Tag Archives: Thinking and Talking Africa

The Jacob Zuma Corruption Case: Anti-Corruption Lessons for African Countries (Part 2)

By Matthew Ayibakuro

constitution-clipart-constitution

It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly.  This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.

Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this.  That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999.  The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.

Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.

Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal

Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries.  The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.

In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners.  The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption.  Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.

After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.

The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption.  The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution.  In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.

More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions.  It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully.  And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed.  Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.

The South Africa Model

South Africa provides a good model in this regard.  Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.

Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution.  Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.

In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions.  Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.

Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.

 

 

The Questions in the Answers from the 26th African Union Summit 2016.

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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.

 

 

 

Why Yaya Toure’s “Shaming” of Africa Has Ramifications Beyond A Football Award

By Matthew Ayibakuro

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Yaya Toure receiving the first of his four CAF African Footballer of the Year Awards in 2011.

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.

 

 

 

IS CORRUPTION REALLY THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES?

By Matthew Ayibakuro 

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, with countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt. Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, showing countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt (coloured red). Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

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.

BETWEEN BUHARI’S WISH LIST AND KENYATTA’S RALLYING CALL: WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON AID?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Last month Germany hosted the meeting of the Group of Seven countries, often referred to as the G7 Summit.  These countries consider themselves the most powerful industrialised countries in the World.  It used to be group of eight of course, but Russia is suspended.  The merits of this group in world order and its legacy remains debatable; a debate that I do not wish to engage in at the moment.  But every now and then, certain countries are invited to dine with this group of the high and mighty.  This year Nigeria was was one of the fortunate chosen ones.

Of course Nigeria had to consider itself one of the charmed ones going to the G7 Summit, especially at this point in time.  After all, it is the newest darling of the democracy-crazy west.  The country had just concluded general elections where the ruling party had been toppled by an opposition party that had not only won the elections, but did so with a campaign strategy shaped by western consultants.  These G7 countries could not have wished for a better scenario.  Even before his inauguration, President Buhari was the guest of David Cameron to Downing Street, where the Nigerian leader promised, amongst other things, to do all he could to secure his country’s borders, thereby ensuring that Britain would not have to deal with the infestation of African migrants to Europe. This is very crucial to Cameron’s commitment to limit migration to Britain at all costs.

And by the way, that is apart from the fact that he remains very committed to aiding development in Nigeria and Africa in general.  Britain is one of only a handful of countries that fulfils the target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on aid every year.  So, in the same vein, shortly after the inauguration of President Buhari, the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond who was in Abuja for the ceremony, told the President that they were ‘waiting for his list’ of things he needs help with at the G7 summit.  Helping in this way is better, certainly more convenient.  Why deal with a problem on anyone’s terms when you can do it on your terms?  That would be irrational, stupid even.

Buhari’s Wish List and Kenyatta’s Rallying Call

Thus, the expression of the President of Nigeria going to the G7 summit with a “wish list” was born.  I found it amusingly theatric the first time I read about the wish list.  It reminded me of a scene from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I could almost visualise the G7 leaders seated around a table like Don Corleone and then President Buhari walks in expectant and respectful.  He would then speak in low tones about how he needed this for that and that for this.  He would explain how this person was the hindrance and that situation was the problem.   The G7 leaders would nod with empathy and say words like, “We will help you.  Just make sure you do not do this and that.  It is bad for the business of the family and our partners”.  Buhari agrees and everyone comes out with smiling faces for the cameras.  Back in Nigeria, Buhari extols the ‘tremendous sympathy’ of the G7 for the region.

I wonder what faces they would have had on when just a couple of days later, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta made a rallying call for African leaders to give up aid, as “the future of our continent cannot be left to the good graces of outside interests”.  This contrast of opinions and approach from leaders of two of the biggest countries on the continent tells a bigger story.  Between Buhari’s wish list for help and Kenyatta’s rallying call for an end to aid, one wonders what exactly is the strategy of African leaders for aid, and if there is even one at all?

