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A President who should be Shooed!

December 18, 2008

After all the hullabaloo of the Iraqi reporter throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush – an act I condone, I cannot help but rebel against my journalistic convictions and think of another president who could be more deserving of having a pair of leather uppers hurled at him.

But more about the man later.


U.S. President George W. Bush had two shoes thrown at him Sunday during a news conference in the Iraqi prime minister's office in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD: U.S. President George W. Bush had two shoes thrown at him Sunday during a news conference in the Iraqi prime minister's office in Baghdad.

Most journalists would know the maxim that you report the news and never make it. Granted Bush might be very unpopular in the region, but you express your views in print, broadcast or whatever your medium and you do so in a balanced way without fear or favor.

If anything, the journalist should face the full might of the law, regardless of how the country has rallied behind him. He should also be censured as a journalist as his credibility has now become an issue, not least of all his temperament.

Today it’s a shoe, tomorrow it could be a bomb.

When Nelson Mandela stepped down after only one term in office as president of South Africa, it was said that his successor Thabo Mbeki had some mighty big shoes to fill. As Mbeki’s tenure comes to an end, some of his gains have been overshadowed by his confusing stance on issues such as questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and failing to take adequate action to roll out anti-retroviral drugs, added to his silent diplomacy approach on Zimbabwe. 

Mbeki and his caretaker successor President Kgalema Motlanthe have adopted a similar stance – never embarrassing President Robert Mugabe no matter how much he runs Zimbabwe into the ground. I’m just a plebeian, not privy to the détente and so I’ve never been fully appreciative of Mbeki’s attempts at resolving conflict in Zimbabwe. But I do know that it’s not working!

The World Health Organization says that since December 15th, more than 18,000 cases of cholera have been reported. Hundreds of deaths have been recorded, though there is a discrepancy among sources in the actual number of fatalities. 

Mugabe for his part says the epidemic has been contained. In fact, he says it’s over.

As people continue to die, whether of cholera, malnutrition or starvation and a gloomy economic outlook with inflation at ridiculously high levels has seen dire fuel and food shortages, Mugabe continues to pontificate like a proud African leader who broke the shackles of white colonial rule. It’s not the epidemic that’s over, it’s Mugabe’s stewardship.

He has remained in power since 1980, often suppressing dissent through violent means. White-owned farms, which were the breadbasket of the economy, were forcibly seized by his war veteran supporters, precipitating the economic decline.

 Mugabe has brushed aside appeals by world leaders to step down. His closest neighbors South Africa, which the world views as the only country capable of influencing his decision to bring about reform, has not been publicly vocal in criticizing Mugabe’s autonomous regime. Their softly-softly approach has mystified the international community. 

No doubt many hope for an internal coup d’état. Targeted sanctions by the United Nations doesn’t appear to have the desired effect. The power-sharing deal with his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai is sputtering along.

So how do you deal with Mugabe the despot?

The African Union, tasked with promoting mutual cooperation among nations on the continent, doesn’t appear to have the teeth to effectively end Mugabe’s reign, or the willingness as a unified body to be consistently critical of the southern Africa leader.

There appears to be no hope in sight. But growing up under apartheid and being a peaceful activist I held onto the belief that change would ultimately come. International pressure, combined with peaceful protests by activists like myself contributed to the downfall of white minority rule.

So yes, I’d be sympathetic to protesters, even reporters throwing shoes at Mugabe.  

Seems at odds with my earlier sentiments. Bush is a democratic leader, Mugabe a dictator who kills to get his way. 

I know the journalistic values of objectivity and impartiality and should Mugabe chose to be a few feet away and remain the pompous, unrepentant despot, the most I might do is to “shoo” him away. 

But thing is, I’ve got these loafers that were due for the trash, but maybe I could throw them elsewhere. 




What one African president has in common with notorious rock stars

December 16, 2008

Talk to any president and chances are they’re not metalheads.

Nor are they’re likely to be fans of hardcore rock.

And when you’re not throwing shoes at President George W. Bush, check out the playlist on his Ipod. Wanna bet you’ll find some country and western music, like George Jones and Alan Jackson. Maybe even a bit of classic rock?


Korin Miller

CREDIT: Courtesy of Fox News LOCATION: n/a, , n/a CAPTION: President Bush checks out his iPod on Fox News Sent by: Korin Miller

French President Nicholas Sarkozy is thought to have a penchant for 60s pop.    

