Friday, June 15, 2012

A Book Review I did for Equid Novi Journal: The Aljazeera Effect by Phillip Seib

The “Al Jazeera Effect”: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics, Philip Seib, Dulles: Potamac Books, Inc. 2008. Pp. 227. ISBN: 978–159–79720–00 (hardback)

Book Review
Like it or not, satellite television and new media are now shaping the world we live in, making the term “the world is a global village” a reality. Though titled The “Al Jazeera Effect,” the book is not only about the Qatar-based satellite TV 
station but the writer also discusses other satellite television platforms and new media. In regions like China and the Middle East where it was previously diffi- cult to access new media, the Internet and other social networking sites have put an end to that “anomaly.” In many countries, we now receive news as we choose depending on which platform is quickest and most attractive. According to the writer, “The media are no longer just the media but they have a larger popular base than ever before and as a result, have unprecedented impact on international politics” (p. xii). But just as satellite television is creating an impact all over the world, the Internet is doing much more than that by reaching a wider audience.

News media are dynamic and growing and offer much more than a collection of high-tech curiosities, and they are also contributing to changes in how the world works, altering the shape of traditional political structures on which the international system is based (p. 63).
Seib emphasizes that news media are changing the relationship between the pub- lic and news providers. Platforms like CNN allow audiences to access news when- ever they want it, a phenomenon that has been taken to a new level by Web-based news content that provides a nearly infinite variety of news products available at all times. He gives examples of the Global Voices Web site, which goes beyond stan- dard blogging, and OhmyNews, a model for other news services such as iTalkNews born in response to “the need for an interactive community where people can read breaking news, discuss it, and post their own articles as well as many others” (p. 55). However, not all countries are benefiting from the ubiquitous reach of the news media. Burma is ranked with Cuba, Libya, Turkmenistan, and North Korea as some of the world’s worst countries in terms of press freedom. Information from cyber- space via satellite and the Internet scarcely penetrates these countries.
The book combines media theory, experience, and information, which the writer seems to have gathered over several years. Seib is able to walk readers through the Arab, Middle East, and Asian television and news media worlds all in a single book. He takes us through the various stages of the media world from the terrestrial television of the 1950s to the current interactive, accessible satel- lite platforms, which give sleepless nights to many governments. Seib empha- sizes the strength of the news media in helping to sustain the virtual state:
The battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East is being fought not on the streets of Baghdad, but on the newscasts and talk shows of Al Jazeera. The future of China is being shaped not by Communist Party bureau- crats, but by bloggers working quietly in cyber cafes. The next attacks by al Qaeda will emerge not from Osama bin Laden’s cave, but from cells around the world connected by the Internet. (p. xi)
For those who watched Al Jazeera from the start, it was initially viewed as a “Muslim” television network, especially at a time when terrorism was associated
with Islam and negative implications. That is no longer the case. The writer emphasizes Al Jazeera’s competition with the likes of CNN and BBC, transmit- ting to and influencing millions of watchers/listeners. Consequently, Al Jazeera is “the most visible player in a huge universe of new communications and infor- mation providers that are changing the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed” (p. 175).