What is the Strategy of African Countries on Aid?

There is a large amount of literature on development assistance.  There are those who call for an end to aid like Kenyatta.  Others criticise the practice of conditionality that accompanies aid, whilst yet others who support conditionality, go further to argue that the conditions are often the wrong ones or that they are not monitored or implemented properly.   The one homogenous feature of all these opinions is the fact that they all talk about the strategy of donor institutions and countries.  There is little or no talk about the strategy of recipient countries.  Surely it is time for this to change.

In recent terms, there is a general impression that there is another scramble for Africa; principally for its resources, but also for its potential and opportunities.  Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the history of which is best forgotten but never will be, this time it is not just the Europeans.    The East in the form of China in particularly is increasing its presence and prominence in Africa.  It  professes to have an agenda different from that of the West in terms of aid and general development cooperation.  It does not care about the much publicised and berated issue of conditionality.  It will deal with African countries without necessarily telling the various governments what to do, as the Europeans and Bretton Woods Institutions have since the 1980s.

The important thing is that the Europeans apparently know what they want from their dealings with African countries on aid or otherwise.  The Chinese also do.  The question then is, do African governments know what they want?  What is their strategy generally in dealing with donors. Do they have one in dealing with China?   Have they had one in dealing with Western donors over the years?  If so, has this strategy being reviewed in the light of the relatively recent involvement of China in the equation?  In what ways are the governments of countries in Africa planning to leverage the new scramble to deal with Africa for its benefit?

It would appear that in 2015, as it was decades ago, most African leaders are still content playing the role of passive aid recipients, without necessarily being proactive on the issue of development assistance.  They appear to be just lying there with open arms, beneath the decision table, collecting what crumbs that fall to them, totally unperturbed about the implications of the decisions taken at the table before aid is given; the strategies, the motives, the significance.

Making the Most of the Moment

The new scramble for Africa is an obvious testament to the opportunities that the potential of the continent provides.  But it is also an opportunity for governments of countries on the continent  to become active in deciding its fate in dealings with willing development partners.  With leaders like Buhari taking a list of demands for help to the G7, I can only wonder how many leaders in the continent understand the strategic nature of this moment in the history of the continent.

It may sound fashionable to show an understanding of the basis of western aid, no doubt endearing to be critical of it.  But I reckon it is now time for African countries to put all that aside and become proactive in dictating the terms upon which it would cooperate for development with the West.

Whilst doing this as individual countries might yield reasonable results, no doubt a continent-wide effort is required.   The African Union needs to take the lead in this regard.  It needs to put together its own set of conditions under which donors should be required to deal with the continent in a way that benefits the countries in the continent, not just conditions that the donors consider beneficial to the continent and/or themselves.  Such strategic policy document should serve as a framework within which individual countries may then negotiate the terms of development assistance agreements.

How Africapitalism Could be the Next Pan-Africanism

By Matthew Ayibakuro 

Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Tony Elumelu is Credited with Having Coined the Term "Africapitalism" and Continues to Champion the Ideology.

Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Tony Elumelu is Credited with Having Coined the Term “Africapitalism” and Continues to Champion the Ideology.

It is just over one week since the conclusion of the Oxford Africa Conference, 2015.  As always, it was a gathering worth attending in its own right.  With political leaders, top academics, entrepreneurs, consultants, students, NGOs,  entertainers and innovators all in attendance, the Conference ex-rayed developments in Africa from the widest range of perspectives possible, within the context of the theme: “A Continent on the Move: People, Politics and Business Across Borders”.

As would be expected from a gathering of this nature, plenaries and panels discussed various thought-provoking subjects that appealed to different sections of attendees.  One of such plenary sessions was themed Africapitalism and Entrepreneurship as a Catalyst for the Development of Africa”.  As I listened to Tony O. Elumelu, a Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist articulate the idea of Africapitalism and its implications for development in Africa, it was easy to see how strategic this ideology could be for development in the continent.

