Africa, as it is in every other part of the world. The United Nations #HEFORSHE campaign was initiated in recognition of the important role of men in attaining gender equality.
There are fewer ways for us to be champions to our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives and our nieces that to play our role in creating a just society where they can all ‘equally’ realize their full potential and contribute to development in society, than in advocating for gender equality. This is my #PledgeforParity. Over to You…
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On the 5th February 2016, the Supreme court in Nigeria dismissed an appeal by the Senate President of the country, Bukola Saraki, paving the way for his trial on corruption charges to commence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The widely anticipated decision of the apex court was considered a victory for anticorruption efforts in the country, at least in the interim. There were however a notable number of Nigerians who felt that the decision was yet another step in the unfolding persecution of the senate president through prosecution.
The background to the latter view arises from the dramatic emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President in June 2015, against the apparent dictates of the Presidency and the top hierarchy of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Since his emergence, Saraki has had to deal with different corruption-related accusations against his person or close relatives and allies, including his wife Toyin Saraki.
Justified or not, Saraki’s recent travails with anticorruption agencies have led to the inevitable impression that they are not unconnected with his political squabbles with the Presidency and the leadership of his party. This is more so, considering the crux of the charges against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has to do with assets declaration made by him whilst serving as Governor of a State dating as far back as 2003 and never brought up until now. Furthermore, there are sixteen former governors in the current Senate of Nigeria, most of whom have long-standing accusations and even cases already instituted against them by anticorruption agencies. None of these accusations or cases have received the attention and diligence that has been accorded Saraki’s case.
Persecutory Prosecution – Does it Matter?
This situation leads to a number of salient questions that have ramifications for the anticorruption regime in Nigeria and elsewhere: would Saraki be on trial today if he had not fallen out with his party’s hierarchy? Corollary to this in broader terms is the fundamental question as to whether it matters at all if a person is facing prosecution for corruption as a result of political persecution. Does the motive behind the prosecution even matter if at the end of the day, the person being prosecuted is proven to be corrupt? Does the end not justify the means? To what extent should the ordinary citizen be concerned about the motives and processes that lead to the prosecution of corrupt public officials, as long as they are prosecuted and punished?
Experience around the world has shown that fighting corruption is no easy task. The global framework for anticorruption in the last couple of decades continue to emphasize the importance of strong governance institutions to eradicating corruption. However, the situation in countries like Nigeria and a few other developing countries who have made reasonable strides in establishing such institutions but not achieved commensurate reduction in levels of corruption, reiterate the importance of political will in the fight against corruption
Can Political Will to Fight Corruption be Apolitical?
Political will in this context presupposes, not just the will to fight corruption, but to do so impartially and with due regard for the rule. The latter is a factor that has been pointed to severally since the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari began in May 2015. Having being elected on the principal promise of fighting corruption, the government has apparently taken some steps to enunciate its commitment to fighting corruption. However, the manner in which it has gone about this, as displayed in Saraki’s case, has also led to concerns about the neutrality of the fight against corruption and its regard for the rule of law.
This has created a very complicated situation for ordinary Nigerians and observers. Haven cried foul over the lack of political will to fight corruption for a long time, should the efforts of a leader who seemingly possesses the will to do so be criticized due to perceptions of partiality in his efforts? Provided those who are prosecuted are corrupt, I guess many persons would care less about the motives behind such prosecution – political or otherwise. It would however be a very different situation where the person being prosecuted is innocent and is only being persecuted as part of a political agenda, and that is where the danger lies.
Until then, very few people would be ready to play a pivotal role in detracting the most serious commitment yet by a leader to fight corruption in the country. The perception that corruption is the biggest challenge to development is widespread and perpetuated both within and outside the country. In that light, it would appear that most persons would not mind sacrificing secondary issues like neutrality and even the rule of law, provided the fight against corruption is on full throttle.
Issues like political interference in the work of institutions like anticorruption agencies and the rule of law however, do have ramifications beyond just anticorruption and determine whether the fight against corruption is sustained over time or continues to oscillate depending on who is in control of state power. Nigeria and other countries in a similar situation will have to decide the trade-offs and determine where the right balance lies.
The 26th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly came to a conclusion last week with few resolutions and many questions left unanswered on the most pressing issues facing the continent.
The Summit aptly declared 2016 the “African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”. Even though progress is still required, celebrating human rights in the course of the year on the continent will be more about creating opportunities to consolidate on the gains made in this area over the years. Granting particular attention to specific integral areas like the rights of women will go a long way in deepening the human rights culture on the continent and is therefore a commendable theme. As much as headlines go however, this was as much as consensus and conclusiveness went at the end of the Summit.
