Olomayiana Bush Camp – A Labour Of Love

The Kenyan Camper

Here’s one of the problems I have with the traditional resort – style offering; I don’t know whether its the massive air – conditioning unit chomping away at energy units, the indulgence of a winding chlorinated pool thats the star of the brochure or buffet tables groaning under the weight of kilos of food that encourage us to serve more than we can possibly finish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it “different strokes for different folks” and all of that, it’s just so far removed from how we live our normal lives that it’s difficult for me to buy into. Luckily for people like me, we have places like Olomayiana, a place that that wears it’s human-sized heart on it’s sleeve.

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Mountain Gorilla Trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – Southwestern Uganda

Last December, I finally ticked Gorilla Trekking off my bucket list after months and months of postponing this trip.

Here is a chronicle of my journey to Southwestern Uganda.

The Prep

You have to get your trekking permits from Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala. The cost of the permit for East African Citizens is 250,000 UGX which is just about 70USD during the high season, but comes down to 150,000 UGX during low season. For good measure, it is advisable to buy the permits early enough because they are on high demand all year round.

Getting There

From Kampala, it’s about 460km to the park via Masaka and Mbarara towns. We however opted to spend the night in Kabale town 18 miles (29km) away from the park on the shores of the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi. This is because there are more accommodation and activity options in Kabale such as canoe trekking. The road network is great – good tarmac all the way. A 4×4 car would be most ideal because of the steep terrain on the road leading up to the park.

The Trekking Day

We set off from the hotel at 6:00am as we were to assemble at the park (via Ruhija gate) at 7:30am. The short drive to the park had its fair share of challenges as there was heavy fog that morning and this slowed us down a great deal. However, the views at sunrise are spectacular – makes you forget the little hiccups encountered during the journey.

We arrived at Ruhija Gate at about 7:20am meaning that we were running a little late but not to worry because upon arrival we still did not have a quorum of eight people needed to embark on a trek.

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First thing upon arrival was a briefing by our guide about what to expect ahead. He tells us that we were to track the Bitukura Group which is one of the newer families to be habituated at Bwindi.

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You are given the option of hiring a porter at a fee should you wish to. Wooden hiking sticks are also provided, and you later realise how essential these are because the terrain is unbelievably steep and also because the forest is extremely thick and quite honestly, difficult to navigate – you realise it’s called Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for a reason! I don’t think I would have done the trek without the stick.

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Our guide tells us that the hike could take any time between half an hour to eight hours depending on where the Gorilla Family spent the previous night. We begin getting anxious at the thought of hiking for all those hours but soon realise that our guide was probably exaggerating about the level of difficulty of this excursion. Anyway, after the brief, we set off and 35 minutes into the trek, we are alerted that the Gorilla Family had been spotted and it was such a relief! It was a lucky day for us.

The Gorillas were on top of a hill, in between a thick bush such that we could not see them but could hear them moving about. We approached them as quietly as possible, making sure that we were 7 metres away from them as per the trekking rules, and ensured that our photography gadgets had their flash lights turned off.

The first peek at them is absolutely incredible. These animals are so fascinating to watch, so human-like. Looking at the silver back, you get a sense of just how powerful they are and yet seemingly gentle. A mother was nursing her weeks old baby and you could see just how protective she was, keeping her baby tightly secured under her belly. Time froze, and for a good while you’re sucked into their reality – their simple nature, in their undisturbed environment – that you forget your own realities. I felt like an intruder!

Visuals below:

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he was looking straight into my eyes. intimidating!

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munching away!

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a breastfeeding mother and her weeks old baby

It was a rare sixty minutes! I was awed by these creatures that share 99.6% of our DNA. I was astonished by how just that 0.4% difference made such a world of difference!

With good planning, great company, moderate physical fitness and (ofcourse!) a sense of adventure, this is an extremely rewarding adventure. Do it if you can, and when you still can!