And I’ve mentioned in a previous post here about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s fondness for the squeaky clean Sir Cliff Richard. When he’s not wagging his index finger at the West in blaming them for all the evils visited on the poor souls under his regime, don’t think it likely he’s headbanging to Marilyn Manson. More like a hip Mugabe (if you can imagine that) saying:

“What’s with that eye dude?”

So when I read SA President Kgalema Motlanthe allegedly trashed a home he once lived in, I thought Amy Winehouse, Courtney Love, Lindsay Lohan, Keith Richards and a host of other celebrities were rubbing their hands with glee and thinking aloud.

“Welcome to the club. We’ve had musicians and Hollywood movie stars wreck hotel rooms, but never a full on president destroy a luxury house. Far out, man.” 

Big name stars have a penchant for wanton destruction. TV sets have been hurled off balconies and walls and carpets in fancy hotels destroyed. You name it they’ve done it.

And you felt guilty pinching bit of bath shampoo. 

I’ve no idea what President Motlanthe has on his Ipod playlist, if he in fact has one, or whether he settles for some laid-back Afro-jazz CDs on the stereo. I would venture a guess and say Hugh Masekela and the late Miriam Makeba, but certainly not John Ottman’s Bringing Down the House

But if the report of him destroying a luxury home is true, my immediate thought (like any taxpayer) is that he should face the music.

My second wish as a citizen concerned with wise leadership is that he should get his house in order.

OK, I know I overdid it on the puns, so forgive me for sounding somewhat facetious. But it is a matter worthy of comment so please indulge me a bit.

Journalists are notorious for having untidy workspaces but it doesn’t translate into disjointed stories. A technician might have alligator clips, cable testers, reversible irons and an assortment of tools scattered in his/her immediate environs, but function effectively amid the seeming chaos.

But how on earth do wall units, cupboards and carpets interfere with effective governance? It’s not like the president is dealing with bureaucratic officialdom that might hamper his objectives or feel hamstrung by budgetary restraints.

It’s just furniture. You move it if it’s in your way or rearrange it for a desired aesthetic appeal. What’s with ripping up the carpets and knocking in cupboards? Hoarding millions because banks and Wall Street are bellying up?

Motlanthe is a caretaker president who rented a private house to carry out his duties. All the more reason, wouldn’t you say, why he ought to have exercised more caution. If allegedly trashing a luxury house is the measure of the president of the most powerful country in Africa, it might come as a relief to some that his role is an interim one. But with a successor carrying more political baggage than a luggage conveyor belt, one wonders whether more than just  a home will be destroyed.

Blagojevich? Is that African?

December 12, 2008

Pssst … don’t tell caretaker South Africa President Kgalema Motlanthe that what he has is “f–king golden.

Power has a strange way of corrupting and once you have a taste for high office, well it’s not easy to give up the luxury cars, the bodyguards, international travel to meet heads of state and captains of industry, evenings around the fireplace with single malt whiskey and the finest Cuban cigars. Oh bless that Castro.

It’s hard relinquishing control. Just ask Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe who sees sinister plots to unseat him at every turn.  Gripped by a cholera epidemic, Zimbabwe he claims, is being targetted once again by Messrs. Sarkozy, Brown and Bush for an invasion using the epidemic as a pretext. Cholera, he advises his detractors, has been arrested.

Arrested? This in the face of reports that some 800 people have died and about 15,000 infections recorded, increasing the possibility of more fatalities. The only arrest should be Bob himself – under the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

By Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, smacks of the worst excesses Chicago politics has to offer. In doing so and bodly proclaiming with choice expletives that he had something ” … f–king golden …” that he wanted to hold onto and sell to the highest bidder, is no different from the myriad of scandals that have dogged African politics over the years.

Kenya recently had its share of troubles when more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 rendered homeless in the wake of unhappiness over the outcome of the presidential election between Mwai Kibaki and his opponent Raila Odinga, who have since formed a coalition government.

We’ve also seen violence flare in Nigeria over allegations of widespread impropriety in the presidential election and the subsequent victory of Umaru Yar’Adua and even in Zimbabwe itself when Mugabe’s ruling party lost the election to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, prompting a violent reaction from the former’s loyal cronies.

And weren’t there some loonies who wanted to stimulate constitutional debate on Thabo Mbeki running for a third term as president of South Africa.