Dialogue Over Intervention in Burundi
Prior to the Summit, there was a lot of expectation on what the decision of the AU would be on the situation in Burundi. This was heightened by Burundi’s forthright dismissal of plans by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to deploy Peacekeeping troops to the country which was announced in December. The slow but steady deterioration of the situation in Burundi is one that has lingered and this Summit provided the AU an opportunity to take a decisive step towards ending the crisis before it plunges the country into another civil war.
But this was not the case. The Summit ended with AU leaders effectively shelving the planned deployment of peacekeeping troops to the country, electing instead to send a delegation to try and negotiate peace. This is perhaps in the hope that the AU would succeed were regional leaders in East Africa have failed. Nkurunziza’s stance so far since the issue of his intention to run for a third term ignited protests in the country, makes it difficult to be hopeful on the prospects of negotiated peace in Burundi, without some form of external pressure; one that the AU appears quite uncertain of applying at the moment.
Consensus in Call for Withdrawal from ICC
The most interesting headline following the conclusion of the Summit was that of the consideration of a mass withdrawal by African countries from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma announced that his country was reviewing its participation in the Rome State, whilst his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta claimed that he has been “distracted from the duty to serve” by the constant harassment of his government by the ICC. But the debate on the perceived persecution of African countries by the ICC is a long-standing one and looking at the facts, there are justifiable grounds for African leaders to be concerned. Since its establishment in 2002, about 23 cases across nine countries have been brought before the ICC, with eight of those being African countries, including Sudan and Libya who are non-member states. In the past, leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda have referred to the ICC as a fraudulent institution and Jean Ping, a former Chairman of the African Union Commission was quoted as having questioned why countries like Argentina, Myanmar and even Iraq have not had leaders brought before the ICC.
It would appear that the spotting resentment towards the ICC by African leaders is moving towards a consensus that will have quite revealing ramifications for the work of the ICC considering Africa with 34 states is the continent with the highest number of signatories. This situation must however be interpreted with caution. Apart from Kenya which voted to withdraw from the ICC in 2013 and South Africa that has commenced the process of withdrawing shortly after the Summit last week, most countries who are signatories to the Rome Statute are yet to take any serious step towards withdrawal and even when they do, the process would take a couple of years to conclude. It also remains to be seen how many leaders will be willing and able to maintain their stand when external forces start exerting pressure.
Are there any Positives?
Many persons including the exiled leader of the opposition FRODEBU party in Burundi Jean Minani expressed disappointment at the decision of the AU not to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi at the end of the summit. He claimed that the action of the AU amounted to turning their backs on the people of Burundi whilst the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza continues with the systemic persecution of the opposition in the country.
However, the decision of the AU to first explore dialogue as a means of ending the crisis is one that must be commended, albeit to an extent. Considering the history of disastrous military interventions in countries in various parts of the world at different times, it does make some sense for the AU to show caution in situations like this. Interventions should indeed be employed only as a last resort. The recent successful efforts by West African leaders to negotiate a peaceful transition in Burkina Faso provide reasons to be optimistic about the decision of the AU to explore dialogue as a solution to the situation in Burundi. Hopefully the high-level delegation of leaders from Mauritania, South Africa, Senegal, Gabon and Ethiopia can prevail on Nkurunziza’s government to respect the sovereignty of his people in the same way as the AU has shown respect for the sovereignty of Burundi.
In the following months and years, it will become more apparent if African countries are really serious about withdrawing from the ICC. Whether or not they do, the fact that the issue is now on the front burner of discourses emerging from an AU summit must be considered a positive development overall. But the rhetoric and the discourse is only a start; one that is long overdue.
So often leaders, activists and academics alike have cried foul about the unfairness, insensitivity and inappropriateness of western-driven solutions for problems facing African countries, without proffering viable alternatives. With respect to the ICC and the prosecution of leaders and individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, reference has often being made to efforts to establish an African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights as an alternative to the ICC. But operationalising this court is still a distant possibility and the current legal framework for its establishment has some drawbacks that mean it might not provide a comprehensive lasting alternative to the ICC.
