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The Kamala Selection: Let Africa Take Cue

In Africa, the continent I happen to know best, the choosing of a VP by a sitting President or a running mate by an aspiring President can more often than not be so simplistic and self-seeking, with a bit of dirty wheeling and dealing thrown into the mix.

Edgar Lungu of Zambia opted for Inonge Wina not so much because he was a champion of gender parity, at least with respect to the top two slots, as that he was desperate to placate the obstreperous and even secessionist-bent Lozi tribe of the Western Province, a corner of the copper-rich country that has been a political hot potato since the days of Kenneth Kaunda.

Cyril Ramaphosa settled for the reportedly thuggish and intellectually uninspiring David Mabuza to bolster his chances of keeping the presidential perch well beyond the clutches of the formidable, Msholozi-backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“The Crocodile”, as Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe is affectionately known, did not have to wrack his brains either: General Constance Chiwenga was pivotal in the table-thumping game of brinkmanship that made the otherwise lion-hearted Robert Mugabe cower and at long last cave in. Needless to say, Chiwenga was a given for the No. 2 slot.

As regards our own Ian Khama, I would not vouch for his raison de tre for picking Mokgweetsi Masisi at the expense of his blood brother TK or his obsequiously loyal protégé of many years Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.  But whatever it was, Khama, with the benefit now of hindsight, made the right choice anyway, just as Masisi in turn cleanly nailed it when he roped in the sober, staid, and sagacious Slumber Tsogwane from Boteti for his deputy.

In the US, it is a different ball game altogether. There, folks, choosing a VP is a meticulous, painstaking process that invariably takes months and can be energy-sapping for both the presidential nominee and the candidates on the VP short list.

“I BEAR NO GRUDGES”

On August 11, the US Democratic Party presidential hopeful Joseph Biden announced by way of a gushing tweet that he had picked Senator Kamala Harris for his running mate. The 55-year-old enchantress has gone into the annals of American history as the first black woman and the first Asian-American to cop up such a privilege.

Biden had a reason to sound so ecstatic when he conveyed his decision to an obviously elated Harris by way of Skype. She overnight electrified his campaign, when hitherto Donald Trump, who is notorious for his bare-knuckle verbal jabs, took special delight in calling him “Sleepy Joe”, “Slow Joe”, etc, as a direct dig at his alleged physical and cognitive decline – ironic though that may sound when Trump’s own faculties and intelligibility have  lately been questioned by his compatriots.

Now, to some people, Joe’s choice was a foregone conclusion considering that Kamala had been the odds-on favourite in surveys conducted by many a pollster. To most, however, it was something of a daredevil move and this view was not entirely unfounded.

Kamala, who along with 28 others had thrown her hat into the presidential ring too, was Biden’s most caustic opponent in the self-promotion debates, landing bazookas on him left, right, and centre, notwithstanding the fact that once upon a time, she and Joe’s late eldest son Beau had an abiding collegial rapport.

In the run-up to the primary campaign debates, Kamala had even thrown her weight behind the three or four women who had levelled accusations against Biden to the effect that he had touched and even smooched them with lewd intentions.

Quizzed as to the absurdity and seeming incongruity of his choice by members of the American press corps, Joe said he was not the one to bear grudges, that he always was ready to make bygones be bygones. He had probably plucked a leaf from the Obama book: he himself had dressed down Obama as grossly unworthy of the presidency during the debates but Obama went on to co-opt him in the running anyway.

SHACKLED TO THE NO. 2

That a prospective President should go to the lengths Joe Biden did to choose his running mate makes a great deal of sense. In the US, the President is stuck with his VP in a manner akin to a until-death-do-us-part scenario. This is because according to the constitution, the President has no power to axe his VP.

The only body vested with such power is the Senate, the upper chamber of the US’s bicameral legislature, which in Botswana we call Parliament or the National Assembly but which Americans call Congress.

What should happen is that in the event that  the VP commits a wrong deserving of dismissal (“Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours” according to the constitution), the 435-strong House of Representatives, the lower chamber, votes on impeachment and if the majority gives the matter a thumbs-up, it is referred to the Senate for trial. A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate (that is, 66 since there are 100 members) is required for the impeachment to proceed, whereupon the VP is removed from office.

In practice, however, that might be problematic in that the VP is also the President of the Senate, meaning he is supposed to chair the proceedings of his own impeachment! That makes the process somewhat convoluted, with the result that a President would rather endure a disagreeable VP than subject him to a process which for all practical purposes is futile.

The only viable way to get rid of a VP is to eject him from the second-term ticket. This is what Andrew Jackson (President from 1829 to 1837) did in 1833, when he dropped John C Calhoun, who had been a constant thorn in his flesh in the first term, and chose Martin Van Buren  as his running mate.

In any case, a VP would rather resign than face up to the ignominy of the impeachment process as did Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s VP, in 1973, the only such case in US history.

BIDEN GETS SET

If two people at the pinnacle of political power in the US were particularly close, it was Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The two so swimmingly jelled that even in public showings, they kept to a matey, first-name-terms etiquette.