Invictus (Unconquered)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~ William Ernest Henley

The Civil Conscience In Africa Is Dead

One of Fela’s songs – Zombie – that was a reference to the soldiers in the army or the African followers who follow their leaders without arguments goes like this:

Zombie no go go unless you tell am to go (Zombie) Zombie no go stop unless you tell am to stop (Zombie)

Zombie no go turn unless you tell am to turn (Zombie) Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think (Zombie)

Zombie O Zombie

It is a fact that we have come to accept to be true of ourselves – that we can’t be bothered to fight against our enemies – capitalism, imperialism, neo-colonialism etc (even though we know full well that they’re our biggest “enemies”). This is what Fela was referring to. A generation of consciously dead citizens who do not demand answers to the real issues. Instead of dealing with the root cause of our problems such as religion, we spend a lot of time battling the symptoms – corruption, “bad leadership”, poverty. This has proven to be ineffective. It’s time for a Revolution. Let us discuss the socio-cultural exploitation of the Afrikan by the European over the past five centuries or so. Let us discuss the poverty of the mind, the failure of our education system that has brought forth several generations of Africans that are conflicted/confused about their identity. Let us sit down and explore the notion of “power” and debunk the myth that the problem with the Motherland lies in “bad leadership” yet we now full well that it is Western powers that truly control us.

As a Pan-Afrikanist, I am encouraged to see organisations such as Moyo wa Taifa led by the likes of Affiong L. Affiong who are preaching the gospel of the African renaissance although they receive very little or no coverage in the mainstream media. I am inspired by both Continental and Diasporan Africans, those who are with us and those who have gone before us. From our great ancestor Marcus Garvey to Thabo Mbeki. Malcolm X, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko, Fela, Kwame Toure, Nyerere and the several other Afrocentric brothers and sisters who fought in the Struggle in various capacities.

Perhaps it is high time we stopped pointing fingers at the West even though we still can attribute some of our problems to the Colonial days. Instead, we should blame ourselves for allowing ourselves to be victims 50+ years down the road. Also, it is time for self proclaimed Pan-Africanists to start organising and rallying people to speak out and challenge the status quo, if at all we are to see any real changes. For a while now, in my pursuit of finding my place/my role in the Revolution, I have come to appreciate the role that education plays in the shaping of the mind. I want to Mobilize & Organize. I want to and have to play my part in the Revolution so that it is not said that I was asleep when it was time to go to war. I want to re-define my Afrika.

But the Struggle is real… Alluta Continua. Sometimes, one wishes that we spent our early post-colonial years fostering a national identity. I ask myself, what is it going to take for us to rise.. where are my fellow Revolutionaries at?

I am an African (1996)

The poem was written and read in Parliament by Thabo Mbeki, the then president of South Africa on the occasion of the passing of the new Constitution. Video/Audio clip here

I am an African.

I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.

My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightning, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.

The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.

The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.

At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito.

A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African!

I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and independence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.

Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.

I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.

In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.

I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom.

My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.

I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas, who sees in the mind’s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk, death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins.

I am the child of Nongqause. I am he who made it possible to trade in the world markets in diamonds, in gold, in the same food for which my stomach yearns.

I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.

Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, I shall claim that – I am an African.

I have seen our country torn asunder as these, all of whom are my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible.

I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.

I know what it signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human.

I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.

I have experience of the situation in which race and colour is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.

I have seen the corruption of minds and souls as (word not readable) of the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against humanity.

I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.

There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality – the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children, those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain.

Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people, are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.

And so, like pawns in the service of demented souls, they kill in furtherance of the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the innocent in the taxi wars.

They kill slowly or quickly in order to make profits from the illegal trade in narcotics. They are available for hire when husband wants to murder wife and wife, husband.

Among us prowl the products of our immoral and amoral past – killers who have no sense of the worth of human life, rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the disabled and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest for self-enrichment.

All this I know and know to be true because I am an African!

Because of that, I am also able to state this fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines.

