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Eritrea-Ethiopia peace is good news for Africa

Diplomats from Ethiopia and Eritrea are calling it a “joint declaration of peace and friendship” but that innocuous name is masking what may be one of the most important political changes in East Africa in the past 20 years

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Diplomats from Ethiopia and Eritrea are calling it a “joint declaration of peace and friendship” but that innocuous name is masking what may be one of the most important political changes in East Africa in the past 20 years.

With a simple, five-pillar agreement the presidents of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which were once one country but were bitterly divided by one of Africa’s most expensive and devastating conflicts, jointly declared its end.

It is very easy to be sceptical of the peace declaration given the region’s history of unremitting conflict and political false starts. The Derg regime, which came to power in Ethiopia in 1974 following the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, was supposed to mark the end of imperial rule in the country, but in no time itself became a violent, bloody regime.

After fighting a war of liberation against the Derg regime for many years, Isaias Afwerki took control of the newly independent Eritrea in the early 1990’s and swiftly transformed it into a hermit state.

In the name of remaining ready for war, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have been forcefully conscripted into interminable military service. Despite its small population, Eritrea has consistently been producing the largest number of African refugees to Europe for years.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia constructed the most elaborate security state in East Africa. Millions of dollars that could have been spent on food security and development have instead been wasted on armies and surveillance, turning citizens into spies and destroying freedom of expression.

Therefore, the excitement and enthusiasm with which Ethiopians and Eritreans at home and abroad received the announcement about the end of the 20-year-long African Cold War are understandable. Thousands had been forced into exile as a result of rapid militarisation in both countries, and Monday’s landmark agreement is the surest indicator yet that a pivot away from security-centred statehood is possible.

Yet, in the rest of East Africa, some have found it hard to process the news. The Kenyan media, for example, failed to devote any coverage to the event on the day and has only had marginal analysis since, despite the fact that thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans currently live in Kenya. The changes Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is pursuing in Ethiopia will have an impact beyond the borders of his country and its neighbour, Eritrea. So how should East Africans especially, but outsiders in general see this peace declaration?

Between ending the war and decriminalising various political groups, Ahmed is breaking a network of political taboos that have been a constant hum in the background of east African politics for the past 20 years. Specifically the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been a seemingly unchangeable fact in a region that has a long history of protracted conflicts. So even floating peace as a possibility is a radical act of political transformation that changes the scope of what is possible or imaginable within the political arena – this could be the beginning of a major shift in the discourse around peace and security in East Africa and that needs to be acknowledged.

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Of course, such a move will have political implications beyond this. In Kenya, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) is a major infrastructure project that was developed with the explicit aim of connecting landlocked Ethiopia with the sea.

The animus with Eritrea meant that shared infrastructural connections between the countries that predated Eritrean independence could not be used. As the most stable country in the Horn, Djibouti has been a natural alternative for Ethiopia, although recently Addis Ababa has also made overtures to Somalia and Somaliland for the use of Berbera port.

Kenya maintains that the LAPSSET project is part of a broader continent-wide North-South, Cape to Cairo transport network, but regardless, the utility of the LAPSSET project and the displacement and disruption it has already created will now be under greater scrutiny following the peace accord between Asmara and Addis Ababa.

At the same time, tensions between Somalia and Somaliland about the use of Berbera port will seem less urgent if Ethiopia is able to develop a workable alternative through Eritrea. In June, Mogadishu accused Hargeisa of violating the conditions of semi-autonomy by entering into an agreement with Ethiopia over the development and use of the port, which they argue should have been approved at the federal level.

The tension forced Ethiopian diplomats to backtrack on commitments to direct trade through Berbera. With peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, both of whom stand to gain immensely from normalisation of their relationship, the tension between Somalia and Somaliland will perhaps dissipate, at the very least taking another point of contention off the table.

None of this should overshadow the human element of this declaration – the fundamental reason why this matters. Like India and Pakistan, or Sudan and South Sudan, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has torn families and communities apart, particularly those living along the border.
The political separation was further entrenched by the severing of communication ties and travel bans, making any dialogue between the citizens of the two countries impossible. As mentioned above, militarisation of public life in both countries has significantly distorted networks of trust within communities and a key hope is that the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war will feed into a broader process of demilitarisation in both countries.

The images of joyful Eritreans and Ethiopians receiving this news is a reminder that war happens to people and to communities, and the end of war is always cause for celebration for everyone.

Of course, it is far too early to make definitive declarations of what the future holds for these two countries. Yet, while cynicism has value in political thought, and especially when history provides ample examples of good faith gone bad, it is important to be as ready to accept good news as the bad.