The 26th AU Summit has indeed raised many questions, rather than providing many answers. Afrocentrics can however celebrate the fact that some important questions are now being posed, the answers to which will have important ramifications for the pride and people of the continent.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
In case anyone missed it, Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who plays his club football as a striker for Borussia Dortmund in Germany won this year’s CAF African Footballer of the Year Award; deservedly so too. But unfortunately the headlines following the award ceremony were all about the runner-up, Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure.
In expressing his anger at loosing out on the award which would have been his fifth consecutive CAF African Footballer of the Year Award, Toure resorted to using words and expressions that should be a cause of concern for anyone interested in the perennial controversial issue of portraying the most appropriate image of the continent of Africa and the ramifications of such portrayal.
“Sad”, “lamentable”, “indecent” and “pathetic” were just some of the words Toure used to express his feelings about loosing out on the award. But there was more. According to him, “This is what makes the shame of Africa. To behave in this way is indecent! But what can we do? We Africans, we do not show that Africa is important to us”.
Why This is All Disturbing
Firstly, it must be stated that there is nothing wrong in expressing your feelings about not winning an award. Any rational competitive person in Toure’s shoes should be expected to state their disappointment and work harder to win the next. We have seen Messi and Ronaldo, whom Toure himself referred to in his infamous interview, do that in the last decade or so with the Ballon d’Or. However the manner in which Toure has gone about expressing himself leaves a lot to be desired.
At a sporting level, Toure’s words show an absolute lack of respect for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who won the award, Andre Ayew of Ghana who came third behind Toure and all other African professional footballers. To assume that he is most deserving of the award for a fifth year in a row and failing to recognise the talent and efforts of his peers smacks of a repulsive lack of humility and sportsmanship that has no place in the beautiful game of football.
But if this was all of it, then I would not have spent precious time writing a piece on this issue. After all, this is a player who in May 2014 at the age of 31 ridiculously created a lot of fuss about leaving his club, Manchester City for the failure of the club to mark his birthday “sufficiently”, and only recently took out time to hit out at “disgusting” critics or “beasts” who question his performance this season. To say that he could have acted otherwise in these situations is probably subject to debate; one that I am not inclined to engaging in here and now.
Ramifications of Toure’s Words in the Bigger Picture
His latest interview however appears to suggest that Yaya Toure is either unaware of his position as an ambassador firstly for the people of Ivory Coast and for the continent of Africa in the bigger picture, or he has simply chosen to ignore it. Or perhaps, he just does not understand the ramifications of his words and actions. Whatever the case, to use his failure to win a personal award to cast aspersion on a whole continent is simply inexcusable.
The power of the game of football to promote peace, unity, development and other positives in society is well established. In fact Yaya Toure himself is a Global Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with a particular focus on protecting endangered species like elephants on the continent. However by stating in his interview, and in the third-person too, that “Yaya will look after himself, and let Africa look after itself”, he displays a palpable hypocrisy as an ambassador working for a positive cause in the continent.
His words reiterate the regrettable trend of celebrities and wealthy people using their fame and position to display an ill-informed and displaced concern for the ‘exoticness” of the continent of Africa without the slightest understanding of its people, its history, its successes and real challenges. Only this time it was coming from someone who is African!
Changing the wrong perception of Africa is a challenge that is as serious as any: one that some would argue is over-flogged and yet quite saddening when confronted by. Even now, it is an unbelievably usual occurrence to meet youths from Europe and other parts of the world whose only knowledge of the continent of Africa is about famine and wars and diseases like Malaria and Ebola. The challenge is real but progress is being made. Changing this wrong perception and portrayal is pivotal and this is where global stars like Yaya Toure can be most instrumental.
Alas, at a time when the footballing world is trying to get its head around the corruption scandal rocking FIFA, Toure’s decides to extol “even FIFA” with all its “history of corruption” over the process of awarding the African Footballer of the Year. As I noted earlier, whether Toure’s claims in his outburst are justified or not is secondary, a person in his position should not be the one assisting to smoulder further the image of Africa as if dealign with the ignorance of many in the West and the prejudices of the media is not difficult enough already.
What Being an Ambassador for Africa Entails
Instead of being concerned with crying foul over a personal award, I reckon his time and resources will be best utilised in making a positive impact in his country and possibly beyond. If confused, he can get inspiration and insights from his countryman, Didier Drogba who used his position as footballer to bring peace to a country at war and continues to do wonderful things in Ivory Coast and beyond in confronting the real challenges faced on the continent.
In some way, we are all ambassadors of our individual countries and of Africa. Whilst we progressively confront our challenges, we owe it to ourselves to project a positive image of our homeland at a time when headlines are more receptive of the bad than the good.
Yaya Toure claims that he has often being told that he “shouldn’t worry too much about Africa, because Africa will be the first to let you down”. Well, I am not sure who he is talking to and what continent his informants are from. But anyone who is enlightened would realise that there is hardly a continent flowing with milk and honey these days. I hope that when the dust settles, he would come to the realize how much he has let Africa down.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It is almost impossible to go through any material on development in Africa without coming across the word corruption. Hardly any speech on development of countries in Africa would come to an end without the mention of the “C” word. It is the go-to word, the toast of academics, analysts, practitioners, politicians, anyone really. In fact, irrespective of the country or sector you are interested in on the continent, when asked what the major challenge is, you cannot go wrong by starting your answer with the almighty “C” word. Anything else comes after the big “C”.
However in a continent where most countries multi-ethnic and are still grappling with achieving sustainable economic growth in an unfair global trading system, maintaining political stability, confronting terrorism and other security challenges and dealing with social inequities, amongst others, is corruption the only impediment to development in countries in Africa? In fact, is it even the major challenge?
The current state of the discourse on the subject or corruption in Africa is a demonstration of how the narrative of a subject can so easily be refashioned and redirected with reckless abandon. Until the famous speech of the then president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 1996 when he referred to the cancer of corruption as a major barrier to development which had to be dealt with urgently, corruption was considered one of the many challenges to development. As far back as 1988, the Africa Leadership Forum identified some of these challenges to include capacity building, food security, efficiency of trade investments, regional and sub-regional economic integration, food security, inequality and poverty.
Post-1996, following Wolfensohn’s speech at the annual general meeting of the World bank, the Bank and other financial institutions have led the way in making corruption the major focus of development efforts. Budgets for good governance-related development assistance has burgeoned at an alarming rate. Everyone else has followed and there are no signs of this narrative and therefore focus dwindling anytime soon.
Elections in most countries in Africa are growingly becoming about corruption and little more else. The most recent presidential elections in Nigeria provides a perfect example with the opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari essentially riding to power on the promise of eradicating corruption. Very few appeared to have taken note that the election was held at a time when the economy of Nigeria was in dire straits following the slump in oil prices, the value of its currency was also in free-fall and its economic prospects for the rest of the year, at least, looked uncertain. All these challenges were however overshadowed by the issue of corruption. That Nigerians elected Buhari is yet another indication of the popular belief that the end of corruption would automatically translate to development. The economic woes of the country remain and four months after the election, there are no indications in terms of policy to steer the country to economic safety.
It would be foolhardy to deny the importance of fighting corruption in countries in Africa. However, doing so at the expense of most other pivotal issues challenging development on the continent might prove to be even more costly than corruption itself on the long run. The challenges identified by the Africa Leadership Forum referred to above remain relevant and visible today on the continent as they were decades ago, and whereas fighting corruption is intrinsically linked to solving some of them, most others have little or nothing to do with the corruption. Questions are being raised on whether some African countries have even successfully shaken off their colonial legacies and how this might be impacting on their development. More global issues impeding development of countries on the continent like the unfair imbalance in the multilateral trading system under the WTO also continue to impede meaningful economic growth.
The majority of people who prioritize the fight against corruption appear caught up in the challenge of deciphering the myth and the reality about the prevalence of corruption on the continent. Between the consistent headlines and sleek research findings of organisations like Transparency International, it is hard to criticise their conviction.
But it is time for African countries to recognise the fact that achieving sustainable development and having a chance of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of development goes beyond just fighting corruption. Ignoring the many other equally vital issues would be at the peril of countries on the continent. Those who succeed in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption, might just wake up to the fact that corruption was probably just a little more than a needle in a haystack in this prodigious field of development.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria has been hailed as the most free and fair election yet, that the country has witnessed since its return to democracy in 1999. Apart from the conduct of the election, the actions and reactions of the major contending political parties and especially of their presidential candidates have made headlines around the world. As expected, the encomiums have been pouring in from all over the world. But do these headlines tell the whole story about the just concluded elections in the most populous black country in the world? Is Nigeria, by the singular fact of this election, now a model of democracy in Africa? Has it now heaved out the many demons that have bedevilled its democracy up until this moment? Is Nigeria now strategically placed to achieve development through democratic governance?
The Significant Positives
It is beyond doubt that there are many positives to draw from the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria. It was freer and fairer than any previously conducted in the country. Despite the many challenges, the use of card readers and permanent voter cards during the election was itself a milestone which, if leveraged upon, provides a lot of promise for future elections in the country.
