African Press International (API)

"Daily Online News Channel".

Posted by African Press International on May 15, 2008

Publisher, korir,


THE NORTHEASTERN PART of Uganda is a land of great contrasts. Some parts of it are very fertile and lush, but others are extremely dry. Its swampy, but also famously rocky.

The rocks teem with lizards, and juicy mangoes grow abundantly in the wild.

These lands were ravaged by a famine in the late 1980s. The minister of Agriculture then, went to tour the region to see what help her ministry could offer. Instead she kicked up a big storm. Travelling in the countryside and seeing all the gorgeous mangoes hanging from trees, she asked: Why cant the hungry eat mangoes?

Its nearly 20 years later, and the good lady has since moved on to greater things, but to this day, her statement is still quoted as if she made it yesterday. You would think the political backlash from the mangoes episode would have discouraged any more impertinent remarks about the famine.

But, we guess, not if it is African politicians involved. Some weeks later, the vice-president went to see for himself the tragedy that had befallen the region. Unlike the agriculture minister, he was fascinated by the rocks.

Commenting on what he had seen, he wondered by the starving people did not eat lizards.

It seems we have been rash to put down African rulers. There are worse ones out there like the soldiers running Burma (or Myanmar).

Last week, a cyclone battered the long-suffering Burma, killing at least 116,000 people and leaving another 1.5 million at risk, according to UN estimates.

For many days, the military junta first rejected international aid, although it couldnt cope, and when it opened up, it has made it very difficult for relief workers to operate.

Any country hit by such a tragedy would do the right thing; hoist the flag at half mast and declare several days of mourning. Not the Burmese junta.

For starters, it went ahead with a referendum that would entrench military rule. Most cynical, according to The Independent, was a photo on the front page of the New Light of Burma the state-run newspaper, as you will have guessed from the name of the Prime Minister, Thein Sein, handing over 20 television sets and 10 DVD players as part of the relief operation!

What makes this piece of insensitivity even more obscene is that the Irrawaddy delta, which bore the brunt of Cyclone Nargis has had no electricity since the storm struck.

The junta was not done. It announced that it would continue exporting rice, and planned to meet all its commitments. Most of the rice Burma exports is grown in the Irrawaddy delta, the very same region to which the government was limiting international food donations.

WHY DO POLITICIANS, OR BETTER still many people in positions of power, behave this way? Its common for company executives to lay off a quarter of the staff, citing falling revenues and mounting losses, then at the end of the year pay themselves the largest bonuses ever.

Perhaps it is that to survive at the top of most jobs, you need to develop a certain amount of indifference to the suffering around you.

A president addressing a rally of barefoot, emaciated villagers, wouldnt finish his speech if he took pity upon them. He, therefore, makes a promise he doesnt intend to keep, and moves on to the next rally.

To entirely unrelated matters, it is with a little sense of shame and embarrassment that I must acknowledge that the biggest talking point in East Africa (not to mention football loving nations in the Third World) this week is probably Manchester Uniteds capture of the Premier League championship.

The thing about this, though, is that it made me wish that politics and business journalism would be as good as most of the better sports reporting and commentary is.

The Premier League season that just ended started on August 11, last year. On that day Brian Viner, a sports columnist in The Independent wrote: You dont have to be a Nostradamus, or even Eileen Drewery, to predict what is going to happen in the season, which begins today with no certainties, except that Manchester United will win it, Chelsea will finish second, Arsenal will finish third and Liverpool fourth. And so it was.

Nostradamus, almost all of us know. He was the 16th century French physician and astrologer, who also dabbled in prophecy.

To those who dont follow the dark side of international football, the question must be: who is Eileen Drewery? She is a disgraced Italian faith healer and exorcist, and to use a description I much liked, practitioner of white magic.

Drewery (aka Clara Romano) is what we would call a juju woman.

She has an impressive list of clients, starting from Manchester City (soon to be ex-) manager and former England head coach Sven-Gran Erickson, up to Massimo Moratti, the Inter Milan president.

Maybe this partly explains why European football is so popular in our part of the world.



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