Independently of what happens moving forward, this is a special moment for East Africa that must be cherished and encouraged. For those of us who are neither Ethiopian nor Eritrean, this is a timely reminder that within the politics of a complicated region, sometimes good things do happen.

Commentator: Nanjala Nyabola

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Direct or indirect primaries: The uniting factor is moneybag politics by Afe Babalola

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THE Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) provides for the system of nomination of candidates by political par ties through primary elections ahead of presidential, state governorship, and legislative houses elections. Section 84(1) of the Electoral Act provides that a political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the Commission. Subsection 2 provides that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct, indirect primaries or consensus.

Direct primaries, as described in subsection 4 of the Act, connotes that the members of the political party will be given equal opportunity to vote for a party member of their choice as the nominated candidate of the party. It involves the participation of all registered members of a party in the selection of the party’s candidates. Indirect primaries, on the other hand, is a system whereby members of the political party democratically elect delegates at the party’s congress and, in turn, the delegates elect the party’s candidates on behalf of the members of the political party. Sections 5-8 of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended) generally stipulates the procedure for the conduct of indirect primaries in Nigeria.

The third category, and perhaps the least commonly adopt ed, is the system of consensus candidacy whereby all aspirants in the political party will voluntarily and expressly withdraw from the primaries and endorse a single candidate; and where there is no such express withdrawal, the political party will mandatorily proceed to conduct direct or indirect primaries. Section 9 of the Act provides as follows: 9 (a) A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate; (b) Where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective positions. (c) A Special Convention or nomination Congress shall be held to ratify the choice of consensus candidates at designated centres at the National, State, Senatorial, Federal and State Constituencies, as the case may be.

Over the years, the choice of whether a party should adopt direct or indirect primaries has been the subject of debate by political pundits, commentators, and aspirants. The system of indirect primaries which most political parties adopt has been criticized for being easier to manipulate by party lead ers, and on their part, the delegates are expected to align with the party leadership. Another inherent defect in the conduct of indirect primaries includes some instances of the dubious manner of appointment of delegates. For instance, where a sitting Governor or President’s political appointees are made the party’s delegates, it is not in doubt that their nominations will ultimately favour their appointor’s political interest. Be sides, it is not uncommon to find dissimilar delegates’ selection at party congresses, conventions and primaries. On the other hand, the criticism of direct primaries is that it is a lot more expensive to operate and requires much more planning and organization. It is also more easily manipulated. For in stance, a strong contender in a political party can sponsor the members of his own political party to purchase membership cards of the opposition party en masse in order for such members to deliberately vote for a weaker candidate in the said opposition party to win the primaries, thereby giving him an edge in the general elections.

Notwithstanding the obvious differences in the conduct of direct and indirect primaries, there however exists no real difference because of the association of Nigerian politics with godfatherism and moneybag politics. Though it is easier to bribe fewer delegates to support a faction of the party as op posed to the reduced propensity to tilt the votes of all members of the political party to one candidate if direct primaries were held, it still does not change the fact that the underlying factor is the ability of a candidate to sway the few delegates, or the larger party members, with money.

In an interview published in the Punch newspaper on 19th June 2022, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party rep resenting the Ilaje/Ese Federal Constituency stated the im pact of money on politics. He reportedly said: “Except some are lying, it is real. Our politics is monetised. The process is monetised. Some will just come and tell you that they never pay money. They paid money. We paid money to delegates. There is no way you can survive that hurricane without effectively and efficiently releasing resources for those people (delegates). Whether you have served them for seven years and you have been their perpetual or perennial friend, it is not going to count. You just have to do the needful at that point. Again, if you don’t do it, they will not vote for you. This is because it is not just one aspirant or candidate that is doing that; it is a system. You will give what the system is asking for. There is a stimulus that the system is pumping and which the electorate will have to react to. It is not the fault of those who are currently in power or those that are seeking to come to power, it is not their fault… If you are the best (among the aspirants), you will pay; if you are the worst, you will still pay. It is just a systemic thing. Those who eventually won, it is still the same. In my area, we had three very strong contenders. We paid equally and people made their choice on who they wanted. The three people (aspirants) paid equal amounts of money. They (delegates) collected money from the three of us and made their choice on who they wanted.”

The bold admission by the honourable member of the House of Representatives excerpted above is the reality of the Nigerian political climate today. The influence of moneybags in Nigerian politics continues to hold sway in dampening the hopes of the nation in achieving true democracy. After all, the whole idea of democracy is the free will of the people in electing their political leaders, and where such “free will” is manipulated through the influence of political juggernauts, the country is further pulled away from the attainment of the best democratic policies. It accounts for the corruption and violence which have characterized many elections in Nigeria. On the day of the election, the politician who owes his nomi nation to his huge investments will naturally seek a win by any possible means. Where his reliance is placed on a political godfather, he can count on his godfather’s ability to deploy enormous wealth in a bid to corrupt electoral officials and the electorates and where these fail, violence will be deployed to bring about the desired result.

