Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An exciting time for African democracy


Italians voted this week on several national referenda on Silvio Berlusconi’s policies, put on the ballot by his opponents. Berlusconi’s policy towards the election, therefore, was to tell his supporters not to vote, since referenda fail if they don’t get a 50% turnout (before this week, none had for 16 years), and use his dominance of the state and private media to stifle discussion of the election. But there was a high turnout, and c.94% votes to overturn his plans to build new nuclear plants, privatize water, and give immunity to government officials such as himself who are just too busy to be bothered by corruption trials.



A couple of days ago, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa.

SAY, HILLARY, WHAT TIME IS IT? “Let me begin by saying this is an exciting time for African democracy.”


Indeed, “we do know that too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future.” She did not say how many people in Africa is the right number to still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future, but apparently the current number is too many.

The Arab Spring (er, didn’t that lead to a military coup, several bloody crackdowns, and an ongoing civil/international war?) sent a message: “The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity.” So evidently in the past, until earlier this year, I guess, the old ways of governing were perfectly acceptable and it was not time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity.

The Arab Spring “has particular significance for leaders in Africa and elsewhere who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people. To those leaders our message must be clear: Rise to this historic occasion; show leadership by embracing a true path that honors your people’s aspirations; create a future that your young people will believe in, defend, and help build.” So evidently democracy will come about by leaders who hitherto have held on to power at all costs, suppressed dissent and enriched themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people, changing their minds and “showing leadership.” Maybe it’s me, but I’m wondering if we haven’t seen quite enough leadership from people who have held on to power at all costs, suppressed dissent and enriched themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people.

NOT THAT IT’S A CONTEST OR ANYTHING: “The women of Africa are the hardest working women in the world.”


WELL, NOT THE TIDE OF LIBYAN HISTORY: “There is little question that the kind of activities that, unfortunately, have affected the Libyan people for more than 40 years run against the tide of history.” I don’t think the threat of being “against the tide of history” or “on the wrong side of history,” as she says elsewhere in the speech, is one that really has ever had anyone quaking in their boots. All this “history” talk is the 21st century version of saying that Africans are at a more primitive stage of civilization.

HAS HE CHECKED BEHIND THE SOFA CUSHIONS? “But it has become clearer by the day that [Qaddafi] has lost his legitimacy to rule, and we are long past time when he can or should remain in power.” She does not say when he lost his legitimacy to rule or when and how he acquired that legitimacy in the first place. She says that the AU nations should expel Qaddafi’s diplomats and “increase contact and support for the Transitional National Council.” Maybe the council found the legitimacy that Qaddafi so carelessly lost. Or maybe not, since Clinton doesn’t suggest that African nations recognize it as Libya’s one and true government.

Awkward.


WHAT HILLARY HAS NEVER MET: “We welcome to our shores immigrants from every country represented here... But I have never met an immigrant from Africa who has not said he or she wished they could have done the very same in their own country, among their own people, close to their family, eating the food, smelling the flowers, seeing the sights that are in their blood. I want to see that for Africa, where people are coming home to Africa because this is where opportunity for the future resides.” I believe she’s saying that she wants Obama to go back to Kenya and let her be president.

Oh, and “seeing the sights that are in their blood”? Unless she’s talking about something involving Raquel Welch in a miniaturized submarine, that comes across just a bit racist.

And then she left early, because of a volcano in Eritrea. Volcanoes always seem to be chasing Obama officials out of countries lately, don’t they?

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