According to Seib, Al Jazeera is a paradigm of news media’s influence, just like the CNN effect did 10 years ago with gripping, visual storytelling that influ- enced foreign policy throughout the world (p. ix). Satellite television—along with blogs, tweets, and other Internet platforms—have become popular sources of information that create challenges for those who govern. While China, for example, tried to monitor Internet traffic within its borders, this intention was overwhelmed by the number of Internet users: “220 million by late 2007, more than 47 blog writers, and in December 2007, 66 million search engine queries” (p. xi). It has been difficult for Chinese government intelligence agents to keep up with this pace.
The writer criticizes what he sees as the “Western” world’s way of viewing Islam and calls it simplistic policy making that could lead to tragic results:
From simmering tensions to full-blown war, Islam and the West seem to have irreconcilable differences that can be ascribed to incompatible cul- tures with an attitude of, “best to fight it out, get it over with, and move on to the next test.” (p. 1)
Seib also criticizes the United States’ and other Western nations’ foreign pol- icy. He argues that they ignore the sophisticated political culture and staying power of virtual states such as al Qaeda. He feels that in developing strategies of dealing with Islamic states and its peoples, it is important to recognize the cru- cial concept of ummah—which emanates from the Quran (49:10) and is roughly equivalent to “the believers are a band of brothers.”
The writer affirms what many have come to see as the folly of dismissing emerging media, especially Al Jazeera, which has a following of over 35 million worldwide, on the grounds that they are not “objective” providers of informa- tion and therefore presumably have little clout with their audiences. They miss the point that they are credible, which is what matters to their audiences (p. xi). Seib calls upon the news media to go beyond proving information to which the developed world is accustomed. He stops just short of saying it should be used for the good of the people, for example, the amount of air time devoted to the Martha Stewart scandal compared to genocide issues in Darfur.
Governments hostile to al Qaeda also need to wake up to the fact that “limited real estate” in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not deter the network from doing its work, since they have realized the power of the virtual state and therefore
rely heavily upon media technologies to constitute their “global homeland.” It is important to note that the media are no longer just the media as technological players, and that at many levels they are intervening in world affairs. Therefore, “understanding the Al Jazeera effect will help anyone who is concerned about the future to better comprehend the change that swirls about us” (p. 191).
Though the book has an attractive title and is very informative, in his next edition, Seib might want to make it more reader friendly. Some of the sections were hard to follow. The author might also want to cut down information that is not very relevant to the topic. The book concentrates too much on television in the Middle East and has little on other parts of the world, considering the fact, for example, that Al Jazeera is now watched in many countries across continents, including Africa, and not by Muslims alone but by Christians and people from all walks of life. Chapter 4 on the “Virtual State” and Chapter 5 on “Global Connec- tions, Global Terrorism” could do with information that is more current.
More on the impact of new media could endear the book to a wider audience, while a review of the online impact of religious and evangelical broadcasting sta- tions such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), other than Islam only, might contribute to a broader perspective on the “Al Jazeera Effect.”

