Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Everyone says Africa is a blessed continent. We are blessed with beautiful people and enormous resources. We are rich in culture; and possess a tenacity not frequently seen elsewhere. But we are plagued by many evils. In spite of our resources, we are impoverished. And our beautiful and diverse culture has served as the foundation for many wars. Added to these, we are bedeviled by so-called leaders who have firmly entrenched themselves in power and refuse to pass on the mantle of leadership. In the face of enormous human suffering, these men have stayed on. Rather than bow out gracefully, they have pursued their so-called enemies with a vengeance; punishing any and all voices of dissent. Two of such men are Chad’s Idriss Deby; and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza.
Deby recently announced that he was running for a fifth term in office, in April’s presidential elections. The fact that his announcement did not quite stir up mayhem, is probably testament to the fear of him that prevails in Chad. Idriss Deby has been at the helm of the Chadian government since 1990. He came into power via a coup that ousted the very man he helped bring into power- Hissain Habre. In spite of the various rebellions and even a foiled coup, Deby has managed to evade the grip of those who wish to see him leave the presidency- and they are many- and has maintained a firm rule over the country. Crushing all foes in his path, he has shown not just a unique brand of ruthlessness, but also political wits and cunning. Dubious political reforms meant that Deby encouraged a multi-party system in Chad, lifting the ban on political parties in 1993. But instead of giving everyone a fair and level playing field, he has clamped down on opponents and journalists, ensuring that the opposition remains in a perpetual state of political non-viability. Deby had initially committed to relinquishing power at the end of a 2 term tenure in 2006; but cunningly modified the constitution in 2004, effectively scrapping term limits! Now, he says that if he is re-elected in April (which he most likely will be…majorly by fraudulent means), he would restore term limits! The effrontery! A man has been entrenched in power for 26years now, and has had 11years since 2005 to re-introduce term limits; and now suddenly needs a fifth term to do so? The same man who scrapped term limits in the first place? Come on, give us a break! There is nothing new under the sun; and also, nothing meaningful would be achieved in a fifth term!
Economically, though oil-rich, Chad still ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world. Deby has drawn the ire of the international community in the past, by diverting oil proceeds for the purchase of guns; and scrapping funds meant for educational, health and developmental projects! His purchase of more arms in the face of increased suffering by his people can only be interpreted as a ploy to protect his government and probably keep him in office perpetually!
After 26 years at the helm of affairs, Chad’s Idriss Deby seeks a fifth term. And now he promises to restore term limits. But he has proven in the past, that he can use fraudulent means to extend his stay in office. So who is to say that he wouldn’t do so again?
Elsewhere in Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza is treading the same path. The most notable difference is that his quest for a third term did not go down quite so quietly. You see, Pierre Nkurunziza violated the terms of the 2005 Arusha Agreement that ended Burundi’s previous bloody civil war. Riddled with ethnic strife much like Rwanda, Burundi was thrown into chaos and mayhem due to political tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. As part of the Arusha Agreement which finally ended the war in 2005, it was decided that power be alternated between both groups; and that a two term limit be set for Presidents. But Nkurunziza broke the agreement by announcing that he was standing for a third term (which he eventually won…albeit fraudulently) in 2015. The very next day after the announcement was made, protests broke out around the country. Instead of listening to voices of reason, Nkurunziza employed brutal force; ordering the police to crackdown on protesters. Men, women, children were violently beaten; and hundreds were killed, including children as young as 12. Amnesty International recently released a video last month showing mass burial sites- most likely, a ploy by the Nkurunziza government to hide their atrocities; the full scale of which is probably not even known!
At the height of the tensions last year, the constitutional court adjudicated over the matter, and then decided that Nkurunziza could indeed run for a third term; in violation of the Arusha Agreement. But as we later found out when the Vice President of the court fled, it was revealed that the court’s ruling was decided under duress; and that most of the judges actually believed it was unconstitutional for the President to stand for a third term! But they were forced into passing a wrong judgment! Such is the nature of African politics! Such is the quest for perpetual political power that leaders would kill and deceive their own people, in order to maintain control! With no compass for national growth and development and no regard for the will of the people, many of Africa’s leaders are as ruthless, heartless and cunning; as they are indeed clueless- no pun intended!
From Uganda to Zimbabwe, to Sudan and Chad, to Burundi; the African continent is littered with so-called leaders who refuse to step down, regardless of the consequences. Yet they want to be seen as statesmen! Well, in my opinion, a statesman is a man like Nelson Mandela who endured 27 long years in prison, and yet stood down after just one term as president of South Africa! Respect can never be given to despots who employ violence against their own people. The fear of the despot’s gun may last only for so long; but there is none who can outwit a revolution whose day has come, or even death itself! One day soon…one day soon!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