Joe is even on record as having said that Obama offered to financially take care of the then ailing Beau, who Joe feared might not be able to sufficiently sustain both his family and himself in the event that he miraculously fought off his ailment. In his own VP, Joe was looking for a person with whom he could forge the same chemistry and that was quite a tall order indeed.

From the get-go, Joe had made it clear that his sights were set on a female VP. No sooner had he said this than hordes of prominent black activists, lawmakers, and opinion leaders descended on him to plead with him that he choose a woman of colour to accord with a ticket that reflected the diversity of America’s demographics.

But skin colour was far from an end in itself. “A lot of his thought process was about who shared his values, who he could work with, who could help him win and who could be ready on Day 1,” the Biden campaign team’s joint-chairman Cedric Richmond would later disclose to a newspaper in one interview.

“Biden’s focus from the very start was on who would be the best governing partner to help him lead our country out of the chaos created by Donald Trump.”

JOE NARROWS FIELD TO ELEVEN FINALISTS

Biden commissioned a team of four to do the initial vetting of more than 20 candidates who included a disabled Iraq War veteran whose mother was of Thai and Chinese descent.  They were a former senator, a member of the House of Representatives, a Los Angeles mayor, and a former advisor, split evenly between the two sexes to underscore Biden’s penchant for gender equality.

The team in turn used a legion of party activists, interest groups, and other key stakeholders as sounding boards on who could best serve the party and country, in the process logging a total of 120 hours.

It was an extensive and laborious process which involved interview after interview in some cases. All the 20 candidates were subjected to an initial public records review, notably press reports, TV, radio, and online interviews, and mentions in published print and electronic books.

The team then prepared a power-point presentation for Biden and his wife Jill. Where the couple detected critical gaps to fill in, they summoned individual members of the team to furnish further particulars or fine-tune their recommendations.

“He was looking at data and looking at track records and looking at a whole bunch of things,” Richmond said. Biden at long last picked eleven finalists out of the twenty pitched to him.

THE GRILLING PROCESS

In evaluating the finalists, Biden employed a two-prong approach. First, they were subjected to legal vetting by three veterans of the Obama administration comprising of two males and one female.

The legal minds were reinforced by between 12 to 15 attorneys who were acting for the candidates and who ferreted their histories with a tooth comb just in case there was a potentially explosive skeleton in their cupboards that could ruin Biden’s chances of ousting Trump.

The candidates each were handed out an elaborate   questionnaire that left no stone unturned. It sought answers to a total of 160 questions. Said The Washington Post: “The 11 finalists were asked about their past writings, details of arrests or criminal charges, medical records and videos of past speaking engagements.

Elected officials were asked about their campaign donor policies, questions were asked about workplace complaints directed at their spouses and the candidates were told to describe the most controversial matters they had dealt with in the course of their careers.”

One such question wanted to know whether there was “any organisation that would take steps, overtly or covertly, fairly or unfairly, to affect your appointment, including any news organisations”.

Second, Biden engaged a team of political researchers whose brief was to “release information to the public in an effort to complicate their (the candidates’) paths to the nomination”.

This was to ensure that whatever dirty linen they possessed was brought before the full glare of the American populace from the very outset so that no surprise was sprang somewhere along the way when their VP candidacy was a fait accompli.

All the while, Biden did his part in personally promoting the candidates and thus raising their profile. He hosted them on his podcast, at fundraisers, and at virtual town halls, while his staff helped place them on television news programs.

IT’S KAMALA

Finally, the candidates were personally interviewed by Biden, either in person or by way of Skype over nine full days. They were formally and professionally introduced by Celinda Lake, one of Joe’s campaign pollsters, complete with potential new campaign logos and promotional jingles.

Biden’s first question to them in what has been described as typically “jarring” interviews conducted on not one but several  sessions  was, “What would your agenda be?”

Amongst the people whose take Biden repeatedly counted upon in the process of making up his mind were his wife,  his sister Valerie Biden Owens, his long-time friend and adviser Ted Kaufman,  his political strategist Mike Donilon, Congressman James Clyburn,  and of course Barack Obama. “My advice was sought,” Clyburn said. “I talked to Joe over the past several days more than I talked to him all year.”

Biden informed the lucky lady by Skype, exactly 66 days after he won the Democratic Party nomination. “I’m calling you today because I’ve made that first Presidential decision,” a beaming Biden announced. “I’ve decided I’d like you to join this effort to win back the soul of this country and be our nation’s next Vice President.”

On their part, Biden’s four-man committee described Kamala Harris as having “an impressive balance of the presence to take on President Trump and knowledge of the issues,” with her other advantage being “her personal story of having immigrant parents, a mother from India and a father from Jamaica”.

It is my hope and trust that the American model will provide a salutary lesson to our own political parties on the continent of Africa so that they spare us the circus to which we have become accustomed and even inured.

Meanwhile, will Biden’s choice of Kamala really assist his resolve to unseat Trump?

Make a date with me next week for the view from Mana House in this regard.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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