AFRICAPITALISM – CONCEPTION AND COMPONENTS

Africapitalism refers to an economic policy which posits that the private sector in Africa has the power to transform the continent through long-term investments, creating both economic prosperity and social wealth.  This is premised on the belief that the private sector has the potential to solve the many lingering development challenges of Africa more effectively than public sector-led action, international development assistance or philanthropy.

In the last decade or so, much has been made of the “rising Africa”.  There is another rush for opportunities and prominence in Africa.  China is providing finance and is involved in infrastructural projects all over the continent.  Europe is trying to restructure its strategy for the continent, and Obama and the Americans even had a summit last year specifically to discuss trade and investment, or perhaps, to ensure that they were not left out of the rising Africa.

Whilst globalisation and business sense entails that Africa must trade and cooperate with other continents and countries on a wide range of issues, there is  probably no better way to show that the continent is indeed rising than for Africans to finally take the driving seat for their development.  This is an idea that has been mused for a long time, but there has hardly been any concept or ideology that has comprehensively grasped its operationalisation until now.

Entrepreneurship and innovation is already flourishing on the continent.  Multinational corporations are beginning to emerge with the likes of Dangote and Elumelu himself leading the way.  Africapitalism, properly articulated, can provide a rallying ideology around which private-led development by Africans can flourish.

AFRICAPITALISM – SIGNIFICANCE 

There are two reasons why the concept of Africapitalism is and will be important for development on the continent: the rational and the emotional.  On the rational part, the perennial failure of the public sector to drive development in Africa means it is only rational to consider the private sector as a viable alternative.  By now, I am sure that the world and Africans themselves are tired of complaining about the failure and/or inability of leaders from all parts of the continent to engender meaningful development in their various countries, despite the wealth of resources in most of these countries. Bad governance and corruption appear insurmountable.

Philanthropy and international development assistance has also failed to make any reasonable impact on the continent.  Thus, over time, a lot of Africans have grown increasingly suspect of aid, western aid in particular.  It is therefore just about the right timing for the private sector to take over the drive for development in Africa.  Africapitalism succinct captures this mood.

And talking about moods, the second aspect of the importance of Africapitalism has to do with it’s potential to unleash an emotional drive amongst Africans to take control of their development.  In the same way that the ideology of Pan-Africanism built solidarity amongst Africans so many years ago, Africapitalism could be the next concept that, not only unites Africans, but inspires the continent to finally realise its long-acclaimed potential.  I certainly felt that way as I listened to Tony Elumelu at the debating chamber of the famous Oxford Union.

ARE THERE CONCERNS?

It would amount to overselling the idea not to recognise the concerns that must be taken into account in pursuing Africapitalism.  For all its popularity, capitalism has always had its detractors.  It is often said that private sector-led development might lead to growth without development.  Concerns of inequality and irresponsible practices occasioned by capitalism has led to the emergence of concepts like corporate social responsibility, shared value and inclusive growth.  Hence, the ideology of Africapitalism must make paramount the components of creating social wealth and social enterprise.

The state of infrastructure in the continent poses a threat to the success of Africapitalism, especially with respect to power, education and transport.  This is an area that should ordinarily fall to the role of government in providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.  But failing this, entrepreneurs need to consider investing as much in infrastructure as in any other part of the economy.  Admittedly, infrastructure projects require mammoth capital investment.  However, businesses can engage in smaller-scale infrastructure projects, whose benefits, when aggregated, can have as much impact as the traditional large-scale infrastructure projects.

Whilst I am sure many would prefer to leave the public sector and its failures behind as the continent looks forward to this drive for private-sector led development espoused  by Africapitalism, this is practically impossible.  Government must play its inexorable role of providing an enabling environment – regulatory, institutional, infrastructural and otherwise.  Indeed no entity can play the role of checking the inevitable excesses of unbridled capitalism like government  can, and it must live up to the task of steadying the ship of development as it is propelled on by the private sector.  For political leaders in Africa, simply carrying out the basic job of governance properly will no doubt be a good start.

