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Betting is becoming a mental disorder here, someone stop it! By Jenerali Uliwengu

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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Robert Tressel, 1914) could have been written with us in mind. Tressel wrote only one known book, but it has remained a classic in its genre (George Orwell called it a “social history”).

It simply takes a long and hard look at a group of proletarians in a small English town, clearly unable to feed themselves properly, but engaged in the business of enriching their exploiters, and unwilling (or unable) to contemplate a situation much different from what they have been socialised into.

Generally, that is the condition we suffer in many of our situations that we would have been capable of overthrowing if only we allowed ourselves space and time to think about what ails us.

In this installment I want to talk about the phenomenal — and aggressive —upsurge in betting activities in Tanzania, although I know the situation is not very different in other countries in Africa.

Our young men and women are being turned into inveterate betters, as betting shops have sprung up all over the country — from our cities, towns, townships, minor settlements, hamlets, and villages.

All our radio stations have taken up strident advertising promising the creation of millionaires twenty-four-seven and getting the young people to surrender what little money they have earned since morning to the glittering machines beckoning to them in their ramshackle huts.

Scrawny urchins

I have often stopped in a dirt-poor back alley where I went to get some service on my way to the outlying areas of our towns and observed a really frightening scene. Bare-bummed, scrawny urchins, who look like they have not had a breakfast, queueing up before some clinking machine, ready to feed it like some hungry and insatiable little neon monster.

You and I should know that they have been caught up in the web of a monstrous moneymaking scheme looking for these kids’ little money, and that they shall likely never escape: the bug has been planted in their minds, and they have no way of getting rid of it.

Though we should all know that betting has never made anyone rich, we let this situation be.

Billions of shillings are made hourly. If, say, there are a million betters parting with half a US dollar every time they play, that translates into half a million dollars every time they play, once.

If they play ten times in a day — and that happens very often — that comes to $5 million. That is in a day, which comes to $150 million in a month and in a year, we are talking of $1. 5 trillion (help me count the correct zero, you maths geniuses!

For all that, the scrawny, eager-faced ragamuffin placing all his earthly wealth into the blinking machine has been told that he will be a millionaire and he has heard someone being interviewed after he “became a millionaire” at every stroke of the hour.

But the half-naked kid does not have the gumption to understand that he will never get that lucky, and that the numbers are rigged against him in a contest in which there is only one winner.

I have tried to understand this phenomenon, and failed. In the mid-1990s, for instance, when Benjamin Mkapa was president, I was appalled by the granting of a tax holidays to casinos, as though they too were “investors”whose activities were going to open up economic opportunities for our people. Well, the government removed those tax holidays after some 10 years, but soon enough we got to learn of the reduction of the rate of taxation on these “investments” from 20 percent to 15 percent!

Sans-culottes

Right now, the betting world is in ecstasy over Tanzania’s stance of embracing betting as an economic activity, though for sure we are mobilising our most vulnerable members of society into a generous class of the sans-culottes to finance the super-rich betting conglomerates, whose only contribution to our economy is selling us unrealisable dreams of becoming millionaires on Never-come-day.

One of the most outrageous inanities I heard on some FM radio the other day is: Even when you lose, you win, and when you win you really win! How do you sell that idea except to the mentally diseased?

You wish our decision makers would pluck the courage to read just one book, and I would direct them to The Richest Man in Babylon (George Clason, 1926), where a few rules on how to get rich are laid out clearly, even for an economic dunce like me.

Then one might hope against hope that the authorities would take the requisite measures to save our youth from this debilitating affliction which has been recognised by experts as some sort of SUD (substance use disorder).

I’ve just said it, hoping against hope, because I do not believe that will exists, and if it does exist anywhere along the corridors of power, one is likely to come up against arguments like, the dirty money thus taxed helps finance “sporting activities”, which is pure balderdash, if you ask me.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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Strictly Personal

Nigeria’s Currency Crisis: Time to deploy Amotekun, By Chinedu Chidi

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I have thought long and hard about just the right solution to the downward spiral of the Naira, and confidently believe I have come up with the perfect response. It is my humble proposal that the time is right to deploy the dreaded Amotekun to arrest this situation. I’ll explain why.

