Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thanks for a great lunch and a Happy New Year to all

I did not intend to blog on the first day of 2014 but decided otherwise because of a friend and colleague who wondered, over a delicious steak lunch at The Capital Grill in Tyson's Corner, whether I had something for followers of the blog in the New Year. It was obvious to me, being the avid student of international politics he is, and who loves Africa as much as Africans, he had more than the traditional New Year wishes in mind.

After talking business prospects in 2014, the conversation took a more serious turn to Washington's Smithsonian Zoo where disaster struck last week when a poor white-tailed deer strayed into a cheetah's den with expected outcome.  What was unexpected, from the point of view of my friend and colleague, was the reportage of one of the finest papers in the world. - the Washington Post.  While the Wapo reporter left little doubt about the fate of the deer, he found it necessary to assure the world that the cheetahs came out of the incident unscathed.  I guess he was expecting the deer to ram his antlers into the belly of the predator, my friend and colleague retorted.  It did not come as a surprise when he told me he immediately took to his pen to chastise the reporter for expected too much from the white-tail.  The reporter or editors did write back to my friend to say something about lack of space or something to that effect, with probably ashen face.  I think his instincts were more toward maximizing Wapo's embarrassment than toward expression of sympathy for the white-tail.  In fact, he seemed to have been wishing for more of these lunch-hour visits to help control the deer population, not only around  Maryland's Rock Creek Park area but throughout the Fairfax-Loudoun (I live in the first and my friend lives in the second),  both Virginia counties where, I learned over lunch, there are more deer in these parts today than during the Revolutionary War.  The American War of Independence - the other name for the Revolutionary War -  is synonymous with the most prominent citizen of Fairfax County and the Chief Rebel against British rule - Jammeh will like this fellow - George Washington who became Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  Evidently, George failed where the tree-huggers of today succeeded in protecting the white-tailed deer without (or was it because of ) the firepower that he commanded.  Let me assure everyone that my colleague and friend loves animals.  He has a nice well-behaved dog and, according to him, a ferociously mean cat. By the sound of it, I think the cat scares the bejesus out of my friend and colleague more than the dog.

After the animal talk, the conversation suddenly turned to South Sudan.  You never know what topic comes next from my friend and colleague - be ready to discuss anything from astronomy to zoology.   By this time, I had signaled the waiter to bag my left-over (too expensive a) steak to leave behind before I washed it all down with double espresso coffee.  It was all on him.  Thank you very much,  my friend and colleague.  Let's continue the story - American and other foreign  journalists, my friend and colleague lamented, do not understand Africa and their lack of knowledge is reflected in their reporting, especially about South Sudan which only adds to the confusion of an already confused state of affairs.  He believes what's going on there is not tribal-based but, unfortunately,  foreign journalists have succeeded in convincing the rest of the world that it is tribal. [ I have expressed similar view a day or two earlier that what started out as pure political power play is slowly morphing into a full-blown tribal conflict].  I don't think my friend likes journalists that much, especially American and foreign ones. [Something tells me I may hear from him on this point]  First, it was the poor Washington Post reporter.   Now it's some Reuters or AP reporters reporting from Juba and other western capitals.  I am not sure how the conversation evolved into it but I noticed that my friend and colleagues assertion that solutions to these types of conflicts was very similar to the views expressed recently about the South Sudan conflict by Yaya Jammeh.   That African problems must be solved by Africans and not left to whims of the U.N Security Council or America, for that matter, was Jammeh's advise to the African Union's Peace and Security Council on the eve of the New Year in The Gambian capital.  When I pointed out to my friend and colleague that his views on South Sudan was similar to Jammeh's, he said something to the effect that seeing eye-to-eye on some issues, however rarely, is inevitable.  He said so grudgingly because I know how he feels about Jammeh.

This inevitably led to The Gambia and the deteriorating governance conditions there.  Predictably, I sprung into action by suggesting that the issue of transition from the current dictatorship to the re-establishment of democracy is much more complex than folks in the Gambia diaspora - at least from the vocal minority.  I said, almost 20-years of Jammeh has transformed both the political culture and the psyche of Gambians. The freedom of speech and expression which Gambians took for granted during the Jawara era has gradually been replaced by the repression of expression, by turning every body into an informer.  What is going on in The Gambia, I said, was no different from what is going on presently in North Korea - husbands and wives do not trust each other for fear that one is an informer of the state, fathers turn in their sons to the state security apparatus, maids turn against their employers, discussions around the restaurant table stops the moment a waiter approaches the table because he or she is likely a paid informed of the dreaded National Intelligence Agency.  It is all so unGambian, I said.

A good number of the baby boomer generation has either been exiled, jailed, killed or declared "non-persons" which bans them from ever being employed by government or the private sector,  just like the Soviets used to do to opponents with serious implications for transition to democratic rule.  These were the highly-trained, experienced administrators and professionals who have shown the world their worth by playing a crucial part in the transition of East Timor into a thriving Timor Leste.  Most of these Gambian professionals and administrators have since joined the exile ranks in London, Washington, Stockholm and other Western capitals after the expiration of their contracts with the United Nations.  Because those left behind in The Gambia are the inexperienced and the ill-trained with no option of escaping the despotic environment, they are rendered dependent on a system that rewards sycophancy as the only means of advancement, and punishes independence of thought and action.  Transforming a police state ( Spain, South Africa, Brazil to name a few) into a democracy is a long and hard process that may take a generation or two, and The Gambia is no exception.  Whether we have the willing and the qualified are ready to sacrifice their new-found liberties that they grown to cherish coupled with the security and stable family life in the West, is the unknown factor.  The assumption here is that the process will not be interrupted by another internal military action by renegades, a highly likely possibility - given past experiences with military regimes in Africa.  It is only fair to warn Gambians that difficult times lie ahead.

On that note, I want to take this occasion to once more wish you all a Happy and prosperous New Year. 2014 is a watershed year which demands a higher level of debate by the opposition and political activists alike about the future of The Gambia, post-Jammeh.   The period of beating pots and pans is over.  The time for advancing clearing articulated transition framework is now.  On the issue of tribalism, it is a non-issue which should not occupy the time of any serious reformer committed to the transitioning of the current system to one of democracy, the rule of law and the development of a free enterprise environment.  Again, Happy New Year.