Today, April 18, tens of thousands of people in over 500 cities across the world are taking action against corporate trade and investment regimes that are threatening our environment and human rights.
From a picket in the Philippines to a public forum in Ecuador and a direct action in Australia, participants in this unprecedented "Global Day of Action" are taking back control of our democracy.
Trade and investments agreements are no longer just about import tariffs, but about a range of issues that determine the food we eat, the energy we use and the ability of our governments to regulate in the public interest.
As of today, four massive new global trade agreements are being negotiated away from public scrutiny, despite the fact that they will affect the lives of over 1.5 billion people.
They are: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Trojan horse treaties
These "trojan horse" treaties vary in many complex and differing ways, but all would reverse decades of progress towards better protection for citizens and our environment, and give big business extraordinary and unprecedented power over our society.
The rules controlling things like food safety, toxic chemicals, and dirty energy would be substantially weakened.
For example, in Australia the Trans Pacific Partnership could make it impossible to set higher standards on imported foods or labelling, because labelling regulation can be deemed a "barrier to trade".
One of the most unfair parts of these trade agreements is the inclusion of the "investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS) process. This enables corporations to sue governments in "private tribunals" for policies that frustrate their expected profits. Globally, 608 investor-state disputes were known of at the end of 2014.
Some notable ISDS cases include the Quebec government being sued for $250m for banning fracking; tobacco giant Phillip Morris launching a lawsuit against the Australian government in relation to the introduction of plain-packaging laws; and the German government facing a billion euro lawsuit for its decision to phase out nuclear power stations.
The reason usually given for these extreme corporate rights is that "ISDS is needed to drive and protect investment". Yet Brazil, whose Congress refuses to sign trade treaties that include ISDS, is the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment in Latin America.
Private corporate tribunals lack transparency, independence, impartiality and offer no right of appeal. Just 15 arbitrators, almost all from Europe, the US or Canada, have decided on 55 percent of all known disputes based on investment treaties, according to 2012 statistics.
Yet these unaccountable private tribunals continue to deal out hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. On April 9, Argentina was ordered to pay $405m to French company Suez for cancelling its contract and taking back water provision into public hands.
Sadly, the new trade deals act only to strengthen and expand corporate tribunals. What we are witnessing is a profound attack on democracy and the sovereignty of states to regulate in public interest.
Turning the tide
However, there is a growing global movement of civil society groups, trade unions, farmers, and concerned citizens working together to stop these trojan horse treaties. This weekend, as part of the International Day of Peasants' Struggle, hundreds of actions against "free" trade regimes have been organised by La Via Campesina, which represents over 200 million small scale farmers globally.
Some governments have begun to pull out of treaties that include extreme corporate rights.
In 2014, Indonesia announced plans to terminate 60 of its international treaties with ISDS. Ecuador and South Africa have also began a similar process, with a South African official stating that: "Bilateral investment agreements can pose profound and serious risks to government policy."
Trade is no longer fringe issue. In Europe, over 1,600,000 people have signed a petition against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and tens of thousands marched to protest the TTIP.
The German town of Erkrath and hundreds of other local municipalities across the continent also voted to be TTIP-free zones. Greece's new government has already stated it will not ratify TTIP and many other EU countries have raised grave concerns about the ISDS clause.
In the face of growing inequality in our societies, we need a fairer trade system, one which helps develop sustainable societies by supporting local economies and sustainable jobs, a clean environment, better social protection, and more responsible energy and food production for all.
Ten years ago in Mar del Plata, Argentina, a trojan horse treaty known as Free Trade Agreement of the Americas was defeated by strong social movements and progressive governments.
As people around the world take to the streets today, we know we have the power to stop the current unfair trade and investment regimes and we will continue to expose them until they are defeated.
Sam Cossar-Gilbert is economic justice and resisting neoliberalism coordinator at Friends of the Earth International.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
European nations have been accused of putting the lives of thousands of migrants at risk, as unprecedented numbers make the sea crossing from north Africa.
Amnesty International said the EU is "turning its back on its responsibilities" by scrapping rescue operations.
