Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sen. Obama's litmus test

One would have thought that, several months into the presidential campaign, questions about Barack Obama's blackness would have been settled, or at least ignored.

But it's now apparent that Obama's lack of total support among the black population has nothing to do with his abilities. Instead, an unthinking spectrum of the black population - both inward-looking and self-serving - has decided to subject him to this hapless color scrutiny.
The issue about Obama's blackness first came up in 2003 when he was running for Senate. Four years later, the topic is as virulent as ever.

Considering this country has never had a black president and the perception that past leadership have not done enough to address problems of African-Americans, it's easy to assume their support for Obama would have been automatic. Yet this has not been the case. Instead, many in the African-American community are more interested in subjecting Obama to a "how-black-are-you?" test.

In November 2006, African-American columnist Stanley Crouch threw the first blows before Obama even announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic ticket, saying, "He has not lived the life of a black American … If we end up with him as our first black president, he will have come into the White House through a side door - which might, at this point, be the only one open."

Comments like this are silly, immature and divisive. Why doesn't anyone ask if Bill Richardson is Hispanic enough, if Hillary Clinton is feminist enough or if John Edwards is handsome enough? Why hasn't anyone asked if Mitt Romney is religious enough or why Rudy Giuliani has marriage problems? Has anyone bothered to find out if Joe Biden is tall enough or whether Ron Paul is white enough?

Obama may not represent the black community the way 50 Cent does, but he shouldn't have to. Obama's trouble with the community is that he's biracial, has a direct connection with Africa, doesn't yell racism at every opportunity and will not make reparations a campaign theme. Because Obama is a Harvard-trained lawyer ready to break from the stereotypical African-American mold, he has been given a bad name by a community that should have been his most unyielding support base.

Should the reluctance of blacks to vote for Obama be seen as a display of political maturity or a reflection of their own small-mindedness? Is the reluctance of a black person with African-American parents to vote for another with non-African-American parents - but still black - any different from a white American refusing to vote for a black person? Do we call that racism too? Or is there another name for it? Is one's blackness determined by one's parentage, culture, color of skin, educational background, prison history, propensity for violence or something the rest of us don't know about?

Actually, when did race become such an issue in presidential politics?

To cast your vote based on the color of one's skin is as simple-minded as making a judgment of one's character based on the shape of his or her nose. In any case, who has bestowed on anyone the authority to determine the blackness of a human being? When did Al Sharpton's definition of blackness become a barometer for measuring race? What were people thinking when they called Bill Clinton the first black president? We should be worried, because the factors that gave Clinton that label are nothing to write home about: a huge appetite for sex and single parenthood.

Obama is the first black candidate with a realistic chance of becoming president, so isn't it ridiculous that a prowling mass of gullible ethnocentrists are pulling the trigger on his quest to make history?

The simple truth is that playing the race card is a great disservice to the future of America and the qualities of high achieving aspirants. Race is irrelevant. I hope that one day many more Americans will move beyond the clouds of trivial politics into the high plains of thought where ability, skill and relevant qualities are considered in making a judgment of one's suitability for the White House.

Perhaps the bickering about color reveals more about the pettiness that underpins our politics than about the candidates themselves. Let us judge them on their records. Let us judge them on their policies. Let us judge them on their message and the reason of it - not on the color or discolor of their skins.

News Analysis: Zimbabwe risks falling into Kenya-style

Harare, ZIMBABWE: The MDC MP for Harare North Trudy Stevenson writhes in agony on her hospital bed at the Avenues Clinic after being allegedly assaulted with a machete in political violence that flared up in Mabvuku during the weekend. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions in Zimbabwe escalated on Sunday after announcement of a recount of the March 29 general elections' votes, raising fears that the South African nation may fall into Kenya-style post-election chaos.

State media reported that 23 out of 210 constituencies will be recounted next Saturday.
As news of the recount came, leaders of Southern African countries convened in the Zambian capital of Lusaka on Saturday for an emergency meeting to break the impasse in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was absent from the regional meeting.

The African nation held elections for parliamentarians, local councilors and president on March 29, but the failure to release presidential results has triggered a serious crisis.

