Leaders in Africa disappointed me- Jan Pronk

Jan Pronk(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

The time has come for Johannes Pieter Pronk’s memoirs. After surviving a major heart attack last year, the former Dutch development minister, born in 1940, feels as if every new day is a bonus for him. At his home in The Hague he whips through reports of his many diplomatic encounters and does that with with the same strict discipline as he showed as minister. Some of these meetings took place in presidential palaces but many were with guerrilla fighters along the Nile or desperate Rwandans deep in the Congolese jungle. His first volume is called “Battle of the Great Lakes”, and it focusses on the crises in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo during the nineties.

Pronk was always helpful towards journalists during his working visits. I often travelled with him, but one never really got to know him. Pronk always came across as an intellectual, not an emotional person. The latter only very occasionally, very briefly. We were once flying to Northern Kenya when suddenly the windows were covered with thick black slurry. The pilot warned us he might have to crash-land. After a successful emergency landing, unloading ourselves while peeing side by side on the runway, I heard some emotion in Pronk’s voice. “Life is certainly worth living,” he sighed. But a few minutes later, when the pilot had screwed the cap on the oil tank, he sounded distant again: “Luckily I’m am still in time for the parliamentary debate tomorrow.”

Jan Pronk(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Read further:

-How Kofi Annan let Pronk down

-How Pronk in vain asked Kagame not to hurt a dissident minister

-How Meles Zenawi wanted to do his masters with Pronk on the subject of human rights 

All pictures of Jan Pronk and Kofi Annan by Petterik Wiggers Continue reading →

Grand handshakes in Kenya reconfirm the interest of the political elite

When things go wrong. Aftermath of election in 2018(Photo Ilona Eveleens in Kisumu)

By Willy Mutunga

The handshake between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga on March 09, 2018 was not the first of baronial handshakes we have seen nor will it be the last. But the last of them will be when an alternative political leadership that can imagine our freedom and emancipation takes the reins of political power in our country.

“When Baba told us he was leading us to Canaan we did not know he meant the Office of the President!” one Kenyan tweeted, expressing the views held by many including public intellectuals who did not see this turn of events coming.

Hitherto, the narrative had been that the National Super Alliance (NASA) was the lesser of the two political evils, but the truth is they are both pawns in the hands of the imperialisms of the West and East. Indeed, their shared vision of looting the country can never set them apart.
However, I believe the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the People’s President on January 30, 2018, is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The ceremony confirmed Odinga as a leader of the new national opposition with a following to be reckoned with. Proving he had the capacity to mobilise millions could not be taken lightly or ignored.
I saw a clear parallel from the past when Jaramogi Odinga resurrected our hopes of fighting the Moi-KANU dictatorship and the heralding of the so-called second liberation. Speaking in Bondo in his trademark shrill voice he warned Moi: “Moi-i-i-i, you do not have the title deeds to Kenya.”

 

I believe the current Jubilee dictatorship saw this too and negotiations started soon after with meetings booked in order to “maintain the peace”. Apparently, the staff at the Office of the President who saw Odinga walk in feared he had decided to physically evict President Uhuru from his official seat!

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“What an irony that Ethiopia is now the last country in Africa to become democratic” – Eskinder Nega

Eskinder Nega(Photo Ilona Eveleens)

Eskinder Nega is tense. The Ethiopian journalist travels next week to meet his eleven-year-old son Nafkot in the United States after being in captivity in Ethiopia for six years. That makes him nervous, because he barely knows his son. Nafkot was born in prison in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, when his father and mother were imprisoned there. “Would he recognize me?”, Eskinder Nega worries. “He only knows me as a legend, as one of Ethiopia’s most famous political prisoners. But I also have my weaknesses and many mistakes. Will he accept it?”
 

Nine times, Eskinder Nega went behind bars since he returned from America to his native country in the early nineties. The last time was in 2011 on charges of terrorism. In February he was unexpectedly freed among hundreds of other political prisoners after the Ethiopian regime began to make remarkable reforms. The new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed closed down the infamous Kaliti prison, where Eskinder was stuck for years.
 

After communist regimes fell around the world in the early 1990s, including that of the Ethiopian military Marxist Mengistu Haile Mariam, Eskinder Nega expected change. “The end of the tyranny came into view and my wife and I started the first independent newspaper in Ethiopian history”, he says during a short visit to Nairobi. “Mengistu’s successor Meles Zenawi however turned out to be a Leninist, he did not allow opposition and closed my newspaper.”
 

The authorities put him and his wife Serkalem Fasil behind bars in 2005 for seventeen months because of high treason. “I heard in prison that she was pregnant. And later that she gave birth to our son”. After his release, the wife and child went to America for safety reasons, but the father did not want to leave. “To be a real journalist in Ethiopia, you have to be an activist.” He became a blogger and inevitably ended up in prison again.
 

In 2009, Meles Zenawi’s party had adopted a draconian anti-terrorism law. That law made critical journalists into terrorists. In 2011 he was sentenced to 18 years under this law. PEN, the international organization for the freedom of writers, gave him the Freedom to Write Award in 2012. He continued to write, even in prison.
 

“The prison authorities wanted me to stop writing. But I refused and that is why I was branded as a troublemaker who had to live separately from the other detainees. I received neither a pen nor paper and my books were taken away. But sometimes I managed to smuggle a pen and paper inside. I also wrote on every piece of paper or cardboard I could get my hand on, also on toilet paper. Thus, my life in prison became a daily fight. I never stopped writing. Because I knew that if I stopped doing so, my will would be broken. If I had stopped writing, I would have subjected myself to tyranny. ”
 

According to Eskinder Nega, democracy is the goal of all the peoples of the earth. “If democracy can work in a state as diverse as India, and even in South Africa, which is highly polarized because of its history, why not in Ethiopia? We are the oldest nation in Africa and we helped the African countries become independent in the sixties. What an irony that we are now the last country on the continent to become democratic.”

 

Eskinder Nega is optimistic about the chance that the new Prime Minister Abiy can steer the nation into democratic waters. But for now, as a journalist, he remains an activist. “If the new prime minister backs away, there will be big demonstrations against the government again.” He wants to start blogging and writing for newspapers. “In the social media you get your information, while the old media like newspapers gives the analysis. Social media will never eliminate the old media. I want to be active in all media.”

 

This article was published in NRC Handelsblad on Tuesday, 8 May 2018