It's estimated that more than 10,000 migrants have set off for their preferred destination of Italy in April alone, crammed aboard overcrowded old boats and rafts.
On Friday, an Italian coast guard ship docked in Sicily, carrying another 300 migrants, rescued off the coast of Libya. Most were from Somalia, Nigeria and Eritrea, with a small group from Syria.
Hundreds of others are reported to have died this week as their boats capsized or ran into difficulties, although there is no accurate figure.
The UN said the latest loss of life is "...a human rights tragedy, not a natural tragedy,” and one that needs to be addressed through a "…comprehensive human rights-based approach, that is the shared responsibility of all countries."
European Commission spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, admitted the situation had become grave, but added: "We do not have a silver bullet or any kind of panacea that is going to make the situation go away … and no amount of finger-pointing is going to change that."
So should the European Union take more responsibility for migrants heading to its shores?
Or does there need to be a broader policy to spare migrants from falling into the hands of smugglers?
Presenter: Shiulie Ghosh
Gauri van Gulik, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
Elizabeth Collett, director of the Migration Policy Institute for Europe.
Andrea di Nicola, professor of criminology at the University of Trento and co-author of the book, 'Confessions of a People Smuggler'.
Twelve people have been arrested, with anti-foreigner attacks in South Africa spreading to parts of Johannesburg's commercial hub, according to South African police.
Police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of South Africans in the city's Jeppestown area on Friday.
A crowd of South Africans carrying hammers and axes gathered near the city centre, chanting "Foreigners must leave."
The arrests, made overnight, came as groups of South Africans who had gathered in Jeppestown and Cleveland blocked roads with rocks and burning tyres and then ordered foreigners to leave the country, police said.
Jeppestown and Cleveland are neighbourhoods adjoining the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD).
A number of shops in the CBD were reported to have been looted and vandalised, further escalating tensions between foreigners and South Africans in Johanneburg.
Police said the suspects were trying to break into shops owned by foreigners.
Colonel Dlamini, police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera calm had been restored, but refused to reveal whether police had received credible reports of further threats of violence against foreigners in the city.
Violence targeting immigrants started earlier in April in the port city of Durban, claiming the lives of six people so far.
Rumours of imminent attacks on foreigners have continued to affect foreign nationals in Johannesburg.
Ahmed Fifa, a 35-year-old shop owner in the Ramaphosa settlement east of Johannesburg, said foreign nationals were warned by locals to vacate the area on Thursday night.
"One of the community leaders came to us and told us to move all our stuff and save our lives," he said.
According to Fifa, the South Africans in Ramaphosa are divided between those who seek to protect foreigners and those intent on violently driving foreigners out.
"I can't go back until the situation remains stable," Fifa said. "I have seen the pictures of what happened in Durban and I need to save my life.
"The only problem we have here is the xenophobia."
In Durban, where six people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence against immigrants, police spokesperson Jay Naicker a fragile calm had been maintained on Friday.
"Overnight we had no reported incidents and it has been calm," Naicker said, adding that the police had not received reports of further threats against immigrants in coastal city.
He said foreigners would still not be re-integrated into the affected communities.
"The area is still tense and the police and security deployment will remain for a while," Naicker said.
Amir Sheikh, the chairperson of the Somali Community Board based in Johannesburg said the violence in Durban has inflamed tensions between South Africans and foreigners.
"Some of our members have been harassed in Johannesburg following the violence in Durban."
Late on Thursday a widely disseminated text message claimed that "a train of Zulus" had departed for Johannesburg. "These men are armed and they are going to be killing any foreigner they meet tomorrow."
The source of these messages remains unclear, but their proliferation has sowed panic and confusion among migrant communities.
"Our members have been unable to go about their day-to-day businesses because each time they open their businesses, a new message is received saying members of a certain ethnic group are gathering to attack them," Sheikh said.
While these rumours have so far, proven to be false, its effects have already been felt.
Foreign owned stores around Johannesburg have been closed for at least two days already.
"The unfounded rumours have caused more damage to our members than anything else," Sheikh said.