Chicago politics might not have anything on the scale of African constitutional affairs, but there’s something remarkably akin about Blagojevich’s defiance amidst the Senate seat hoopla to the stubborness of dictators like Mugabe, Idi Amin, Charles Taylor and a host of others who’ve steadfastly held onto power as their respective countries went to ruin.

Motlanthe as Mbeki’s caretaker successor is reportedly not rocking to boat too much. Thing is, you don’t want someone too popular when Jacob Zuma is waiting in the wings for the presidency that he believes he’s entitled to.

I believe I might be entitled to a Porsche, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to get it.

So can we rest assured Motlanthe will not heed Blagojevich’s profanity-laced utterances? In the seat for sale saga, the governor remarked: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f–king golden and I’m not just going to give it up for f–king nothing.”

If sanity prevails in South Africa, perhaps a more crude mantra to emerge among elements of the electorate opposed to Zuma might be: “No f–king way.”

“Mad Bob” Mugabe bars Jimmy Carter: Treats “elders” with disrespect

November 22, 2008

Kansas residents are familiar with The Elders, and their “arse kickin’ music from the heartland.”

They’re a perennial favorite, not just in the USA, but abroad. And so when I read they were refused entry to Zimbabwe, I wondered why on earth the government would deny a visit to a harmless group of musicians adored for their Celtic sounds.

Not like Amy Winehouse or Snoop Dogg were coming.

Turns out there is another group of “Elders” and no, they’ve nothing to do with Celtic influences, music or have any competing rights over use of the same name.

In fact, and with respect to the Kansas City-based band, the group who were denied visas to the troubled country, are more eminent, heroes to millions of peace-loving people around the world, true statesmen and women. In short, just the kind of people any president would love to pose with in a photo op.

Meet the other Elders, a group of former heads of state, Nobel laureates, philanthropists and entrepreneurs who seek to “contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems”.

Started in 1999 by Peter Gabriel and British billionaire Richard Branson, the idea was based on the notion of traditional village elders resolving conflicts within their communities. They took the plan to former South African president Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel and from there on, the group was expanded to include other  luminaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi.

As part of their mandate, three of the Elders, Graça Machel, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan decided to visit Zimbabwe on a humanitarian mission.

According to the World Food Programme, more than five million people, or 45 percent of the population are estimated to be facing severe food shortages. As aid agencies plea for $140 million for food rations, Zimbabwe’s troubles are compounded by an ineffective government. No, make that a government that isn’t even functioning following a breakdown of the power sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. Hundreds of people dying of cholera, unemployment is rife and the economy is in tatters. Latest figures puts inflation at 231 million percent.

So when the delegation were denied entry into the country, it raised the question whether Mad Bob, as Mugabe is sometimes disparagingly referred to, has anything to hide.

What is it about some countries in turmoil refusing outside help?

Who could forget the cyclones in Myanmar, formerly Burma earlier this year. The military junta scoffed at the mention of any relief assistance even as U.S. helicopters and warships were bringing much-needed aid to hapless residents in the Irrawaddy delta. More than 100,000 people were feared dead and millions displaced and left destitute, yet the generals ruling the country remained steadfast in their opposition to outside help.

Politics was the case then – speculation was that the junta feared international aid posed a threat to their power. And so is it in the case of Zimbabwe. I don’t for one minute buy the contention by Harare that the visit of the Elders aimed to benefit Tsvangirai’s party in the power-sharing negotiations.

Mugabe won’t relinquish control and I believe doesn’t want to show the world the real extent to which the country has fallen into a deep abyss. For the many African leaders who have stood by him in the face of widespread international criticism of his (mis)rule, how will they now answer the millions of Zimbabweans barely surviving on one meal a day? Will they still give their unflinching support to an embattled leader who has been in power for 28 years since independence from white rule? Or will they do an about turn and admit they were wrong?

Not likely. But what we do know is how Mugabe’s legacy will be defined. His tenure has come to epitomize all the negative stereotypes that exist of Africa and its leaders – lifelong rulers, corrupt regimes, debt-ridden, coups and poverty.

Some concerns abounded about former U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s age, should he have won the race for the White House.

Mugabe is 13 years McCain’s senior, but unlike the latter, the African leader refuses to concede defeat.

At 84, Mugabe would be wise to treat the Elders with respect and heed their advice.

Obama pallin’ around with Palin

November 19, 2008

As a recent visitor from South Africa to the United States, I had the good fortune to take part in a favorite American pastime – Halloween.

