Friday, February 26, 2010

Unemployment leads to much reading of the BBC

Has anyone else been following the news out of Niger? I’m guessing not, but it’s an interesting story. At first glance it looks like any one of a dozen stories that have come out of Africa over the years, but some people, myself included, are hoping it’s different. Basically, a military coup has overthrown Niger’s government, a uranium rich but extremely poor Saharan nation with a history of rebellions. This is unfortunately all too common in this part of Africa (see Guinea in Dec 2008). The new junta is now promising democracy and reform, something else frequently done by juntas across the world. The question is are they telling the truth? I’m guessing most people would answer no, or if they’re feeling extremely optimistic, maybe yes but it won’t happen. As for myself, I’d like to believe.

Here’s what I know: former President Mamadou Tandja was not democratic. He was one of many African leaders who rode into power on a wave of democratic revolutions but overstayed his welcome. Like many such leaders, he pushed through constitutional amendments to allow him to stay in power longer than previously allowed. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe Velez are other such leaders. Some also fear that in Rwanda President Paul Kagame will do something similar, but I have my doubts. Anyway, Tandja ended up a dictator. Fast forward to February 18 of this year: military coup ousts Tandja. As you probably know, I don’t usually like militaries to have any influence at all in governance, but there have been a few promising signs out of this. For one, elections have been promised, but of course, these promises are easy to break, and they usually are. For another, members of the military junta AND the transitional government will not be allowed to run in the new elections. Again, it’s just a promise, but it’s a good one to make. Finally, although Tandja is being tried for treason, the junta is not seeking the death penalty, even though that would be permissible by law. I find that last one interesting. It could be just a smart move to prevent making a martyr out of him, or it could be something different, something promising. If nothing else, it shows that the junta is not planning a purge, which would a sure sign of trouble.

Will this coup lead to anything other than another dictatorship? If history were our guide, it would look like a resounding no. However, this does not mean we should immediately condemn the coup in Niger. Tandja’s government was not a good one, and this could be an opportunity to create a new functioning democracy in Saharan Africa, a region that desperately needs good role models. The governments of the US, Canada and the EU should reach out to Niger and offer to help them through the difficult process of building a new government. Will any of this come to pass? Who knows! But one thing is for certain: I’ll be following the news out of Niger.

Sad news out of Rwanda. There were recently three grenade attacks in Kigali shortly before French President Sarkozy’s visit (or due to the upcoming 2010 elections). One attack took place in front of a bar/restaurant I used to frequent, Chez Venant. They had cheap beer (for Kigali) and a nice atmosphere. I’m hoping the restaurant remains open and that there are no further attacks like this one.

Other random crap:

Now, I’m sure that the hats I purchased in Rwanda were probably made in China, like many of the things you could buy there, but I still think of them as my Africa hats. (You may have seen me wearing the brown one in many of my Rwanda photos.) They weren’t extremely common in Rwanda, but I’d see them every now and then, usually being worn by musees/old men. So when I saw an old man wearing one here in Houston, I smiled. A lot. And almost greeted him with a Mwirire!

So, small world, eh? I tend to have these moments quite often, like running into my parents in DC or meeting a guy I went to high school in South Dakota with in a random bar in Kigali. Or meeting a nice American in a hotel in Butare who know a friend of mine from SDUS. This latest incident is not nearly as interesting, but I have little else to write about. I met a fellow at a meeting about census jobs and we got to talking. He went to school in Iowa and when he found out I formerly lived in South Dakota, he happened to mention that the father of one of his friends ran for governor there! This would be Jack Billion of course, whose campaign I volunteered for and whose children I met while campaigning. I love being reminded of how interconnect the world is.

Finally, HOCKEY! Canadian women took the gold and I’ll be watching the men’s game tonight. NBC isn’t doing a good job of covering hockey, and I can’t seem to find it online to watch. Solution? My dad is going to set up his computer in front of his TV in Ontario and I’ll be watching it over Skype. Aren’t technology and parents awesome!?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Update attack!

So, it’s been quite a while since my last post, hasn’t it? That’s probably because my life now isn’t nearly as interesting as it was just five months ago. I’m currently living in Houston, the fourth, possibly third largest city in the US. I’m unemployed, looking for work and in the meantime, being a houseboy.

The problem with keeping up my blog is that, well, who is going to read it? When living in Rwanda (or as several friends have pointed out, anywhere overseas) even the most mundane event is worth blogging about. That’s probably because what’s mundane in other places is still strange and new to us Westerners. In Rwanda, I could write about the awful intestine brochettes I was served, or the live chicken in a paper bag under my bus seat, or the funny English problems I encountered. Other examples given to me by friends include “I waited for a bus today… in front of a castle!” and “I almost got hit crossing the road today… by a camel!” Now that I’m in Houston my life isn’t all that interesting to the rest of the world. Writing about putting together a bookshelf or job-hunting probably isn’t going to keep readers’ attentions.

Of course, this isn’t to say I’m not having a good time! Houston is a great city with so much to explore and see. Plus, my relationship is finally not a long distance one, which after more than a year is definitely a good thing! I’m beginning to get settled here, working through all the change of location stuff (though a little annoyed that I need to get my car inspected at an office this is only open from 9 am to 9:30 am on Mondays – and of course I found this out Tuesday morning) and job-hunting is keeping me busy. There are jobs out there, but having no real skills is a bit of a detriment to getting interviews. I’ve been finding a lot of them on, a great website for finding (generally) progressive jobs, volunteers, programs, and other opportunities.

I’m starting to get back into the politics I missed while in Rwanda, and frankly, I’m annoyed. Annoyed at the Republicans for doing nothing by saying no and at the Democrats for misplacing their collective spine. Again. Health insurance: I need it and I need it to be cheap. Jobs: also need it! The Repubs seem to have forgotten their economics: spending creates jobs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s private or public, but seeing as the average person doesn’t have as much spending money as usual, it’s up to the government to do that spending. I know the deficit is huge (and I also know it got that way under Bush by getting into two wars we couldn’t afford while cutting taxes) but now is not the time to try to fix it. Get the economy back on track, lower unemployment, THEN worry about the deficit.

Oh, and I may have found my new Cottonwood. If you know me, you’ll know how much I love coffee shops. I’ve been missing Cottonwood Coffee in Brookings. It was pretty much my home senior year at SDSU and need to find a replacement. I’m sitting in Salento CafĂ© in Rice Village right now, and it just might fit the bill. I need to try a few alternatives before I settle down, but this place has a lot going for it. It doesn’t just have coffee, it has wine…

That’s all for now. I think I’ll keep this up, more as a means of staying in the writing habit then anything. I don’t expect to keep readers, but meh… this is for me. Oh, and in case you didn’t guess, it’s also something to do when I should be writing cover letters and following up on applications…