On Thursday South African President Jacob Zuma and leaders of the opposition in parliament spoke out against the violence against foreign nationals.
Zuma said that the majority of South Africans were not xenophobic.
"We reiterate our view that South Africans are generally not xenophobic," he said.
"If they were, we would not have such a high number of foreign nationals who have been successfully integrated into communities all over our country, in towns, cities and villages."
South Africa, 17 April 2015,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/-The International Network for Small and Medium Enterprises (INSME) Annual Meeting and Forum, which is taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 26 – 28 May, is set to advance local enterprise development. This is the first time that this event will be held on […]
Nigeria's 2015 general elections, which drew to a close this weekend, have been hailed as historic.
The victory of Muhammadu Buhari, in the March presidential poll, was viewed as a landmark - the first time a sitting president had been voted out of office.
Equally important was incumbent Goodluck Jonathan's acceptance of defeat - not a given on a continent in which rulers have often gone to great lengths to retain power. And, despite some violent incidents at the state level, the absence of a similarly bloody outcome to 2011 - when over 800 died - has been viewed as a notable advance.
Hopes for a new era?
This has inspired hopes for a new era of democratic progress. Citing Nigeria as a trailblazer, it has even prompted talk of an "African spring".
Recent protests ousting Burkinabe ruler Blaise Compaore and peaceful elections in Kenya have been quoted as further positive signs.
Yet the extent to which Nigeria's experience will prompt a continent-wide shift should not be overstated.
Indeed, while some spoke of a breakdown of sectarian voting, noting the gains made by Muslim northerner Buhari in the overwhelmingly Christian south, the run-up to the poll was highly polarised.
Campaigning at all levels saw the usual mud-slinging, and remained some way from being fully issue-based.
Celebration of the poll has instead centred on the absence of large-scale violence - and upon Jonathan's acceptance of defeat. Rather than real consolidation, this reflects the tellingly low standards by which democracy in the region has come to be judged.
In this context, however, the vote does mark something of a milestone.
It is the first time power has transitioned peacefully since the return to civilian rule in 1999. Citizens defied threats by Islamist militants Boko Haram in the northeast to vote. And the poll was overseen by a neutral electoral commission insistent upon the use of biometric technology.
Democracy beyond elections
Yet declarations of the broader significance of these events, and the democratic progress they signal, should be treated with caution.
Though electoral activity is judged by some scholars to facilitate democratic learning, consolidation is inevitably a much longer-term process.
What will matter more is what happens once a new leader is in place.
In this respect, a common critique in parts of Africa has concerned the prevalence of diminished forms of democracy whereby polls are held to lend a veneer of legitimacy to what may otherwise be highly undemocratic regimes.
Certainly, there have been numerous examples of rulers seeking to weaken democratic institutions.
Beyond Nigeria, an opposing phenomenon has seen other leaders seek to subvert the democratic rules of the game by manipulating constitutional term limits.
US President Obama recently urged DR Congo's Jacob Kabila to hold timely elections in 2016, amid concerns that the latter plans to defy the two-term limit. Citizens in Rwanda and Burundi - and Nigeria's western neighbour Benin - fear similar intentions; while elections this week in Sudan will be boycotted over criticism that they are loaded in favour of incumbent Omar al-Bashir.
The long-term view
As such, it is clear that a country does not become democratic purely through the casting of votes. Rather, consolidation is a less tangible process determined by long-term investment in democratic institutions; the entrenchment of a democratic culture; respect for freedom of speech, assembly and organisation; and the absence of attempts to subvert the various organs of a democracy.
In this respect, the hard work in Nigeria lies ahead. The trajectory, however, remains unclear.
As a former military leader who took power through a coup in 1983, Buhari's candidacy was held by opponents to symbolise a return to a repressive past.
Yet, he has since fought in three democratic contests, and claims to have learned from his stint in office. He presents himself as a born-again democrat. And he won on a campaign to root out corruption - a fundamental source of perversion of state institutions and of popular faith in them.
Similarly, he has promised to strengthen core institutions to enhance the provision of justice and the rule of law.