So I woke up, Sunday morning; and my first instinct (after praying) was to check the news- typically. A lot happens when you sleep you know. Well, I found out a couple of interesting things; amongst which was that the crazy North Korean leader had ordered a rocket launch- thought to be a cover for a long range missile- to the chagrin of most of the world! Hmmm…another day, another provocative action from Pyongyang. At this point, I feel like I’ve seen it all; and heard it all…so I moved on to another story. Still scrolling through my phone; then boom! I saw it! Just a couple of hours before the start of Super Bowl 50, and Beyoncé had pulled a “Beyoncé” on us, with a surprise video release. I wasn’t “surprised by the surprise”, because it’s typical of Beyoncé. But what struck me was the fact that this was not just another sexy Beyoncé video…it was a Beyoncé video laden with political undertones and a social message...excellent! It was a message that was mostly geared towards the black community. Beyoncé is usually criticized for not being too vocal on issues affecting the black community. But in recent times, she and her husband have shown greater support for black causes; especially with the #blacklivesmatter movement. And this video was a feather in the cap of Beyoncé’s rhythmical political activism- if I may call it that! Now before I venture further, I would just say that I am a Beyoncé fan. Mix that with political and social activism; and I knew the video would be a hit. I was not disappointed.
Beyonce atop a half-submerged police car

The video- Formation- is a work of art filled with political messages…and the scenes bear evidence of this. Shot on location in New Orleans, it opens up with a warning- Parental Advisory, Explicit Content. The faint-hearted had been given notice! We then see Beyoncé bending to squat atop a police car partially submerged in water- this being a tribute to New Orleans as it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and can also be seen as a “f**k you” message to trigger-happy, black-killing cops, when it is fully submerged (drowned) at the end of the video. And with the entire #blacklivesmatter movement gaining traction all across the US in the wake of police brutality towards blacks which have culminated in the loss of several black lives, the particular choice of a police car was a poignant message which was not lost…much like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”.
As a tribute to her black heritage, Beyoncé pays homage to her Negro+Creole roots; announces that she’s proud of her baby’s (Blue Ivy) curly hair; and defiantly declares that she “loves her Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”! As black people, the media tries to convince us that we are not good enough…that we should aspire to be “white”…but Beyoncé isn’t here for all that bullsh*t, and strongly urges us to own our blackness! And oh, by the way, watching Blue Ivy playfully affirm her mother’s powerful lyrics; was just the cutest thing ever!
Blue Ivy in Formation

In the mostly white dominated society that is the USA, black stereotypes abound. I was struck by the fact that rather than shy away from these stereotypes, Beyoncé puts them in full view, casting them in a positive light. From the church scenes (yeah, black people everywhere do have a very vocal, albeit theatrical way of worshipping God), to the black basketball players (we own the game…white men can’t jump! *joking*), to the scenes showing black women (one of them being Beyoncé) sitting while dressed elegantly in a plantation-styled mansion (yeah, blacks were once slaves in America…but I liked the fact that instead of being dressed in “slavery attire”, Beyoncé and her crew were all elegantly clothed), to a black child dancing in front of a line of black cops (I’ll get back to this particular scene in a bit…by the way, y’all know that nobody dances better than a black person!); it was all black excellence!
Beyonce surrounded by her crew in a plantation-styled mansion