 

Since it is now clear that the Naira’s salvation is not in the hallways of the CBN or the gold-plated policy rooms of Bretton Woods, but in the battle grounds of the nook and cranny of Nigeria, all patriotic Nigerians must now rightly ignore suit-wearing technocrats and search for militant solutions with real promise. As a patriotic citizen, I have risen to this challenge. I would humbly like to thank the patriotic Nigerian leadership, from the CBN to the Executive, for leading us into this new era of mortal combat.

 

Only a few days ago, we were greeted with the live action scene of security operatives combating BDC operators in the nation’s capital, discharging live ammunition in broad daylight in an open civilian space like fearless patriots at the battle front. The EFCC and accompanying security operatives charged forward and backwards as the enemies of state dared challenge them. It was almost like a combat scene from Gibson’s Braveheart. I was touched. I’m not too sure, but I may have heard the humming of the national anthem from these fearless patriots as they battled the savage saboteurs. What a touching moment! Someone who was at the scene mentioned that these patriots recited the pledge before the onslaught. I can’t confirm this for sure, but if it did occur, it would be consistent with the new nationalistic fervour of the Tinubu administration as reported in the news recently that citizens would be required to recite the pledge at events. I also hear the operation is going on in different parts of the country. All these, coming only days after Sahad Stores, a retail supermarket in Abuja, was forcibly shut down for “economic sabotage”, fill me with great joy. Some unpatriotic citizens had shockingly opposed the move, claiming Sahad Stores was one of the good ones, and that deploying force would not resolve the inflation crisis. Cowards and co-conspirators! They’re too distracted by textbook ideas to see that we’re in war. Shame.

 

Normally, I would have recommended the army for this most important national assignment, but they’re overstretched. They’re battling terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, secessionists, their welfare; just about every violent aggressor around. The police would have been my second option but they too are preoccupied and, as some mischievous people claim, have a special DNA for compromise. For these and some other reasons which I will explain, Amotekun has my blessings.

 

I know Amotekun is also seriously engaged with battling bandits in the South West, but they must be pleaded with to spare some personnel for this all-too-important national emergency. Their stealth, daredevil disposition, and my favourite—charms from the gods— will come in handy.

 

I have heard rumours that some of the BDCs hide their stockpile of dollars in forests. This is the domain of the Amotekun warriors. Through their local intelligence gathering and tactical navigation of the forests, they can uncover these dollar chests and win for the country a huge deliverance. Their spiritual protection against wild animals and attacks from dark forces will be very useful here.

 

I am also confident that what has for so long appeared to be the near-impossible goal of finding the dollars some loud-mouthed people claim are hidden by politicians, bank executives and— I struggle to even contemplate it— CBN officials will be spiritually detected by Amotekun. We desperately need this.

 

It was with great joy that I also received the news that our gallant security personnel are now stopping truckloads of food from leaving the country. What took them so long! How can any patriotic businessman think of trade and profit at a time of economic crisis? This beats my imagination. I am even more infuriated by the argument of their unpatriotic defenders that we don’t have food scarcity, just food unaffordability, and that we can’t seriously let them abandon their goods in warehouses while the vast majority of Nigerians can’t purchase them. This is so inconsiderate and sad. Their argument that the exports bring in needed forex at this time of forex crisis is also another textbook nonsense. Shame on them.

 

I am particularly touched by Cardoso’s sincerity and humility. Realizing that the air-conditioned policies have hit the brick wall and that the fight has morphed into street combat, he did not try to deceive the populace about it. This is uncommon (apologies to Akpabio) pragmatism.

 

I want to enjoin the President to rally leaders in the South West towards mass mobilization of Amotekun for this national assignment. We can’t afford to fail!