Consequently, the politician who wins an election based only upon the backing of his political godfather will feel no ob ligation to the electorate who in any event might have been disenfranchised in the whole scheme of events. He will there fore devote the entirety of his tenure of office to the promotion and satisfaction of himself, his cronies, and his godfather. There is an unhealthy synergy between godfatherism, money bag politics, and poverty. It is the entire citizenry who suffers the effect of political office holder’s obligation to recoup his investments and/or satisfy the whims of his godfather who, more often than not, are the actual persons in power.

AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, OFR, CON, LL.D (Lond.)

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Genuine politicians must die by Kenneth Amaeshi

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I often one wonder why people go into politics in Nigeria, because the challenges of the country are massive. Poor health systems. Low quality education. High youth unemployment and low skills. Hunger, poverty, and famine. Weak infrastructure and institutions. In addition, the politics appears dirty and bitter.

The usual but superficial reason people often offer is that they are keen to serve. If the lure of politics is to serve others, why would one subject oneself through the tortuous process of democratic elections in order to serve? Sleepless nights. Odd meetings. Very strange companies. Painful compromises.

A cynical view might suggest that whether a career in politics is pursued to serve or lord it over others, it is simply a quest for power. Of course, it is human and natural to seek dominion over others. But even at that, what then is the purpose of power and is politics the only means to exercise such powers?

Another view is that politics is simply business – in the sense that politicians financially invest in it and expect worthwhile returns on their investments. In such contexts, they may use money to influence votes. When politicians make such investments, they obviously expect some gains, and the higher the risks, the more the expected returns. However, politicians come in various shades.

Some politicians do not pretend about money politics. It is as clear as it can be. It is what it is – a very transactional engagement. It is all about their self-interests. This understanding makes it easy to attract like minds and to agree on expectations and outcomes. They often portray and pride themselves as the real masters of politics. Many people tend to agree with them, and they are unashamedly transparent about their strategies and aspirations. That’s how it is done. Anything short of this is naivety.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Other politicians prefer not to be very overt about their crude intentions and strategies. They rather mask them in some nebulous and grandiose cloaks – often packaged as a form of progressivism and intellectualism. However, beneath this garb of elegance and decency is a constantly warped and treacherous display of self-interest and greed packaged and sold as enlightenment. The main difference between the two categories is their strategies. While the former is overt, the latter is covert. Nonetheless, their goals are the same.

A third group is made up of politicians who are very idealistic and puritan in their approach. They have something to offer and truly want to serve, but they either do not understand the rules of the market for votes or they think they can change things by ignoring the rules and in most cases swimming against them. However, they hardly win elections because they rarely make any financial investments in the business of politics. As much as some voters may like what they represent, they rarely have sufficient incentives to patronize the politicians in this category. In the end, the politicians become cases of good products but unrealized potentials.

Unfortunately, the business of politics and pretentious service leadership are the bane of democracy and good governance in many countries. Sadly, too, they are often normalized and taken for granted. This normalization and taken-for-grantedness could be as a result of helplessness – because people – i.e., the electorate – do not know how to unravel and dismantle them.

However, no matter how they disguise, they can be unmasked effectively. In Nigeria, for example, where the elections season is simultaneously booming and looming, genuine politicians can be assessed by their preparedness to sacrifice and die for the good of Nigeria. Given where the country is today, especially with her challenges, it only needs politicians who are in it, not for their own sake, but for the growth and development of the country – i.e., politicians who are both competent and ethical. Anything short of this is simply an entrenchment of the status quo, which has not done the country any good.

Nigeria needs genuine political leaders who can literally take the proverbial bull by the horns. This will entail a lot of discomfort, political risks, sacrifices and even death. As scary as it may sound, genuine politicians are rarely deterred by it.

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

But how do we identify genuine politicians, given the confusion and obfuscation of personalities and personae in the system? One way to decipher genuine politicians is to look at their antecedents and ask some very pertinent questions. What have they achieved outside politics? What comforts and luxuries are they leaving or setting aside to serve? What sacrifices are they willing to make and or are making? Are they willing to die for Nigeria to thrive? As much as these questions may sound unrealistic, politicians who fit this mode are truly the sort of politicians Nigeria needs now.

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, offered an excellent idea of what genuine political leadership looks like in practice when he said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (emphasis, mine).

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

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