Perhaps the most positive development for which the 2015 presidential elections would be remembered is the phone call by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan to the winner Muhammadu Buhari, conceding defeat and congratulating the latter, even before the results had been officially announced by the electoral body. This action was surprising as it was unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and indeed of the continent of Africa. It left the opposition shocked, and the supporters of the president overwhelmed. The ghosts of post-election violence that was predicted were immediately expelled even before they had a chance to surface. The country got the praise for it. Democracy got the medal, and in the midst of all this, it could easily be forgotten that this was the singular act of one man, not his party, or his supporters; I doubt if any of these groups would have approved. Whether or not the opposition would have done the same is anyone’s guess, but no harm done. The country is peaceful, and our ratings for democratic governance for 2015 would skyrocket when they are released, no doubt.
There are however many salient trends that emerged from the elections that have the potential of detracting rather than enhancing democratic governance in Nigeria; trends which should probably be making headlines too, or at least providing a cause of worry for Nigerians, and everyone else who is interested, or at least claims to be interested in strengthening democracy and achieving development in the country.
The Underlying Blindspots
A look at the above map showing the voting pattern by states in the country, show the deep lying divisions in Nigeria. These divisions are not based on progressive factors like performance of current and past governments or on levels of development in various parts of the country. They are rather drawn clearly on religious and ethnic lines. To deny this palpable fact would mean adhering to sheer hypocrisy. The muslim-dominated northern states voted en masse for Muhammadu Buhari who is a muslim, whilst the largely christian southern states did the same for Goodluck Jonathan, a christian. The BBC graphically portrayed the ethnic colouration of the election when it reported that the election was a tale of two hats: one representing the north, the other representing the south. It has not been this obvious for a long time. There were a few variations here and there, but these were way too insignificant in the context of strengthening democratic tenets in the country. The voting pattern makes vivid ethnic and religious lines that are deeply rooted in the history of the country’s unpleasant past; lines that are best forgotten in the best interest of everyone.
The UNESCO International Panel on Democracy and Development (IPDD) in 2002, highlighted a number of factors in its proceedings which aptly describe the concerns for democratic governance in Nigeria as revealed by the 2015 presidential elections in the country:
“A democratic society should be aware of three potential pitfalls. First, the domination of the majority does not constitute democracy. Minority groups deserve representation and without it, democratic governance is simply a tyranny of the majority. Second, minority political representation in and of itself does not guarantee harmony and in some cases can exacerbate problems. Finally, despite a need for cultural diversity in politics, minority status should not be the basis for access to power. That is, ethnicity, cultural and religious ties should not be prerequisites to political power”
The reality of the above truths, do not only define the just concluded election, but aptly describe the democratic culture of Nigeria from a broad perspective. It provides insights on how Goodluck Jonathan, a minority, became president of the country in the first place, and why he had to contend with many issues such as Boko Haram throughout the duration of his tenure.
In just over a month, the opposition party in Nigeria, the APC will officially become the ruling party. It promised change to Nigerians. The most significant and perhaps most challenging change it can deliver to Nigerians would be to change the democratic culture of the country. This is the only way it can consolidate on the gains that have been made so far in terms of entrenching democratic practices in the country. Democratic governance cannot thrive or be sustained along the path it is threading currently in Nigeria.
Although some may not agree with this, in my reckoning, it fell to the predisposition and strength of character of one leader to provide the framework which allowed the opposition in the country to thrive without harassment or intimidation, to ensure that free and fair elections take place, to concede defeat without compulsion, thereby saving the lives of many Nigerians and perhaps the very existence of democratic governance in Nigeria. In doing so, he allayed the fears of many, and made Nigeria a beacon of pride for democracy in Africa.
Post May 29, 2015, it would ultimately fall to yet another man to build on these milestones. Whatever his agenda is for anticorruption, for socio-economic development and the many other things that would foster development in the country, establishing a truly democratic culture in Nigeria has to be an objective as significant as any other. Until this is achieved, it is probably too early for Nigerians to start counting their blessings as a country.
On the 20th of November, 2014, images emerged of federal legislators in Nigeria viciously attempting to scale a fence which was ironically supposed to protect the parliament from the less privileged citizens outside. I give a lot of credit to the least responsible but smart and fit few who actually succeeded in getting over the fence to the other sides. Less credit to those who, for obvious reasons not unconnected to the effects of their wealth on their mortal bodies, only thrived in shouting and shaking the locked gates to the federal legislature. The reasons for this rather disgraceful act and the justifications of it remain a subject of public debate. I do not consider joining that debate as worthwhile, so I won’t.
