Tag Archives: African leaders

Politicians are happy? So are we…or…are we?

Have you seen this infographic? It depicts politicians’ salaries and income inequality in various countries.

Source: http://visualizingimpact.org/
Source: http://visualizingimpact.org/

Kenya is leading the pack…no surprises there. The infographic hit the proverbial nail on the head – complete with the gourd-shaped belly balancing on toothpick legs image. I kid you not, a good number of Kenyan politicians look just like that. But I digress. Our politicians will look for any and every excuse to increase their salaries. “We’ll miss happy hour because we have to debate issues we are borderline clueless about…ergo we need to be compensated for that.” “If we had stayed at our previous jobs, we would have been promoted by now and well on our way to earning X amount of money…ergo we need to be compensated for that.” “We can’t walk in public without being recognized by paparazzi…ergo we need to be compensated for that.” “Our constituents expect us to pelt them with wads of money…ergo we need to be compensated for that.”

O.K maybe I exaggerated…a little bit. They haven’t actually said that…well at least not in public…but the reasons they give for their salary increases are just as ridiculous. I remember one politician saying he needs a pay raise because he left a well paying job. Ala!? Was he forced to quit his job and run for office!? If so, he should simply consult the person(s) who made him make that move. Another one said he needs to pay his father’s hospital bill. Say what!? Because obviously the rest of Kenya is responsible for taking care of politicians’ personal affairs. It’s absolutely insane, I say.

The thing about Kenyan politicians is that they spend so much time fattening their pockets and very little time fulfilling their overly recycled campaign pledges. If you have been a politician since early man’s hunting days, and your constituents still knock on your door for money for school fees, health bills, transport, rent and grocery shopping, then maybe you should do them a favor and quit. Clearly you don’t have and have never had a sustainable plan to ensure that your constituents are empowered and become financially independent.

Politicians are not the only ones to blame. We, Kenyans, have a role to play in this madness. We condone the politicians’ behavior and even enable them by defending some of their tactics. Every election cycle we vote the same people back into office with claims that voting for newer promising candidates is a vote waste. We are reluctant to hold them accountable because doing so is a supposed waste of time. When they fail to fulfill their election promises and instead take actions that are detrimental to our society, we don’t question them…we simply lament in private. As long as our politicians are happy then we laugh…shrug it off…accept and move on. We do so at our own expense. For how long will we accept and move on? Can we really ever move on if we are perpetually stuck in the same cyclical game that politicians play?



African Union – On Turning 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity now known as the African Union. A few days ago, Africa’s leaders met in Addis Ababa to commemorate this auspicious occasion.

What difference has 50 years made? The hope of continent-wide peace and prosperity that our leaders had when the OAU was formed remains just that – hope. The real difference the five decades have made – well, the irony of Africa’s Main Problems meeting to talk about how to solve Africa’s problems. As usual their discussions ignore the pink elephant in the room – their poor leadership or lack thereof – from which a majority of our problems stem from.

In his opening remarks, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister said, “This historic day marks not only a great leap forward in the Pan-Africanist quest for freedom, independence and unity but also the beginning of our collective endeavor for the realization of Africa’s socio-economic emancipation.” (The complete speech is available here)

Freedom and independence – yes, I agree with that. Unity – not so much so –  that remains elusive. Look at Nigeria with Boko Haram and the tensions between Muslims and Christians. Take Kenya, as another example, where every election cycle brings with it renewed ethnic hatred and irrational fear of “the other.” There’s Somalia – do people even know or remember what the root of the conflict there is? Let’s not forget Darfur which has been in a state of humanitarian emergency for close to a decade. South Sudan’s independence carried with it hopes for peace in the region. However, there is still tension and disputes between South Sudan and Sudan with many a threats flying across the border. Then there’s the Congo whose conflict has birthed several rebellions and infighting. Unity – we are still on the struggle train with that one.

Africa’s socio-economic emancipation – yessir- high five for that! It’s about time. One of the reasons why Africa  needs emancipation is because we have been under the West’s economic yoke for such a long time. It hasn’t helped that we constantly receive the foreign assistance excitedly without analyzing the conditionalities attached and  their consequences. Much as African countries are independent, we have  consistently simply aligned with other people’s agendas for us. Sometimes it seems like every country from East to West and in between has an agenda for Africa.  It’s 2013 – a good enough time for Africa to grab the agenda bull by the horns. In this regard, Africa’s leaders could start by ensuring that all the doors and windows to intra-African trade and investment are open. Africans stand to benefit a whole lot from doing business with each other. It is important that communication channels are open and policies are enacted to ease transactions across the board. Africa’s leaders should remember that socio-economic emancipation and continental integration cannot be achieved without the active participation of their citizenry.

