Saturday, October 30, 2004

Vote or Die

I am all for increasing political particiaption. I may not be a citizen of this country, but I beleve that all citizens should exercise their right to vote. I am all for Choosing or Losing, Rocking the Vote and Voting or Dying, I su-pport the numerous attempts to increase political participation, especially among those in the 18-24 category. This only makes for better citizenship and a better nation. But my belief in the youth vote was recently tested, tested to the point that I begun to doubt the wisdom of getting out the youth vote.

During the last Presidential Debate, a friend and I went to our school's basketball arena to watch the debate. We happened to sit next to a group of young (newly registered) voters, who my friend happened to know. As the debate wore on, my friend would occasionally ask the individuals for their opinions onnthe salient issues discussed in the debate. To may horror and dismay, the individuals knew very little about the issues being discussed. They knew who they supported (Bush), but did not have a clue what issues were being raised in the debate. My friend and I were so dejected that we left to watch the debate elsewhere. But I regret doing so, I should have stayed and found out why they supported Bush. Was it coz of their parents? Was it coz it was cool to be a republican? Was Bush better looking?Why would they support a candidate (whether left or right) without knowing what the candidate stood for?

However, the whole issue raised a couple of question in my mind. Is it better to have more voters or to have more informed voters? Is it possible to transform an individual who pays little attention to news and politics, into a model voter? Are the attempts to increase the youth vote simply making voting a fad? Are the GOTV programs creating an informed electorate?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but I am worried. I am worried that voting is being made into a fad, instead of the serious issue it truly is, with grave consequences for the future of the nation and the world. I hope that those who go to vote, do so because they understand the issues and not just because P. Diddy, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Paris Hilton say it is cool to do so.

Global Test

"But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the, the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people, understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." John Kerry

The Right has been harping about the "Global Test" ever since John Kerry uttered the words in the first debate. They contend that it is an example of John Kerry’s weakness on Foreign affairs, arguing that he would surrender America’s foreign policy to the UN and other nations. I do not blame them. Kerry gave them an opportunity to hung him and the blame should be on him, he should have found a better way of saying "Global Test." His statement, as seen above, was rather benign, it simply articulated a simple truth, a President needs to articulate foreign policy in terms that will be understood by his people and gain the maximum support in the global community. During the first Gulf War Bush I was able to pass that test, Clinton was able (to a large extent) pass the test in Kosova.

It is quite ironic that the President’s Iraq policy may make it more difficult for him to pass the "test." It will be undoubtedly more difficult for the president to gather a "Coalition of the Willing" to confront the next threat that emerges (especially if it requires preemptive war). The fact that no WMD has been found in Iraq (principal argument for war), has set the bar very high for the next potential war. The next president (and may be the next few) will not be able to give broad assertions and rationales for a war. The American people and the world, will require a higher threshold of proof. Is that a good or bad thing? I do not know. But I do know we are unlikely to accept wholeheartedly, what is told to us by the President.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Freedom is on the March

Having come from a country that experienced dictatorship and seen the brutality of a megalomaniac, I am always glad when I see nations liberated from the clutches of dictatorship. It feels my heart with joy to see a nation fight (or be assisted) to free itself from the bear hug of authoritatian rule. I enjoyed watching Slobodan Milosevic toppled from power, the site of young (and old people) demonstrating in emmase and forcing him out. I loved watching "People Power 2" remove the corrupt regime of Joseph Estrada. I was heartened by the toppleing of Servanadzes regime in Georgia and many other examples of people taking control of their own destenies and toppling unpopular govenments. With this in mind, I must say that i am glad the Iraqis are know free, they have been able to shake of the shakles of dictatorship, and I can only wish them well in theire struggle to form a new and thriving democracy.

The reason for my writing this is not to argue about the war, I agreed with the war (to use Colin Powell's words) in Substance, but not in Process. I believe Saddam snookered himself, he probably knew he had no WMD, but could not just fully account for them. It is good for the Iraqi's (in the long run) that Saddam miscalculated the fervent intent of the America to disarm him. However, I do believe that the US could have waited for 1 more month and one more resolution. It should be noted that the African nations in the council and Chile, had circulated a final resolution that would have given the inspectors one more month, authorized the war if Saddam did not comply and given the US one more month to plan for the post Saddam era. One more month would have made little difference to the War effort, but could have been used to develop a plan to win the Peace. It may also have forced the opponents of the war into a corner, forcing them to either Veto a strong resolution or abstain, and they would probably have been forced to join the war effort.