And post-election, he has reaffirmed these pledges: A "powerful force [that] soon comes to undermine democracy, [...] corruption", he promises, "shall no longer be allowed to stand as ... a respected monument in this nation".
What will be key, upon his accession, is the extent to which he remains committed to this cause, and to strengthening democratic institutions more broadly.
He has warned that progress could take time; yet his ability to overcome entrenched interests to fulfil this pledge will be key to his success in the eyes of citizens.
It will also play a vital part in determining the health and future development of Nigeria's ongoing democratic experiment. And, in turn, to establishing the true nature of the influence this is likely to exert across the continent.
Cathy Haenlein is deputy editor of RUSI Newsbrief/associate editor of the RUSI Journal.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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Pope Francis has appealed to the Somali al-Shabab group, which killed 148 people at a Kenyan university this month, to stop their brutality and "come to their senses".
He told Kenyan bishops visiting the Vatican that he prayed for those killed by acts of terror, ethnic and tribal hostilities in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.
"I think most especially of the men and women killed at Garissa University College," the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics said.
"May those who commit such brutality come to their senses and seek mercy."
The gunmen hunted down Christians while sparing Muslims in the attack on April 2.
Francis has repeatedly expressed alarm about Christians being targeted for their faith and condemned the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya in February.
He urged the visiting bishops to work with Christian and non-Christian leaders to promote peace in predominantly-Christian Kenya.
Al-Shabaab said Garissa was revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to fight alongside African Union peacekeepers against the armed group.
Thousands have marched in South Africa's coastal city of Durban against xenophobia following attacks on foreign nationals in the country.
Up to 5,000 people including religious and political leaders attended Thursday's rally after attacks against foreigners left at least five people dead since March.
The atmosphere at the rally was mostly calm, with protesters singing solidarity songs.
"I definitely think that it's about time people stood up for our brothers and sisters because we are Africans,"
Durban resident Avastha Singhtold Al Jazeera at the march. "It's so important to show our support because xenophobia should not be tolerated."
Our correspondent tweeted from the march:
But elsewhere in the city, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at dozens of protesters who were calling for foreigners with other African origins to leave.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday President Jacob Zuma called the attacks against foreigners "shocking" and "unacceptable".
"No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops. We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violates all the values that South Africa embodies." Zuma said.
Many of the those affected by xenophobic sentiments in the country have come roots in Somalia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and Nigeria.
More than 2,000 foreigners have already sought shelter in refugee camps in Durban, a South African aid group said on Wednesday.
The refugee camps, set up on sports fields around the city, will not be large enough if attacks on immigrants continue, said Imtiaz Sooliman of the Gift of the Givers organisation.
In Johannesburg, South Africa's commercial capital, tension is also running high with stores closed in some neighbourhoods.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 200 protesters who were pelting vehicles with stones calling for immigrants to leave on Thursday.
Johannesburg was the epicentre of the 2008 xenophobic attacks that killed more than 60 people.
Messages circulating on social media warned people in Gauteng province and KwaZulu-Natal to be on high alert for possible attacks and to also remain indoors.
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Six people have died since attacks against foreign nationals began on March 30.
The recent spate of attacks mirrors a previous outbreak of similar violence in South Africa in 2008 when about 60 people were killed.
On Thursday, concerned groups and religious leaders, gathered to participate in an expected, thousand-persons march in solidarity with foreign nationals in the port city of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal where most of the latest attacks took place.
Al Jazeera's producer Mukelwa Hlatshwayo spoke to some people who attended the march.
Nosipho Hadebe, Ntuzuma resident in KwaZulu-Natal
"What I see happening in our townships is not right because the foreigners are also people and they helped us during our struggle. They should not be killed."
Andile Thebe, 21-year-old student
"It's a good idea to have this march because this will get people to come back to their senses. How can one kill someone just because they are foreign, and I am glad about this march because it shows that something can be done."
Avastha Singh, Durban resident
"I definitely think that it's about time people stood up for our brothers and sisters because we are Africans. It's so important to show our support because xenophobia should not be tolerated."