While we are on the subject of an active citizenry, why is it that the African Union doesn’t particularly engage the youth? We do after all form a majority of Africa’s population. Instead of having these talk fests among Africa’s leaders why not have conferences that connect Africa’s youth – you know, the social entrepreneurs, the idea generators, the journalists, the writers, the poets and the activists, among others? Shouldn’t the African Union direct its focus to mentoring and funding youth-led initiatives while promoting partnerships among African youth? If we were supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, then shouldn’t the African Union, in its efforts to promote unity and prosperity, provide such nurturing environments that enable us to realize that potential?

The African Union’s relevance is slipping from its grip. It has come to be viewed by some as a leaders club that meets at a $200 million building that African countries could not even afford to build. The leaders aren’t helping the cause either. The recent meeting they had turned into a campaign to get the ICC to refer both Uhuru Kenyatta’s and William Ruto’s cases to Kenya. When Uhuru Kenyatta was on the campaign trail he repeatedly said that he would cooperate with the ICC. Both men did in fact say that. At a presidential debate, Uhuru Kenyatta said that the ICC case was a personal challenge and now it’s suddenly Africa’s problem? How did this even come to be?

The African Union declared 2013 the year of PanAfricanism and African Renaissance. Only time will tell how committed Africa’s leaders are to this.






Another one bites the dust – literally

Collapsing buildings have become a frequent occurrence in Africa. Hardly a month goes by without news about the collapse of building X in country Y. It has become normal – in some countries more than others – such that people have become numb to the tragedy that it is. These days reactions range from “Again!?” to the disapproving head shake. Others even shrug it off as part of life. In most cases governments promise to “carry out a full investigation” and reassure the public that they will ensure such tragedies do not occur again. Well, those promises are yet to be fulfilled as evidenced by recent happenings.

Just yesterday, a four-storey building under construction in north-eastern Rwanda collapsed killing six people and injuring more than a dozen others. In April, two people died and several others were injured when a building collapsed in Kumasi, Ghana. A few weeks before that, another building also under construction collapsed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania killing more than 30 people and injuring many more. In January, five people were killed and many others injured when a building under construction collapsed in Kisumu, Kenya.  These are just some of the ones that are reported. There are probably many more that are not covered by the media or are simply overshadowed by other news items.

Many lives continue to be lost in these preventable tragedies that are most often a result of greed, corruption and government inefficiencies.

There are some crude and wealth-hungry property developers out there who are simply looking to make a profit by any means necessary. They come up with cost cutting measures that severely compromise the safety, quality and durability of the building. If there is a cheaper substandard substitute for a building material, trust that they will use it. We can just go ahead and forget about regulations because they have mastered the art of bypassing them. One of the problems with such developers is that they are overly fixated on their short term moneymaking goal. Instead of thinking of these buildings as investments they think of them as 1-800-CASH-NOW.

It doesn’t help that building inspectors and other concerned authorities are willing to look the other way once you grease their palms. Money swiftly changes hands and dubious building designs are instantly approved. One may get instant gratification from the bribe, but aren’t they bothered by the fact that what they are doing is akin to signing an innocent person’s death warrant? Why endanger the lives of so many? People forget that they may actually end up living or working in one of these buildings. I would think that this would perhaps motivate them to do the right thing. We also need to ensure that people in these positions are qualified. It could be that they simply do not know what a proper building design looks like. Property developers also need to ensure that they are using qualified personnel. No one benefits from using shoddy constructions engineers and architects who lack professional ethos.

Governments do not seem to be too concerned about collapsing buildings. Sure leaders will take time off to mourn those who died. Yes they’ll say that those responsible will be held accountable. However, after a few weeks the collapse is forgotten and they have moved on to the next vote-generating activity. Is it really that difficult to enact and enforce building regulations? Isn’t having buildings that are not death traps beneficial to the overall development agenda? Why do leaders view these issues as mutually exclusive? How are we going to overcome some of the socio-economic challenges if we can’t even put up stable structures? Why is it that these shoddy building contractors, developers, architects and workers are never held accountable?

While we are it, can we also talk about how disaster preparedness is nonexistent? I remember when a building collapsed in Nairobi a few years ago and we had to fly in Israeli rescue teams. They came fully prepared -equipment, search dogs and all – and if I recall correctly took over the operation. They were very systematic in the way they carried out the rescue mission. The Kenyan rescue team on the other hand – not so much so. Their efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and poor organization. This has been the case in several other African countries. It’s about time that governments invested in disaster plans of action, rescue personnel and much-needed equipment.