I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression.

I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.

The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric.

Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines.

Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.

We are assembled here today to mark their victory in acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own definition of what it means to be African.

The Constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins.

It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White.

It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern.

It recognises the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that individual.

It seeks to create the situation in which all our people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny.

It aims to open the doors so that those who were disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals with their fellow human beings without regard to colour, race, gender, age or geographic dispersal.

It provides the opportunity to enable each one and all to state their views, promote them, strive for their implementation in the process of governance without fear that a contrary view will be met with repression.

It creates a law-governed society which shall be inimical to arbitrary rule.

It enables the resolution of conflicts by peaceful means rather than resort to force.

It rejoices in the diversity of our people and creates the space for all of us voluntarily to define ourselves as one people.

As an African, this is an achievement of which I am proud, proud without reservation and proud without any feeling of conceit.

Our sense of elevation at this moment also derives from the fact that this magnificent product is the unique creation of African hands and African minds.

But it also constitutes a tribute to our loss of vanity that we could, despite the temptation to treat ourselves as an exceptional fragment of humanity, draw on the accumulated experience and wisdom of all humankind, to define for ourselves what we want to be.

Together with the best in the world, we too are prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and short-sightedness.

But it seems to have happened that we looked at ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda – Glory must be sought after!

Today it feels good to be an African.

It feels good that I can stand here as a South African and as a foot soldier of a titanic African army, the African National Congress, to say to all the parties represented here, to the millions who made an input into the processes we are concluding, to our outstanding compatriots who have presided over the birth of our founding document, to the negotiators who pitted their wits one against the other, to the unseen stars who shone unseen as the management and administration of the Constitutional Assembly, the advisers, experts and publicists, to the mass communication media, to our friends across the globe – congratulations and well done!

I am an African.

I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa.

The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear.

The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share.

The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair.

This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned.

This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes.

Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace! However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper!

Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!

Thank you.

Source: Wikipedia 

Economics of Brain Drain (Or Gain?)

 Brain Drain

This subject matter has made several roundtable discussions regarding policy and foreign aid in developing countries. Coined “the new slave trade”, brain drain has resulted in the loss of much needed human capital as thousands of Africans leave the continent every year in search of a better life. It is defined as the abandonment of a country in favour of another by a group of people with a high level of education following the promise of better pay and better working conditions (Grubel, 1994).

For the longest time, this phenomenon has been viewed in negative light by governments who spend billions of dollars (most of which is ODA money) every year in appointing Western “experts” to carry out tasks that would otherwise be done by locals at a much cheaper cost. The stats are indeed troubling, especially in the healthcare sector where, out of the 47 SSA countries, a staggering 38 fall short of the minimum WHO standard of 20 physicians per 100,000 people. It has been argued that African governments incur huge losses when workers decide to leave the continent (although the counter – argument is that the remittances outweigh the cost of training these workers).

William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko in a recent paper argue that Brain Drain could actually have some net benefits. They put forward three main arguments: i) The African brain drain is not large enough to have much effect on Africa’s skill gap relative to the rest of the world ii) The gains to the migrants themselves and their families who receive indirect utility and remittances more than offset the losses of the brain drain iii) Brain drain has a positive effect on skill accumulation that appears to offset one for one the loss of skills to the brain drain.

Firstly, it is agreed that individual freedoms must be acknowledged, and thus the migrant worker’s decision to migrate is respected because he/she is certainly entitled to enjoy higher living standards wherever they deem best. Secondly, of course remittances play a significant role, especially now that there seems to be a shift from the traditional aid model. Remittances offer an alternative source of funds for governments and has since surpassed Western aid in the recent years. World Bank estimates indicate that remittances to SSA stood at $32 billion in 2013, which was a 3.5% increase from 2012. This is expected to reach $41 billion in 2016. The argument presented here is in light of the bigger picture that must not be overlooked by governments and individuals alike – Africa is only going to realise its full potential if i) a proper mechanism of retaining its skilled workers is developed and ii) there is an ideological shift from aid to trade so that we can expand our revenue sources and not solely rely on ODA and remittances.

