The attack on a European-style mall in one of Nairobi’s fashionable neighborhoods this weekend raises fresh concerns about the scale of the threat posed by the Somali terror organization, Shabab, and the capacity of the Kenyan state — already weakened by corruption charges against its political leadership and its domestic police forces — to address internal security in ways consistent with both human rights and effective anti-terror techniques. One of the most prosperous countries in the sub-Saharan, Kenya is home to all of the important positive trends in African society. However, the material and social gains brought about by a booming economy and liberal individual freedoms are now put in jeopardy by the government’s willingness to serve as a proxy counter-force for the U.S. government and the Obama administration in its war on Shabab in Somalia and its surrounding countries. How long will Kenyans and other East Africans be willing to sacrifice their own hard-won gains in order to prop up the failed U.S. campaign against radical Islamicists in Somalia? The deaths of innocents in Nairobi shopping mall make this very regional question of greater global significance.
Sep 16 2013
The New York Times has again featured strikingly “normal” photos of “everyday Africa” in its Lens feature. These photos, from Nigeria, highlight the growing acceptance of the idea that by concentrating on what works in Africa — and resisting the pernicious urge to fetishize the pathological — serious people around the world are revising and revamping their committment to “heart of darkness” images and ideas about life in the sub-Saharan. Long overdue, the movement to celebrate the normal, and to promote African solutions to Africa problems — conceived, delivered and sustained by Africans — continues to deepen and gain momentum. The movement is a useful corrective to mainstream images of an Africa dominated by disaster, disease and mayhem. While disorder and deprivation remain the reality in some parts of Africa, and for some Africans, the region is no longer home to the world’s worst human-rights abuses, and even such familiar problems as famine are registering at their lowest levels in decades.
Sep 16 2013
The New York Times has again featured strikingly “normal” photos of “everyday Africa” in its Lens feature. These photos highlight the growing acceptance of the idea that by concentrating on what works in Africa — and resisting the pernicious urge to fetishize the pathological — serious people around the world are revising and revamping their committment to “heart of darkness” images and ideas about life in the sub-Saharan. Long overdue, the movement to celebrate the normal, and to promote African solutions to Africa problems — conceived, delivered and sustained by Africans — continues to deepen and grow.
Sep 15 2013
The latest instance of Ellen Sirleaf’s monumental fraud on the international community — and her “subjects” in benighted Liberia — is the arrest and humuliation of one of West Africa’s bravest journalists, Rodney Sieh, editor of FrontPage Africa, a dissenting newspaper in Liberia of outsized proportions.
Sirleaf is hugely controversial because of her history of helping military dictators in her native Liberian, an invonvenient truth about her that no manner of international praise can seem to fully wash away. Now in her second term as Liberia’s president, Sirleaf seems only to have accomplished her own personal rehabiliation. Liberia is no closer to independent, self-sustenance than before Sirleaf reign, and there are signs that her government is proving as insidiously corrupt and ineffective as preceding Liberian administrations. While Sirleaf shows no appetite for the murderous forms of repression that animated her one-time ally, Charles Taylor (now in prison), she increasingly embraces the tools of authoritarians. Her decision to jail the enterprising and conscientious Rodney Sieh, while audacious, may prove to be a blunder too far even for a celebrated female psuedo-celebrity of African origins if not African sensibilities. In a New York Times article, in which editor Sieh makes a strong case for both his immediate release from a Liberian hospital, where he is held by armed guards for failing to pay damages awarded in a super-spurious civil suit.
Sieh contracted malaria in jail, and he alleges that Sirleaf’s government aims to bankrupt him — to shut down his dissenting newspaper. That would be convenient for Sirleaf, obviating the need to imprison him and sparing her the embarassment of another example of her hypocrisy.
Repression of talented African journalists is rare than most suspect. The African press is freer than ever, certainly during the colonial period, when European authorities periodically crushed dissenting journalists; and African journalists are freer, and better paid, than during the long night of post-independence, when many African governments monopolized the TV and radio airways and effectively purchased the loyalties of print reporters. From Kenya and Uganda to Zambia and Ghana, African journalists are exposing wrong-doing, documenting strengths and weaknesses of their societies, and expanding their core domestic audiences at levels unseen in African history. The journalism revolution faces some opposition. In Uganda, for instance, the Museveni government has harassed top reporters and even shut down news organizations for short periods. In Zambia, new president Michael Sata is growing impatient with Internet journalists. Everywhere in Africa “big men” often presume they can pay off journalists in order to prevent critical reports from appearing. Yet a new generation of African journalists, weaned on the Internet and hewing increasingly to global standards for production of journalism, appear up to the task of standing their ground. May we root for them to do so.
Jul 23 2013
Nelson Mandela’s prolonged end-of-life experience carries a certain poetic resonance. Having had many years of freedom stolen by the apartheid government of South Africa, Mandela and his people want to extend his life in freedom for as long as possible. Fair enough. But Mandela’s peculiar medical limbo carries another possible reading: that Mandela’s political heirs are not yet ready to go forth without him alive.