Julia Daniel Vermak, Kloof resident
"I think is an awesome idea. It will bring more awareness but I think what we should do is name and shame. I have lived in some of those countries and I can say that they have suffered for supporting us and now we do this to them."
Thousand of people are expected to attend a march in South Africa's coastal city of Durban in solidarity with the country's foreign nationals.
The march comes after weeks of attacks against foreign nationals in which at least five people have been killed and 74 people arrested since the end of March, according to Colonel Jay Naicker, police spokesperson.
On Thursday, as many people prepared to march in the coastal city of Durban in KwaZuluNatal, many shops also remained closed in the business capital of the country, Johannesburg.
Groups of people were said to be travelling from various other provinces to join in the show of solidarity with the foreign nationals.
Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Durban, tweeted the following:
Similar attacks occurred in 2008 in which at least 60 people were killed.
Messages circulating on social media warned people in Gauteng province and KwaZuluNatal to be on high alert for possible attacks and to also remain indoors.
More than 2,000 foreigners have already sought shelter in refugee camps in Durban, a South African aid group said on Wednesday.
The refugee camps, set up on sports fields around Durban, will not be large enough if attacks on immigrants continue, said Imtiaz Sooliman of the Gift of the Givers organisation.
Those who can afford it are planning to leave the country, he said.
"They've lost their houses, they've lost their businesses, they've lost everything," Sooliman said.
The organisation made the following appeal to the government on social media on Wednesday:
South Africa President Jacob Zuma condemned the violence and assigned several cabinet ministers to work on the problem with officials in KwaZulu-Natal province.
The government is addressing South African citizens' "complaints about illegal and undocumented migrants, the takeover of local shops and other businesses by foreign nationals as well as perceptions that foreign nationals perpetrate crime", Zuma's office said in a statement.
He also issued a warning for illegally operating foreign owned businesses to close their doors.
In Malawi, officials have set up transit camps expected to house Malawians returning to the country, Kondwani Nankhumwa, the country's information minister, said.
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Over the past decade, China's hunger for Africa's rich natural resources has seen it overtake Europe and America as the continent's largest trading partner.
The West - for so long the dominant external force in Africa's affairs - has reacted to this rush of investment with more than a fair degree of unease. Commentators in Washington, London, Paris and elsewhere have openly expressed anxiety that the West's economic and political influence in Africa is waning and that 'unless something is done' this ' Battle for Africa ' as it has become known, will have damaging strategic consequences down the line.
Yet they know too that China's often expressed reluctance to interfere in the local politics of other nations - or at least to attach any tiresome conditions about democracy or improving human rights to their investments and aid - is allowing some African politicians to thumb their noses at Western institutions and former colonial powers that have previously tried to make them toe the line. In other words, as seen from outside, it is a narrative about winners and losers, about the big beasts of the global world being rivals in a competition in which China currently has the upper hand.
But what does this changing dynamic mean for Africans themselves? The continent is so full of promise and blessed in so many ways with things the world needs - from oil and minerals and land to vast amounts of people capital - yet it has struggled since colonial times to truly realise its potential.
A few of its wealthier, better led and more stable nations are now beginning to taste some success, but elsewhere poor governance, ethnic division, corruption and strife - allied to the misbalancing effects of globalisation which have usually been to Africa's disadvantage - are keeping many hundreds of millions of people in poverty and denying them an opportunity to improve their lives.
Will the fact that the continent now has an alternative source of external funding and investment and aid really change any of that? Or is the real 'Battle for Africa' about other more fundamental things - leadership, plurality, good government, law and order - which the continent has to achieve itself in order to make the most of the new opportunities that East- West competition for its resources is bringing?
In this special two-part People & Power report, veteran African journalist, Sorious Samura, went to find out.
By Sorious Samura
For centuries, we Africans have been struggling for control of our own destinies: first from the domination of western powers and then from our own corrupt, greedy, tribal politicians. These are indeed some of the key factors that have prompted hundreds of brutal civil wars in many countries across Africa, including my own, Sierra Leone.