WHY ALL THIS MATTERS

It is estimated that by 2050, the population of Africa will more than double from the current 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion people, with the population of Nigerian alone expected to surpass that of the US.  By then there would be about 1 billion Africans of working class age with over 50% of people living in cities and consumers in Africa spending almost 2 trillion dollars.  Currently, 60% of the world’s total amount of uncultivated arable land is located in Africa with more than 52 cities on the continent have a population of at least 1 million each.

These are statistics that tell of the challenges that will confront the continent in the near future.  But more importantly they tell of the enormous opportunities that the continent provides for businesses in particular.  Until recently, these are statistics that governments, development organisations and businesses  outside Africa would look at keenly in formulating strategies to access the continent for profit, relevance or otherwise ‘help’ the continent.

Understanding and putting into operation Africapitalism provides an ideology and drive for Africans themselves to  harness and take advantage of the enormous potential of the continent to achieve long-overdue development, through private sector-led enterprise.  It might just be the next Pan-Africanism.

Are African Countries not Doomed to be ‘DEVELOPING COUNTRIES’ FOREVER?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

DEVELOPING VERSUS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

In the world, people are described in different ways depending on a range of factors not worth exploring here: White, Black, Asian and so on.  When completing forms in Britain for instance, the categories get a lot more interesting – Black or Black British, Arab,  Asian or Asian British, Chinese, Mixed, White and even an ‘unknown’ category for those who, well, do not understand their particular categorisation.

Countries are similarly described too, albeit in a more sophisticated manner.  Depending on the level of development as indicated on UNDP’s Human Development Report, a country could be termed a low-, medium-, high-, or very high human development country.  As expected, over eighty percent of African countries are in the low human development category. No surprises there.  It’s a trend. It’s normal.   On its part the World Bank classifies countries into four categories: low income, lower middle income, upper middle income and high income countries.  Unsurprisingly economies in African countries fall into the first two categories, dominating the first in particular.  Beyond these, fashionable descriptions of countries that are ‘not developed’ are not hard to come by; ’Underdeveloped’, ‘poor’ ‘third world’. . . .

However, the most prominent of all taxonomies is the blanket categorisation of countries into developed and developing countries.  In Africa, our countries are developing countries.  That is the way it is. It has always been that way, and it would probably continue that way for the foreseeable future.  The origin of this classification of countries as developed or developing is debated, but it is generally understood that the term was introduced in line with the development drive of the 1960s in describing the relationship between newly independent countries, especially in Africa and those countries ‘vigorously pushing’ for their development.

‘DEVELOPING’.  It is positive word.  It denotes forward movement – progress.  But what exactly are developing countries moving towards? Who determines the ultimate goal of this progress? What is the ultimate destination of their development journey?  Will they ever arrive at that destination, and will they even know when they have arrived?  In other words, will the current crop of perennial developing countries ever get to the point of being addressed as ‘developed’ countries, or being developed countries in fact?

Whilst it appears that should be ultimate goal, I am not sure if it would ever be achieved.  Development theory has long moved past the economic development paradigm set in the 1960s where the development of countries could be measured by a simple calculation of GDP and other statistical indicators.  Today, a country’s development is now measured by goals like political order and stability, equity and democracy with all its numerous attendant attributes, like free and fair elections and human rights and all the other globally-accepted high-horse sounding virtues that African countries are not known for.  Perhaps African countries are not known for them because we do not know them, because our societies were not built on those foundations, because our culture and values are very different from these goals.

But no, I cannot think that way.  That is the way only traditional ‘uncivilised’ people think.  It is the reason we had to develop – modernise in the first place.  So for over sixty years, African countries have been striving to develop, to modernise their countries based on the models of the ‘developed countries’. The strife appears perpetual.  It is hard to see the finish line.  It is as if the goals are being updated after every decade, depending on what big institutions like the IMF would call the ‘World Economic Outlook’.

At other times, we owe the change of goals to the genius thoughts of some smart nobel-prize winning individual, like in the 1990s when Amartya Sen declared that development was no longer about the economy or infrastructure, but about ‘Freedom’ – increasing the capabilities of individuals to be able to freely live the lives they can.  This caught on fast and firmly too. The World Bank, IMF, UN and all the other big ships sailing on the ocean of development quickly readjusting their sails and headed towards Freedomland.  And why not? Everything else that has, at one point or the other, being pursued as development could be easily subsumed under prerequisites for freedom – education, infrastructure, economy, democracy, political stability, etc.  All these and more were needed for individuals to enjoy and express their freedom.  Everyone had to readjust.

For the developed countries, it was easy.  These are the things they are known for, the things on which their societies have experimented for hundreds of years and become so good at. In fact, I doubt there was a real need for adjustment at all.  But not so for African countries.  Even before many had driven lap one like in Formula 1 races, they came to realise many more laps have just been added to the race.  More fuel than anticipated would be needed, more parts, more pit stops.  No need to worry, the developed countries and the big development institutions would provide support – aid, technical expertise and everything else in-between.

In fact, they will even throw in some extras like annual reports to tell each country how good or really bad they are doing. Those annual reports – on corruption, on human rights, on human development, on the economic outlook – there are reports for almost anything these days, I lose count.  But they are quite easy to use though, for Africans in particular. I will let you in on the secret formula in using them – just start from the bottom up.  It won’t be long before your country pops up!  Except of course, you are Botswana on the corruption index – they are the ‘miracle of Africa’ in that regard.  Miracles!  How we need them. If we are to win this development race, we would need lots of them.  Perhaps more than anything else.

The most prominent beacon for developing countries right now is the Millennium Development Goals, according to which developing countries by 2015  should eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal basic education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, amongst others.  It is worthy of note that the specific targets under each of these goals are often the barest minimum possible.  Hence, even when a developing country achieves  universal primary education, there is yet secondary education and tertiary education to be attained before that country would stand a chance of being considered a member of the comity of developed countries.

More so, with the rate at which technology is advancing, it would seem obvious that by the time developing countries get to the current stage of developed countries, the latter would be way ahead of the pile.  Perhaps the determinant of development might then be the number of robots co-existing with humans in a particular country or the countries that own colonies in outer space.  Exaggerated theory, perhaps.  But the point is that in the current state of things, it would appear that certain countries – mostly African countries – are doomed to be developing countries – second class countries if you will, in terms of development – forever.

Some have suggested that the measure of development should rather be the rate of happiness amongst citizens of a particular country without particular reference to income, infrastructure or other such measures.  The merits of theories like this notwithstanding, countries in Africa might just fare better under such standards.  In any case, there is a serious need for a change in paradigm.  Otherwise, developing countries will find themselves perpetually running a race where the strategy for victory is determined by their opponents, and the tape at the finish line also held by their competitors who may continue shifting it at will.  There is no winning such races, not even for our long distance maestros from East Africa.

SO WHERE IS MY CULTURE?

By Tayo Farai

BRITISH EMPIRE AND EUROPEANS

Picture Depicting contact between Europeans and the Benin Empire

Cultures will naturally disperse. The world is a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. This is not only true of our contemporary lifestyle but of history itself. Cultural exchange has been an integral part of human civilisation. Africa is no exception.

With Africa however, there is a mist or veil of colonialism which subtly, and in some cases brazenly distorts one’s view of African history and culture. It is a tragedy, this. I cannot even begin to fathom the extent of the damage, the seeds sown by some imperialist agents so many years ago have germinated and grown into the very fabric of our minds.

