Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Food vs education in Nigeria -- Nigerians, Zimbabweans especially pessimistic; Ghanaians, Kenyans upbeat

Kingsley Osadolor, from Nigeria's The Guardian, rubbishes the "hagiographic obituaries" lavished upon the recently deceased American president Ronald Reagan. Reagan was no friend of Africa, the author writes. The Reagan Administration chose its friends. But they were Africa's hated men: Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, South Africa's Pieter W. Botha and UNITA's Savimbi. In January 1986, at a time when President Reagan was cancelling most appointments because of the Challenger space shuttle explosion, Savimbi was Reagan's guest in the Oval Office... Savimbi's first diplomatic coup occurred when he visited Washington DC in December 1981 and met with General Alexander Haig, who was then Secretary of State. Haig had assured Savimbi that the Reagan Administration would find ways to by-pass the so-called Clark Amendment, which forbade US overt or covert support for any group in the Angolan conflict. He also noted that Reagan's alleged love of expanding liberty only seemed to apply to countries where people used the word 'comrade' a lot. If Reagan was concerned about tyranny and repression, his administration did not seem to think that apartheid South Africa was a bad idea after all... To the bewilderment of all who knew of the steaming cauldron that was apartheid, President Reagan in 1985 said that P.W. Botha's "reformist administration" had "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our country". That was five years before Mandela was released from prison and nine years before the first non-racial elections that formally ended apartheid.

Folanke Ebun-Sowemimom, another Guardian columnist, writes on many of the risks faced by African children. Some of the more well-known ones include HIV-AIDS, child trafficking and pornographic or obscene television shows. One of the more interesting contentions was the practice of using children for street-trading should be discouraged. Look at our streets today and you would find plenty of children hawking... They are encouraged to take to street trading by their poor parents to make ends meet. Some parents usually get the consent of their children by promising to buy them some goodies with the money they realise from street trading. These parents think they are doing their children a great good. They have to be told that they are exploiting their children. In fact they have to be told that they are abusing their children without knowing it or that they are depriving their children of their right to education. As much as I sympathize with the notion that all kids should go to school, I'm not sure if I agree with the author's formulation. I don't think any of the parents think they are doing their children "a great good"; I imagine most of them think they are doing what they need to do to survive. An education doesn't do much for a kid with an empty belly. It's no revelation to note that hunger is a physiological barrier to good learning. Is using your kid as a street trader more abusive than making it so he can't put food in his stomach? What's really needed is an improvement in Nigeria's economy so that kids won't be forced to choose between food and education.

More good news from paradise Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe's regime has shut down yet another independent newspaper (I didn't know any were left standing). Following The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune is the latest to feel the wrath of Mafia-ocracy. Interesting development from a country whose government has reportedly claimed has more press freedom than Sweden.

Given the previous two stories, it's little wonder that the BBC reported a study by an international polling organization called Globescan which indicated that Nigerians and Zimbabweans feel especially pessimistic about their own countries, with just 3% of Zimbabweans saying they think life is getting better. 75% of Nigerians think the country is heading in the wrong direction, with 66% considering the place more corrupt than a year ago (which shows, yet again, that while multiparty democracy is a necessary condition for development, it's not sufficient by itself). [M]ore than a third of Africans feel worse off this year compared with last. Though the poll did note some optimism in Kenya, where the vast majority of Kenyans believe corruption is declining, and two-thirds of Ghanaians think their government reflects the will of the people.

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