Jul
03

OBAMA’S ELECTION WAS THE ”DIFFERENCE THAT MADE NO DIFFERENCE”

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jul/01/gary-younge-farewell-to-america?CMP=edit_2221

Jun
30

TOO MUCH ”SECRECY” BY SCIENTISTS LEADS TO PUBLIC DISTRUST

http://www.ghanaiantimes.com.gh/when-scientists-become-too-secretive/

 TOO MUCH “SECRECY”  BY SCIENTISTS

By CAMERON DUODU

 

The Ghanaian Times 30 June 2015

 

THE most regrettable thing about the controversy that has broken out over the Ebola vaccination  trial,  designated to take place in Ghana is that it has demonstrated  the inability of some in our scientific community to comprehend the thinking of  laymen. These scientists think that  laymen are only entitled to watch them quietly, as they  carry out their “difficult”  and “complex” tasks meant  to “save mankind”.

 

Why should we question them when they are so ”high-minded” that they think, not of themselves, but of the world community in general?

 

This approach is wrong, because scientists do not operate in a vacuum but in a community of living human beings, some of whom have responsibilities   that are different from those of scientists but which are as crucial to the survival of mankind as the work of  scientists. To impugn the integrity of such people – politicians, journalists, teachers, farmers, students, and many others in civil society  – when they humbly seek answers from ”knowledgeable” scientists, and dismiss them as  “ignorant”,  or indeed classify  their queries as “ a rant”  (that is how one lady scientist chose to  describe one of the pieces  I wrote on the Ebola vaccine) is to misunderstand what society is all  about.
 

Society is about balancing the interests of separate groups against those of others, so that a consensus of some kind can be reached about matters that concern everyone. Even if scientists were ALL agreed on every aspect of science, other interest groups would still  have the right to question them, for although the scientists undoubt4edly  possess a technical expertise denied to the other interest groups, the work of scientists impinges on almost everyone, with the result that everybody must cultivate a healthy interest  in regulating  what the scientists do!  The scientists, if left to their own devices, could well  choose to work against humanity – from the highest of motives!

 

Far-fetched? Didn’t Nazi scientists  gas 6 million Jews to death?  What of ”Angel of Death” Dr Josef Mengele (who  used concentration camp prisoners  for grotesque experiments)? Heard of  ”Dr Death”  Wouter Basson (who eliminated some of  the opponents of apartheid in South Africa with   bio-chemical concoctions?)

 

 These monsters were taught science by the same methods  as my scornful  lady scientist.  But they twisted their knowledge, and so, civil society must ensure that henceforth, no scientists  are allowed do what they like with fellow human beings.     

 

But even without those considerations, , is it too much to ask scientists – no matter how advanced their knowledge – to employ common sense in their approach?
I mean, no scientist who lives in Africa could have failed to observe the sheer panic that struck through African societies when Ebola broke out in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in early 2014.  In the course of only  one year, the horrendous pestilence  slaughtered  no less than 11,000 people (and counting).
 
Its victims died a terrible death; the doctors and nurses who treated the victims often died themselves. Some struck fear into  their own patients, for they were required  to encase themselves in hideous  outfits that looked  as if  they were  designed to  frighten   the inhabitants of  Mars and other “deathly” alien  forms of life, in case interaction with them   became necessary.
 
Yet, knowing  this, scientists of the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) blithely authorised  Ghanaian scientists, working for a foreign pharmaceutical company,  to carry out  trials of an Ebola vaccine, without so much as a word to the Ghanaian public, to prepare their minds  for the trials.    
 

Now note this please:  it is not contested that the Food and Drug Authority  had the power,  under the statute that established it, to approve of the trials.  What is being wondered at  is the  failure of the FDA, and/or those who applied to it for  approval of the Ebola vaccine trial,  to provide any information whatsoever to the public regarding  the trials.

This is a media age, in which every responsible entity, whether publicly-owned or commercial  in nature, must take public relations seriously or be killed by —  the lack of it.  Elected Presidents and Prime Ministers, like  other powerful people (such  as Chief Executives),  employ highly-skilled  public relations personnel to convey their message to the public,. They do this  even though they often  believe  that  they act generally  in the interest of the public.