Chairman of the Southern African Development Community and Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who called the Lusaka summit several days ago, said the delay in announcing the presidential race result has evoked "a climate of tension" in the Zambian neighbor.

After the March 29 elections, Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claimed its leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won outright in the presidential race.
However, there were also reports indicating that neither incumbent President Mugabe nor Tsvangirai has secured enough votesfor an outright victory.

While Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front envisions a run-off, the opposition has ruled out Tsvangirai's participation, saying that a second round would be undemocratic due to Mugabe's intimidation tactics.

"What the war veterans are doing is preparing for a re-run because Mugabe realizes that an announcement that he has won outright will not be believed," said political analyst Lovemore Madhuku.
Madhuku was referring to the independence war veterans that the opposition said Mugabe had sent out to ensure a second round victory.

"You will get the war veterans again on the war path. If there is a runoff the war veterans would make it difficult for some people to turn out to vote," said Madhuku, a critic of Mugabe and chairman of pressure group, the National Constitutional Assembly.

The opposition has also called for a general strike to be launched from Tuesday, the day after a court is due to rule on its bid to force the publication of the election result.

The political turmoil has added insult to injury for a nation which is deeply trapped in an economic crisis.

With inflation raging at higher and prices soaring irrationally, the government introduced earlier this month a 50-million-dollar Zimbabwe note, which could only buy three loaves of bread then and is depreciating quickly.

The International Monetary Fund said Saturday that even before the disputed March 29 election, things were bad in Zimbabwe.

It added that independent finance houses calculated inflation at around 290,000 percent in Zimbabwe compared to the official figure of 100,500 percent.

If not properly handled, the crisis in Zimbabwe has the risk of escalating toward the style of the deadly riots in Kenya, which was once one of Africa's most stable countries. The recent clashes in Kenya left more than 1,000 people killed and 350,000 others displaced.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cameroon: Another Failed State? Cameroon's Descent

Relatives gather on February 24, 2008 in the Madagascar district of Douala in front of the house of Raoul, a 20-year-old man who was reportedly shot dead by police trying to disperse during a demonstration after protestors erected barricades on the eve. Police in Cameroon fired tear-gas and water cannon at a crowd of several hundred gathered for an outlawed demonstration against President Paul Biya's constitutional reform plans here yesterday. But opposition politicians behind the protest said police acted despite the rally being postponed at the last minute amid efforts at getting the state to overturn a ban its officials said was to avoid another 'Kenyan scenario'. A 20-year-old man was reportedly shot dead by police trying to disperse during the demonstration after protestors erected barricades. AFP PHOTO / FANNY PIGEAUD (Photo credit should read FANNY PIGEAUD/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu

Unless there is clear political reform that will allow citizens to finally enjoy basic civil liberties - including full freedom of expression, free elections and the rule of law - a crisis is inevitable. But within days of our arrival in my country, riots and protests ignited by the rising costs of fuel and food resulted in a nationwide lockdown.

Much of the public's frustration is due to the stark need for political reform. Cameroon's 75-year-old president, Paul Biya, suggested in his New Year's address that he intended to modify the Constitution to extend his term in office beyond 2011.

Biya has been in power almost as long as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Under his rule, Cameroon has endured endemic corruption, weak institutions, official impunity and fraudulent elections. During our trip, I found the presence of armed security forces across the capital's hilly landscapes frighteningly reminiscent of the atmosphere in Rwanda and Burundi in the mid-1990s.

Thousands of ordinary citizens suspected of participating in the protests were arbitrarily rounded up and detained, subjected to summary trials and harsh sentences, some for up to six years in prison. Witnesses reported that many people in custody were beaten, tortured and abused.

There were also reports of dead bodies floating on the Wouri River in Douala, the country's economic capital, although it is unclear how many people died. Even more disturbing is the inflammatory and divisive rhetoric by some high-level government officials seeking to incite hatred and manipulate ethnic differences. In a country with over 125 different ethnic groups, this is a sinister game that could trigger inter-community conflict. The president recently made good on his New Year's promise.

The ruling party has formally introduced a bill that would amend the Constitution to allow Biya to run for another seven-year term after his current mandate ends in 2011. It is unclear what may happen next. Resentments were simmering long before Biya's New Year's speech - resentments that could have been addressed, but weren't. Instead, the president ignored all warnings in his bid for increased power.