I was going to be Barack Obama, except I’m bald, definitely lack the oratorial skills, let alone intellect and rock star appeal of the President-elect.

Why, we have much in common as … being men? Oh, and an African connection?

With thick, dark eyebrows that form an inverted “V”, you could say I’m considered more like an angry Fisher Price toy.


Heck, it would be easier donning a long black wig, some shades and uttering profanities with a Brummie accent. Hail a black Ozzie Ozbourne.

But persevere I did.

My fiancée proceeded to burn the rubber cork from a disused wine bottle and color my shiny pate black. I followed it up by darkening my lips and raising my hand in front of the mirror. Somehow anything I said in a statesmanlike fashion before an imagined crowd seemed woefully inept. I donned a suit, made a printout of a giant American flag that was supposed to pass for a flag pin, and Sarah Palin and I were ready for the evening.

She was more convincing as Palin than I was as Obama. I had to contend with an entire evening of “you betcha’s.” But charming she was, just like the real thing, except her $3 red jacket and 79 cents glasses were her only expensive purchases. In fact, her only purchases, done not at Needless Markup (or is that Nieman Marcus, the accent confuses), but at a local thrift store.

With Obama reaching out to his former critics, Messrs McCain, Lieberman and Clinton, why shouldn’t he be pallin’ around with Palin as well? With all the hullabaloo surrounding her presence on the VP ticket, it’s almost as if defeat has now cast her into the icy confines of a Siberian gulag.

OK Alaska is not that, so no slight intended.

But the Palin/Obama team was a big hit at the party. Revelers assured us we had their votes and proffered us drinks. A Black and White Russian would partly have captured the symbolism, but not pass the patriotic test, at least not in name.

Palin and Obama almost made it to the dance-off for first prize as the best couple – the Juno couple and Nacho Libre winning top honors.

But with recent controversial announcements by Obama of who will be in his team, can the olive branch be extended to Palin? But wait, she’s not in the Senate and whatever ambition she held has disappeared with Ted Stevens losing his re-election bid in the Alaska Senate race. Had he won, he would in all likelihood have been expelled by the Senate because of the corruption charges, paving the way for Palin to take his seat.

Alas it was not to be and now the team that beat Joe the Plumber and Ozzie Osbourne lookalikes, only to be undone by Nacho Libre and Juno, can no longer pal around.

So what’s left? Perhaps to forego the costumes for now and come 2012 see what the political landscape yields and take it from there.

Methinks though that I might get a new suit. I can’t speak though for any red jacket and trademark glasses.

South Africa’s future in an Obama presidency

November 18, 2008

Africa’s lone representative at the G20 meeting in Washington this past weekend underscored the continent’s inability to be a major player in the global economy.

Crippling debt, poverty, civil wars and the spread of HIV/AIDS have deterred economic growth, and the much vaunted solution to the continent’s woes, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) brings little hope of an African Renaissance

The effect of Wall Street’s collapse isn’t doing the continent any favors.

Caretaker President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe brought many of these concerns to Washington where he met President George W. Bush.

But the irony is is that both men are in a transitional phase, which leaves a potentially jittery hand over of power as question marks remain about future safeguards to prevent an economic meltdown.

President George W. Bush welcomes President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa to the White House Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, for the dinner marking the opening of the Summit on Financial Markets and World Economy. White House photo by Chris Greenberg

President George W. Bush welcomes President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa to the White House Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, for the dinner marking the opening of the Summit on Financial Markets and World Economy. White House photo by Chris Greenberg

That much was echoed by Motlanthe in an address to world leaders which drew attention to the need for the West to be cognizant of the plight facing developing countries and in so doing, step up much needed aid.

“While the financial crisis originates in the rich countries, it perpetuated a sudden and sharp increase in the borrowing costs of developing countries and in many cases their currencies have fallen dramatically too,” he said.

President-elect Barack Obama has spoken extensively on how the financial crisis has to be addressed, but not much is known about his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, who is the man most likely to replace Motlanthe as president of the country next year.

The two will however, have to work closely given South Africa’s emergence as the continent’s economic leader and ally for fostering peace and stability in volatile regions.

Zuma has strong ties to the powerful trade unions, along with their alliance partners, the South African Communist Party.