Of course we are products of western education, without which we would remain ignorant in today’s world. However, let us think outside the colonialism box. We might then perceive western education as the “invention” of the west, brought and benevolently bestowed upon us by the west. After all, they continually made it a point of labelling us “savages” as a result of their limited exposure to the African culture. We don’t hear or read of the accounts of proper interaction with African kingdoms by these western immigrants all those years ago, as often as we hear of their incidental contacts with a few isolated tribes.

Yes, the education thing. Simply tracing the origins of western civilisation from the little I know reveals a gradual cultural migration from the east through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires among many others. We hear of Plato, Socrates and all other lauded names of yore. We read about the scientific, artistic and technological achievements of these great people. Then we continue to follow the “progress” of civilisation through the west. From Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo. From the fabled King Arthur to Isaac Newton. From the establishment of Parliament to the industrial revolution. We are presented with a linear timeline of a specific history. But where is our own timeline as Africans in the midst of all this? Slavery? Colonialism? Wait a minute! How can Africa be an isolated continent?

Throughout the ages of civilisation, it is simply ridiculous to think that apart from the pyramids of Egypt, very little more is known of the timeline of Africa’s history. Like I said, the world has always been a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. Several empires existed in Africa. Art, culture and technology was as vibrant as anywhere else in the world. The great wall of Benin, Sungbo’s Eredo; all great examples of a rich and glorious past. Do check them out. I certainly will!

Education is an integral pillar of any civilisation. As civilisation changed, forms of education followed suit. Obviously we know of wars and the expansion of empires. Some cultures were able to dominate others, thus imposing their systems on the subjugated. It is natural throughout human history. The educational system we have today is the product of centuries of cultural migration and interchange spanning several civilisations throughout history. It is not simply a linear progression through the west. The world is at a state of civilisation as opposed to being at some point on a western defined linear timescale.

It is unfortunate that the account of history we see today is through the veil of western imperialism. It is only natural that contemporary education has spread the world over. In Africa, it obviously came along with western culture. And all its baggage. Don’t get me wrong, every culture has its positive and negative aspects. I just don’t want us to be deceived into thinking we have been “saved” or “liberated” by the west. Absolute rubbish! What pains me most is the callous destruction and plundering of our artefacts those years ago by these so called liberators due to nothing other than selfish interest. Case in point (among several others), the Benin expedition.

Let us discard the notion that modern infrastructure was benevolently bestowed on us by colonialists, as if it was some gracious western gift. We built our infrastructure like everybody else. Unfortunately we are constantly painted a picture through which Africa is perceived to be at the receiving end of charitable technology. The African continent, like the American continent, like the European continent, like the Asian continent comprises individual nations and entities of hardworking people who continue to contribute and share knowledge for the advancement of humanity.

So where is my culture? Cultures will naturally disperse and mingle with other cultures. The world is dynamic. It is a beautiful thing. The English etiquette, Indian food, Chinese proverbs are all reflections of the creativity and rich history of the human spirit. We live in a world where social interaction is at our finger tips. My generation is of the post-colonial Nigeria. We are young and educated. As we explore the world and its ways, we imbibe different cultures and habits. I implore us to continually explore our own culture and history. For by so doing, we explore ourselves.

SO AKON ALSO THINKS AFRICA SHOULD BE A SINGLE COUNTRY. BUT IS IT A REALISTIC OPTION?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

Remodelled map of Africa showing the size of its landmass

Remodelled map of Africa showing the size of its landmass

The United States of Africa!  A country with the landmass of China, The United States of America, India, Japan and all of Europe combined, with an Island perfectly shaped for the United Kingdom.  Population, 1.111 billion.  Its people speak English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and over 2,000 other languages.  Its currency is the ‘afro’ and demonym, African.  It has the highest GDP of any country in the world and the unprecedented growth rate of its economy shows no signs of slowing!  I feel like I could go on and on with this.

But beyond the pageantry and sentimental feeling that the paragraph above evokes, is becoming a single country a workable and beneficial option for the continent of Africa?  Akon surely thinks so.  In an elaborate interview on Aljazeera a couple of weeks ago, the ‘American-born Senegalese’ artist and businessman stated his strong conviction in the idea of a ‘United States of Africa’.  Although for the usual reasons, the headline that emerged from the interview was his statement that ‘America was never built for black people’.  I found that insightful also, but that is a subject for another day.