 

 They provide information to the public  because they do not want the public to misunderstand what they are trying to do. Whether you are the World Health Organisation,  or the United Nations itself,  you cannot ignore the imperatives of the information age.  In such a world,  if you want to carry out trials meant to evolve a vaccine to combat as deadly a virus as the  Ebola virus, and you try, even if  metaphorically, to “ smuggle” the project into the country, you will ensure that  the first that is heard of it is through the news  broadcast by a local  radio station,  then you are asking for trouble.
 
This is because everyone  in Ghana who keeps his or her ears open, knows that science,  economics and similar complex subjects,  are not exactly the forte of our radio stations. On the contrary, their  diet is  political sensation: “he said this” (the more outrageous, the better!) and “he countered with that” (the more abusive the better!) .
That is how they exist.  And if you approve a trial for an anti-Ebola vaccine in such an  atmosphere and you know anything about psychology, you don’t wait for it to be leaked to a radio station before you come out with official versions.
 
If, when Parliamentarians hear  the story and complain, you call them “ignorant”; if when journalist point out that you’re being  secretive, you  insult them for ”ranting”, where are do you think you are headed?

 

Well let me tell you this: you have displayed  incompetence of the first order. In many other societies,  people caught being incompetent,  are  forced to resign. But the standards of  public behaviour in Ghana now  mean that those responsible  will, in all probability, be allowed  to remain in their posts.

 

But that would be awful, because  the importance of ensuring that high standards prevail is this: if  I appoint you to a responsible position, and you act incompetently in it, you automatically expose  me as incompetent, too!. For  if I were competent, I would have appointed you on the basis of  objectively-crafted criteria that would ensure that whoever I appointed would  act  competently in that particular  job .

Anyway, secrecy is Phase 1 trials has now been roundly condemned by the British Medical Journal, no less. It  advocates transparency in conducting such trials, for very good reasons. (See

http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h3444)

 

 
Look at the consequences of the incompetence of the scientists:  the Minister of Health had to be hauled before Parliament, where he revealed that:
QUOTE “…  the second application received by the FDA was from Johnson and Johnson. Incidentally the Principal Investigator selected by the sponsors is no less a person than our own Professor Binka. [Vice-Chancellor of the University of Health Sciences]. He won a competitive bid to conduct the study at his research site, which is in the Volta Region, Hohoe to be specific”. UNQUOTE
 

Did the Minister of Health, Mr Alex Segbefia expect the public to be satisfied with this revelation? If he did, he ought to know that  there are  questions to be asked:  how much  was the “open tender” won by Prof. Binka worth? Is the contract sum to be paid to his institution or to him?  Will he personally benefit from  whatever payment is made to the institution – if one is indeed made – by Johnson and Johnson? Do his terms of employment as Vice-Chancellor of a publicly-funded University in Ghana allow him to engage in research “by tender” for commercial companies? If so, why?  Will he use staff of his institution as investigators? If so, do their contracts  allow them to be used for such work?

 

These questions are extremely important because they open a Pandora ’s Box in which secrecy, conflicts of interest and neglect of ethics vie with personal gratification. They also raise the issue of whether a correct delineation has been made between [private] scientific research carried out by publicly-employed Ghanaians  and the work they do for their institutions.

 

It is a very fine line.
 
A debate has already begun between the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences and  the scientists caught up in the Ebola vaccine controversy.  The Minister of Health should use the opportunity to set up a committee to review  the issues and lay down regulations – in the form of  Amendments to the  FDA Act  – that would straighten out matters henceforth.
 
 For indeed, in the 21st Century, to take anything for granted is to court disaster. Someone should in fact brief the Minister on the “Thalidomide Disaster” in the United Kingdom, circa 1962.   A brief account of it can be found at this url
 
 
That disaster is a needle  which must be used to prick the arrogance of any scientists who regard an evaluation of their behaviour by the concerned public as  “a rant”!

Jun
27

THE ICC AND INTRA-AFRICAN DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS By CAMERON DUODU

THE ICC AND INTRA-AFRICAN DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
By CAMERON DUODU

Jun
23

OH WHAT A HORRIBLE WEEK!

OH, WHAT A WEEK! By CAMERON DUODU

The Ghanaian Times 23 June 2015

IS it really possible that the country that has twice voted for a Black President – in the person of Barack Obama – can still harbour in its ranks, White people who are so ravaged by hatred for Black people that they can walk into a church, sit quietly with the congregation for over an hour, and then stand up calmly to shoot nine of them dead – in cold blood?

