Thursday, 31 March 2016

Jacob Zuma and THAT Constitutional Court judgement

Source: Mail & Guardian
31 March 2016 is a date that will go down in South African history, and spoken about in glowing terms for longer than I'm going to be around probably.

Why? Because for the first time in longer than any South African cares to remember, there's finally an undisputed victory for the rule of law in South Africa (not to be confused with democracy), against corrupt, self-enriching politicians who laugh at their critics in Parliament and do not deign to actually recognise the harm they have caused.

Which brings us back to today, and what makes it special. Today is the day that South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, not only has to pay back the State's money used to personally enrich himself while his personal compound (in South Africa our president doesn't need a mere house apparently) was undergoing security upgrades; but also found that he AND South Africa's parliament (majority-controlled by his political party, the ANC) have failed South Africa by ignoring an official report by the Public Protector which had already recommended that he pay back money for these unlawful upgrades.

"The president failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution," Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said as he read through a unanimous judgment by the justices in the Constitutional Court.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Here's the key takeaway that has South Africa buzzing - in world politics, there have been bitterly few examples of a national court condemning the country's president and parliament in quite such a stern fashion.

The reason everybody in South Africa is so thrilled about this is because our Parliament has turned into a puppet show: with the ruling party outright controlling the majority of the seats, they blatantly use their majority to overturn any movement brought by opposition politicians that they don't find to be in their favour (most recently crushing the second vote of no confidence in Zuma).

This was never (just) about the money. As long as the ANC has been around, people have always joked openly about the 'gravy train' of corruption and tender-manipulation that has plagued the ANC at all levels of government. Rather, Nkandla and the ANC's absurd defences of it (up to the point of trying to rebrand a swimming pool as a critical water reservoir for fire safety - I kid you not!) has just been yet another case of the ANC thumbing its nose at the South African public,

It's worth recalling at this point that back in 2008, Jacob Zuma infamously stated that the ANC would rule the country "until Jesus comes back". Admittedly recent elections have had the ANC scrambling after their grip on the voters has undeniably been waning, but on one hand the erosion hasn't been fast enough; and on the other some of the beneficiaries of the erosion have been the most dangerous kind of 'revolutionaries' promising sweeping damaging economic and political reforms (e.g. the Economic Freedom Fighters' wish to nationalize South African mines and banks).

Ok, so all of that background and context out of the way, IS this really the big victory it's painted to be? Is it going to be the lever that opposition politicians and disgruntled factions within the ANC will finally be able to utilise to unseat Jacob Zuma from his chair, ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for later this year? Is Jacob Zuma actually going to pay back the money (and with what money and how much), or is he going to find some other way to weasel out of this?

As always South Africa is a country of more questions than answers, but we won't let that detract from the pleasure of reading of the ConCourt's definitive list of 11 judgements on Nkandla today. Today we have a definitive answer, THE definitive answer, to at least one important question: "Will the Constitutional Court hold Jacob Zuma and the ANC accountable?"

Yes. Yes they will.

And on a lighter note, we can all enjoy this awesome twitter account that has had new life breathed into it today: https://twitter.com/NkandlaHome


Sounds familiar.

Bonus note:
To bring this back to Romania (and you knew I had to), I couldn't stop thinking about this shocking news story that took Romania by storm just a few months ago: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34720183 Ponta resigned because of a club fire he didn't personally set ... will Jacob Zuma step down in response to the fire he has stoked with reckless and gleeful abandon throughout his terms as president?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Don't try emigrating alone!

Anybody who's tried emigrating will discover two facts really quickly: unless you're incredibly skilled most countries out there aren't really that interested in you moving to them (New York in the early days this ain't); and because of the aforementioned fact, they're not really too troubled to provide detailed how-to guides on the process.

There are of course some countries that do make an effort - the UK, Canada and New Zealand spring to mind - but if you're looking at moving to Romania, you're still out of luck. There is official information out there (the primary resource being this website from Romania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs), but "user-friendly" doesn't spring to mind.

That's where I can't recommend turning to other expats for help enough: not only those in the same boat as you, who're still looking to move; but specifically those who've already made the jump and can tell you exactly where real life differs substantially from the text-intensive websites (a third lesson you'll learn).

One of the early resources I relied on to get me started was Expat-Blog.com, which has recently rebranded to the far simpler to remember Expat.com (you'll see their spiffy new logo near the bottom right of this blog).

Because back in the early days of this blog it was solely focused on Romania and I listed it on Expat-Blog.com's blog directory for Romanian blogs, I recently received an e-mail from the website's founder, Julien, explaining the change (related to the website's Romanian section).

In Julien's own words:
"The website first started as a directory of expatriates’ blogs all around the world.  After 10 years of service, it has evolved into a real social network for expats in Romania with new features added so as to better serve expats and address their needs. With Expat.com, expats now have a dedicated space to find all they need to live in Romania. Discover their expat experience on the forum or by reading their interviews. You will also find job offers, housing ads and much more!"
Don't take my word for it though, just click here to get stuck into Expat.com's dedicated section on Romania:
http://www.expat.com/en/destination/europe/romania/

Pro tip: Registering to ask and answer questions on the Romanian Forums should be a first stop ... it's great to feel a virtual part of a community you're not yet in, and the access to practical advice you won't find anywhere else online is invaluable!