Beyoncé has always been a firm believer in financial empowerment; and her catchy lines in Formation, reaffirms this. From constantly telling us that she “slays”, to letting us know that we might be the new “black Bill Gates”; just as she also just “might be a black Bill Gates in the making”, black people are reminded that the financial realm does not have to be monopolized by a few white men in Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Beyoncé lets us know that we are the new face of blackness…the new elite. And she doesn’t just give us catchy lyrics, but also shows us a process as she sings- “I see it/I want it…I dream it/ I work hard/ I grind till I own it”; and she does this while “slaying all day”. Now who says a black man can’t think up the next Microsoft, Google, or Facebook? And there weren’t just lines to black financial excellence, but also to female empowerment. With X-rated lines like “when he f**k me good, I take his a** to Red Lobster…if he gets it right, I might take him on a ride in my chopper”, Beyoncé reminds women everywhere that we can ALL be bosses! We can change the game…we can be the new generation of bad bi***es!
Beyoncé has never been one to shy away from controversy. Surrounded constantly by a thick cloud of conspiracy theories, she pokes a finger in the eyes of her detractors by telling them that “y’all Corny with that illuminati mess”. Yes, we’ve all heard the rumors…we know what she’s talking about. Haters, take a few seats!
Now, back to the little black kid dancing in front of a line of white police officers. That, for me, was the most potent political message in the video- aside from the drowning of the police car. As the little boy dances, he suddenly stops and puts his hands up in the air (y’all remember the line: “hands up, don’t shoot”?), and then surprisingly, the policemen all raise their hands too. Then the camera closes in on graffiti on the wall- “stop shooting us”! I wept! May we see the day when a white cop also waves the flag of peace and surrender in the face of an un-armed black man! Black lives do matter!
Little black kid dances and then raises hands in front of a line of white cops (click picture to watch)

Beyoncé reminds us of our power. We are capable, and we are ‘fly’. Yes, black people love Corn Breads and Collard Greens, and got hot sauce in their bags; but it’s a sign of swag. And ain’t nobody got swag like a black folk! The system may be unfair…black people in the USA are usually treated unfairly, just like the rest of the black race is also marginalized in the global community; but like Beyoncé dressed in black garb with a neck full of chains and surrounded by black men, a time comes when we have to put our 2 middle fingers up in the air and say “f**k you”, to the system…we will do things our way…as black folks…with black swag…and black excellence. And just like Beyoncé admonishes in the last line, we will “always stay gracious, because our best revenge is our paper”. So we will keep getting that paper! Can the African continent stop begging for crumbs now; and learn to create its own wealth?
Beyonce puts her middle fingers up

Beyoncé’s “Formation” is a call to blacks everywhere…an excellent black empowerment anthem. It is a reminder and affirmation of black heritage, and also gives us a window into our glorious future. It is a sexy, groovy political declaration, and one of Beyoncé’s best offerings. It is Kwame Nkrumah in the 40’s and 50’s; Martin Luther King in the 60’s; Barack Obama in 2008. Thank you Mike Will Made-it, for producing such a dope a** masterpiece; thank you Swae-Lee, for being an awesome co-writer; thank you Melina Matsoukas, for being a visionary video director; and thank you Queen Bey, for being such a genius artist and a great representation of the black race. Yes, we are black and proud; we slay…we slay…all day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


A flag of the autonomous Kurdistan region flies next to an Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter as he takes position to monitor the area in Bashiqa, north-east of Mosul. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