 

Chinedu Chidi is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via: chiobe24.cc@gmail.com

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Strictly Personal

The problem of DRC’s beautiful wife, maize it planted by roadside, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Watching the upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, one is tempted to invoke the African proverb that “the man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows maize by the roadside have the same problem.”

The police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and UN offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.

The protesters claim the West supports Rwanda, which they and their government accuse of backing the M23 rebellion, whose advance could see them seize the strategic border city of Goma in the east.

This is a new phase of what has become an entrenched tradition of the Congolese oscillating between blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems, and demanding that other people solve these problems, including fighting for them.

In recent years — rightly — the Congolese have railed, then attacked, the long-running and ineffectual United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) for not ending the rebellion in the east.

In late 2022, DRC’s kin in the EAC dispatched the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to separate the warring sides. Before long, Kinshasa and the people had risen against them, hounding them to go out to the jungle and fight the rebels for them. At the end of last year, EACRF left DRC with its tail between its legs.

Because the Congolese are our brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to love them, we also have a duty to tell them uncomfortable truths that will help them overcome.

So, we will return to our proverb. African proverbs are complicated. First, one needs to know that they passed into society through the mouths of men who were not feminists, so too many of them tend to portray women in bad light.

This one paints a heroic hard-working farmer (although it is mostly women, not men, who work the land in Africa) whose maize is stolen by passers-by, in contrast with the beautiful wife who betrays her husband and falls to the charms of other men.

However, African proverbs are also layered, so there is what they say, and the many things they mean. In this case, that people will covet a good thing — a good crop, a beautiful woman and, if we may add, a handsome, enterprising man. The “problem” here is how to keep your maize, beautiful wife, and enterprising husband. If you are better than all the men who hit on her, your beautiful wife will stay faithfully by your side.

Having your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend run off with someone else can be very hurtful, but if you have a cantankerous truth-telling African aunt or uncle, they will also whisper to you that a partner whom no other man or woman has ever or will ever want is probably not worth having.

In real-world Congo politics, then, the reality is rebels will have friends and allies at home and abroad. Even Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as despicable as a rebel group can ever be, had friends outside who backed it.

The thing that should terrify everyone is a rebel group that no one wants to touch with a 10-metre pole, both in the day and night. The opposite is also true of rebels fighting to overthrow a government. If it is a government that doesn’t have a single friend even in the cynical world of geopolitics, then it’s probably worse than a cabal of cannibals.

For Congo, what is left is how to solve this “problem”. To stay with the farmer and the beautiful wife, what the Congolese are doing is like the strapping young man in old Africa who spent all his time attacking his parents, relatives, neighbours, and their friends because they failed to give him cattle to pay a bride price for a wife and build a hut for him to live in with her.

The scale of surrender of agency by many Congolese, including the political class and the government, is unsettling.

It’s partly understandable, too. The unusually brutal Belgian rule; the exploitation of all sorts of vultures for its vast minerals lasting over 100 years now; and an unbroken long spell of corrupt and cruel rule, have broken its self-confidence. The way to come to terms with the scale of failure and remain sane is to externalise all the problems to evil forces.

It has led to national paralysis, a belief that they can’t do much on their own to overcome.

DRC’s neighbours to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, offer good lessons. When President Yoweri Museveni took to the bush with his small band of rebels in 1981, the odds were stacked up against them. The British had a big programme with a special police force; the Tanzanian army that helped overthrow military dictator Idi Amin was on the side of the government, and hardy North Koreans soon got into the fight against them. They still won.

The prospects were even worse for the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front when it crossed from Uganda and took to treacherous hills in 1990. Apart from Uganda, it was alone against the world, including one of the world’s superpowers at the time, France, which was in bed with the government in Kigali. They suffered setbacks, picked themselves up, and won.

Congo can win, but first, it will have to plant its own maize and fight its war for its own beautiful wife.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

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