Sunday, October 25, 2015

Abidjan - Dar es Salaam - Brazzaville: Of elections and national conscience

I woke up in Abidjan this morning. A few hours before the voting for the first round of presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire opens. At this time, polls should be underway in Tanzania, since there is a three-hour difference. In Brazzaville, and across Congo, the population has been convened  to a referendum, whose results will determine whether Sassou Nguesso will continue to be President of the country or not.

While we do not know if Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire will win the elections in the first round or after the run off, we are even more unsure if the ruling party in Tanzania will be returned to power. For Congo Brazzaville, like the blogger Anna Guèye said in response to a tweet of mine "I would not call it a vote".

Whether we are voting in Côte d'Ivoire, in Tanzania, in Congo or in any other part of the world today, election times are times of building a collective national conscience. And that explains why I am passionate about them, tracking them from Cape to Cairo, Dakar to Djibouti via Nairobi and Lagos... in this beautiful mother continent of Africa.

What I am passionate about is not necessarily who wins or who loses. Here are the 5 things I track:

The social audit
Election times are times for social audits. Political formations in and out of power take time to evaluate themselves. Citizens also evaluate leadership. It's the time for the big question "what has been done for the past xyz years?" The Nigerian election was one that got straight at me. The "Report Card" of Goodluck Jonathan was the topic in homes in Nigeria, in Nigerian homes in the Diaspora and even in many other spaces that are remotely Nigerian. By the time the election date itself drew near, the incumbent was desperate in trying to "make up" for mistakes made during his tenure. In Côte d'Ivoire, the government has gone ahead and published its own Report Card in a bid to prove to citizens that it did, indeed  move the country forward.

The mass education
Elections happen after every four or five years on the general.  At every election period, a new wave of voter is added. In most countries, 18 is the voting age.  For the new voters, it is  a rite of passage, a realisation of their political importance, and for some, a time to "test the political waters". What interests me the most is how the new voters are inducted into the system. Do they engage in a civil manner? Are they given all the information? Are they channeled into a one-party-system?  Whichever way, the need for education on electoral issues goes beyond the new voters.  In many countries the electoral agency begins an entirely new work of step-by-step education, sensitization and grooming of the citizens. Who can vote? Who can run for office? How and where to register to vote? When to pick up your voter cards. How to vote. How not to vote. How best to vote. Decorum for the period..

The citizen engagement
 Offline and online, this is the time that politically minded or interested people are obliged to listen to citizens, or at least, pretend to listen.  In many places, town hall-like meetings are held. During these meetings, candidates respond to questions from citizens. In some spaces, the national TV joins the game, creating "situation rooms", inviting  candidates, organizing live debates, taking  questions and generally dancing to the tune of the citizens. For those of us who "come from the Internet", the social media landscape is getting to be "the place" to be at these moments. It is a time for content creation, for analysis, for jokes and for serious engagement. Candidates are "tracked" and their speeches, dressing, governance plans and whole lives are meticulously dissected.  But beyond the candidates, voters also engage other voters, either as volunteers for one camp or another, or just as opinion bearers.

The Human Rights narratives
 The respect of fundamental human rights during elections periods is the yardstick with which I personally measure the process. Do opposition parties get air time? Does the ruling party bulldoze its way? Is the Election Agency autonomous? Are rallies free and fair? Are minorities allowed to show their support even when they are in the "stronghold" of their adversaries. How long is the campaign time?  How free is the media to do their work? Are citizens free and able to say exactly what they think of the power in place?   For me, once the human rights bases are covered, I am fine. Otherwise, frustrations are created, disenfranchisement follows and in many cases, the elections do not go down well.

The "Shift" after the polls

I still recall the major shift in Senegal when Abdoulaye Wade lost his third term bid, after all the "constitutional gerrymandering". The most recently is the ousting of PDP of Nigeria with Buhari's win. In Burundi, things have yet to go down as the killings are continuing. In the last edition of  Côte d'Ivoire's polls, it turned out into a full-scale civil war. 

Whether we look at elections from the political,  the engagement, the human rights or even the economics perspective, it is a time when a lot happens.  Except for the few African countries like Gambia, Eritrea, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea where authorities are doing all they can to suppress a national civic engagement while upholding the President as a demi-god,  this continent is gently changing, molting into a space of more regular social audits, massive increase in citizen education, web empowered engagement, and for a broader discourse on the rule of law. Elections are processes in national conscience building. It is  not so much about who wins  or loses at the polls, but whether the nation is more consolidated.

It is about moving forward or backward.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter 2015 - Resurrection Nigeria

Two nights in a row  I kept vigil in  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  My mind was on Nigeria and Nigeria was on my mind; - the election results of the Presidential race.  I was not the only one whose heart was beating a tad faster.  Last night I finally slept. And a sweet one, it was.    Here are my 5 "take-aways" from the presidential elections.

Professor Jega, and the role of the academia
In as much as we decry the fallen standards in Nigerian universities, bemoaning the citizens' disappointment by the system, something good was found in that milieu.  Professor Attahiru Jega decided that all Returning Officers for all 36 States and the FCT - Federal Capital Territory, be drawn from the numerous Vice-Chancellors of the Nigerian Universities. They may not be the best academics the world has known, they may neither master stage track nor even read well  at night (especially without glasses) but they all accepted the challenge.  The Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) also did their part. In principle, NYSC is an old-age institution that spreads Nigerians across the federation, making sure that people go to the parts of the country where they do not come from.  "Corpers" on mission learn the "other" cultures and people of Nigeria. This, till date, is the most important unity and integration institution that Nigeria has.  My first take away is that if Nigerian education, universities and academia are equipped enough, this country can lead in almost anything. Intellectual probity is the greatest arm against the unbridled  greed of  politicians, as seen in the epic "Orubebe-Jega Drama"

Citizen engagement powered by technology
This time around, Nigerians were decided that it will not be "business as usual" as it  has always been. The population decided to massively engage.  I really loved the R-egister, S-elect, V-ote, P-rotect (RSVP) campaign as well as the #NigeriaDecides tag on Twitter.  At the end of February, the election fever in Nigeria was higher in °Celcius than Ebola.  Almost all discussions were centered on GEJ and GMB, the abbreviated names of the key runners.  I saw volunteers who went from house to house to talk to people about one candidate or another trying to "deliver" locations.  The extent to which social media played a role in the Nigerian presidential elections cannot be under-estimated. My second take-away is this: Technology is power. Power belongs to the people. When both team up.. they become indomitable, any time, any where.

Real-time transparency
The Independent National Electoral Commission has pulled off the biggest democratic presidential elections in Africa.  The independence of the Jega-led institution  is being hailed by all and sundry.  INEC has social media outlets that were manned, 24/7. They have hotlines and were taking real-time interactive feedback from voters and the public in general. By the time the number of registered voters and the effective number of PVC (Permanent Voters' Card)  that have been collected was known, one knew the maximum number of voters to expect. So far, except for a few rare places, over-voting in any polling unit has had an automatic cancellation of all votes. But beyond these, the declaration of results in "the face" of all media, traditional and new, social and  copyright, at the same time... that was THE one that did it.  Across the country, and in most parts of the world, calculators came in handy, pen and paper too. Some were using spreadsheets, someone started a Google Document and made it open. Every Dick, Tom and Harry who cared about the Nigerian Presidential elections could track and add up the figures and do so in the same minute as they were being announced. My third take away is that the transparent, real-time, offline and Online, all-media announcement of the results proved to be the biggest challenge and deterrent to intending troublemakers. Real-time transparency is the greatest arm against "backdoor, shadowy and secret" election malpractice.

Global media with "nothing to chew"
First there were allegations from certain media when visas were refused to some journalists. Then came a 6-week postponement.  The phobia was palpable as the days approached. There was mass "exiting" of persons, in families, who were expecting Nigeria to tip over.  The rush to buy food and store.. in expectation of the violence that will follow.. all of that came to nothing. In the early hours of Saturday the 28, the first reports were that "Nigerian elections are marred by violence" though the images were missing. Millions were sure they will come. The normal "African elections" followed by killings, burnings, and destruction. This time, things are different. My sweet take-away here: prophets of doom can pack up and go home. There wont be any violence-tourism following the Presidential elections in Nigeria. You are free to report or not, but  right now, Nigerians have the means to tell their own story. 

Jonathan extends Goodluck to Buhari

When it was clear that the game was over, even before the final tallying of all results, President Goodluck Jonathan  gave the famous and proverbial phone call to the winner.  That  call, made to the right person, at the right time, will remain "golden" in the memories of most peace-loving Nigerians. After the call, he also published a message, and later on, gave the speech.  Here is my take-home from here: Jonathan may not have been a great leader, he may not have scored well in many a score sheet,  but he has refused to lead the country into war, silencing all "demons of destruction" that were secretly preparing for bloodbath.  In so doing, he sent the strongest message to all other "losers-to-be", which, for me, is also a great gift.

As Easter rolls in this weekend,  Nigerians will be celebrating  the death of bloodbath'ed  presidential elections and the rising of a new order.  The resurrection of a  new hope, expectancies of better governance, and the satisfaction that comes with a victory won for the people by the people.

Happy Easter Nigeria!
God bless Nigeria!
Viva Africa!

Friday, January 30, 2015

To be or not to be: Charlie, Chimamanda-Achebe, CEO

2015 is here. Happy New Year.  The year is kicking off with issues that I consider  “fundamental” for African development. The first is human rights, the second is governance and the third is elections.   I am still reflecting, thinking out loud.

Depending on where one is coming from, the #CharlieHebdo debate is rife. Some are taking it from the religious angle: analyzing the tendency for violent individuals to hide behind a religion.  Some are looking at it from the “anti” perspective: seeking to see who is for, pitching those who are for against those who are against.  Whichever way one looks at it, that over 2 million took part in the #ParisMarch and that more millions gathered across the world around #JeSuisCharlie” is a fact. Millions standing up  for freedom of expression.

The Charlie question for me, is still a question of rights. What rights do people have? Which ones do we want to respect and uphold? Do media have the right to provocation?   If yes, does that hold sway  in Africa?  If no, how do you prosecute/chastise  media that provokes?  I was not the only one wondering (the reaction is actually stronger than the word) why so many African Presidents and governments were quick to become Charlie. Presidents who jail  journalists and bloggers for ”insults”. Governments that cannot even tolerate “Freedom of Information” bills in their own countries. Countries where “The President is sick” earns a journalist a prison term. How can an Africa that stifles free speech be Charlie? How can Africa where certain states/governments have declared themselves by religions be Charlie? How can Africa where the African Union has voted to give immunity to all seating presidents, with Robert Mugabe at its Chair, be Charlie?


I  read three very important books in 2014. I will recommend these to you.  I started with Chimamanda Adichie’s  “Half of a Yellow Sun”, then Chinua Achebe’s “There was a Country” , and Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”.  Adichie’s book tells the story of the Nigerian civil war. Achebe’s book tells the story of Nigeria before,  during and after the Nigerian civil war. Mandela’s in his autobiography, tells the story of his fight against apartheid.  One  development issue runs across these  trio: governance. These recount the greed for power of our leaders, their fear of loss of power, and  all the evil that is unleashed  so that a group can maintain another in an oppressive grip in order to keep power.  The other thing that runs across these narrative is the madness with which those in power crack down on any attempts to challenge the status-quo. Anyone trying to ask questions,  call for reasoning or request for more transparency  is vigorously shut up.  How long are we going to keep quiet over this?  How  can we call for freedom of expression for journalists in France, those who are not afraid to expose their leaders, and in Africa we behave as if “let the sleeping dog lie”  is the best attitude. 

CEO: Chief Electoral Officer

Elections times are the times for much talk and incursions into the evaluation of governance.  Zambia’s one is done and dusted. President Edgar Lungu has taken office.  Nigeria will enter the game on Valentine’s Day, to be followed by others.  There are also those who are getting ready… constitutionally ready. Burkina Faso’s ousting of I-will-die-in-Power  ex-President, Blaise Compaoré sent ripples that are still being felt in 2015.  This is a call, therefore, to all African CEOs to  RSVP: Register, Vote, Safeguard and Protect  the electoral process.  The CEOs are not the electoral officers, but the voters. Ultimately, the power lies in your vote. If you sell your vote, a part of your future is gone with it. If you vote on sectarian (ethnic, regional, religious affiliation) bases,  in the stead of competence and merit, you are establishing/reinforcing mediocrity.  If you refuse to sanction corruption and bad governance, you are rewarding them.

The time is here to stand up for the right: for human rights, for transparency, and for good governance. The 2015 coin  has two side: standing up for what is right, and standing up against what is wrong!

The Long Walk… continues