It is precisely such a thing that happened in Charleston, South Carolina, on 17 June 2015, when a 21-year-old Whiteman called Dylann Roof, committed an act of murder so wanton in nature that neither America nor the world can quite get its head round it.

A photograph posted on a website with a racist manifesto showed Roof brandishing a “Confederate Flag” that US racists have adopted as a banner for their wish for the “resumption” of the American Civil War, in which the country’s “South” fought against the “North” over whether the horrendous system of enslaving Black people should be allowed to continue.

For Black people, the “Confederate Flag” conjures up ghastly images of lynchings and other inhuman practices that were part and parcel of slavery. But despite the fact that the US Constitution says that “All men are created equal”, White American politicians are so pusillanimous that they have allowed one Southern state — South Carolina –  to fly the ignominious flag over its Capitol building. The Governor now says the flag will be taken down. But it has done its work already, in as far as it has inspired someone to murder nine human beings he did not even know. [See Update Below]

Although the brutal nature of Roof’s crime is acknowledged by the US media, reaction to the crime has shown once again that American society is ridden to the hilt with hypocrisy over race issues. For instance, whilst telecasting a discussion of the murder on Meet The Press on 21 June 2015, NBC TV managed to insert a clip in which a Blackman who was in prison for murder tearfully confessed his regret at having pulled a trigger to take the life of a fellow human being. Now, what was the relevance of that to a heinous mowing down of nine Black people by a Whiteman?

It was as if they were standing the story on its head and blaming Black murderers for what had happened at Charleston! Are NBC TV producers so asinine and insensitive that they couldn’t see the insulting fallacy in what they were doing? It was as if Marshall MacLuhan (“The Medium Is The Message”) had never existed, and that if you are talking about guns and murder, any clip would do!

Now, NBC TV is one of the most respected national networks in the US. So if they behaved in this way, just imagine what the lunatic-fringe networks (such as Fox) would have been doing with the story.

Even worse, the Director of the FBI, James Comey managed to to specify, publicly, that Roof’s crime was not what the Bureau would classify as “terrorism” or a “terrorist act”. At a press conference in Baltimore on 20th June 2015, Comey said the FBI was currently investigating whether or not Roof committed a “hate crime”, but not “terrorism.” “Terrorism”, according to Comey, “ is [an] act of violence done or threatens to (sic) in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry, so it’s more of a political act and again, based on what I know, so more (sic) I don’t see it as a political act.”

I beg Comey’s pardon? if a guy who brandishes the “Confederate Flag” and espouses a racist manifesto is not carrying out a “political act”, then what is a “political act”? I am afraid Comey’s comment would have played into the way America’s power structure routinely characterises racist crimes.

If Roof had been a Muslim who posted pictures of himself wielding an al-Qaeda flag on a website, the FBI would have been on to him before he could shoot anyone. The FBI might even have set him up for arrest and prosecution by mounting a “sting operation” on him (as it has done with several other Muslim “terrorist suspects” in the past.)

But racist violence? That’s low on the priority list of the FBI, hence the pervasive continuation of White police “turkey shoots” of Black people, that have become the “new normal”. These crimes have hitherto not merited the full intervention of the FBI as a national emergency that musty be ruthlessly uprooted by  Federal law enforcement. Indeed, White police murderers of Blacks must know, before they commit their murders,  that White  State Prosecutors in many States would not prosecute them vigorously; or that even if they did, few White-majority juries and White judges would find them guilty of the most serious crime with which they could be charged – first-degree murder. The absence of  deterrence equals the  multiplication of crime, doesn’t it?

Maybe I am being harsh, but I noticed that although President Obama displayed the right body language, and also said the right things in his first comment on  the Charleston murders, he did not wear a black tie during his TV appearance in which he spoke on the murders. Was it because — as some have asserted –  he wants to keep affirming the notion that his is a “race-less” presidency? Such a posture, if it really exists, would remind one of  the Lord Kitchener calypso song: “If you’re not white, you can say that Blck!”

 

I was also appalled by the way the media extracted from the relatives of the dead, who were still in deep shock over losing their beloved ones, statements to the effect  that they “forgave” Roof for his hideous crime. Pour encourager les autres? a French speaker might ask (meaning: forgive him so that  others might be encouraged to do the same thing? How inane.)

