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African press review 20 December 2012


What we can learn from the Mayans. A former miners' leader becomes deputy ANC chief and gets a cool reception from unions and a warm one from markets. Discord continues at the head of Kenya's Jubilee Alliance. Mwai Kibaki bows out. Ugandan school students gat a few more days off. And Kenya tries to keep refugees in camps.

Given the fact that tomorrow is the end of the Mayan calendar and of everything else according to some cheerful souls, South African financial paper BusinessDay publishes an opinion piece headlined "What we can learn from the Mayans about the end of time".

The Mayans flourished in central America from about 1,200 years ago until 800AD. And then the lifestyle of the Mayans fell apart. Archaeologists have pieced together the story. Warfare with neighbours, severe drought, deforestation and a decline in large game animals seem to have triggered their collapse. Millions of inhabitants placed too heavy a burden on the land and on each other.

Following wars and famine, says BusinessDay, the Mayans abandoned their magnificent stone structures and fled into the jungle, disappearing from the record of advanced human achievement.

The lesson for us in all of this is not that we need to fear that extinction-sized asteroids will collide with the Earth in our lifetimes. One may well do just that but they only come with the frequency of about once in 100 million years. Much more critical to our survival is the need to manage the Earth and its resources.

If we don’t want to go the way of the Mayans (and other failed civilisations) we must take practical steps to limit our effects and impose global peace.

Elsewhere in BusinessDay, under the headline "Workers take wait-and-see stance on Ramaphosa’s election", the Johannesburg-based paper reports that labour has adopted a cautious approach to the election of businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president of the African National Congress, with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) lukewarm in welcoming him as the ruling party’s second-in-command.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Wednesday that Ramaphosa was part of a collective, which was good. He was also highly respected both as a trade unionist and as head of the ANC’s negotiating team during the transition to democracy. But the sticking point for Vavi was that Ramaphosa was now a capitalist and so speaks on behalf of those with money.

Other analysts point to the fact that the business sector and the financial markets rejoiced at the election of Ramaphosa as Zuma’s deputy.

The rand extended gains to a more than two-month high after the announcement of the election results.

Analysts and business leaders said the choice of the billionaire businessman and former mining union leader as deputy president would make the ANC a more business-friendly party.

In Kenya the high jinks continue down at the Jubilee Alliance, which is looking ever less allied and none too jubilant right now. The problem is, basically, how to get the coalition's two alpha-males, Uhuru Kenyata and Musalia Mudavadi, to agree on why the other one should become president.

Dossier: DRC elects a president

The Jubilee Alliance yesterday secured an extra week to inform the Registrar of Political Parties of the name of its presidential candidate following the lapse of the initial 14-day period.

This means the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Kenyatta and Mudavadi, have more time to compromise on which one of them will be picked as flag-bearer, and whether the picking will be by way of consensus or delegate system.

The Standard gives pride of place to Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, who yesterday closed his 50-year colourful history in parliament with an exhortation to MPs to use the House’s potential to transform the lives of ordinary Kenyans radically.

The president looked back over the great achievements of the 10th parliament and singled out the enactment of the new constitution as particularly important.

Giving his final address to the House, the head of state, who is the longest-serving Member of Parliament, appeared to set the tempo for the coming elections when he said Kenya’s full potential can be realised only if there is peace.

There's good news for school-goers in Uganda. According to this morning's Kampala-based Daily Monitor, the education ministry has released the 2013 school calendar, pushing the opening of the new term from the last week of January to 4 February.

According to the commissioner for Secondary Education, the reporting date was changed following complaints from parents that the new school term was opening before they receive their January salary, which they would need to buy basic school necessities for their children.

Regional paper The East African reports that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has opposed the decision by the government of Kenya to stop registration of refugees in urban areas.

After meeting UNHCR officials earlier this week, the government proceeded to stop the registration of refugees in urban areas and directed that the process be carried out only in refugee camps.

The directive also ordered the UNHCR to stop providing direct services to asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas. Of the estimated 1.1 million refugees in Kenya, about three-quarters are assisted by the UNHCR. Most have fled the fighting in neighbouring Somalia.

The government ordered the closing down of all urban registration centres in a move to boost security by keeping refugees in rural camps.