Any who, I wrote this piece in order to vent on what I see as blind optimism in the ranks of the Republicans. The president constantly says that Freedom is a gift from God, all people of the world deserve freedom and freedom is on the march. The president has called for freedom in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and other unfriendly nations. However, he continues to coddle the dictators in Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Uzbekistan, Tajikastan and other Central Asian countries. These friendly countries are not asked to become democratic, they are not asked to get rid of their torture chambers, and rape rooms, no they are countries to sell weapons to, countries to for Rumsfeld o visit and call great allies. This leads me to question whether democracy really matters to the head honchos in the US government.

I believe it does, but only when it serves its foreign interests. I believe that democracy,and morality in general, only matter to states when they have a stake in it developing (or not) and they will ignore its non-existence, if it serves their interest. Consider Reagan's belief in democracy and his support of Pinochet, Surhato, Mobutu and other dictators. It sickens me when I hear Republicans just motuh off about freedom being on the match, and ignoring the blatant duplicity of the Bush foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Compulsory Civic Lessons in Schools

I was lucky to have attended a highschool that provided the British curriculum. It gave me an opportunity to explore a wide variety of subjects, extra-curricula activities and great resources that made it easier to adapt to college life. One thing, however, was very dissappointing, the school did not provided any classes on Kenyan history, Geography and Civics. The focus was primarily on Europe, the Americas and Asia. Being that the school was in Kenya and most of the Srudents were Kenyan citizens (though they may not have wanted to be identified as such), I believe the school would have better served the students (and made them better citizens), by providing compulsory classes on Kenyan History, Geography and Civics. If it was not for the fact that i went to a 8-4-4 primary school, I would no very little about my nation. As little as most of my high school collegues knew and does not make for a good citizen.

I would therefore ask the government to institute a policy whereby, private schools that follow foreign curricula, would be required to teach some courses in Kenyan History, Geography and Civics. This would ensure that those who do not go through the Kenyan system (but are citizens and inhabitants of the nation) have a modicum of knowledge about the country. This would make them better citizens.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

More International News Please

On his weekly opinion piece on 60 Minutes Sunday (October 3rd), Andy Rooney made an observation that I agree with: "One of the reasons America is hated around the whole world is because we’re ignorant of everyone else’s problems, and that’s partly our fault. Television provides too little news." Now some may accuse Rooney of being a blame-America-first liberal, or ask why America needs to care about "everyone else’s problems." These may be legitimate qualms for the rabid partisan or ideologue, but I would argue that in spite of the language, Rooney raised a very important issue. There is a dearth of international news in American TV broadcasts (by foreign news I mean, international news that has little to do with America)

It is common knowledge that Americans get most of their news from televison news broadcasts and if one spends a great deal of time watching the news (which I do), you will be hard pressed, to identify any purely international news: news that has little to do with Iraq, the price of oil, or the war on Terror. Fox News dedicates 80 Seconds, and CNN headline news has the Global Minute, and very little else. You are unlikely to learn a lot of what is happening around the world if you watch only three minutes of news, and are worse off if you do not have cable. You are unlikely to know that the War in Southern Sudan is coming to an end, Somalia recently elected a new president, Indonesia has a new leader or any other pertinent international news stories.

It is quite unfortunate that the American public is denied the opportunity to learn more about the world. We leave in an interdependent world: we need to learn more about and learn from each other, the only way to do this is by being voracious consumers of news from disparate parts of our world. This not only makes us better people, but better citizens of the world.

Flip Flopping and the Lefties

Prior to the first debate, all pundits were full of praise for George Bush's ability to stay on message, constantly pounding the same point. Well he (and his surrogates) did that well, they constantly hammered the theme that Kerry was a flip flopper, a man on both sides of every issue, a man who would say anything to get elected. Now the monicure is that Kerry is a liberal, a man who is out of the mainstream, a man on the extreme left bank of the political spectrum, a man who consistently votes on the left, a staunch leftist. In essence a man who does not flip flop, he sticks to the left bank, so much so, that Ted Kennedy is the conservative senator from Taxachussets. As Mark Shields, pointed on the News Hour last night, this is a major flip flop on the part of the Bush team. They beat the Kerry Flip Flop theme to death, so much so that the folks were getting jaded, and saw the label for what it is, nothing but an empty phrase, devoid of any substance and could be construed (as I have) as a positive attribute.

After hearing the Flip Flop slogan for the umpteenth time in my class, from staunch republicans, I begun to realise something, it is not that he is a Flip Flopper, it is that he is intellectually honest. When Kerry is given information that calls into question his previous assumptions, he reassess his conclusions and if necessary, changes his previous conclusion. This is not necessarily a bad quality. I like people who will not stubbornly hold on to theories and conclusions that have been proven wrong. It is just not right. As a college student, I have learnt that at times my conclusions will be wrong and I should be open to criticism, I should then look at the critique, see if it is valid, test it and draw a conclusion: whether to stick with my previous assessment or to accept the new theory. It is what a rational and intellectually honest individual would do.

