Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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World's Political Leaders Let Their People Down

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, August 14 / 17

Zack Gross

Ian Hanomansing of CBC TV News said what many of us were thinking on his telecast the other evening – that if you lived through the Cold War of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, our present circumstances seem no different.  We don't know what the Americans will say next, we don't know what the North Koreans will do next, we are concerned about the daily terrorist activities taking place around the world, and then there are fires, storms, earthquakes and droughts in a natural mirroring of daily politics.

After the Second World War, Russia and its Communist party allies created a buffer zone of Soviet Socialist Republics – East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, etc.  The Capitalist Bloc was made up Western Europe and its allies.  An arms race between to two rival “empires” had all of us fearing a nuclear war of human annihilation.  As someone who now teaches “world issues” courses at the post-secondary level, I am surprised at how few students know about this important piece of history which is vital to our understanding of today – but it happened well before they were born.

As mentioned in a previous article, the “End of History” has been replaced by its return.  When the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989-90 and the USSR broke up, experts believed that our liberal democracy would be the norm and peace its reward to the end of time.  Instead, our world of today may have a few different actors, but the play is the same and it's often a tragedy for those most affected.

As I write this article, the Kenyan election vote is in its final stages of being counted with the incumbent President, Uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”) Kenyatta leading the polls by about 10%.  The opposition, which feels its chances of victory are stolen by corruption at every election, are calling for calm but claiming the balloting computers were hacked to produce exactly this result.  After each of the past two elections, major violence has broken out with hundreds of people killed and thousands displaced.  Opposition Leader Raila Odinga's constituency is Kibera, the world's largest slum.  As is true around the world, poor people don't see their leaders and governments as their representatives and benefactors.

My wife and I, along with other family members, visited Kenya three years ago, spending a week in the country, mostly in Nairobi, before heading to Tanzania on safari and to visit partners of our Canadian NGOs.  With a population of at least 3.5 million and growing quickly with refugees of regional conflicts, members of diverse tribal groups, the poor coming to the city from the countryside along with a large expatriate population as the city is also headquarters to many international organizations, Nairobi is vibrant but can be tense and insecure. 

Whoever is in charge of the country, holding it together is no easy task but critics would say that not enough has been done to address the poverty issues that add gas to the potential fire.  We've lately been watching the Kenyan election coverage closely on BBC and have been excited by the enthusiasm of citizens there to vote, braving long line-ups and potential violence, yet we wonder if ultimately things will change for the better.  Newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that Africa suffers from civilizational problems and he particularly focused on women having too many children.  He steered clear of addressing the impact of colonialism on Africa in a blind moment reminiscent of our challenge with Reconciliation in Canada.  It is so easy to blame the victim!

Back to the long lines of people waiting to vote in Kenya.  My wife says she'd love to frame the photo that appeared in the media, which shows commitment to and patients for citizenship.  A very pregnant young women, with the help of bystanders, gave birth in one of these lines and named her child the Swahili word for “ballot”.  After a trip to a local clinic, she returned to cast her vote.  She said that she was blessed to give birth and vote on the same day.    In another news clip, several women and men talked about their aspirations for peace, good governance and making ends meet after the election.

None of this is simple.  Some of it is out of reach, it seems, although people of good will must continue to try.  Manitobans seem disproportionately involved in making this a better world, when you consider our small population.  Let us continue.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s
The Marquis Project.

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