Another thing – and this  goes back to the point I made earlier about the NBC TV clip about shootings in general – discussion of crimes like that at Charleston must differentiate the subject from the general debate about gun control, lest such crimes become accepted as an immutable aspect of American “culture”. We do know that the National Rifle Association (NRA)  and the gun lobby are not going to vanish overnight, but The difference between gun murder in general and racist murders is that  many of the Blacks who are killed by policemen are the victims of racists who are – anyhow – legitimately permitted to wear guns as part of their job of protecting the public, but who abuse that legitimacy, in order  to carry out criminal  turkey shoots of Black people.

To equate the gratuitous murder of Blacks by such racist White policemen with those of ordinary murderers – both Black and White – who are able to lay hands on guns easily because of lax gun laws —   is to codify, a priori, a legal sleight of hand which exonerates the murderous White  policemen in advance. All citizens, alike, look to these policemen for protection, by dint of the fact that law enforcement officers are paid with everyone’s taxes. And such an exoneration in advance is not only unconstitutional in the US but also patently puts the lives of Black people at risk every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

 

That’s why to conflate the two issues in a facile manner  is — arguably –  to encourage White police murder of Blacks. The two crimes both end in loss of life, but they  are different social  phenomena that must be separated in order that the one –  a general disease — may not be used to lessen the uniqueness of the other,   which is  a specific crime  in every sense of the word.

UPDATE:  

Nikki Haley Calls For Confederate Flag To Be Removed From South Carolina Capitol

Posted: Updated:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the state capitol.

“That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” Haley said Monday.

Haley argued that many South Carolinians see the Confederate flag as a way to respect their ancestors, but argued Dylann Roof, who was charged with murdering nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, “has a sick and twisted view of the flag.”

Haley said there’s no need to “declare a winner and a loser” or interpret the flag in any one way, noting South Carolinians are free to fly the Confederate flag on their personal property if they so choose.

“But the statehouse is different, and the events of this past week call on us to look at this in a different way,” she said.

Haley spoke at a press conference at 4 p.m. ET Monday. In her remarks, she mentioned both the Charleston church shooting and the killing of Walter Scott, arguing those incidents don’t reflect the progress of the state.

“On matters of race, South Carolina has a tough history. We all know that,” Haley said.

Haley said she would call a special legislative session if South Carolina lawmakers don’t take up the issue of the Confederate flag this session.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and others joined the governor in calling for the flag to come down. Graham previously said the flag “is part of who we are,” but that he would be “fine” with taking the symbol down.

“After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag,” Graham said in a statement Monday.

Debate over the flag was reignited after the shooting at the Charleston church last week. When flags were lowered to half-staff in remembrance of those who were killed, the Confederate flag — which has flown next to the Confederate Soldier’s Monument since 2000, when it was removed from atop the South Carolina capitol dome — didn’t budge, because it’s held in place by a padlock. By law, the flag couldn’t be removed.

Several politicians have weighed in on the flag, with 2012 presidential rivals Mitt Romney (R) and President Barack Obama agreeing that the flag should come down. Some South Carolina politicians had a different take, with Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who attended Haley’s press conference on Monday, saying removing the flag “should not be the immediate solution.”

This post has been updated to include Haley’s remarks.

— — —

 

 

SODOM AND GOMORRAH

The brutally inhuman way in which the authorities of the Accra Metropolitan City Council, backed by the Central Government, have treated the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in Accra, is a disgraceful demonstration of the fact that our current rulers are very cynical indeed.

For what they have clearly is to capitalise on the revulsion felt by the public against those whose thoughtless acts of clogging and silting up gutters, caused such a tragic loss of life in the recent floods, to perpetrate an injustice against the slum-dwellers.

Now, no-one will dispute the fact that some of the slum-dwellers had erected both homes and commercial kiosks in waterways, and had thus contributed to the flooding of the area. But was it every structure pulled down in the area that stood in the way of flowing water and therefore deserved to be demolished? The people obviously don’t think so.

That aside, what a Government that respects its moral  duty of care to its citizenry ought to have done would have been to get town engineers to demarcate and mark with red chalk,  the structures that specifically contribute to flooding. Then accommodation should have been found for the inhabitants, and those willing to move, evacuated before sending the bulldozers in.

 

As it is – and remember we are in the rainy season – where are the homeless to go?

