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Trade unions are still relevant

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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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As economic difficulties mount, trade unions have increasingly come under intense pressure, with some employers devising ways to cut their influence.

It is not unusual for new recruits in some companies and other organisations to be prevailed upon not to join unions.

This way, these employers believe they can cut their labour costs, and that it is easier if the unions are weakened.

Indeed, the glory days of trade unions dating back to the independence struggle of the early 1960s are largely gone.

However, some are still hanging in there, convinced they have a key role to play in articulating and protecting workers’ rights to enhance their welfare.

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It’s against this backdrop that the significance of the just-ended 42nd general council meeting of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) in Nairobi can be seen. Trade unions and employers’ associations may have contrasting interests, but jointly hold the key to the welfare of workers.

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Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is also the African Union Special Envoy for Infrastructure, rightly believes that better relations between employers and workers will enable the continent achieve economic development.

It is highly unlikely that progress can be made in the absence of industrial peace.

The easiest way for employers to get the best out of their investment is to pay adequate attention to the welfare of workers by paying them decent wages and improving conditions at the workplace.

It is, therefore, in the interest of workers that investment in industry and agriculture is boosted so that more jobs can be created.

This will only be possible when unions seek to partner with employers, and not be obstacles by making unrealistic demands.

The collective bargaining system has been a useful tool in harmonising workers’ demands with employers’ ability to pay and enhance industrial peace and stability. This continental solidarity provides a forum through which unions can share experiences and knowledge on tackling labour challenges. Employers and workers need one another for their mutual prosperity.

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NGUGI: Rwanda shows continent what it takes to rise from the ashes, own the future

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TEE NGUGI

By TEE NGUGI
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The recently-concluded Kusi Ideas Festival organised by Nation Media Group brought together leading politicians, bureaucrats, corporate heads and academics from Africa. The choice of Kigali to host the conference was not a coincidence. Rwanda has come to represent the new Africa.

In a few years, the tiny country with a bloody history has come out on top in almost every category — healthcare, education, IT, agriculture, security, order, among others. These achievements could not have come about without a paradigm shift in the way Rwandans think of themselves.

They had to abandon the fatalistic view of the future and instead begin to believe they could shape it. They stopped being fearful of taking bold steps. They began to have the confidence to innovate unique solutions to unique problems. They ceased having low expectations of themselves and their leadership. They stopped measuring themselves against failed states. Instead, they set themselves the highest possible standards.

The reason for Rwanda’s transformation from a nation that symbolised death to one that symbolises hope and resilience is simple. It is something Paul Kagame talks about all the time — a change of mindset. Africa, he says, has everything she needs to succeed, but she must change her mental attitude.

And so the Kusi Ideas conference wanted to reflect and capture the spirit of Rwanda. The conference explored ways and means how Africa could chart its socio-political and economic course in the next 60 years.

There was none of that increasingly redundant explanation of our problems as a result of sinister neo-colonial machinations of the West. There was no specious rationalisation of corruption or the inefficiencies of our bureaucracies or the lack of strategic planning or our scorched-earth politics in which politicians burn the country on a mad rush to gain power.

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Instead, the conference bristled with bold plans and innovative ideas. There were honest conversations about our shortcomings. There was the Rwanda spirit of “we can own the future by our actions”. A new Africa — in terms of thinking and attitude — was being defined.

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The conference proved that there was no shortage of brilliance and innovation in Africa. However, there is a shortage of the kind of leadership that can harness that brilliance and innovation into a coherent national development strategy.

The old leadership abounds in Africa and continues to nurture and perpetuate the old thinking and attitude. I was reminded of this sad fact when listening to an interview on TV of a leading presidential candidate.

The politician — Musalia Mudavadi — had just released a memoir about his 30-year journey in politics. The interviewer asked him why he stayed on as a minister in the despotic Kanu regime when other politicians and citizens were risking everything to bring a new dawn. His answer: Family friendship ties with Moi and intimidation. He was pressed about his achievements as a long-serving minister in the Kanu regime. He answered that he had greatly improved the economy. Then he went on to say that one of Moi’s achievements was that he agreed to hand over power to the incoming NARC government that won the 2002 elections when he could have elected to stay on.

True leadership is taking painful and often dangerous decisions in the interests of the common good.

In Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela talks of how he, a man who loved family life, who loved his young beautiful wife, who cherished quiet reflections or reading in the evenings, took on the dangerous life of a fugitive as the “Black Pimpernel”. He took that decision knowing that if captured, it would be the noose.