However, coming across those images recently, got me thinking about the concept of gatekeeping and the impact of gatekeepers on political leadership in various countries in Africa. In an academic context, gatekeeping refers to the process through which information is filtered through various channels before dissemination. Although the term was coined by Kurt Lewin in the field of psychology in 1947, the term has come to be associated with a lot of concepts in different fields – sociology, communications and political science, amongst others.
With regard to politics, gatekeepers are individuals and institutions that control access to positions of power and regulate the flow of information and political influence in a particular society. It would not be too so much of an exaggeration to say that gatekeepers are ubiquitous in countries in Africa, and everywhere else in the world. For instance, Seth Masket wrote of the effect of gatekeepers politics in America in a recent book. His study found that the backgrounds of people involved in local politics in California showed that lawyers and businesspeople who are usually strong potential candidates had no real advantage over anyone else due to the phenomenon of gatekeeping. Consequently, the people who appeared to have electoral advantages were those who worked for officeholders, are related to officeholders or have ties to political organisations and interest groups – the gatekeepers.
Recently, there has been growing interest on the impact of gatekeepers in politics in countries in Africa. Henning Melber’s book, Understanding Namibia: The Trials of Independence describes Namibia as a ‘Gatekeeper State’ – a term that is slowly beginning to catch on, whilst Alexander Beresford’s paper, Power, Patronage and Gatekeeper Politics in South Africa explores the operation of gatekeeping within the ruling party, ANC in South Africa. But what exactly is the impact of these gatekeepers, more popularly described as ‘patrons’ or ‘godfathers’.
Studies show that gatekeepers can actually use their position and power for positive purposes. For instance, gatekeeping can be used for the preservation of cultural values in society, as well as effecting positive cultural change. In an ideal situation, gatekeepers can also ensure the enthronement of responsible leadership in countries whilst simultaneously preventing corrupt and inept individuals from gaining entrance to political offices.
However, the role of gatekeepers in politics is probably best known for negatives rather than the seemingly idyllic positives just discussed. The political elite in most countries have constituted themselves into informal gatekeeping networks and with the use of formal institutions, perpetrated themselves in office – offices that are repeated abused through mismanagement and corruption. Amongst other things, the phenomenon of gatekeepers blame-worthy for the relatively small number of women in politics, the dearth of intellectual and charismatic leaders and the palpable lack of youthful leaders in countries. It is estimated that the average age of serving presidents and leaders in African countries is 61, compared to 59 in North and South America, and 55 in Europe. This does not howbeit tell the whole story when you consider how long most leaders in Africa have actually being in office.
Beyond this, perhaps the most significant by-product of gatekeepers is the stifling of innovation in leadership. With the ultimate aim of cleaving to power, gatekeepers are prone to being suspect of new ideas and change generally which may have the effect of loosening their hold on power either in the short or long-term. There is little wonder that the wave of innovation in technology and business and other sectors of society is being driven by the private sector with little or no input on the part of political leadership.
For development to thrive in countries in the continent, much attention needs to be given to the phenomenon of gatekeeping and how best to shut out the gatekeepers. The most obvious option is perhaps to break down the gates in totality. This will invariably require revolutionary stands and actions. Irrespective of the pros and cons of this response to gatekeeping, it has always been my belief that revolutions are self-fulfilling and would occur if and when they will. Forcing them to fruition is probably not advisable most times.
This leaves the dual option of avoiding the gates, thereby making them irrelevant whilst building new gates, new inroads to power. As the citizenry in different countries become more enlightened and economically independent, they will inevitably become more responsive to individual political manifestos and qualities and vote based on these, rather than voting based on political party affiliations alone. In time, the influence of gatekeepers which is often brought to bear through political parties will wane – in fact studies show that this is already the case in some countries.
Furthermore, valuable lessons can be learnt with regard to the creation of new inroads to power from the recently concluded elections in Greece, where the anti-austerity Syriza party won at the polls by campaigning basically through social media, blogs and other online resources. This method was adopted to bypass the impact of the gatekeepers in the country who had control over mainstream media and other conventional means of campaigning.
The entrenched nature of gatekeeping in politics in countries in Africa means that ‘keeping out the gatekeepers’ will not be achieved overnight. The imperative to produce knowledgeable and honest leaders that will drive development in countries in the continent however requires that the process commences in earnest.