Wanja Njuguna

Praise for Dad in Stockholm

These kind of memories about dad just feel me with joy....see the part in bold below...

“Arise And Shine” Conference Could Be a Good Break

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a rare activity among Kenyans and friends will be taking place in Stockholm. The Bagarmossen Church will organize the “Arise and Shine” Conference which will be the first of its kind within the Kenyan Church going community in Stockholm.
The population of Kenyans in Stockholm is very tiny and if one has to talk about the “Christian community”, it would be opportune to assert that many Kenyans are “Christians by word of mouth” and not by deeds. In fact, the population of Kenyan Christians is very small here and it is in this context that the “Arise and shine” Conference has some significance.
Will this Conference draw the attention of Kenyans in Stockholm about the need to move closer to Jesus Christ? Of course, in the United States and Britain where the Kenyan constituency is substantially large, a Conference of the “Arise and Shine” type might not attract a lot of attention. But, in Stockholm, the situation is slightly different. The Conference puts the Bagarmossen Church into sharp focus while it also helps in promoting the Church because pulling such a Conference is a statement that Kenyans behind the Bagarmossen church are serious in what they are doing.
Pastor Samson, Pastor Samuel, brother Muritu, Pastor Muraya, brother Caxtone, Sister Catherine, Sister Sheila, Sister Lissa and others around the Bagarmossen Church should be proud of having pulled Bishop Karanja of “The Wings of Love Ministry” to Stockholm and to spread love and forgiveness among Kenyans and friends in this city.
This Conference should offer a moment for Kenyans and friends in Stockholm to “Rise and Shine” after being low and gloomy following the post election violence. Let us hope that long after the Conference, it will be possible for those who will get the message to spread the good news among Kenyans, some of whom are deeply engaged in sin and other dirty activities abhorred by the Almighty.
The Conference should not just be limited to issues connected to people’s ability to “Arise and shine”. The Conference should also seize on the opportunity to pray for Kenyans in Stockholm to see the light and join the crusade to heaven. Kenyans in Stockholm need to stop hot gossip, betrayal of one another, spreading lies and rumours about people, moving with wives of other Kenyans, conmanship, prostitution, hatred, alcoholism among other unacceptable vices that are becoming routine within the community.
It is during Conferences of the “Arise and shine” type that the Kenyan community here is in a better position to move closer to the almighty and have a reality check. There is need for Kenyans in Stockholm to ask for forgiveness of sins and what better opportunity could have presented itself than the “Arise and shine” Conference?”.
This is not to launch a campaign for the Conference. The truth is that since the days of Bishop George Njuguna who passed away after returning to Kenya, many Kenyans have never been close to a Kenyan Bishop here in Stockholm and part of the reason why some Kenyans do not go to church is because they are tired of white Swedish Bishops they cannot relate to. Here we are, with a Kenyan Bishop travelling all the way to help us “Arise and Shine” so we cannot turn around and say that we were never told.
I hope that this Conference will be an eye opener and that it will go a long way to awaken Wakenya here about the need to revert to Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Nobody hates rising up happy in the morning and shining in the streets.
The difference with the Conference is that you are supposed to “arise and shine” internally and you will not be able to do so if you cannot attend the Conference, open your ears, focus your mind and listen to Bishop Karanja who will be delivering the message in typical Kenyan style.
The Bagarmossen Church has done its job and now, Kenyans need to reciprocate by taking a break and finding how they can arise and shine. At least, there is one good reason to skip Vasa for an evening after work because you never know. Another advantage is that you are likely to leave Vasa staggering but at the Conference, you might just begin to shine after a long time of darkness in your life.

Okoth Osewe

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Public Accounts Committee Relevance to Countries

the Namibian



Public accounts committee conference an eye opener


WINDHOEK – When the Effective Public Financial Accountability Conference of the Southern African Development Community Organisation of Public Accounts Committees (SADCOPAC) and Eastern African Association of Public Accounts Committees (EAAPAC) ended in Windhoek recently, the increasing importance of these committees in the participating nations’ good governance, transparency and financial accountability could not have been more pronounced.

As citizens of the various countries not only in Africa but across the world continue to demand these values, none other than Namibia's Speaker of National Assembly, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab concurred. During his opening remarks, Gurirab said that PACs play a very critical role in promoting democracy, good governance and accountability in State finances and public interest in their respective regions.

Discussing the financial squeeze in the west that is impacting on the developing nations, Gurirab said, “Governments in the West that we have viewed as financial powerhouses have become beggars, looking to China as their coffers run empty,” adding that the dwindling of financial resources worldwide negatively affected developing nations as demand for their exports reduced. “Like many other developing nations, Namibia is already experiencing a budget deficit while developmental programs are standing with open mouths like chicks waiting on the mother to feed them,” he said. “We therefore have to carefully balance the scarce financial resources against the pressure for spending wisely on basic needs of the people and thus the importance of PACs,” he added.

Gurirab decried corruption as an international menace, saying that Parliaments need to oversee the Executive on financial spending to cut on financial crimes. “The Office of the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Anti-Corruption Commissions must all work together to tighten the noose around the necks of the culprits and bring them to book without delay,” he emphasized.

Namibia’s finance minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila concurred, adding that transparency and accountability are indispensable for the efficient functioning of any country and for promoting economic growth and fostering social well being. “To achieve this, information about the government’s fiscal policy, sources of revenue, spending priorities, funding of the deficit and the public debt situation should be accessible,” she said.

SADCOPAC chairperson who is also South Africa’s PAC chair, Fish Mahlalela highlighted the importance of the two groups. “SADCOPAC and EAAPAC were created in 2003 and 2004 respectively as permanent institutions, in order to promote mutual support, foster the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience among PACs on the oversight function with the overall objective to contribute to good governance and transparency,” Mahlalela explained.