Akon is surely not alone.  The legendary reggae musician Bob Marley repeatedly echoed the idea of ‘one Africa’ in the lyrics of his songs and long before him, Marcus Garvey alluded to it in his celebrated poem, ‘Hail! United States of Africa’.  In the first stanza, he writes:

  • Hail! United States of Africa-free
  • Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
  • State in perfect Sisterhood United,
  • Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be.”

Although Garvey’s poem did not inspire the creation of the United States of Africa, it is however believed that his poem deeply influenced the birth of the Pan-Africanist movement and inspired the golden generation of Kwame Nkrume, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba and others.

In recent times, who can forget the entourage of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attending the African Union summit in 2009 as the ‘king of kings’ of Africa and rendering the lines, “I shall continue to insist that our sovereign countries work to achieve the United States of Africa”.  The support of other leaders was rather variegated and the vision never came to fruition.

Perhaps I should say not yet, at least. At the Summit of the African Union (AU) and World African Diaspora Union (WADU) which held in Harlem in 2011, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal again called for the ‘establishment of a United States of Africa by 2017”.  The Accra Declaration of 2007 restates the commitment of the AU to “accelerate the economic and political integration of the African continent, including the formation of the union government for Africa with the ultimate objective of creating the United States of Africa” by 2025.   So whilst the late Gaddafi did not live to see his vision come true, Akon might yet see his realised.

But not many agree with the idea of a United States of Africa.  In fact some commentators refer to the idea as ‘wishful thinking’, and the comments on the video of Akon’s interview on youtube contain borderline opinions like, “United States of Africa is a retarded idea.  Anyone with such thoughts should be locked up in a mental hospital”.  Reading comments on stories on social media will always provide one or two of this kind, so no harm done.

The proposition stirs up many fundamental questions though – Is a United States of Africa feasible, and if so, is it imperative to the development of the countries and the peoples of Africa?  What would be the official language and the currency?  How would leaders be chosen?  Does it make sense to hold a general election in the whole territory of the continent as it is today, to choose a single leader and a single parliament?  What would be the ostensible benefits of having such single country and at what cost?  Would the latter outweigh the former?  In other words, does the strength of the peoples of Africa lie our diversity or in our uniformity?  The answers are probably more convoluted that they first appear.

One further question worth considering is whether efforts at creating a single country in Africa would be more beneficial if directed towards strengthening the African Union (AU) and building on its gains.  As a youth, I feel a bit ‘quagmired’ making this argument at a moment when the AU’s recent choice of leadership is, to state it as mildly as possible, most disparaging –  a subject for another day. 

However considering the reasonable achievements recorded by organisations established to achieve regional economic integration in different parts of the continent – ECOWAS, SADC and especially the EAC in the last fifteen years – the the replication of same at an Africa-wide level would appear a more feasible and rational path to tread for the time being than the pursuit of establishing a United States of Africa.

I can share the sentiments and enjoy the Pan-Africa feelings that the idea kindles in me, but beyond that I find very little rationale to pursue the idea further as imperative to the development of the countries and peoples of Africa at this moment.

WELCOME BLOG – HOW MUCH DO WE KNOW ABOUT ‘OUR’ AFRICA ?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY

In 2005, Kenyan author, Binyavanga Wainaina wrote an article aptly titled, “How to write about Africa”.  It starts with the following paragraph:

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or’ Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, or ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow,’ ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’.  Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’, and ‘Tribal’.  Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

It is about ten years now since Binyavanga laid down these wise words for fellows like me who are grappling with the challenge of discussing development in Africa to follow. His article is simply witty, mildly aggressive and funny at the same time – a refreshing read indeed.

Overall, the article demonstrates how complex the task of thinking and talking about Africa – knowing Africa – really is.  For a continent of fifty-six  countries with about one billion people and over 2,000 languages, it would require thumbing through endless literature on politics, economics, history, social science and anthropology to acquire a meaningful conception of the countries and peoples in the continent; some herculean task that would be.

Luckily, you may not have to go through all that stress.  Nowadays, there are experts on Africa everywhere very eager to imbue you with their specialised knowledge of the continent.  There are those who work for the ‘mother’ development institutions: the World Bank, UN, IMF, USAID, DFID, etc., setting the agenda and trends on what the continent needs to do to develop and alleviate ‘the people’ from poverty.  If you are not opportune to meet these palatial people, then you are sure to gain insights from very confident academics working in some specially-funded development department in a Russel Group or Ivy League university.  These people know Africa, its economy, politics, culture, problems and they know the solutions too.  Some of them have actually been to Africa for a week or weeks, months or on the odd occasion, years. How can we therefore question their wisdom? I humbly don’t.

Beyond the academics, there are also experts who are part of classy think tanks located in one of the many posh capitals of the world thinking and talking Africa.  You must have met or at least seen some of these experts.  You cannot miss them on CNN or BBC or Aljazeera dishing out wisdom on the continent after some customary disaster in the horn of Africa or at its tail, or perhaps after the visit of a very important leader from another part of the world to Africa – what does this mean for the continent, how many people have died already from the disaster and how many more will die if nothing is done, what needs to be done now to prevent another disaster??? By the time the news anchor says, ‘Thank you for speaking to us”, all the answers are there. Time to move on, albeit leaving behind quite farcical conceptions of the continent that have made campaigns like the one depicted in the picture above imperative.

So, with all these experts guiding our thoughts and opinions, we have come to know Africa.  We can also claim to be mini-experts now. We know some of the prognosis of Africa’s problems and can argue the solutions too.  For Africa to develop, it has to collaborate with Western countries in trade, investment and technology, etc., so it can also be ‘modernised’ with tall buildings, railroads, and all the other beautiful things.  Alternatively, you can argue along the lines of my personal favourite, which you are sure to come across when we mini-experts are talking about Africa – the problem of Africa is the west with its insincere aid, suspect business deals and capitalist corporations that keep exploiting Africa and disrupting its ability to develop on its own. Classic!

About a year ago, armed with the expert-driven knowledge and mentality that we all need to ‘help’ Africa develop, and equally passionate about the development of the continent, I decided my starting point would be to blog about my theories and thoughts about the continent.  I was excited about the many things I would write about – how aid is bad for Africa, how financial institutions in western countries are aiding the perpetration of corruption in African countries, how China is suddenly becoming so prominent on the continent and the need to be suspect of their intentions and impact, and my preferred of all, I would blog on the theme of “Africa Rising”.

I needed to do some research.  I started with Binyavanga’s article.  Perhaps I should not have, as it delayed the commencement of this blog for over a year, but I am glad I did.  In the months that followed, instead of writing, I ended up reading more articles and blogs and books, realising all the way how one could easily fall prey to the many undue generalisations, fallacies and (mis) conceptions about the African continent.

So, does starting this blog now mean that I have found the ‘holy grail’ to thinking and talking about Africa?  Sadly not.  What I found though, is that when we do not take the time to read and think about Africa as Africans, others would and are actually doing the thinking for us.  If we do not start talking about this continent and the issues affecting it from our perspective, others will continue to do the talking for us and spoon-feed us their perspectives.  It then becomes utterly ridiculous when we turn around to vehemently criticise their opinions when we gave them the initiative in the first place, and put ourselves in an undesirable defensive position.

It is on this note that I invite you to join this dialogue on issues of development in the various countries in the continent of Africa.  Perhaps we will find the many answers we seek by talking about the few we now possess. In doing so, we will try, like Kwame Nkrumah posited, to ‘face neither east or west‘ this time around, but ‘face forward’ at all times.

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