Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Africans and the International Criminal Court

Sudan president Omar al-Bashir apparently sneaked out of South Africa on 15 June 2015 as a a court was ordering his arrest on an international arrest warrant issued under auspices of the International Criminal Court.

His plane took off from the same Waterkloof military airfield as that which the Gupta family used as a private airstrip in 2013. Are we to understand from South African government disclaimers that they knew northing about his departure that Waterkloof remains a private airstrip, available to any who can afford to pay up?

It is interesting how so many are taking this as standing up to the West. True, ICC has yet to prosecute anyone outside Africa. True, the major powers, US, Russia and China, have neither not signed up for or refuse to ratify the Statute of Rome.

Africa is the one continent where countries with a serious history of human rights abuse have signed up. Most of South America and a large fraction of Asia today no longer has a major human rights problem; same for much of Eastern Europe.

The first map, showing worldwide risk of human rights violation, looks reasonably accurate. Compare it with the second map of parties to the Statute of Rome. Red on the first map (poor human rights) mostly overlaps red on the second map (non-signatories of the Statute of Rome). The biggest exception is in Africa, where a lot of countries with a high risk of human rights transgression are signatories (green on the second map).
World Human Rights (source: Maplecroft)

Signatories (or not: red; yellow=signed, not ratified) to Statute of Rome (source:WikiPedia )
So this explains why Africa has apparently been the main target of the ICC.

In the rest of the world countries with a poor record did not sign up. Why? I strongly suspect it is because aid has been linked to signing up for the ICC.

If Africans do not like this, they have to ask themselves: why are we so dependent on aid? Why do we have so many corrupt, abusive regimes on our continent? Why do we consistently place the “rights” of political leaders above those of ordinary people?

A lot of this arises from a misplaced attempt at recovering lost dignity from the colonial era. Because colonial powers could act with impunity and no regard for justice, our leaders should be able to do so too. That is a terrible reaction to colonialism: it excuses all manner of corrupt and abusive behaviour that would no be tolerable if Africa had never been colonized. How can that liberate us from colonialism? It cannot. And it will not.

What can we as Africans do about it? The answer up to now has been to whinge when outsiders do something. This is our home. About bloody time we fixed it ourselves.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Not Hitler Again

According to Godwin’s Law, if an Internet discussion goes on long enough, someone will eventually mention Hitler. And, at that point, the discussion is closed, because no one has anything interesting to contribute.

Ousted University of the Witwatersrand SRC president Mcebo Dlamini apparently has attempted to go one better, by mentioning Hitler before discussion reached the Internet. Apparently this happened only after he was threatened with discipline action for other unspecified misconduct. So possibly the “H” word was mentioned so he could turn the issue into attacking the Zionist conspiracy that runs the university in the form of Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib (that is apparently now a Jewish name?).

For anyone who thinks there is something theoretical about what Hitler would have done to black people this is not true. Read this.

Also, aside from the holocaust, Hitler triggered a world war that killed nearly 50-million people (80% on sides opposing him and his fellow dictators in Italy and Japan). In addition to Jews, gays, Gypsies, the disabled and Soviet prisoners of war to name a few categories of victims were brutally put to death. Anyone who sees Hitler as some sort of role model is either deeply ignorant or mentally ill.

Hitler’s “ability to organise a nation and get the people to rally behind him” that Dlamini admires was also greatly admired by the apartheid regime. Next thing he will eulogize the apartheid regime for its positive qualities. More reading here.

None of this of course justifies misbehaviour by anyone else. But let us argue on the basis of the facts, and not reinvent history to suit the argument. We can argue separately whether Zionism has a case to answer, and whether South African society – more specifically, education as a sector – has adequately transformed.

But what this is not is an instance of racist power being wielded on a defenseless victim.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Sad Panda

Spot the difference.

Sad PandaTlouamma

Only Agang aficionados will get it.

If you do, sign the no confidence and recall petition.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Banking Liberation Movement

Back in the 1970s, when a high-end supercomputer had about the performance of today’s entry-level cell phones and networks were expensive proprietary technology, ATM transactions were … wait for it … free.

And you earned interest on a cheque account.

Banks made almost all their money on the difference between the deposit and lending interest rates.

Core computer technology, based on Moore’s Law, is about on billionth of the cost it was 45 years ago (price per transistor roughly halves every 1.5 years).

Never in all the fields of human endeavour has such a massive improvement in efficiency been so extraordinarily wasted.

So what made everything so expensive? Not having higher paid more skilled staff in the branches – that has also gone backwards. The mind only boggles at how banks have destroyed such a massive opportunity. With careful design the cost per transaction could be almost zero, and saved costs shifted to quality customer relations.

If companies like Google and Facebook can offer free services on a massive scale, only making money on a tiny fraction of total transactions, how hard can it be?

Banks have fallen into the trap many enterprises fall into of trying to maintain outdated systems on the basis that it is too expensive to re-engineer them from scratch, with the result that their software accretes more and more layers of cruft and becomes harder and harder to maintain.

If banks cut their services back to what they had on offer in 1975, carefully coded to maximum efficiency and small total software size so it was manageable, then put a web front end around what you could do back in 1975, you would have most of what you can do today and it would cost a tiny fraction of what they spend today on software. The biggest cost would be ensuring you had the best possibly security (and some banks don’t even have that…).

So why don’t they do that?

Each major bank has accumulated an army of software developers dedicated to maintaining the complexity of the existing systems to maintain the need for an army of software developers. And if they all do it, they can pass the costs on to the customer.

Nice work if you can get it.

So what can we do?

How about this for a radical idea? Free banking software. The free software movement has delivered some of the best operating systems in use today, web browsers, sophisticated database engines and the most robust network stacks available today. Why not the back-end of a banking system?

It could be done in 1975 with one-billionth of the computing power available today. How hard can it be?