Now the Bush team has seen that the Flip Flop tag aint working so well, they are now focusing on the Liberal thing. Well this does have some truth to it and they are playing to peoples dislike for the label Liberal (much like people avoded "Conservative" in the 60's). However, I think Kerry can do a couple of things to diminsh the effects of the tag. Remember a Liberal was in office when the budget was balanced, a liberal was in office when a budget surplus was in place, a liberal was in place when the eceonmy created a couple million new jobs. A fiscal conservative was in office when the government debt rose by $1.6 trillion, a fiscal conservatives were in office when the largest deficits endured, a fiscal conservative turned a budget surplus into the largest budget deficit in history. Based on this, you would do better with a liberal in office.

It is quite unfortunate that labels work in this political environment. A politician can simply pound a slogan painting his opponent in a negative light and get away with it, even if it is wrong and intellectually dishonest. If the electorate looked beyond the labels, they would be able to make better assessments of the candidates.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Of Nobel Winners and Presidential debates

I saw a funny cartoon on Monday's Daily Nation (Kenyan daily), it shows how people are so happy (now) to be associated with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai . I do not know if it is human nature to attach ones self to famous people (or at least find tenous links) but I too I'm guilty of doing this. Therefore this week has been a very good one for me in this sense. I can boast links to two nobel laureates: As a Kenya with of the same cultural background, I can claim a link to Prof. Maatahi. And as a student at (and in the same department) I can claim a link to the winner of the Economics Nobel Prize (Professor Edward Prescott). To cap my achievements, the last presidential debate is being held in my school, in a building that I worked at about two years ago (Grady Gammage Auditorium). This has been one of the most momentus weeks in a long time. I am glad I am a Kenyan, and a student at Arizona State University.

Friday, October 08, 2004

US Elections

I have a poster on my cuibicle that urges Americans to vote on election: "Bush V Kerry: You decide, 6 billion people await your decision" Now this is a homemade (handwritten) attempt to urge Americans to vote. So one of my colleagues comes up to me the other day and asks me: Why do you care about the election? and being that part of the reason the poster is on my desk, is so that someone can ask why I have it, I excitedly ask him to sit down and I delve into my reasons for caring.
Well here goes. For one, I blame my grandmother for this (God Rest her Soul and I do not really bleme her), I remember when I was a little turk during my school breaks, when I would visit my Grandma in Limuru (small town in Central Kenya), now she was not literate and could not understand an ounce of English, so I had to be her translator. Every night at approximately 7 pm and again at 9pm, I would be asked to sit down and watch the news, and one of the first question would be: What did Bush do today? (in reference to Bush I), from this labor,I fell in love with news and slowly developed a love for politics. So one of the reasons I care, is that I am a geek who likes news and politics.
However, there is more. I split this segment into two: Personal and Policy toward Africa and the world. Whoever is at the White House affects me in a couple of ways, I am a legal non-resident alien in America, I am student at an American University, I work, and I pay taxes. Therefore the policies of the government will affect me, the president can make it harder for me to get a Visa, tighten the rules that govern my stay in America, raise my taxes and restrict my work opportunities, and if possible affect my school fees, moreover, I have to follow all the laws of the land. With this in mind, one can see that I have a great stake in the election, I have the concerens of your typical American college student and then some.
In addition, to the personal side of things, I care about the president's policies toward Africa. Will the president continue to back trade opportunities with Africa, support debt relief, increase funding for AIDS, play an active role in conflict resolution, increase aid to the continent etc, the list is long. All these are issues that are important to Africans, those who care about Africa and to myself.
Whoever is in the White House affects me one way or the other and will affect the rest of the world one way or another. However, I do not have a voice in the election and it really pertubes me when folks (48% of all the electorate) do not bother to vote. The election should matter so much more to you than it does to me, I wish you could be in my shoes, having so much depending on someone, that you had no chance to vote for. It sucks.
So on November 2, go out there and vote. I know that you may be too busy, may feel your vote will not count and all those other wonderful excuses, but please by God vote.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel CommitteeTHE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FOR 2004 The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004 to Wangari Maathai for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.
Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression - nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.
Maathai combines science, social commitment and active politics. More than simply protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to secure and strengthen the very basis for ecologically sustainable development. She founded the Green Belt Movement where, for nearly thirty years, she has mobilized poor women to plant 30 million trees. Her methods have been adopted by other countries as well. We are all witness to how deforestation and forest loss have led to desertification in Africa and threatened many other regions of the world - in Europe too. Protecting forests against desertification is a vital factor in the struggle to strengthen the living environment of our common Earth.
Through education, family planning, nutrition and the fight against corruption, the Green Belt Movement has paved the way for development at grass-root level. We believe that Maathai is a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent.
Wangari Maathai will be the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. She will also be the first African from the vast area between South Africa and Egypt to be awarded the prize. She represents an example and a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace.