The outcome could be very scary indeed. Although calm appears to have returned, for now, the human rights situation is seriously deteriorating. The few human rights lawyers in the country are overwhelmed. Intolerance and hate speech are rising. Campaigners for a civil society report that the government has them under surveillance and that their family members do not feel safe. There also are reports of increased arms trafficking into the country, with ordinary citizens buying and burying guns in their backyards - "just in case." The international community could take steps to help prevent a crisis.

Unfortunately, promises of preventive measures and "never again" rhetoric regarding Africa rarely translate into action on the ground. I fear that the international community will wait until it is too late to prevent a major conflict in Cameroon - and will then have to spend massive resources in response to a humanitarian crisis. Today, many people are trying to leave the country. But most of Cameroon's neighboring countries are themselves collapsing states and cannot provide a safe haven.

Unless there is clear political reform that will allow citizens to finally enjoy basic civil liberties - including full freedom of expression, free elections and the rule of law - a crisis is inevitable. Cameroon is another Central African country where time is running out.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Essay Contest organized by UNESCO and the Goi Peace Foundation

From: UNESCO and the Goi Peace Foundation
Dear Friends of Peace,

Young people from around the world are again invited this year to enter the 2008 International Essay Contest organized by UNESCO and the Goi Peace Foundation with the sponsorship of the Earthrise Society. The theme for this year s contest is "My project to create positive change in my environment. How can I foster sustainable development in my community?"

Please submit your innovative ideas and concrete plans/projects to address the social, cultural, environmental or economic problems faced by your community. The deadline for entry is June 30, 2008. First prize winners will receive a cash award and a trip to Japan. Please see the complete guidelines on The 2008 International Essay Contest anouncement is also prominently highlighted on UNESCO website at

To read winning essays from last year's contest, please kindly visit the website

Please kindly spread the information about the Essay Contest to young people in your network and display the 2008 Essay Contest on your website(s) and publish it in your information material. Thank you so much for your kind cooperation!

And good luck to all youth leaders! May Peace Prevail on Earth! The Goi Peace Foundation

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The 2008 elections have generated heated debate in the media and among the public


In a matter of months, Ghanaians will be heading to the polls to elect a new president and members of parliament as well. This is in line with the democracy that has been prevailing since the country opted for constitutional rule. December though seems far will soon be here and so all issues critical to realizing a successful, free and fair election, need to be addressed as early as is feasible.

A major issue that has cropped up is the fact that the election date, 7th December, falls on a Sunday. If this is what the constitution states then there should be no problem. But all of a sudden, many interest groups are calling out for a change of date for various reasons.
For the Christians, it is the day of the Lord thus we should keep it holy. Indeed we should endeavor to keep it holy but the big question is should we fail to fulfill our constitutional rights, duties and obligations just because it is a Sunday?

The Election Day falling on Sunday does not in anyway prevent people from going to worship or holding prayer sessions or performing whatever their Sunday obligations are to God. In fact we are given a minimum of ten hours to exercise our franchise and I don’t think any individual will be spending the whole of these hours in a church. Currently, most churches in the country have two to four services every Sunday, so all of us wouldn’t have to be at church at the same time. This would even help in maintaining short queues at polling stations compared to huge number of people who would eventually cause confusion were it any other day. Another opportunity the day offers us as a religious people is that we can intensify our prayers for a peaceful election whiles we take turns at the churches and polling stations.

The Muslims are also calling for a change of date as it is a time when the Hajj pilgrimage will be underway. The hajj is a yearly affair whiles the national elections come once in every four years. Our Muslim brothers and sisters will have to take this into consideration and make the right choices during this period.

As some cry for a change in date, some are also happy as their tight work schedules will more than rob them of the chance to vote on a any other day. In 1996, the date fell on a Saturday. The Seventh Day Adventists were the ones calling for a change then but the elections were conducted anyway. Are we saying they were not citizens whose rights had to be ensured? If we didn’t change it then for religious reasons, why change it now?

Let us not harp on the excusable reasons why elections should not be conducted on a Sunday but rather cash in on the good sides of the day and maintain that our constitution be upheld at all times.