African in Trump Land

How does it feel to live in the land of Trump? A question I hear almost everywhere I go. My answer is always a variation of “nothing has changed” which seems to baffle my interlocutor. The reason why I feel that nothing has changed is shaped by my African upbringing. I am unfortunately jaded by politics, politicians and distrust their motives. I am also baffled by the passion it brings out in people. A passion not dissimilar to that of Sports fans. In our country, politics have become a sports league. You must choose your team (Red or Blue) and you must follow their ideology faithfully. Are you a Democrat? Then you must be pro-choice, support any social measure regardless of its impact or cost, be for LGBTQ and promote restrictions on firearms. Are you a Republican, free markets everywhere, pull yourself by the bootstraps, freedom in every other sentence and most of all worship the country because it cannot do wrong.
When I first arrived here as a teenager, I had a sense of rebellion like most teenagers. But most of all, I finally had a chance to do something meaningful with my life and strongly rejected the ideals of my native country which frankly sound a lot like what Democrats preach which is why I believe that most of my African brethren are naturally attracted to Democratic. I on the other hand had a natural aversion to those ideals because I wanted badly to exist as an individual. Thus, I was (still am) sort of an anomaly for years and dubbed a “Republican” even though I fiercely believe in my own independence and despise party line thinking. Over the years, I have learned to balance out my views while still favoring individual liberty and freedom of choice. I have also seen the system of checks and balances transform into intense partisanship and because of our beautiful, almost artful dysfunction, I know that no president good or bad can truly transcend the true power: PROFITS. The difference between the U.S. and other countries, I argue, is that we are honest about our need to be successful, compete (meaning win or even dominate) and keep score through money. We value these things in people although we would also like them to be humble, God fearing and loving if possible. But if not, just win baby as a famous sports owner once said. In that sense, Trump is America whether we like it or not. He embodies what we have signaled to value and now some us are ashamed because we think we are, no, should be better than that. Tangentially, this is also why we loved electing Obama because it made us feel superior to the rest of the world but to any savvy observer (especially in the south), Obama is what we want to think we are; Trump is what we really are inside.
So, what does it mean to be African in the land of Trump? it means being patient and remembering history. I come from a country where presidential terms are counted in decades. Presidents and politicians have done so much harm, there is no more harm to do. People patiently wait for leader to go away through violent change or natural causes and brace themselves for the inevitability of another long period of incompetence at best. Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, I have seen them all and still nothing has really changed for me. I still hold on to my naive teenage views that if I understand the system and perform within it, I will eventually discover a worthy goal to pursue. Further, If I focus on that goal then it does not matter who the president is. We are in a democracy which to me means that half the time you will not get the result you like. Acceptance of the process is an implicit acceptance of the outcome. We have an opportunity to apply the process in another four years. This time you might want to vote.

Against Fake News: We are the Last Line of Defense

While spy agencies prod into likely election meddling from Russia, the fake news issue is quickly forgotten. Email hacking from a country like Russia, in one way or another evokes a James Bond level of sophistication and urgency while fake news evokes a transient mischief driven by a myriad of individuals that take advantage of social media. Justifiably, the government is quick to address the email hacking issue. But, what about fake news? We should be as concerned on the fake news challenge because, unlike targeted email attacks, with fake news we are being hacked as a society.
Informally, hacking can be seen as an intrusion to a place where the hacker has no legitimate access to. In the Russian email hacking situation, the hackers did not have legitimate access to those emails. Further, those emails where purposefully used to give a person an advantage (or its competitor a disadvantage). Fake news had the same effect of providing one person an advantage/disadvantage. The difference is that fake news do so through the use of legitimate access via freedom of speech.
Fake news is a far more dangerous threat to democracy as it is a concerted effort to legally misinform people at a large scale. This effort can be undertaken by anybody: individuals or governments unfriendly to the US. Like malware designed to damage hardware or slow network communications, fake news is designed to slowly damage the social fabric of society: pitting family and friends against one another; galvanizing positions towards limiting consensus; and ultimately pressing people into action: like a North Carolina man, armed with a AR-15, handgun and shotgun, going to investigate a conspiracy theory, spread by fake news, in the basement of a Washington DC pizzeria where child trafficking was supposedly ongoing. As we live in a world of 144 characters, we lose our interest in reading articles where situations are analyzed thoroughly. We are easy prey to click and bait headlines that capture a constructed “reality.” This “reality” appeal to our worldviews as it is dangerously laced with truth to appear…truthful (see truthiness or post-truth).
The Ghost in the Shell movie sees humanity at a point where we can directly connect to computers. As we physically connect to computers, humans are also subject to hacking. There is a scene in the movie where a man’s memories where not his but implanted. Further, this man acted on the believe that those memories where based on real life experiences. The Matrix movies also sees humans plugged to a network of computers, where they are fed a constructed reality while providing energy to the machines. It is not difficult to establish an analogy between Ghost in the Shell and today’s fake news influence in a large group of individuals in the US: We believe in a “reality” that has been created for and fed to us. We have been hacked by fake news that use our biases against ourselves to further spread false narratives. I could equate this to a person knowing that its computer was infected with an email transmitted malware and forwarding the infected email. Unlike Ghost in the Shell, fake news put false narratives in our heads at a mass scale to intertwine with our beliefs and further feed our worldviews. More challenging, that narrative is put in our heads legally under the hackers’ or internet trolls’ freedom of speech.
What to do? Like most computer hacking, people are at the center of the solution. People need to recognize they have been infected and that social malware needs to be cleaned. Common practices like not opening suspicious links, not going to dubious online sites, and going to places where information is provided is a good start. Stop spreading unconfirmed information by checking your sources. If it is too good to be true…well it usually is. A practice as simple as reading news from different sources helps. Perhaps more importantly, we need to challenge our views and meditate on its values as an individual and as a member of society. Recall: just because it exists on the Internet it does not make it true. Just because a person you admire shared it on social media, it does not mean she/he is right or understand the shared issue.
It is noted that I am not advocating for the elimination of free speech. We are advocating that, just like one would avoid phishing or malware attacks, we need to prepare ourselves to an ever evolving threat. As we don’t click on links within emails from Nigerian princes or avoid going to places with illegal download and malware spread capabilities, we should not click on links from, or visit sites with, dubious news sources. Further, we should not share those news with others. Not only are these sites abusing freedom of speech, they are hacking it to spread their message to what has been called “echo chambers.” If we participate on these spread of misinformation, we have become willing accomplices of social hacks: infected and contagious with dangerous narratives.
Currently, we point fingers to places like Facebook and Twitter. They have their share on this situation. However, we need to point fingers to ourselves as we are not only not stopping these social hacks but also participating in their spread. The way out is relatively simple: like we eliminate known software vulnerabilities and educate ourselves in the latest hacking trends where humans are the weakest point, readers need to become savvy on where they get their information, compare it with other sources and excise those that spread misinformation even if it does not comply with our beliefs. Tall order in a world that feed on 144 characters at the time. Social media and traditional media are hard a work trying to identify fake news, but on this one, we are the last line of defense.

Living that buried life

I am not a sociologist but I wonder. Growing up, young African men and women learn a very simple yet indelible lesson: “Keep your life buried”. To translate, it means that one should always project an air of modest success and wellbeing but even more important one should never let their neighbor know about any of theirs struggles. We must go through life pretending that all is well is the best of all possible worlds (Voltaire). When we lived in small groups where everyone is somehow related this philosophy has a regulating effect in that only the most important issues (divorce, family feuds) bubble to the top. All other issues are handled internally while the rest of the community pretends not to notice. In that world, the most civilized and polite person is the one who can pretend the most, followed closely by the one who seems to be abiding by the codes that accompany our buried life philosophy. Codes you learn very early with the wise aid of whippings and daily rebukes. For instance, as a child you are taught to pretend, close your eyes and ears and speak obliquely. You are taught to feign ignorance and not ask questions. You are taught to abide by the code because the code is all we have. As a person living in that society, your biggest fear is to be discovered and revealed as a phony. So, your biggest concern is not to do what is best for you and your family in the short and long term; rather it is to make sure that you are perceived as being good and doing well in the short term. A lot of problems that African countries face can be traced to this mentality. Take for instance Aids. In African countries where people recognized that citizens where having sex out of wedlock with multiple partners and saw that it was neither good nor bad but reality that must be dealt with, condoms were distributed in mosques and other religious centers and the epidemic was largely controlled. On the other side when we pretended that everyone was faithful and God punishes those who engage in extramarital shenanigans with Hell and fire, the epidemic strove on the back of face veiling and big talk of sorcery and magical healings. Another simple example is religion. At least in predominantly Muslim countries, it is more important to show ritual participation that to abide by the essence of the religious teachings. In a way religion has been incorporated into the code. A good Muslim is not one who practices the teachings of Islam and copies the deeds and acts of the Prophet in their everyday life. Rather, a good Muslim is one practices all of the rituals assiduously, preferably in full view of others. This seeming contradiction -being modest and telegraphing one’s Muslim credentials- can be explained by the need to be perceived as being good. There are many other examples but the point is what we live and what we let you see about our life is not necessarily correlated.
Fact is, we are no longer living in small communities. We have morphed into cities and our lives our distributed and interconnected. We are in countries which mean we have to work together, move in the same direction and put forth a collective effort. In other words, we have to compete in a modern economy with value systems that are fundamentally well meaning but inadequate for the 21st century. The culture of “buried life” must be fundamentally changed. Because of this culture we deny genocides. Because of this culture we lack role models for our young men and women. Because of this culture, we only see results and not the road travelled. Because of this culture, the natural instinct of government is to hide, deny, shift and change. Because of this culture, we cannot have an open debate about sexism, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, money and success.
Pretending is not always bad, but a whole nation that pretends cannot serve its citizen’s needs. We have to be willing to change and evolve that part of our culture. Otherwise we will be stuck in an infinite loop. Ebola is the most recent case but as a kid I remember Aids, Cholera, mini civil wars, full blown genocides and multitude other generational issues. But the biggest problem is our mental operating system. It is broken man!!!!!