President Masoud Barzani with Peshmerga commanders

I do not have too many close friends. I have lots of acquaintances, but I keep my inner circle really small. And if there is one thing I value most in friendship, it is loyalty. I consider myself a loyal friend. I would go out of my way for a friend; and I also never forget those who stand with me when the chips are down. They are the ones to whom I give the utmost priority. I have always been that way. And so, I guess in the same vein, I also expect that in the field of international relations, nations would stand by those who stand with them in their hour of need. This brings me to the issue at hand- the impending Syrian peace talks. Ever since the UN announced that the talks would begin in Geneva, Switzerland, there has been a lot of chatter about just who is invited to the table. The important power players e.g. USA, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia; would all be at the table. Within Syria, the Assad government is expected to be represented; along with mostly Saudi-backed opposition fighters. For obvious reasons, ISIS is not invited! But what struck me as odd, is the fact that despite their massive and important involvement in the war against ISIS, an invitation has not been extended to the Kurds.
The Kurds are a minority group found in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and even in Iran. Over the years, they have fought for their independence in a Kurdish homeland. They have also been victims of political segregation and even genocide. In 1988, Saddam Hussein used poison gas to wipe out approximately 150,000 Kurds, in what the Kurds now refer to as the “War of Annihilation”. In Turkey, the government has labeled the Kurdish PKK as a terrorist organization and a threat to its national stability. For this reason, they have carried out attacks against Kurdish YPG positions in Syria. Nevertheless, the Kurds have persevered.
As ISIS sprung up in 2014, the Iraqi army fled. Their abandoned weaponry and equipment were taken by the terrorists as they grew and advanced. As territory after territory fell to the ISIS onslaught in Iraq and Syria, the Americans were in desperate need of effective fighting units; especially as Barack Obama had declared that “there would be no American boots on the ground”. The Kurds thus, stepped in. Brave men and women volunteered themselves in the fight against ISIS. The Kurds have proven to be a highly disciplined group, and a formidable fighting force. They have been essential in relaying vital intelligence to US military commanders, in order to carry out effective airstrikes against ISIS targets. Even when their requests for weapons have been declined by the Americans, time and time again, the Kurds have fought on. As one Kurdish mother lamented the death of her 3 sons in battle, she proudly and defiantly declared that she had 2 more sons who were willing and able to sacrifice themselves in defense of their homeland, if need be. The female Kurdish Peshmerga (Peshmerga, meaning those who face death) are just as brave as the men folk. In fact, it is said that ISIS fighters dread been killed by a female Peshmerga. According to them, this would take away their chances of going to paradise! As the war has progressed, the Kurds have been able to regain most of their territory previously seized by ISIS. They were vital to the liberation of Sinjar, and are also thought to be highly essential to any planned future assault to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. In fact, it is widely asserted that Iraq’s fighting force would be ineffective in Mosul, without Kurdish input. The Kurds have been a vital military ally for the Americans in Syria and Iraq, and many of them have lost their lives fighting. They have been responsible for the death of thousands of ISIS fighters, even with obsolete weaponry. It is therefore mind-boggling that the United States is willing to exclude them from the Geneva talks. It is also quite strange, that it is the Russians who are vehemently pushing for Kurdish inclusion at the talks. According to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, the Kurds have been an effective fighting force in Syria. They also account for 15% of the Syrian population, and it would thus be “counterproductive”, if they are not present at Geneva. I agree.
On the other hand, while Russia wants the Kurds present at the talks, the Americans are not so keen; even though the Kurds have been a very important military ally in their anti-ISIS war efforts. This is because of regional considerations- particularly in deference to Turkey which sees the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. For a very long time since the outbreak of the Syrian War, the Turks refused to allow the US use its airbases as take-off points for coalition forces in anti-ISIS aerial bombardment; even though they are both NATO members. When they finally agreed sometime in 2015, one of the conditions was that there would be zero ISIS presence, and also zero Kurdish presence along the Turkish-Syrian border. Within Turkey, there are allegations of terrorist activities by the Kurdish PKK and last year, the Turkish government cracked down on PKK members, essentially ending the previously established truce. And Turkish disdain extends to the wider Kurdish population; especially the Peshmerga in Syria.
Some people are of the opinion that the Kurds do not necessarily have the same end-goals as the United States. That while the main goal of the Americans is the defeat of ISIS; that of the Kurds is the establishment of a homeland. But even if this is true, no one can deny the fact that in seeking the creation of a homeland, the Kurdish Peshmerga force has perhaps been the most effective ally the Americans have in Syria and Iraq! I therefore think that it is a slap in the face of every Kurdish soldier, that the USA would not push for Kurdish inclusion at the peace talks. It is also a spit on the grave of every Kurdish soldier killed in the battle against ISIS.
As I have gotten older and weathered fickle friendships, it has become more important to me, to take note of the friends who have proven to be willing to “ride or die” with me. US Secretary of State, Ash Carter, speaking to Fareed Zakaria during the recent World Economic Forum which held in Davos, stated that America would certainly win the war against ISIS; and that when they did, they would remember those who stood with them, and those who didn’t.  The Kurds have shown that they are trusted allies. They have proven their friendship, time and time again on the bloody battlefields of Syria and Iraq. They have sacrificed their lives to stand with the United States, and have essentially become America’s “boots on the ground”! Now, it is time for the United States to show just how valuable the Kurdish alliance is to them. Now is the time for the Americans to show just how appreciative they are of the Kurdish war efforts. The Kurds should not be excluded from the all-important peace talks to determine the future of Syria. Now is the time to give them a seat at the table- the negotiation table. The Kurds have stood- and are still standing- with America…will America stand with the Kurds?