Another characteristic of true leadership is honesty. The economy of Kenya under Kanu, due to theft on an epic scale, was on its knees. It was actually the NARC government that rescued it from total collapse.

Lastly and most importantly, a leader must teach citizens to have high expectations of themselves and their leadership. He must measure himself and his country’s achievements against the highest possible performance standards.

Rating former President Moi’s handing over of power after defeat in an election as a great achievement is the lowest possible measure of success. It is akin to saying, “I have achieved great success because I’m not dead!” Tragically, that is the standard against which Africa has been measuring success over the last 50 years.

It is this mentality that President Paul Kagame and the Kusi Ideas Festival are seeking to change.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.

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LAKHANI: Solutions for Africa’s challenges in the next 60 years

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AZIM LAKHANI

By AZIM LAKHANI
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“The world has much to learn from Africa.” This was the message by His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam (Spiritual Leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, to the opening session of the Nation Media Group’s Kusi Ideas Festival earlier this week.

Over 500 influential leaders, scholars, entrepreneurs and innovators from across Africa gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, this week during the Kusi Ideas Festival to discuss challenges Africa is likely to face over the next 60 years, and offer creative ideas on how to address them.

Lessons learned from the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)’s work over the past 100 years provide tested and successful solutions to addressing many of these challenges. In considering for example, how Africa will feed its growing population, AKDN can share its experience of working with 500,000 small-scale farmers, by providing seeds and fertilisers, know-how and training to increase productivity, guaranteed purchases of crops, processing of foodstuff within Africa and access to otherwise inaccessible markets.

Founder and Chairman of AKDN, His Highness the Aga Khan, has improved the lives of millions of people in Africa and throughout the world. The AKDN’s network of institutions in healthcare, education, financial services, industry, infrastructure, media, tourism, habitat, property development and environment and culture, work in 35 countries to improve living conditions and opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people. With its presence in 14 African countries, AKDN employs around 35,000 Africans.

A key focus of discussions at the Kusi Ideas Festival was on Africa’s youthful population — a vital demographic that will produce a future workforce as well as a significant market for goods and services. What came across clearly was that unless the youth are given opportunities, they risk marginalisation.

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Having worked with youth in Kenya and from the lessons learned, AKDN has embarked on the Coastal Youth Initiative and the Youth Hub Network – targeting up to one million unemployed young people to help them articulate their own requirements; and that with the help of various funding and development partners, will create employment pathways in response. In his message to the festival, His Highness the Aga Khan said we have a responsibility to support and lift the hopeful voices of the continent’s youth.

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AKDN has a vital role in education and healthcare, and has set internationally-benchmarked standards for excellence. We provide early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education to approximately 800,000 students and benefit millions more each year through our public schools’ improvement programmes. Our hospitals, clinics, community programmes and initiatives to build the capacity of public healthcare providers, benefit around 2.5 million patients annually.

As Africa implements the Continental Free Trade Agreement, the festival theme envisaged an Africa without trade borders; AKDN has practical experience to offer in this regard. Our substantial investment in the Ruzizi III hydropower project is an exemplary model of borderless co-operation to share a natural resource between three countries — Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to benefit 30 million people.

The festival also recognised the importance of environmental sustainability. Within the network, there is an essential focus on sustainability and conservation — the Kilaguni Serena Lodge is the first fully solar powered hospitality facility in Kenya; power generation projects in East and Central Africa focus on renewable energy; 10,000 rain water harvesting pans have been installed; 11 million trees have been planted; and corporate social responsibility.

AKDN’s cultural initiatives are ‘trampolines’ for development. Investment in urban parks and the restoration of heritage sites, promoting the preservation of cultural traditions in music, and recognising exquisite architecture that reflects the use of traditional materials, techniques and design elements are reflective of the role of traditional culture in development.

The cornerstone of AKDN’s development work is collaboration with others, as we expand our efforts to improve the quality of life for all, working directly with beneficiaries; 100 funding partners; 25,000 civil society organisations; and through the 33 agreements with national and local governments in Africa.

Our work reflects our ethics and values such as service, care and concern for the most vulnerable. Viewing diversity as a source of strength, His Highness has promoted pluralism and inclusiveness and worked for over 60 years to build respect for differences among communities.

The success of Kusi is a testament to the formidable role that media can play in mobilising and harnessing thought leadership. Not only is the Nation Media Group the largest media house in the Eastern Africa region, it has now demonstrated its will and capacity to engage some of the continent’s best leadership.