It’s the jobs dummy!!!

Sometimes I feel lost about the state of affairs of my native Africa. What seems so simple and obvious from here is completely ignored out there. Whenever I am in a conversation with another African “Intellectual” their analysis seems so complex and academic that I feel a sense a loss and despair. Here is what seems simple and obvious: the key to development is JOBS. It does not really matter what kind of jobs, any will do. Low paying, high paying, internship, just get me a job. How else can we have money to spend, feed the kids, pay the bills and buy stuff that the West and China are trying to sell us. We need jobs not because if brings dignity, independence and all these other Western luxuries that we Africans consider Western values (I am looking at you “individual responsibility”) but because we need to eat, drink and live. We need to get married, have families and go on vacation. We need J.O.B.S, period, end of story. So, how do we get these magic jobs, I hear you ask? First we need to make it a priority. It is nice to have electricity, water, internet and whatever else but without a job and some money people cannot afford to pay their bills and it all becomes a government subsidy (revenue from sales tax and mining). Taking it seriously means naming an experienced person to chase and bring in businesses to invest in the country. It means depoliticizing that part of government and making it a pragmatic, solutions oriented ministry. That in turns means that the country has to be competitive in terms of its workforce, justice system and tax and incentive regime. Let me talk about each briefly.
Universities and colleges in most African countries do a poor job preparing young people to join the work force when there is one. They offer training in abstract, outdated skills that do not encourage practical and empirical grounding in the realities of the marketplace. University is a luxury that most people did not deserve. Ultimately it costs the collective an arm and a leg and does not yield a better educated, harder working and enlightened youth. So why do we still have it? Simply because it is a political tool meant to keep the predominantly young demographics occupied and hoping to get the scraps of a corrupt administration. If we are serious about jobs, we need to show the business people that we can take their needs and requirements for skilled labor and train a labor force in two years or less. It means that universities would cease to be bastions of academia only, and engage in workforce development. That is in my opinion the first prerequisite to showing the international community of money seekers (businesses) that we want them to bring their money to us.
In parallel, we need to make sure that when it comes to corporate law, we do not play. I am not advocating, as many do, for a full reform of the justice system with pristine, incorruptible judges acting with all the virtues of Judge Dredd. That of course is the dream but in the meantime we can make sure that the corporate/business side of the judicial system is stacked with fair, honest, and highly paid judges. This is a matter of emphasis. It is akin to corrupt and ineffectual countries where tourism is the main draw. They always make sure that the money machine (the tourist) is never disturbed on his way to spending his hard earned money. Jobs are the money machine that we need to protect by making sure that conflicts regarding businesses are resolved fast and fairly.
Finally, we need to heavily incentivize job creation. Businessmen in Africa create wealth for themselves but it does not translate to wealth around them. We need to make sure that we reward people who create jobs through a system of easy (government backed) loans, and a social security system that tracks people from birth to death. We need a fair taxation and regulation system that allows businesses to easily hire and fire people and rewards excellence instead of tenure only. At the end of the day, jobs create freedom and reform. It pushes people to become educated instead of forcing them to go school as a means of control as we do today. It gives people a reason to contribute and be part of society instead of retreating into ethnic shortcuts.
But first, we have to assume that our politicians want the best for the country not just for themselves. I remain skeptical…