Their support for a Zuma presidency will mean having someone in Pretoria with whom they can orchestrate a shift from the pro-business policies favored by former President Thabo Mbeki, to one which calls for government to relax fiscal discipline and ensure greater wealth distribution to address growing poverty.

Zuma, for his part has been trying to appease world leaders and captains of industry that they have nothing to fear under his administration.

Quite how he will juggle competing interests will be left to be seen.

Television discrimination: Whose to blame?

November 16, 2008

A report in the Kansas City Star describes the plight of three female employees who have filed discrimination charges against their employer, citing ” … a hostile environment, permeated with threats, intimidation and disrespect.”

The article goes on to say how the television personalities Peggy Breit, Kelly Eckerman, and Maria Albisu-Twyman, aka Maria Antonia, feel aggrieved that age and gender discrimination have played a part in them being sidelined by TV bosses.

The station, KMBC has denied such claims.

At a time when newsrooms are increasingly occupied by young women, in what was once a male-dominated environment, it’s shocking that as women get older, there’s a perception that they become dispensable, to be discarded for some fresh-faced and attractive personalities who fit the beauty prototype in a cycle which perpetuates itself. Meanwhile, their aging male counterparts are allowed to keep their jobs.

I’m no feminist, but I do speak with the experience of having worked as a  television news journalist, a male at that, albeit from South Africa.

I might not be entirely au fait with the television news environment in this country, but based on my own past experiences and quotes from the news piece, I imagine that the women have a compelling argument for alleging discrimination in the workplace.

Whether they have a realistic chance of success in the courts is another matter, but you’d think that after a previous gender discrimination case against the station, which ostensibly tarnished its good standing in the community for years, KMBC would have learnt its lesson.

I can’t fathom the rationale for the station’s alleged actions.

When you’ve given more than two decades of service, doesn’t that imply an impressive level of experience and expertise you bring to the newsroom? Have you not earned the trust of viewers, many of whom have boosted your credibility as guests and expert contacts? Does all this count for naught, or should you resign yourself to the fact that there’s merit in the station choosing relatively experienced, but nevertheless visually appealing younger personalities?

Is it just that age old image versus issue battle where beauty, youth and apparel are glamorized and substance takes a back seat?

I realize more questions are being asked than answers given, but I do so because even though my comments are drawn from the South African experience, it doesn’t necessary hold that the same standards apply here. In raising such issues, perhaps others are best suited to venture more informed opinions.

In SA, anchors are not emblazoned on giant billboards, on buses or make celebrity appearances on late night talk shows. They don’t have multi-million dollar contracts, enjoy the star power of celebrity anchors in the U.S., or are prized because of their looks. They have equal standing as the hard-working field reporters who travel long distances and fight daily battles to meet their deadlines. Perhaps I speak with a measure of cynicism when I think of some of their American counterparts as glorified news readers, culling material from journalists and simply following cues on the teleprompter.

This magazine takes a more critical view, citing Walter Cronkite once expressing a dim view of  ” … the excessive promotion and over-glorification of news anchors, whose only job is to look and sound good on television.”

The Museum of Broadcast Communications describes the role of an on-air personality in more serious terms as, ” … the anchor is a television host at the top of a hierarchical chain of command with special reportorial credentials and responsibilities … .”

The trio at the center of the discrimination dispute Breit, Eckerman, and Antonia might find this study by Erika Engstrom and Anthony J. Ferri on career challenges faced by female news anchors very useful as far as trying to understand what they’re up against. Consider part of the findings of the research.

“We believe that societal expectations and scrutiny of women’s physical appearance and beauty … account for the considerable difference in how men and women anchors … perceive physical appearance as a career barrier, or non-barrier, in the case of men. Apparently, society, which includes viewers and industry management, still values women anchors for their looks, while it values their male counterparts for their abilities.”

In the face of (pardon the pun) such “shallow demands” by the news industry, the researchers argue that younger anchors are “more in tune” with the emphasis placed on physical appearance, while older women consider this a secondary requirement, the need to balance being mothers, wives and newscasters more of a prime consideration than anything else.

Breit, Eckerman, and Antonia are not just challenging authority, but value systems which have unfair rules, rules they have played by for decades. They’ve indulged in the exposure television news has given them and climbed the ranks to fame. But like a cruel game of Snakes and Ladders, they’ve slid down the ranks –  unwitting victims of their own appeal.

In sporting parlance, they’ve blown the whistle on alleged workplace discrimination, but will they be able to defend their right to cry foul?