I don't know how many American readers there are of this blog. I can have advanced analytics on this website if I pay a bit more, but I'm happy with the basic analytics which tell me that, to date, I have had 117 916 visitors who viewed 149 072 pages. I don't know if this is a lot for a blog which is now 4 years old, but I'm pleased with it!
(Tangential thought, please skip this paragraph to keep to the main theme for this week. In checking out the analytics recently, I was somewhat taken aback to discover that somebody had come through the German Google to my website by using the search term 'bijaji'. And sure enough, if you go to Google images and search for bijaji, pictures from this blog come in position 3, 8, 9, 18, 25 and more. I would say that there are variant spellings of the 3 wheeler taxi imported from India, including bijaj, bajaj and bajaji, if you try any of these I don't register. But that discovery brightened my day last week!)
So, I don't know how many American readers I have, but if I may, I'd like to address this blog specifically to you. Other readers are, of course, very welcome to continue.
I've been following your presidential races from afar for some years now. I'm just too young to have a memory of the Watergate crisis, but do remember the election of President Carter. My history teacher at the time asked us what we thought and one of my classmates, whose name I still remember albeit that we've lost touch many years ago, put his hand up and said, "Not enough experience of politics," which I suppose was a standard comment at the time. Strange the things which stick in our minds (OK, strange the things which stick in MY mind....)
Shortly after, as it became apparent that Ronald Reagan was a front runner, I was shocked to hear him described as a 'B movie actor'. Why on earth, I thought, would Americans be wanting to elect as leader of the free world an actor from blue (ie. pornographic) films? When I later discovered that in this context, 'B movie' means 'as opposed to A movie', so a second rate or supporting film, this answered one question but raised another. Why on earth would Americans be wanting to elect as leader of the free world somebody who wasn't terribly good in his original job?
When the news that the 2000 election was initially indeterminate I was driving on the motorway in darkness and pouring rain between Manchester and Leicester, with a lorry driver behind me making no secret of his (I assume it was a he) impatience at how slowly I was driving. After we learnt a great deal about chads, with the websites of churches called St Chad's getting a large number of unexpected hits, George W Bush became president and became famous for a large number of strange utterances, my favourite is this:
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we.
They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people -
and neither do we.
Here we are now, in February 2016, with the election for the next president due in November. Relying mostly on the BBC News website to keep in touch with the world, to a lesser extent to ippmedia.com for Tanzanian news, there has already been considerable coverage of the forthcoming event. It is reasonable, I think,. to assume both that there is much more to come and also that there is much more coverage in your own newspapers and other media outlets.
So, I respectfully suggest that you have a problem. Well, two related problems actually. Firstly, it seems that you spend two years out of every four worrying about who your next president is going to be. That is half the time! Whilst I understand the need for a strong democratic process, with time taken justifying one's own position and rubbishing that of others, this is surely going over the top? Isn't this a major distraction from running your country?
The second problem is the concentration on personalities, with relatively little on policies. Whilst it is pleasing to see people involved who are not independently hugely wealthy, it is clearly a major advantage in this kind of individualised contest to be so.
And I have to say, I have a big problem with the direct election of individuals to such powerful offices. I was living in London in 1998 when there was a referendum as to whether there should be a directly elected mayor. Whilst I was on the losing side, I still think I was right to vote against. Imagine if the Clinton - Lewinsky business had happened in the UK involving the prime minister of the day. The indirect nature of this election - the people elect MPs, MPs choose the prime minister - means that, I suggest, the prime minister would have been out of office very quickly. Quite rightly, given that President Clinton had been directly elected by the people, action against him was subject to many checks and was prolonged. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had President Nixon refused to resign in the aftermath of Watergate.
More generally, I suggest that across the world there are, broadly speaking, 5 models for the head of state:
- hereditary hands on, eg. Saudi Arabia and Swaziland;
- hereditary hands off, eg. UK and the Netherlands;
- elected hands on, eg. USA and Tanzania;
- elected hands off, eg. Ireland and India;
- borrow somebody else's, eg. Jamaica and Australia.
I'm aware that there are countries, eg. North Korea, that don't quite fit this model, any help in refining it gratefully received. From the point of view of the country, I quite like the hereditary hands off, eg. a monarchy such as we have in the UK. My problem is the impact on the individuals involved, I mean, waiting the whole of your life for your mother to die so that you can do the job you're born to do is hardly a healthy state of affairs.
The elected hands off has a great deal to commend it, I think, with an elder statesperson having an oversight role. So, my American readers, here is one solution to your current problems, remodel the presidency to take a more hands off role, and increase the power of the house of representatives and senate.
But actually, I would like to suggest a more radical solution, a solution with only positives and no downside, a solution which, once you know what it is, you will be kicking yourselves that you never thought of it before. I ask for nothing in return, although acknowledgement that you read the idea here first would be nice.
The solution is this. Firstly, apply to join the Commonwealth. Given your colonial past this should be fine, please make sure you ask nicely, we British have long memories and the Boston tea party was a bit of a kick in the teeth.
Once you've done that, appoint Her Majesty the Queen as your head of state, and put in place also a Governor General. I'm sure Her Majesty would be happy to pop over occasionally to see you, or send one of her family to do so. Governor Generals are much cheaper to maintain than presidents, and, as above, more power can go to the house of representatives and the senate. Reorientate from worrying about the one person to the party, from personalities to politics.
It really is that simple! And remember, you read it here first. My future as a political analyst is surely now guaranteed, happy to take on consultancy work at very reasonable rates.
Finally to say, the Logos Hope left on Thursday and, at the time of writing, is sailing to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique before then a tour of South Africa. Having seen their work at close quarters for some months now, the concept is quite extraordinary, absolutely bringing knowledge, help and hope where they go. And the courgette soup from a cookery book I bought from them was very good.
And - a minor correction to something I wrote last week. In fact Captain Twaha, at the time of discharging his onerous responsibilities on board, was still 2 years old, he had his 3rd birthday yesterday. I finish with a picture of two of us at his birthday party, if you have any thoughts on a suitable caption please use the comments box below: