Thursday, 29 October 2015

PALAVER TREE COMMENTARY: Why Some African Leaders Cling To Power, Whilst Others Walk Away — Christina Okello

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso votes in the country's referendum on October 25. Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete at the UN General assembly, September 27, 2015. Reuters/Montage

By Christina Okello

Following a weekend of elections on the African Continent, analysts are drawing parallels between Congo-Brazzaville and Tanzania even before results are announced. One leader is accused of tampering with the constitution to extend his grip on power, whilst the other has been credited with respecting presidential term limits.

In one corner, you see a political beast, greying at the temples, but still fighting in the ring; whilst in the other, is a younger, sprightly politician walking away.

The contrast drawn between Congo Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso and outgoing Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete is striking. The latter has been in power for over thirty years and is still vying for a third-term. Kikwete on the other hand, after only ten years in office, is throwing in the towel. He's served his constitutional two-term limit, and says it'senough. But why is it not the case for many of the continent's other leaders who are seeking to overstay their welcome?

Congo Brazzaville is the latest newcomer in a growing list of countries where fiddling with the constitution for personal gain is becoming the norm: Rwanda is heading down that route, Burkina Faso's deposed Blaise Compaoré tried to, and Congo-Kinshasa's Joseph Kabila is keeping a firm eye on what's happening next door for any tips.

Changing the constitution to scrap presidential term limits didn't begin today. It's been a continued predilection among African leaders since independence. Most of the former colonies were not organized as democracies and are still figuring out what it means. Yet undoing the foundations of what constitutes good governance may be the wrong way of going about it.

Ironically, it was Sassou Nguesso who himself introduced term limits in the 2002 Constitution, only to jettison his ideals ten years later.

Unscrewing caps on term limits here and age limits there, is not anti-democratic per se. But it's when there are no more screws left to unhinge and you open the gateway to indefinite reelection as in some Latin American countries, that's when alarm bells start ringing, TransparencyInternational warns.

Shock of democracy versus a constitutional coup

Voters in Congo-Brazzaville seemingly heard them loud and clear, as many shunned polling stations on Sunday. Turnout was only 10 per cent, it was revealed on Monday.  Proof for the Opposition that voters had heeded their calls to boycott what they described a "constitutional coup d'etat".

On the government's side, the referundum is "above all an instrument of participative democracy."

But Bovid Atouta, an English teacher in the President's stronghold city of Talangai told RFI he wasn't convinced.

"The government needs to do much more. Fine, they're building roads, but what about schools? The main university doesn't even have rest-rooms for students to use and basic social services are lacking," he said in frustration.

African leaders have long dangled the illusion of stability to induce their populations into complicit silence, and Brazzaville is no exception.

Yet, the real power grab comes not from the former French colony, but its colonizer France, suggests Dr. Yves Ekoué Amaizo, head of the panafrican think tank Afrocentricity.

Whiff of neo-colonialism

"People need and must stay in power in order to protect this relationship with the former colonial power. Big companies like Total have vested interests and are making big money," he added.

Total this summer signed a 20-year deal to extend its drilling operations at three major offshore sites in the Congo.

Meanwhile, French President François Hollande rattled featherslast week when he suggested that Sassou Nguesso had the right to consult hispeople. A move hardly likely to reassure opponents of the referendum, who see it as a ploy to extend the long-serving leader's 31-year rule.

Asked why the former Marxist leader is hell-bent on clinging to power in comparison to Tanzania's Kikwete, Amaizo told RFI: "Number one it's a francophone country. Second, you have a lot of major ethnic problems in the Congo, which means that the power which should be at the sub-regional level never took place, and they even had a war because of that."

Indeed, Sassou Nguesso was re-elected in 1997 at the end of a bloody civil war. But strong leadership no matter how stable does not tackle the root causes of poverty. Many Congolese still live on less than U$1 per day.

The situation in Tanzania is slightly different. First, it never experienced ethnic conflict, Amaizo says.

"It's true that Kikwete is supposed to leave, and he will leave," he told RFI.

"From the outside it looks very nice but when you look closer, you'll see that the person who is running as the opposition guy is Kikwete's former prime minister and that same opposition guy was part ofthe ruling party, before joining the opposition."

Amaizo suggests that Tanzania's political change is tainted by association.
"You never get what we call political change. If you want democracy to function you have to have political change in Tanzania and that doesn't exist. The only difference with Congo is that it's peaceful," he concluded.
Originally published in RFI 

Monday, 26 October 2015

PALAVER TREE COMMENTARY: How Nigeria’s "Middle Class" Work for Private Schools — By ‘Tope Fasua

We killed our educational sector in the last two decades. Totally. Even under the military we still had an educational sector. Maybe we bit too much of the privatization apple than is good for our health. Today, Federal Colleges/Unity Schools which were attended by good students with high grades, have become uninhabitable. I think their teachers are even on strike and no one noticed. Our public universities are also being avoided like the plague. Those who can ‘afford’ these luxuries should not count themselves lucky. We are all sitting on a time bomb, evolving a society of desperate souls. The other end of the spectrum is total deprivation.

Image source: PREMIUM TIMES

By ‘Tope Fasua

I was with some very bright young men and a woman a few days back and we discussed several hot topics. I came off with a ‘takeaway’ (thanks to Fashola), about a much-misconstrued issue, more and more like a cliché, called the ‘middle class’. We argued in part about how the Nigerian ‘middle-class’ was not enough critical mass to swing an election and discussed extensively on how we, the middle-class, can make the necessary impact by sharing our knowledge and educating those considered as the ‘working class’ (the majority).

In fact in Nigeria, that term ‘working class’ is seldom used. Even I had made the mistake in the past of using another term to qualify that ‘class’. I think I used ‘lower class’, which is actually very derogatory and well… classist. Classism is just the junior brother of racism. It is actually a dumber junior brother. Why? Whereas it is impossible to change one’s race, and therefore a racist, in all his hallucinations, somehow has a point about clear lines of demarcation and differences; a classist doesn’t have even half a point, because what separates class is usually access to money. Therefore a ‘lower’ or ‘working’ class today, could actually win the lottery, buy up a big house in Rancho Cucamonga, and begin rubbing shoulders with Royalty. After all, in this world, people are attracted to money as flies and maggots take to decaying carcasses!

But back to my rumination on the matter of class. Because of my exposure to the Freakonomics series, and to writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, I since stopped taking anything for granted. Even before I read these out-of-the-box guys, I had been schooled to look at things differently; never follow the bandwagon and always seek out exceptions. I think that is what they call risk management. Work towards achieving the best, but always remember that sometimes, good things happen to bad people, and vice versa.

Before I go on, I remember that given my experience as a parent, I always find it laughable when I listen to some young Nigerian musicians talk about how they’ve ‘hammered’. Well, I’m not privy to the kinds of monies those guys can make these days, but ‘hammering’ doesn’t make a man. A Nigerian parent will find out lately that it requires a phenomenal amount of money to keep the family and raise children in this age and time, especially where such a parent considers him/herself as ‘middle class’. I will try and explain below, the kind of expenses we bear in the course of a lucky lifetime, for an average Nigerian middle-classer. And my argument is that these expenses are not sustainable and that we should find a way of reorganizing our society and extricating ourselves from them, for our own good.

Let’s start with the school fees. A few days ago, someone on Facebook posted some of the fees paid by some of the elite primary/secondary schools in Nigeria. It caused a sort of outrage, especially among those who haven’t started paying for their children at such schools. But because of the way our society has evolved lately, it seems no self-respecting person who considers herself as middle class will bother sending her child to public schools. So we are stuck with these private schools. Since everyone seems to be begging on hands and knees to get their children and wards into these schools, fees keep climbing every year, such that they double in a couple of years.

An average private nursery primary school now charges at least ₦400,000 per annum per child. Some charge less, but many of such don’t adhere to basic standards. For a family with, say, three children, with each child spending like 9 years in kindergarten/nursery/primary school, at this conservative estimate, and if the fees don’t increase over the years, such a family will spend ₦10,800,000 in school fees alone on those three children just going through primary school. This is different from other fees, uniforms, development fees, and of course playclothes for children and feeding for the family. Let us not even consider, for now, the other family pressures on a man/woman who considers him/herself as middle class, as is so considered by extended family and friends.

You can begin to see the kind of outlays we are dealing with, in terms of how much money MUST run through the hands of a middle class family in today’s Nigeria. Consider for a minute, that our parents never had to go through this, for we all, in my generation attended at least 80% public school up to the university level. There is also a critical reason why some of our friends remain abroad with their families. These kinds of expenses just don’t come up.

The secondary school. As the children progresses, so also do the school fees rise astronomically. A cheap private secondary school in Nigeria’s urban centres today will charge at least ₦600,000 per child per year. Some charge like 10 times this, but most charge like twice that amount. The same family of three, assuming the lowest fees stated above, needs to pay secondary schools, for their three children, a clean sum of another ₦10,800,000 in school fees. This very average family is indeed just working class, not middle class. And it has spent ₦21,600,000 just paying school fees for three children up to secondary school – assuming no hitches – and preparing for the Big Kahuna – the University. In private Universities, expenses take on a different life of their own. Triple what you spent in secondary, for starters.

The fact is that most families in Nigeria today, where one or both parents either have a fairly well-paying job in say telecoms, banking, oil and gas, public service, or where they are entrepreneurs, pay at least twice this amount (₦43,200,000), or thrice if they are really upper class by virtue of their cash flows, legal or illegal (N64,800,000). Now that is a whole lot of money. How did we arrive at this point?

Before we look at how we arrived at this point, let us consider the fact that children raised in this manner have expectations. Because we put the ideas in their heads. Summer abroad is nothing. Winter abroad as well. They don’t want to understand the meaning of hard work. We the parents live vicariously through them, and they know. They know that you use them as excuse to live large and they often make you pay for it. These are also children that we cannot step down from the posh schools they attend, into lesser profile schools because of the shame and fear of letting them know.

Yet, only five percent of us, or less, will be lucky enough to get that much unfettered cash-flow going for a consistent period of time. The remaining 95 percent will have hiccups somewhere along the lines. It’s just a law of how society works. It does not help that we live in the age of motivational speaking where smooth talkers try to convince us that bad things only happen to other people, not us. Good financial planning helps, but it all seems like a gamble now. A good financial planner, having saved up a tidy sum, may decide to increase the stakes and send the children to even more expensive schools, based on their reputation and the caliber of big men who send their children there, just like a gambler around a roulette table would up his wager.

Remember that we would not send these children to school on empty stomachs. An average Nigerian family should expect to triple whatever amount it spends on school fees, to maintain the family – holidays, owambes, buying or building a house, cars, clothes, families and hangers-on, ‘dash’ here and there, and for the men, what Yorubas call “afowofa” [self-inflicted] (ask your Yoruba friend, don’t ask me! Lol). At the end of the day, an average working class family, needs a cash flow of at least ₦90,000,000 over a period of say 15 years. That is ₦6 million per year. A middle class family (that buffer between working and upper class), would need at least twice that amount (₦180,000,000) or ₦12 million yearly, over the same 15 year period. How will we not be desperate?

I had written about this frightening phenomenon a few months ago, and titled the article “The Origins of Corruption”. In my view, if we were seeking any true cause of our desperation and corruption, in today’s Nigeria, we should look no further. The emerging truth is that only public servants, with the advantage of job security, plus unlimited ‘egunje’ that I know, who can afford to pay these sums without batting an eyelid. Maybe those of us who are entrepreneurs will one day fight back because we are getting the short end of the stick, but for now ‘man get to survive!’ Most of my friends in the private sector, but for the very few at the top, cannot begin to dream of how their children will attend these elite schools, home or abroad. It just doesn’t come up. And for the top dogs in the private sector, I have seen several instances where something goes wrong – a fraud in the office, a layoff, a takeover, early retirement – and they fall into immediate crisis!

We killed our educational sector in the last two decades. Totally. Even under the military we still had an educational sector. Maybe we bit too much of the privatization apple than is good for our health. Today, Federal Colleges/Unity Schools which were attended by good students with high grades, have become uninhabitable. I think their teachers are even on strike and no one noticed. Our public universities are also being avoided like the plague. Those who can ‘afford’ these luxuries should not count themselves lucky. We are all sitting on a time bomb, evolving a society of desperate souls. The other end of the spectrum is total deprivation.

What to do? I dunno. I ain’t the oracle. But I will suggest at some point, that we must strive to #‎bringbackourpublicschools. Government MUST do all it can to pump money back into those schools. They must become good again, and they must be well subsidized, at least up to Secondary level. Missionary schools must come back the way they were back in the day (Baptist Academy, Methodist Boys, Anglican Girls, Loyola College, Ansar Ud Deen College etc). Shame on today’s ‘missionary’ schools who joined the bandwagon of filthy lucre!

This process will be gradual, but will save us from this pit we have dug ourselves into. Gradually, the working class, and those of us who deceive ourselves that we are middle class, when we actually aren’t, should be able to return our children to those schools where we don’t have to slave to death. This will defuse a great tension in society, and would reduce the irresistible pull towards corruption, crime and desperation in society. Hopefully the private schools may slow down on the increase in their fees.

I think it will also assist us to raise better, more patriotic children, not those totally disconnected from our societies, who cannot wait for the term to break so that they can skedaddle out of the country into neater, more plastic climes. Those ones get trained at the most expensive universities in the world, up to master’s level, only to start careers as Deejays, Dancers, Photographers and so on. Yes, we really missed the bus! Our parents never had to go through this. We were all trained in cheap public schools and we are good for it. But perhaps through our lack of cooperation, we found each of us on his own. The future beckons…
Failure to heed this, our children will not bother about getting married again. The boys will hardly be able to cope with further increasing expenses. Those who get married will have just one child or none at all. And divorce rates will spike, as women become disillusioned and ‘disappointed’ at their young husband’s inability to foot the bill. Masculinity will reduce because that adrenaline rush of being able to cope with these things will not just be there. Same sex marriages will eventually get a foothold, even as same-sex relationships begin to blossom. It’s an “easy” way out of this mess, yeah? Maybe the hardcore feminists will get a taste of their heaven sef
‘Tope Fasua, an economist and consultant, is CEO of Global Analytics Consulting.
Originally published in PREMIUM TIMES Blogs