Sudan man forced to ‘marry’ goat

March 10, 2008

Curently “most emailed” story on the BBC website.

Apparently putting “marry” in inverted commas allows it to stand for “came up with a perfectly sensible solution that does not, in fact, involve marriage in any way”.

19%? Almost one in five? Sounds far too high to me…


What does Kenya mean for democracy?

January 31, 2008

The terrible suffering unleashed by the recent elections in Kenya poses searching questions for democrats everywhere. How can this process of democracy that we laud so highly, that is supposed to insure us against the vagaries of power, have seemingly unleashed such terrible, visceral forces?

It’s a question that I haven’t yet fully understood, but I suggest a couple of opening thoughts. Firstly, that democracy is not a value. Democracy is a selection process; the liberal values of tolerance, fairness, and respect for rights that we associate with it are incidental. These are complex, organic creations, born of deeper social and intellectual forces, and whilst they complement democracies extremely well, they are neither necessary nor exclusive to them. Witness the emergence of democratic authoritarianism in Russia, and authoritarian liberalism in China, to see the disintegration of this connection. That the democratic process in Kenya could unleash intolerance, tribalism and extreme violations of rights, is no surprise if liberal values are not sustained within Kenyan political culture; instead, democracy merely exposes the societal fissures that authoritarian rule papers over.

Secondly, that democracy depends on nationalism. In a mature democracy, the losing side in an election, however viciously fought, accepts defeat in the belief that its fundamental interests are protected, whoever sits in power. Certainly, the loser knows that sinecures will be rewarded to the victor’s acolytes, but he is assured of his essential position in society, because he knows that both he and his victor believe in the same thing: the health of the nation. All sides trust that this core shared goal will be prioritised. It is this belief that ties the political community together, and mitigates the costs of defeat for losing parties. Thus elections pass without incident, and the defeated lick their wounds until their next legal opportunity to vie for power.

In a country like Kenya where nationalism is weak, and the idea of the nation ill-developed, the losers of the democratic process do not have this security. As events have shown, the primary loyalty of many Kenyans is to tribe. The whole tone of the election campaign was “now we eat”: the rewards of power will be directed to our tribe, not theirs. In this climate, why should the losers accept the result passively? What functions does this government fulfil for them that they could not fulfil themselves? A lack of underpinning nationalism increases the risks and rewards of democracy exponentially – and therefore increases the lengths to which people will go not to be the losers of the process.  


How’s that Your Majesty?

November 24, 2007

It’s not often that a story emerges from Rwanda that leaves you with a smile. Rwanda officially completes its entry into the Commonwealth this week (and a big two-fingers to France) by attending the heads of government meeting as a full member. Despite no historical connection with the British Empire, you can’t fault its commitment to full-blooded membership of the great old boys’ club. Conscious of its parvenue status, Rwanda has been hard at work to sure up its Britishness. And what could be more British than the slap of leather on willow?

Aided by British NGO Cricket Without Boundaries, cricket has set up stumps in Kagali, and plans are afoot for Rwanda’s first ever international friendly against Uganda. A cyncial political ploy? Given that an early game had to be abandoned on the discovery of an unexploded landmine at silly mid-on, I say not.  As CWB argues, cricket’s unifying qualities can bring diverse and often polarized communities together. And let’s not forget, poor Paul Kagame doesn’t want to be caught out at his first Commonwealth conference not knowing his flipper from his googly. What would the neighbours think?