And when I arrived here in the UK with the very graphic footage of my country's war, I was immediately given the space in the Western media to report more of my continent's stories. That was about 15 years ago. Fifteen years which have seen me cover almost every major topic on the African soil; from hunger, HIV/Aids, refugees, illegal immigrants, corruption and even tagging along as the Ugandan Army hunted the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader, Joseph Kony, through the dense forests of the Central African Republic.
Talking about forests, that is exactly what these last 15 years reporting on Africa have been to me - it is like I have been on a long journey through a forest, combing through the trees, examining every leaf and stem, trying to find solutions to my continent's problems. And these latest two films, The Battle For Africa part one and two, have finally helped me find some of those answers - to work out how we Africans can get out of the woods.
In part one, I go to Kenya to find out what the rise of this new foreign power, China, means to Africans and African leaders in particular. It did not take long to establish that the Chinese have clearly offered African leaders an alternative, a newly found independence from Western influence. Many Africans welcome this. Some of our leaders are now becoming more vocally critical of the West - free to say what would not have been said before - because of the inrush of money and investment across the continent. But this straight away begged the obvious question; will these new opportunities genuinely lead to greater development and prosperity, or will it all be squandered once again by my continent's age-old problem of corrupt leadership?
Working on trying to find an answer to this question, I realised that the real battle going on in Africa, is not between the West and the East but between us Africans, who are struggling to find decent leaderships and good governance. As this series will make clear, in my view it is tribalism which has robbed us of that decent leadership for decades. Indeed, for me, giving what I have seen and heard during these two films and over the past 15 years reporting my continent, I can now say, without hesitation, that western democracy will never work in my continent - as long as we fail to de-tribalise.
For part two, I travelled to Ghana and Botswana in search of African countries that do seem to be winning the battle for good government. What was it, I wanted to know, that they have got right. What could we all learn from them?
In Ghana we saw what good leadership and governance really meant - genuinely developed democracy that seems to be working. We also looked at how they do business with outsiders, mainly the Chinese - but what impressed me the most is Ghana is s one of few, if not, the only African country which was clearly listening to its people and responding to the pressure put on them by some of the civil society groups - something very strange in my continent. Many Africans will tell you that once, we have elected our leaders, they become the "Big Men", we can no longer talk to them or hold them (the leaders) to account; any demonstration or strikes will always be met by brute force. In Ghana that does not seem to be happening.
Then to Botswana. I should say, first, that I have always wanted to go to this country, one of Africa's real success stories - to understand how they got things so right with the same minerals - diamonds, that brought a curse to my country, Sierra Leone. Here, we were able to see how, when you have a government that have the people at heart, resources can be used to benefit everyone - regardless of what tribe you belong to, the smallest or largest in the land. What really impressed me though was me though, was how they were easily able to demonstrate what a respectable, decent partnership between government and people can do for any nation.
But for me, the most important theme of these two films is tribalism. You will get what I mean when you watch, but essentially it is not just about one's own tribe, but rather being tribal, thinking tribally, taking on the characteristics of our tribal elders, only voting for the tribe. It is part of our identity but it is also our problem. This journey has clearly led me to believe that my continent and my people will never get true democracy because - as I have seen it in Kenya, in Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and even in my own country, Sierra Leone - what people always vote for is not the policies or principle or belief - but rather, their tribe. People do not care if this person is more competent than that person, or if she is more or less corrupt than he - if they do not belong to your tribe, you will not vote for them. My work across the continent has really made me open my eyes to this and understand what "democracy" means here. It simply means voting my tribesman, whether he is capable for the job or not - and that is why we keep producing incompetent leaders, time after time, election after election - whether funded or supported by the West or not. It is the principle that underpins everything and keeps us as we are, unable to move on, unable to take advantage of the real opportunities we have.
This series, The Battle For Africa has taught me that as long as we do not have good governments, as long as we keep voting governments that keeps ruling only their tribes and parties instead of serving the national interest of all the people (big or small tribes like the Ogiyek tribe which is almost disappearing in Kenya), the African continent will know no peace and its people will keep leaving their land for better opportunities elsewhere.