With AKDN’s investments of billions of dollars in Africa and lessons learned from our development work over decades, not just in Africa but across over 35 countries globally, we show that we can offer solutions to addressing many of these challenges identified at Kusi.

Dr Azim Lakhani is the Diplomatic Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network in Kenya.

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For Chrissake, let Catholics ordain women, priests marry

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MAKAU MUTUA

By MAKAU MUTUA
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Established and recognised religions, including some of the largest – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, African religions, and Judaism – involve both individual conscience, belief, and community identity. By and large, public authorities in democracies generally permit religions to establish their own internal rules.

But not all internal religious rules are godly, ethical or even moral. The same is true of religious practices throughout history. Some have been abominable. Others are clearly discriminatory. Today, I focus on two new progressive practices the Catholic Church needs to accept – the ordination of women and marriage of priests.

Recently, the synod of Amazon bishops voted – in a meeting with Pope Francis in Vatican City – to allow married men to become priests. The Amazon plea was largely driven by pragmatic logic. The shortage of priests in the Amazon is so acute that many faithful Catholics go for years without attending mass or receiving the Eucharist. The cure to the problem is hiding in plain sight – allow priests to marry and the shortage vanishes. To his credit, Pope Francis, as he has done throughout his papacy, seemed to signal an opening in special cases. Despite stiff conservative opposition to allowing priests to marry, Pope Francis urged “openness to new ways”. He could rule on the issue by year’s end. Given the politics and dynamics in the Church, it’s doubtful that Pope Francis will go beyond a marginal relaxation of the rules requiring celibacy. But to be clear, celibacy isn’t required by the Bible, or any scripture, although the Apostle Paul recommended it in the First Letter to the Corinthians.

Rather, celibacy is a millennia-old practice that has usually, but not always, been adhered to. For example, many of the Apostles of Jesus were married, although he was reportedly celibate himself. St Peter himself, the first Pope, was married. In fact, in Matthew 8:14 and Luke 4:38-40, Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Only in 304 AD does there appear the first written, but rarely enforced, requirement of celibacy for priests.

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It was only in the 11th century that Pope Gregory VII issued in the medieval period of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church an ironclad decree requiring all priests to be celibate and unmarried. From that point forward every bishop has been expected to strictly enforce the rule. The rule stuck and is now the norm in the Catholic Church.

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It’s clear from history that despite this rule on celibacy, many priests – even some popes – engaged in sexual relations with women and men. Such “scandals” were not unknown at the Vatican. Today, many priests, including in Kenya, are guilty of sexual predations. Nor can we forget the current scourge of paedophile priests, an existential threat to the Church.

Today, most, but not all Roman Catholic clergy (Latin Rite) is celibate. In the Eastern Catholic Church, as in the Orthodox Church, married men serve as Catholic priests. Furthermore, married Anglican priests who came into Catholicism serve as full Catholic priests. That’s why the call by the Amazon bishops, and the sympathetic ear of Pope Francis, isn’t out of left field. Just like paedophilia gravely threatens the Catholic Church from America to the remotest island on Earth, the refusal to allow priests to marry will thin out its congregation and put it in ICU. The rule was a fiat by one Pope. A fiat by another Pope can reverse it. Pope Francis may do it.

The refusal to ordain women into the Catholic priesthood is similarly indefensible. There’s no biblical or scriptural authority barring the ordination of women. In 1994, Pope John Paul II, an impossibly staunch conservative, declared in an Ordinatio sacerdotalis – an ecclesiastical letter – that the “Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” However, he failed to quote any biblical authority other than taking refuge in the history of patriarchy in Jewish society at the time of Jesus. He cited the choice of 12 Apostles – all men – as proof positive that Jesus wanted Church ministry to be reserved for men.

Let’s separate man-made religious law from holy text. In the Church, canonical law are rules made by ecclesiastical authority, or Church leadership, for the governance of the flock. It shouldn’t be confused with the Bible. In the same way that sharia or Islamic law shouldn’t be conflated with the Quran and the Hadith. Sharia is man-made law even if the religious authorities and scholars derive it from the Quran and Hadith. That’s why using canonical law or sharia law to deny penitents basic rights of equality can’t stand scrutiny.

Messianic religions, of which there are two – Islam and Christianity – are guilty of grave historical wrongs such as colonialism, the enslavement of Africans, crusades and jihads. Denying women ordination and refusing priests the right to marry needn’t be part of that abominable catalogue.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.

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