Dumb and dumberer

By Saikou Diallo

Power and opposition are locked in a mortal combat fight to the finish and Guinea is going to end up the biggest loser. So loud are the shouts and screams, so vehement are the arguments, that sane people cannot hear themselves think and possibly think long enough to formulate a sound idea or two. We have dumb and dumberer facing each other in a battle of who can destroy the nation faster. In the blue corner, those in power willing to kill their own citizens, rule the masses at any cost and destroy anyone who stands in the way, ladies and gentlemen I give you dumb. In the red corner, those who will not be ruled, are willing to send masses of uneducated youth to be killed in their name and are willing to destroy anyone in power who is not them, ladies and gentlemen please welcome dumberer.
But, but,but, I hear dumberer say what is the alternative. What else I, dumberer, can do? Seeing that I was robbed of my victory and dumb is now reinforcing his power, kicking my supporters out and refusing to play by the rules and organize elections. What else can I do, back seat driving, Monday morning quarterbacking dude sitting in America?
I say let dumb govern. Let him try out his policies and practices; Let him fulfill his term and for heaven sakes oppose. Oppose by providing an alternative. It might help to govern a city or two or three and show what you can do. Listen dumberer, what you fail to understand is that as long as the equation is written in ethnic terms you will lose. Nobody cares that dumb is ruining the country because half the people believe that you are obstructing and a sore loser. I will let you guess which half that is. You are playing right in dumb’s hands with these tactics, can’t you see. He loves this chaos because it justifies why he cannot succeed and why he must consolidate his power into a dictatorship.
Dumberer, make it about ideas and ideals, make it about Guinea and Guineans not about you and dumb or this ethnic group or that. Call for national unity, joint prayer if you like but stop appearing like you are ready to do anything to gain power. Make it about laws and regulations, sue somebody everyday if you like but pursue legal channels to achieve your goals. In short, be a politician in the noble sense of the term, one with a program, a vision and a plan. Until you do dumb will always win and Guinea will always lose.

Guinea, Democracy and Governance: Guinean Hope

By Saikou Diallo

In the last post, I talked about the two cycles dominating Guinea at the moment. The Cuban occurs because regimes and leaders recognize that they cannot succeed and promptly proceed to scapegoat history, divide their nation and deflect the blame in order to perpetuate their reign. Simultaneously, opposition to the regime consisting mostly of exiles and expats enters an Iranian cycle of demonization, constant blame and fear tactics because they are mainly interested in toppling the regime and not in solving any particular problem. In that post, I tried to summarize the problem as I perceive it but I ignored the individual component that I must address before I talk about a solution. Read more of this post

Guinea, Cuba and Iran: Democracy and Governance in the Internet Age

By Saikou Diallo
As much as I respect and admire the few who willingly give up their time, money and life so that the many can enjoy freedoms they did not have to fight for, I abhor the sideline spectators who ghoulishly shout from the tribunes and stoke the fires of hatred and civil war in the name of self-defense and other nonsense. I am speaking about my little country on the corner of West Africa, Guinea where pseudo ethnic tensions are threatening to bring the nation on the brink of civil war. But a little history first ladies and gentlemen. Read more of this post

Call of Duty

By Saikou Diallo

What is the duty of the Alizen in her country of adoption and what if anything does she owe to her country of origin? These are tough questions that are answered differently by every individual depending on their legal, family and financial situation. Some of us never really fully blend in, always keeping a foot, two eyes and one and half ear “back home”, always keenly tuned into the news, the daily struggles of the family, always involved in the minutia of the live we could have, should have led had we stayed home. Read more of this post

Who is the real immigrant? Legalize it

By Saikou Diallo

Beyonce’s microphone is not even dry yet that our beloved politicians have entered the big policy arena and started spilling precious saliva. Immigration must be reformed says the Democrats, we need to win elections says the Republican, the system is broken chants the advocacy groups from all corners on TV and Cable land. The real effects of a bad immigration policy are felt very personal ways. Every time one of my relatives from Africa wants to come and visit, they are denied a Visa. Read more of this post

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON DEVELOPMENT – PART 1

By Serge Poueme
Originaly appeared in Camidus Foundation camidusfoundation.wordpress.com

What does the term development means today in Central Africa (Chad, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic) ?
From economic growth to sustainability, the stakes are multiple and several challenges await these countries in their journey toward what many have called emergence. Nations such as Cameroon have launched ambitious prosperity plans to tackle poverty and even if those strategies are resources-based (oil, metals, precious stones…etc), Central African countries still perform lower than the other regions in Africa: Read more of this post