Of course, we all know that our Government is broke and, moreover, has borrowed money up to its neck. So carrying out any meaningful resettlement would be difficult for it to do at this time in any case –  even if it wanted to.

 

Nevertheless,  if it had drawn up an attractive practical plan and tried to sell it to the people, some of the slum-dwellers (at least) would have co-operated with the plans.

You see, the demonstration effect of providing modern one or two-room houses to people who live in shacks cannot be over-emphasised. We have the evidence before our very eyes: in Accra, the old “estate houses” at Labadi, Osu, Kaneshie and elsewhere were all meant to prevent the growth of slums in the metropolis, and people fought over them. Tema, Kumase and Takoradi also had their share. The work of the colonialists was embraced and expanded greatly by the Ghana Housing Corporation.

Mr John Dramani Mahama would do well to remember that his father belonged to a Convention People’s Party (CPP) Government which sometimes exhibited admirable humanitarian concerns for the welfare of the people. For example, when it realised in advance that the Akosombo Dam would cause massive flooding and create “the largest man-made lake in the world”, it planned new townships for the people who would be displaced.

 

Of course, not everyone liked the houses given to them (mainly because they were not based on our traditional concept of “the compound house” but, rather ignorantly,  on the modern idea of one/two-bedroom houses which are alien to many Ghanaians’ desire to interact constantly with other members of their extended families.

Well, I can tell the Government that the displaced people of Sodom and Gomorrah will be watching keenly to see whether the real reason for moving them so precipitately –  and in such an opportunistic manner to boot –  is to make the vacated lands available to the “business cliques” that now rule the country.

I hope not!

Jun
20

A SALUTE TO THE MAIL AND GUARDIAN, JOHANNESBURG

20

A SALUTE TO THE MAIL AND GUARDIAN, JOHANNESBURG

A Salute To The Mail And Guardian, Johannesburg

DAILY GUIDE, ACCRA June 20, 2015

cameron

CAMERON DUODU

 

It is not easy to create a great newspaper; partly because it is so easy to set up what appears to be a newspaper, but what turns out, in reality, to be either a propaganda sheet or a collection of commercial pull-outs masquerading as news pages.

A great newspaper is first and foremost, a paper devoted to real news. It seeks to tell its readers about something they did not know about before; and moreover, something they could not find in any other publication. How is that possible when some news items are circulated to every publication in the land?

The answer is that a great newspaper finds its own way of treating a story. It looks for aspects of the story that no-one else will have got because the great paper is the only one asking the intelligent questions about the story. In short, it creates its own angle to it; an angle which leaves the reader to say “Hmmm? I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case!”  It’s better still when the reader acknowledges the professionalism manifested in the story by wondering: “But how did they get that?”

They would have “got that” by discussing the raw news item, tossing it around and finding questions to ask the actors — and experts –  on the phone, or if necessary, turning up on their private  doorsteps as well as their offices, to interrogate them with special skills, including feigned sympathy, deliberately concocted “facts” put to the actors to wring from them, the genuine article which they don’t want to expose; and even the occasional, humble appeal to their humanity: “Listen, my editor will kill me if you don’t tell me; I had to hitch a ride to this place, you know,  and I have been hanging around waiting for you all this time! You know?”

In police parlance, the indefatigable reporter gets the would-be informant to “crack”! But even then,  he has to get the story to the office before his “deadline” runs out.

This is the aspect of their work which thrills good journalists the most. They hate and fear deadlines, yet if they manage against the odds to beat a difficult deadline, they get a feeling that is almost orgasmic. For if you  are a journalist and you don’t secure the information in time to meet your deadline, it’s of no use. You could get it tomorrow, right? Wrong! You see, your editor might by then have read it in a rival paper, and concluded that the paper’s reporter is more assiduous than yourself. Or he could hear much fresher info being reported and/or discussed on radio or television. A journalist could lose his or her job if this happens. At best, he or she would sink lower in the editor’s estimation.

When I was appointed editor of the Daily Graphic in February 1970, I went to the job with three years as a radio newsman and five years as a magazine editor, under my belt. In the radio newsroom, we were obliged to read the papers each morning  to see whether they had managed to carry forward, the stories we had broadcast the day before. We scoffed at them often, for they would repeat, almost word for word, what  the Ghana News Agency had originally sent, which even we, with our much shorter deadlines and more limited space, had tried to turn into stories with a proper background and context. And when I was editor of the Ghana edition of  Drum Magazine, my task was to see elements in short newspaper reports that lent themselves to expansion into much deeper, more interesting  stories.