I think that some of Easterly’s arguments are far-fetched. His argument that migrant workers have a positive effect on politics and institutions from abroad is highly unlikely, given that most if not all countries in SSA are grappling with serious corruption challenges. Building strong independent institutions has to be done from within and not without and thus only those who are directly involved in the everyday business of nation-building can have meaningful impact.

Given the amount of time and resources that has gone into training workers, it is only imperative to encourage the migrant workers to return. More than ever, Africa needs expertise in order to develop so as to catch up with the rest of the world. Hopefully, it can take advantage of the favourable economic conditions that it is currently experiencing. My opinion is that something has to fundamentally change so that we can really see changes; there is no denying that we are worse off without our best workers. Brain Circulation and Brain Gain are without doubt advantageous but they are outweighed by the negative aspects of emigration. Brain drain therefore cannot be good for Africa. It can’t be so when we are facing a severe shortage of medics and are unable to deal with epidemics such as Ebola. Not when our education system is in shackles and cannot produce enough skilled workers for the ever growing population. And certainly not when we are not only losing skilled workers, but the best skilled workers we produce. The long term solution is indeed making the economic conditions favourable so that there are higher incentives for these migrants to return and use their new ideas and skills that they have accumulated to generate high incomes.

It is encouraging to see African governments that have for a long time expressed little concern on this issue launch campaigns to encourage diasporans to return to the continent. Repatriation efforts may however not succeed on a grand scale unless the push and pull factors of emigration are addressed and dealt with effectively.

Binyavanga – We Must Free Our Imaginations (mini web series)

I have pestered and cajoled several people to watch this six part docu not only because I am a huge fan of Binyavanga’s work, but also because I believe that this is a message that a lot of people who are stuck in the maze of life need to hear and understand.

Binyavanga is basically ranting about the collective lack of imagination that plagues our society, and says that we are “scared of imagining”.. this of course aided by our education system which doesn’t encourage creativity and critical thinking, which we desperately need. The backdrop of this release was timely. Wainaina had just come out as a gay man in an essay titled “I am a Homosexual, mum” first published in the Chimurenga Chronicles. He makes fun of those who think homosexuality is “UnAfrican” and laments about how quick we are to judge things that are unfamiliar to us, simply because we do not understand them.

His jibes on the Pentecostal movement that gained traction in the 90’s has received a backlash and in classic Binyavanga rhetoric, he spares no one. Blaming the movement for making people “lose their heads” in the early nineties to his jibes at “demonology”, he has been criticised by some for dragging religion into his rants but one cannot ignore the effects that religion has had in our society (especially the fanatical type). I don’t think Binyavanga went in on puritans just for the sake of it, I think he brought it up because of the religious angle that the discussions (more of noisemaking) on homosexuality in Africa has taken. Besides, this is a subject that would attract all sorts of backlash in a society such as ours, so it’s nothing surprising.

Bottomline, he is basically urging us to be creators, non-conformers. This is a conversation starter, a chance for us to really think and ask ourselves hard questions in order to propel ourselves forward. I was personally challenged by it, and I hope more people will be too.

Book Review: You Must Set Forth At Dawn

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The title is coined from his poem:

My soul has grown deep like the rivers

Traveller you must set forth 

At Dawn

I promise marvels of the holy hour

I picked up this book over Christmas after coming across an excerpt from it about Fela Kuti (my long time obsession that will probably last a lifetime). In the excerpt, I learn that Prof Soyinka is a first cousin to the Ransome-Kuti’s and in this book he briefly writes about Fela upon reflecting on his death in 1997 (when he was in exile abroad fleeing General Abacha’s regime) This is a brief summary:

How would one summarise Fela?  Merely as a populist would be inadequate.  Radical he certainly was, and often simplistically so.  Lean as a runner bean, a head that sometimes struck me as a death-mask that came to life only on stage or in an argument – more accurately described as a serial peroration, since he was incapable of a sustained exchange of viewpoints, especially in politics.  Only Fela would wax a record jointly according heroic virtues to such an incompatible trio as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sekou Toure of Guinea and – oh yes, indeed, Idi Amin Dada the terror of Uganda.  It was however sufficient for my cousin that, at one time or the other, they challenged, defied or ridiculed an imperial power – any voice raised in denunciation of the murders of a western stooge, CIA agent and imperialist lackey.  There were no greys in Fela’s politics of black and white.”

This description of Fela is nothing new really, as I have learned a lot about the Original Black President from listening to his records over the past few years. A fierce and unapologetic Africanist who had no kind words for Western Imperialists and their sympathisers.

“…Fela loved to buck the system.  His music, to many, was both salvation and echo of their anguish, frustrations and suppressed aggression. The black race was the beginning and end of knowledge and wisdom, his life mission, to effect a mental and physical liberation of the race.

This is what set me going on this extraordinary book. It is basically a political biography of Nigeria, with glimpses of the author’s personal life though not much. I expected much more seeing as this was a memoir but then considering what happened between the period he published Aké: The Years of Childhood and 2006 when he published this book, one could easily see why his subject matter would be Nigeria’s political troubles. Perhaps the most one gains insight into his personal life is when he talks of his friendship with OBJ – Olufemi Babington Johnson (and their mutual love for good food). He talks of one time he had visited Femi’s house for lunch saying: “…this is where I first knew that food was more than simply getting something down into the stomach as fusslessly as possible, that eating actually involved a self-surrender that rendered homage to Opapala, the deity of hunger.” His relationship with Femi in this memoir touches mostly on matters that did not involve politics (Femi was a successful insurance magnate based in Ibadan) and he pens a moving ode to his friend in an entire chapter.

Spirituality (from his Yoruba heritage) also plays a very big role in his life and he often refers to his personal deity Ogun, whom he refers to as the “..god of creativity, guardian of the road”. He often refers to the different deities and it is very clear that he possesses a deep understanding of Yoruba Spirituality. While in exile he found himself in a village in called Bekuta (a variation of Abeokuta – his hometown) in Jamaica, where Yoruba descendants had settled many years ago. Soyinka offers a gripping account of his visit to this slave settlement and says that “his mind took refuge in Bekuta” amidst the chaos that had erupted around him..and is clearly astonished to find his Egba people settled in a distant land but yet keen on preserving their culture, cuisine and of course the celebration of the seasons of the gods.. Obatala, Sango, Ogun..

Professor Soyinka is a man who has been through it all when it comes to the terrains of African politics. From dining with the heads of states from across the continent to taking on a diplomatic role in mediating between his troubled Nigeria and the outside world, one simply cannot deny that he indeed played (and continues to play) a vital role in Nigeria’s political landscape. He quite literally put his life on the line for the sake of his country, often splurging his time and resources in causes that would help in getting rid of the oppressing military regimes of the time (including a huge chunk of his Nobel Prize money). Prof narrates in detail conversations that took place decades preceding publishing this book, which made me wonder how that is possible but then again, that is part of what distinguishes him from the masses. Humorously, he narrates how he sometimes found himself in places that he had no business being in in the first place, as a writer that is. Such as the time when he found himself trying to broker a deal between Chief Buthelezi and the ANC. He never quite saw himself as a politician per se yet ironically, he would constantly find himself right at the centre of the murky waters of politics.

It a recommended read for those with an interest in the history of Nigeria. I think it is an important text as it is written by someone who was involved in the struggle yet at the same time did not hold any political office. He offers a sober narrative and leaves the reader to decide for themselves what side (if any) he/she would lean towards. In the beginning, Soyinka includes maps of Nigeria from the year 1955 through to 1991 showing how the country has been divided to the 36 states it currently has. It is a good visual aid for readers and is a useful reference for when he talks about the secession war (Biafra) and the geographical divide mainly between the Igbo and Yoruba.