Speaking to The Namibian, Hon Usutuaije Maamberua, head of the Namibian PAC said that a major concern was the improvement of Accounts Committees and their responsibilities. “We need to improve cooperation of he various accounts committees so that all the countries can work together to bring financial accountability and good governance in our different governments,” Maamberua said.

SADCOPAC was represented by Zambia, South Africa (Chair of Conference), Namibia (Deputy Chair of Conference), Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana while representatives from EAAPAC were Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Burundi. South Sudan, the newest kid on the block, attended the meeting for the first time. It was represented by Hon. Gocmakuac Moyor and Hon Mrs Awut Deng Achil of the Parliament of South Sudan. Speaking to The Namibian, Achil who was head of the delegation said, “As we build a new nation, we have many challenges such as establishing laws, capacity building as well as coping with other problems in South Sudan and we will try and implement what we learn here when we go back home.'

When the meeting started, the members looked at the progress of the Arusha 2011 Resolutions todate. It was highlighted that most member states had managed to implement most of the resolution with some of the successes being performance audit done for the first time in Botswana, PAC meetings now open to the public and media, Tanzania's recommendation for redeployment of six ministers implicated in financial misconduct, while in Uganda, some Ministers were asked to resign due to financial misconduct. From Swaziland, Hon Thuli Dladla indicated that performance audit was conducted in Swaziland for the first time.

Some of the challenges noted were funding to most PACs, though PAC in Zambia indicated that they have adequate funds to effectively run their programmes, the Auditor-Generals in countries such as Ethiopia not being independent, a communication strategy for the two groups not yet developed, lack of follow-up on the implementation of PAC recommendations and lack of support staff hindering effectiveness and efficiency of PACs in countries such as Mozambique and Swaziland.

Recommendations given included, capacity building for PAC's, speedy scrutiny of reports, involvement of civil society and engaging the media, while Government response to issues PAC raised should be tabled within six months.

In an interview with The Namibian, the longest serving PAC member who is also chairman of Tanzania’s PAC, Hon John M. Cheyo, lauded the work of the two committees saying that PACs have made a major difference in the way governments deal with the thorny financial issues in their countries. “When we started these meetings, a number of governments were reluctant to implement what the committees recommended but now, it has become prudent that for governments to run smoothly, the recommendations of these committees must be respected,” Cheyo, who has been Tanzania’s PAC chairman for the past 12 years, said.

The Tanzanian Mp said that every country now respects the two major laws that deal with money - Finance which raises funds and Appropriation which deals with who is allowed to do what with the money. “Today, Permanent Secretaries can no longer spend more than is allocated to them,” he said adding that the value of networking in the meetings where members of parliament are able to compare notes, establish benchmarks and best practices has been very helpful to the various countries representatives. “Today, we no longer have countries changing their PACs every few months – now, atleast results are seen as PACs are established to atleast work for a full 5 year term of the parliament in many countries,” Cheyo said.

It was clear that there had been major successes in the past year as at the end of the meeting, unlike 17 resolutions made in Arusha, the two groups came up with only seven resolutions, dabbed, Namibia Resolutions while every country represented agreed on action plans that they would implement on return to their respective countries. The two groups agreed that each jurisdiction was to implement the resolutions within a time frame that suits it. They will give updates on the implementation that they have done and challenges they faced while implementing the resolution.

To facilitate a better system of dealing with problems that PACs face in their home country, the meeting attendants were trained by Beverly Wenger-Trayner through an increasingly popular program called Community of Practice where teams are brought together to learn from their peers on how to deal with similar problems. “The new program that has become very popular now in training these kinds of groups helps the learners to not only learn from their peers but to know how to implement the same in their respective countries.

Across the world, there are many countries that have PACs and the roles may differ but accountability and financial transparency in the country's governments is at the top of their agenda. In UK for example, The Committee of Public Accounts is appointed by the House of Commons to examine "the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted to Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the Committee may think fit. In the current committee, there are members from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. The Chair, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge is an MP from the Labour Party.

The meeting was sponsored by among others, World Bank Institute and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).