I am one happy son of a gun, an African woman winning the Nobel Peace Prize, this is great for her, my country (Kenya), Africa and the worlD. Congratulations Prof. Maathai. I hope this will pressure those in government (who were taking you for granted) to take you seriously.


There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq prior to the invasion, and no evidence that Saddam had produced any weapons since 1991. This is the conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group and to most, it would seem to vindicate those who were against the war, but I see it defferently.

The fact that no weapons have been found leads me to make to possible conclusions; Saddam was duped into thinking that he had WMD, or Saddam was to proud and even though he knew he had no WMD, he still did not want to prove to the world that he had none (I favor the latter). He was given numerous opportunities to prove that he had no WMD, and since he had none, one would think that the easiest thing for him to do would have been to, fully and categorically account for his past weapons (which everyone knows he had)and provide proof of their destruction (as was required under Security Council Resolution 687 and all the others dealing with the issue). One would think that an individual, backed into a corner (knowing the truth) would spill the beans, but he decided to lose his empire rather than provide the truth.

Now, some may argue that America would still have invaded even if he proved that he had no weapons, but imagine how more difficult there case would have been. The primary justification was that Saddam failed to disarm, had Saddam proved that he had indeed disarmed, the US would have been backed into a corner and forced to either provide another rationale, or give up.I say Saddam was foolish for not providing proof of his disarmament, he failed to call the US's bluff and we should not forget to blame him for the war. His stupidity cost him his country and maybe his life.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Presidential Debate

I sat there glued to my small 13 inch TV, budweiser on one hand and Papa Johns pizza on the other, for one and a half hours. I waited with baited breath to hear what the candidates intended to do about various international issues: Iraq (that was a given), Iran, North Korea, Sudan, UN reform, AIDS, TB, Debt Relief, Assistance to Haiti, Conflict Resolution in Africa, Narco-terrorism in South America and the list is as they say endless. However, from the debate, one would think that foreign affairs was solely based on Iraq, one would think that the all of the world's problems had been solved, and the only issues left were Iraq, Iran and North Korea, this is not to say that these issues are not important, but I do not think they're the only issues, the only other questions raised were on Darfur (which unfortunately Kerry hijacked and delved into an attack on troop levels etc, instead of giving a real solution to the problem) and Russia (I am still perplexed as to why this issue was raised). Even one of the world's most enduring conflicts was not raised directly, I wonder what Kerry or Bush intend to do about the stalled Mid East peace process, I wonder what their views are on Sharon's wall or pullout from Gaza. I know I can find out their views from a number of sources, but I think it would have been worth my (and everyones) while to hear the candidates views on these and other salient issues on the foreign policy arena.

Voter Turnout

Earlier this month the University of Maryland and a global polling company, Globescan, released the results of a worldwide poll dealing with the US presidential election. It would seem that a majority of folks in the world want a change of guard in the US. However, the results were not the most interesting thing to me, the most interesting thing was that 35,000 people in 35 different countries spanning the globe, cared enough about the US election to register an opinion. In essence they care enough about American politics to "vote". Imagine if you will, a peasant farmer in Kenya, or a plantation worker in Brazil, who cares enough to have an opinion about an election that they can not vote in (but would if they had the chance) and are thousands of miles from.. Think about it, the peasant farmer, cares enough about the election to take time from tending to his crops to think about the American election. What excuse do the 48% of Americans who did not vote in 2000 have. Were they to busy? did not feel their vote would count? What about this farmer, surviving with less than $1 a day, but has the audacity to care about the American election? Is he demented?
This situation reminds me of my years in high school, especially during the 2000 election, my school (and most in Kenyan society) was engaged in heated discussions about who would be the best president, Bush or Gore. I remember spending inordinate amounts of time glued to the TV screen, awaiting the results of the fiasco that was Florida. I was miles away from America but I cared enough about who would occupy the position, because I understood (and still do) that whoever is president will affect me one way or the other. I wished I could (and still do) have my VOICE HEARD, I wished I could participate in the democratic process in the USA. It, therefore, perturbs me that only a bare majority of Americans bother to vote, an even smaller number of my peers (40% of 18 - 24 year olds) bother to vote on election day. I fail to understand why a high school student in Kenya cares more about who is president than your average American college student. The stakes are so much higher for the American, that I fail to see why one would fail to exercise there democratic right (indeed responsibility) to vote.
I would like to implore all those who are eligible to vote to do so. Register to vote and on November 2 register your vote. Remember there are many in this world who wish they had the opportunity to be involved in a democratic process, moreover, whoever you choose will affect the fortunes of billions of people in this world. 6 billion people await your decision.