Disclosure: Julien asked all bloggers to share the news of the site's rebranding on their blogs, which is what triggered this post. However the content (excluding his quote of course) is exclusively mine, and happily written ... I've learned many valuable lessons about Romania over the three years I was registered on Expat-Blog.com, and I have no doubt that the new and improved Expat.com is going to be an awesome resource to you, if you're interested in Romania.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Generating new business ideas

Here's the thing about business ideas: there is limitless potential.

Let's start with imagining the simple act of drinking a glass of water.

Is it really simple?

Nope. In order to perform the action 'drink a glass of water', you need:

1: A glass
2: Water
3: A table for the glass of water to rest on
4: The knowledge over how to drink water
5: A functioning water-supply and purification system
6: A functioning mind that enables you to judge the distance to the water, reach out and grab the glass, raise it to your lips, and successfully swallow the water.
7: A desire to drink water, instilled by some clever water-centred marketing

... and you can keep drilling down into finer and finer detail.

The thing I've realised about business ideas that pretty much everything has value, and you can combine any of the wonderful nouns in our world with any of the other delightful verbs, and you end up with a magical product. Creation is actually the easy part - the hardest part is selling.

Ok, so that's not news to anybody, but what I'm currently finding really interesting is starting with basic concepts and then poking around the periphery (e.g. starting with 'glass' and 'water' and ending up at 'home-based training videos on strengthening hand-eye coordination for ultimate water-drinking pleasure') for related concepts.

Of course, insanity lies down that road, because there's the aforementioned infinite number of combinations, and the world's marketplaces don't need more noise.

The trick then is to apply the same fuzzy principle to identify new *markets* that nobody else is targeting (so at least you start off the base that whatever you create will definitely sell), and then re-use that skill to provide your new market with a new product they really want (even if they weren't aware of it until you showed them).

Good luck!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Opening a business in Romania

If you're thinking of opening an SME business in Romania, I have good and bad news for you.

The good news: Romania has a Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it not only has an English version to its website, but it seems to be updated fairly regularly (that is MASSIVE in Romania - kudos to the team behind it!). Here's the link: http://ccir.ro/en

The bad news: Romania also has a dedicated Department of Small and Medium Enterprises. You might think that that's good news with a lot of valuable resources for you, but that's where the bad news comes in. You guessed it: English does not exist, according to this website. http://www.aippimm.ro/

Ok, so it's the typical mixed bag. Curiously, I also discovered a very useful business overview with a stack of additional resources on the Romanian Embassy in India and New York's official minisites. Take your pick: http://newdelhi.mae.ro/en/romania/319 or http://newyork.mae.ro/en/romania/319

As a parting thought, I'll leave you with this fact from the above two sites: "97% of all Romanian companies are SMEs."  Certainly it's quick to see even in Bucharest that there bitterly few big-name franchises like you'd be swamped with in any other major city. That leaves a LOT more room for entrepreneurship, and a LOT more competition for you. Good luck!


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Looking for glamour? Not in this life.

Here's the thing ... I'm just about to turn 30 (in December), and it makes you (me?) philosophical.

Looking back on my glorious twenties - not really, probably just as much of a rollercoaster as yours - I realised that that's the whole point. Contrary to what I'd expected as a teenager, life doesn't suddenly make more sense when you're older.

An awesome movie I've just finished watching sums that up perfectly: Man Up. Finally a British romantic comedy that almost hits all the right Notting Hill notes, but with more zany and less soppy. Also a chance to see Simon Pegg in something semi-normal ... heck, even Game of Thrones' Sam Tarly puts in a surprise cameo.

If you're still in your twenties and hoping it'll all make sense soon, chances are it won't, but that's ok. I have it on good authority one's thirties aren't any clearer, so I'm just going to press on.

What makes Man Up so awesome is its really refreshingly accurate portrayal of the dark comedy that is 'romance', and I reckon it teaches a really valuable lesson I wish I could have grasped early on in my twenties: we're all equally vulnerable, and the stories we tell about ourselves as we go are fragile and beautiful.

Reminds me of this famous poem by Emily Dickinson:
'Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A jumble...

Here are
people.
Live with them.
Here are
problems.
Solve them.
Here is a blank
page.
Fill it.
Here are never-ending
questions,
and a rapidly-diminishing supply of
time.
Is this really how you want to spend
it?
Oh look: another
question.
So where is the real
beginning?
The one that
counts.
And isn't it
cruel
to end at the
start?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A little reminder on perseverance

This blog's become something of a scrapbook for me, where I like to store profound discoveries. Here's one I came across tonight:


There's a lot to ponder in that quote: life on the other side of disappointment, and the necessity (to what end?) of darkness.

How is it that humanity is losing touch with these deeper values, and so many people seem so wrapped up in completely trivial discussions that ignore the shared emotional crisis/adventure that life really is? It's become weakness to admit anything other than delirious happiness (or at the very least a muted 'fine' that nobody even really waits for when asking 'How're you doing?').

No wonder that people keep turning to modern medicine to help them deal with their emotions: we're becoming so emotionally-stunted that we've got no way to deal with anything more deeply than a 'thumbs up' on Facebook (such an ideal world that 'thumbs down' doesn't even exist - until you look at the comments).

Sorry/not sorry if that comes across as a downer. It's really not. It's just me reminding myself - and you, if you're reading this - that failure is not just normal, but necessary.