I took these two skills to  the Daily Graphic, and swore that under my editorship, it  would have to become a great news-paper once more. (it had been good for news in the 1950s, when it was first founded. Like its marvellous “mother” from  Fleet Street, London,  the Daily Mirror of Hugh Cudlipp,  it was generous in awarding bylines, and this inspired its reporters to turn in stories that had an individual touch: if you saw the name of S N Addo; Kofi Ahorsey; E W Adjaye; P. Peregrino-Peters or Anthony Mensah, Oscar Tsedze, Kofi Badu or Addo-Rwum  above a story, you would know that it would be original and thereby enjoyable.

I tried to inspire my boys at the Graphic to revive the paper’s old news spirit. When their curiosity let them down in a story they had submitted,  I turned the editorial meeting into a seminar, hauled the reporters before the editorial executives assembled at the meeting and got the whole group to grill them: why didn’t you say how much money was involved? Did the amount of the alleged fine make sense to you? Where was his wife? The questions came from every quarter and often, the reporter had to go back and get the answers.  If the story was big enough, we would wait for the answers (to the great annoyance of the production team, which didn’t appreciate the minutes away from the nearby pub that the waiting took away from them!)

However, the “seminars” helped us to get some really  good stories out, and I felt a special thrill whenever I had to go down into the hot printing house adjacent to the office to okay stories on “the stone” itself –  rather than wait for them to be brought up. Do modern journalists know what ‘the stone” is? I sometimes wonder, as I watch them  tweet and text their way through smart cellphones!

The nicest words I ever heard at “the stone” were “Lock up!” — uttered by  the Chief Printer. A tall heavy man called Mr Lutterodt, he would say this  when the last corrections had been done and fitted onto the page. The “Stone Sub” would, meanwhile, be trying not to shake like a leaf,  as I watched his interactions with the typesetters who churned out words in the form of lead from their  hot machines . (Sometimes I felt both Mr Lutterodt and  his staff  would have loved to punch me for delaying “their” paper! So  I always made sure he got a bottle of cold beer  to drink when he turned up in my office,  smiling — with sweat pouring from his large face, to find out “how things were shaping up.”

I knew the real reason why he had come, but I held my peace, and so we got on very well: he appreciated my viewpoint that it was no use producing a paper to scheduled time, only to hand the readers a bland product that could be “read” in exactly five minutes, from cover to cover. Mr Lutterodt did everything possible to make “lock up”’ time as painless to both of us as possible. But every now and then, we would be hit by a power failure, at which point nearly all of us cried in pain, for it meant that the lead making up the pages that had not already been  “molded”, could become “molten” and have to be redone all over again — even with standby power available.

Readers appreciated our effort to offer them great news and the circulation of the paper rose and rose. Heck! — we created news! One day, I was photographed sitting in a rubber dingy of the Ghana Navy, watching warships bring back to Tema Harbour, a fleet of Russian-made trawlers which the Ghana Ministry of Agriculture was selling cheaply to a British dealer who was going to sell them in Brazil for a huge profit. We exposed the deal, and the Government had to bring the boats back. Our unforgettable front-page headline for the story, in our biggest font (144pt.) was “BACK TO BATAAN”!

In the 10 months I was with  the paper (I got myself sacked for opposing the Busia Government’s attempt to establish “dialogue” with the apartheid regime of South Africa — a ridiculous “dialogue” in which the people of South Africa themselves would have no part but be “represented” by the independent African states!) names like Kofi Akumanyi, Ben Mensah, Teddy Konu, Vincent Vivor and Nana Daniels and many others had already become recognisable by-lines. My greatest regret at the time was that I did not stay long enough to  instil a news culture at the paper that would be ineradicable. But hey — a man can only try.

Because of my interest in news, I have developed a habit of avidly perusing publications all over the world. That’s how, in the mid-1980s, whilst practising journalism in London, I discovered that I could buy a South African newspaper called the Weekly Mail at Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, not too far from Trafalgar Square. As Africa Editor of Index On Censorship – a magazine that devoted itself to recording attempts by the world’s totalitarian governments to censor the news, suppress news organisations or brutalise journalists, I found the airmail edition of the Weekly Mail to be an extremely rich resource. This was the time when the apartheid regime, under President P W Botha, was in its death throes, and fighting ferociously – like all dying animals – to hang on to political power through repression. Outspoken journalists were banned or harassed; newspapers were often prosecuted and banned – and the Weekly Mail gave me the raw material to report all these happenings.

The paper was founded in 1985 by Anton Harber and a few colleagues who courageously tried to fill the gap left by the apartheid government’s banning of two leading liberal newspapers in South Africa, the Rand Daily Mail and the Sunday Express. The government, of course, tried to intimidate the Weekly Mail too by arresting its journalists, seizing individual issues and closing the paper for long periods. But Anton Harber and his colleagues stuck it out. The paper has since survived on a diet of accurate investigative journalism, enlightened comment, and a refusal to be dull.

I was thus excited when, on my first visit to South Africa in 1990, I visited the paper’s offices in the company of one of its star commentators, the poet Don Mattera. But I was not to know that I would soon become a columnist for it myself. It had changed its name to the Mail and Guardian, and when a weekly broadcast I was making for SAFM entitled Letter From the North was axed, I somehow managed to persuade the then editor of the Mail and Guardian, a very enlightened journalist called Philip Van Niekerk, to run a column of mine under the same title.

Philip’s decision was an incredibly brave one, forhe was, in effect, placing before a  supposedly inward-looking South Africans on a weekly basis, the views of an African from the other side of the continent, who had  never lived in their country. He was also taking away space from the South African staff, who, of course, wanted to run their own columns!

I tried to justify my occupation of their ”prime estate” by using the column to tell them about the Africa that the  constricting apartheid system had ensured that they would  know very little about. (The fruits of that lack of information about the rest of Africa can be seen, today,  in the recent attacks on Africans from other countries by black South Africans. Philip Van Niekerk was thus, a very prescient Editor.)

I also tried to titillate my readers with my irreverent and often humorous take on world affairs — I entertained them with the vicissitudes of the incredible  Pinochet trial in London;  and  one piece I very much enjoyed doing, during President Bill Clinton’s much-publicised fling with the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, was  entitled: If Clinton Were An African.

http://mg.co.za/article/1998-09-25-if-clinton-were-an-african

I even touched on some sensitive South African issues — for instance,  I ran a couple of columns on the arms deal with France and Gremany [before it became a national scandal whose repercussions are still being felt in South African politics].

And I challenged white South Africans to reflect on the reasons why so many Africans were put in a position whereby  they were “grateful” to their white fellow citizens for giving them jobs as gardeners, cooks, stewards, drivers, nannies  or other domestic help.

I must have made enemies with some of what I wrote, for although the column ran until Philip Van Niekerk left the paper, the moment he left and  was succeeded by Howard Barrel, the latter immediately killed the column  –  without ever saying a single word to me!

As the Nigerians would say, “I throw a salute” to the Mail & Guardian on its 30th birthday. Those who started it in 1985 could hardly have foreseen that apartheid would collapse as spectacularly as it did — with the assistance, of course, of courageous and intelligent journalists. Nor could they have imagined that the paper would become the main instrument of exposing the shortcomings of the African National Congress Government they assisted in bringing about to take over the reins of government from the apartheid racists in 1994.

From the negligent — to say the least — policy of then-President Thabo Mbeki on HIV/AIDs, to the widespread corruption that is being practised with impunity today by President Jacob Zuma and some mebers of  his  Government – as typified by the Nkandla scandal – the Mail and Guardian leads opinion in South Africa in trying to ensure that sanity prevails in the affairs of a country on which so much of the world’s emotions were once rightfully expended.

The Mail and Guardian is currently owned by a Zimbabwean entrepreneur, Trevor Ncube, who holds the majority of the shares in its publishing company, and is the company’s Chief Exective. 

This “foreign ownership” is sometimes hurled at the paper as a last resort by those who seek to intimidate it. They do not, of course, care whether what it exposes is true or not; but no matter: many South Africans – both black and white – recognise that it speaks sincerely for all South Africans when it tries to stop their “Beloved Country” from becoming another authoritarian, corrupt African state, waiting in the queue to become a “failed state”.

Long may the M&G continue to be a beacon of light in a country once shadowed by an impenetrable political and social darkness! Long may it be a good example – in courage and literacy – to the media in the rest of Africa.

By Cameron Duodu

www.cameronduodu.com

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