I personally found myself infuriated and very much frustrated by the happenings in Nigeria then and even more, now. However, it is better to have to read and learn from an insider’s perspective as opposed to having to “learn” from an outsider and this is what makes the book even more important.

What the East African Community could learn from the European Union

I’m currently taking a European Political Economy class which focuses on the historical background of the European Union and the concept of political economy relevant to the process of European Integration. I find it rather interesting how the EU has made remarkable progress over the years and has managed to develop a complex system that incorporates 28 member states and somehow manages to forge ahead despite their challenges/differences. As usual, I try to look at it from an African perspective, with particular focus on the EAC, trying to decipher how monetary and economic integration could be made to work in the EA context.

So what exactly is the EU? It is definitely more than just a politico-economic union of 28 member states as it plays many more roles. It could be said to be a multi level system of governance; a confederation located between inter-state and intra-state patterns of rule. Although it has been labelled a Superstate by some, I suppose that wouldn’t pass seeing as it does not have one single leader, it does not have a capital city or any such thing, it does not have a single military unit as compared to the United States for example, but it still is a strong economic world power.

The East African Community on the other hand has evolved from being a Cooperation to being a “Community”. It has undergone several changes, worn different hats as different regimes come and go but it would suffice to say that it came to life after the signing of the Treaty for Establishment on Nov 30th 1999. It is made up of 5 countries, initially starting out with Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and subsequently Rwanda and Burundi who joined in in 2007. The East African Community strives to have a multi faceted integration similar to the EU (political, economic, social and cultural) although admittedly, there is a lot to learn from the EU. Its stated vision is:

….a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united East Africa; and the Mission is to widen and deepen Economic, Political, Social and Culture integration in order to improve the quality of life of the people of East Africa through increased competitiveness, value added production, trade and investments.

EAC Member StatesEU

The system and structure of the EU without doubt is what keeps the union together. A clear, well defined vision coupled with strong political will from member states has gone a long way in ensuring that the Union not only stays put, but also be effective. The 3 main institutions: European Commission, European Parliament and the European Council (of ministers) ensure that the laws and policies of the EU are implemented and effected and they do exhibit a well functioning and integrated system. There are also several other inter-institutional bodies that play specialised roles such as the European Central Bank, Court of Justice of the EU and many others. Similarly, the EAC has a Council of Ministers, Coordination Committee, an EA Court of Justice and a Legislative Assembly.

However, the well documented wrangles and squabbles between the member states of the EAC continue to make headlines every other day. It is nonsensical and ridiculous and goes to show that the absolute lack of a clearly defined vision will be the last nail on the coffin of the EAC, which cynics say may collapse again. This has been evidenced by recent incidents such as the alleged sidelining of Tanzania which has been accused of non-cooperation by other member states. The infamous “Coalition of the Willing” that led to the signing of agreements in 2012 without consulting Tanzania was a major blow to the much sought after Customs Union. Also, the Common Market Protocol that was enacted in 2010 to be implemented over a five year period was to enable the free movement of goods, labour, capital and services. We are yet to see this fully implemented and yet the deadline is approaching in July 2015. The unending trade tussles, and economic witch-hunting continues to characterize the integration journey and will only serve to elongate the process. Such is the influence that politics has in the functioning of the Community, and thus brings about the question of whether it is likely that the EAC would achieve its mandate of a political and economic integration in the foreseeable future. It is definitely possible but only in the distant horizon.