The African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa, has of course been rehearsing for Mandela’s departure ever since the great “Madiba” surrendered the presidency of South Africa after a single term in 1999. Yet the years of presence that Mandela has gifted his nation seem nonetheless to be insufficient foundation for an ANC whose legitimacy continues to rest almost solely on its “liberation” credentials. Governing South Africa has proved far more difficult than the transition from apartheid to majority rule. Perhaps the pedestrian character of ordinary life would always make the removal of oppressive white rule seem far more dramatic. Yet nearly 20 years into South Africa’s great experiment in democracy, only Nelson Mandela seems to have live up to anything near the enormous expecatations of South Africans and the world community.
The ANC, now led by the very earthly Jacob Zuma, has little time to get its act together before “saint” Mandela exits the stage for good. In lingering a bit longer on the material stage, is Mandela doing the ANC a final favor?
Jul 18 2013
More than a million Americans claim sub-Saharan Africa as their place of birth. And yet the administration of President Barack Obama — the son of a Kenyan — shows scant awareness of the potential benefits of mobilizing American-Africans on behalf of positive change in the sub-Saharan. In a new essay, in the monthly political magazine In These Times, I analyze this and other missed opportunities in Obama’s studied approach to African affairs.
Africans in America remain strongly attracted to their countries of origin. A dozen years ago, so many migrants to the U.S. from Ghana wanted to retire in Ghana that a Texas home builder built hundreds of homes in Accra for them. And so on. My best Senegalese friend, who works in Chase bank as an executive, insists that his entire family watch TV from Dakara every night — in Woloff, his native language. Maintaining roots (homeland) and wings (integration into American society) are old hat in this country. A week ago, I had two Nigerian men over for dinner — and their pregnant wives, both of whom their husbands met by going on wife-hunting trips to Lagos. In many ways, Africans in America care deeply about both maintaining their roots in their new homes, but also preserving and promoting what’s best about where they came from.
Jul 03 2013
Obama salvaged an awkwardly-timed visit to Tanzania and South Africa with a fresh call for U.S.-Africa relations to build around self-reliance and mutual benefit rather than humanitarian assistance and charity. But as I argue in a new essay in In These Times, Obama has militarized African affairs in many ways during his Presidency and he must somehow find a basis for addressing Africa beyond the prism of national security.
Jun 10 2013
See three related links to articles in the new issue of Spectrum magazine that explore advances in African agriculture — forces lifting tens of millions into the middle class, reeducing poverty and helping the entire planet meet its food needs. Spectrum is publishing the articles under the headline of “Africa: Continent of Plenty: Ten reasons why Africa can feed itself—and help feed the rest of the world too.”
Mar 22 2013
Chinua Achebe’s death at the age of 82 robs us of a great man but compels us to appreciate anew his stunning works of fiction, essays and memoir. Achebe spoke to Africans and non-Africans differently but urgently. For more than half a century he delivered revelatory insights about both the African condition and the human condition. In dying, he leaves a body of writing unmatched by any West African. While he never won the coveted Nobel Prize for literature, he received virtually every other literary acolade and won a place in the pantheon of the greatest 20th century writers. Achebe was beyond comparison but by anaology he was, in my view, what Orwell was for the British and what Camus was for the French. While his greatest works of fiction came in his youth, and while he lived for decades in a self-enforced excile in the United States, he was first and last a Nigerian, committed to the progress of his country. Even as he despaired of Africa’s problems, even as he wrote in sometimes contradictory ways about his education as a “British-protected child,” he took solace in his insistence that Africans would someday become the beacon of hope, intelligence and wisdom that he believed they were destined to become. At bottom, Achebe was a writer of conscience, of dignity, of purpose and seriousness. If Ngugi of Kenya bemoaned the colonization of the African’s mind by the colonial oppressor and neo-colonial experience, Achebe asked that we try our best to transcend the limitations of the past and to recognize that every tragedy contains within it a new dawn.
Mar 18 2013
The discerning editors at the august and influential World Policy Journal have produced an important issue devoted to the political economy of the sub-Saharanm entitled “Africa’s Moment.” Of special value in the issue are the conversation with Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, and a series of contributions, by African thinkers, addressing the important question of “what role should technology play in Africa’s development.”
The following framing paragraph from the WPJ editors both sets the tone of the special issue and underscores the profound shift in attitudes about the future of a region once often dismissed as hopeless and increasingly viewed as a global success story with plenty of good news to come:
“Africa has had moments of hope and optimism in the past, but this one seems different. The diverse continent of 54 sovereign nations appears ready for a genuine, lasting takeoff. Over the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies have been African. Across the continent, civil wars and despots are giving way to prosperity and democracy. Mobile technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of life. Underwater aquifers have been mapped under some of Africa’s driest regions.”
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