It has been said that the ultimate goal of the EAC is a Political Federation, which follows the creation of a Customs Union, Common Market Protocol and a Monetary Union protocol, which will culminate in the creation of the East African Federation. Deadlines are fast approaching to the finalising of the EA Federation constitution at the end of March 2015. Hopefully they shall be met but I reckon that this particular objective of the EAC may not be the most pressing issue at hand. The complexity involved in the creation of the political federation is acknowledged by all member states with the exception of Uganda (largely because president Museveni is a firm believer of the EAC and is the glue that sticks the Community together, as some would say). There is also the issue of taking on new members ie South Sudan and Somalia, a move that has been welcomed and criticised in equal measure. The political instability that exists in both countries would add more problems to the already ailing EAC and thus it is in the interest of all member states to have these two nations put their houses in order first, and then make bids to join the EAC much later.

Which brings us to the big question: Why does Europe work and what lessons can be learnt from it? In my opinion, the first reason is because of the presence of a strong political will that backs up the EU from leaders across the board. The existence of formidable laws, rules and strong dedicated institutions form the basis of consistency over the years which is not dependent on the different regimes that come into power and so forth. The second reason is the interconnectedness in Europe that has been enabled by a good network of infrastructure systems. This goes a long way in enabling the free movement of goods and people across borders at a cheaper cost. In EA, aging infrastructure has resulted in significant costs in doing business but such bottlenecks will soon be offset by the construction of highways, railway lines, and power grids. Thirdly, in terms of the membership of the EAC, the more the merrier. The single market would work to the advantage of all countries and thus it would serve the would be federation good to have more countries join in. According to 2014 estimates, the combined GDP (PPP) of the EAC stood at $297.7 billion with a GDP per cap of $1,942. The combined population estimate in 2014 was 153 million, which if supported by the complete enactment of the Common Market Protocol, could have a huge impact on businesses which are likely to reap from an increased pool of expertise and customer base.

Book Review – Emerging Africa by Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu

Emerging Africa

I purchased this book sometime in November 2014 and I quite enjoyed it, read it in a record 4 days amidst quite a bit coursework to do. It is a simple read and quite insightful as the writer is an “insider” who has served as the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria from November 2009 – November 2014, who has also worked for the UN for a long period of time.

Moghalu stresses that central to the African development dilemma is the absence of a “worldview”, and thus the book’s main thrust is that Africans ought to approach the development of the continent armed with a well written and precise Worldview, which in his own words is:

“…a reflection of the inner world of the mind of an individual or a group, which he or she or they project in their outward actions, and which influences the world around them by creating certain realities” [p. 13]

All other evils associated with the continent stems from the absence of this worldview including the endemic “monster” of corruption.

Citing the whole “Africa Rising” concept (which is still largely commodity-driven) as a case of much-ado-about-nothing, he states that Africa will only truly rise if it develops a knowledge economy and resolve the issues around relying on imports by creating a strong manufacturing base which will enable her to be competitive in the world market.

As I read the book, I was rather pleased to learn of the role that the Central Bank of Nigeria has played in the economic reforms of Nigeria. It is not all gloom and doom (as is constantly portrayed) when it comes to the most populous country in Africa, which doubles up as the largest economy on the continent. The increasingly independent nature of the Central Bank coupled with an effective leadership has to a good extent yielded laudable results which confirms the importance of having a strong institutional framework (most conspicuous being the decision by the bank’s leadership to consolidate Nigerian banks which strengthened the capital base).

Unlike several development books which discuss the continents’ development agenda without putting into consideration it’s historical and political past, Moghalu does not shy away from discussing policies associated with free market fundamentalism/capitalism that contribute to the continent’s economic woes, such as the SAP’s in the 80’s instigated by the WB and IMF. He however does not entirely dwell on these past intricacies and in the last chapter, states that Africa’s future largely depends on what is done now and it is in the hands of Africans to make that happen (not the IFI’s or even China). If this is not done, the continent will be at risk of missing out on the opportunities it has at the moment (as economies are growing faster than ever) and worst case scenario is going back to its “place” of perpetual poverty and economic distress.

As he concludes, he cites the importance of Science, Tech and Innovation and the pressing need to develop human capital in order to achieve economic transformation.