The annual World Bank publication, African Development Indicators (ADI) 2006, depicts a diverse continent, with several countries making remarkable progress, some stagnating and others lagging seriously behind. The full spectrum of achievers and laggards stretches from Zimbabwe, which recorded a negative growth rate of 2.4 percent – the only country with a negative growth rate in 2004 on the continent – to Equatorial Guinea, which recorded a 20.9 percent growth rate.
Oct 27 2006
The African telecom tycoon, Mo Ibrahim of Sudan, has conceived of an interesting idea to encourage aging African heads of state to retire (Time story). He’s offering them a stipend of $500,000 a year, plus assorted other goodies, to step down from office and yet still live with style. Ibrahim has gathered some big names in international diplomacy to make the selections, and he is receiving praise (New York Times) for injecting an African perspective to acts of philanthropy associated mostly with wealthy people from the U.S. (Bill Gates, Oprah, Warren Buffet) and celebrities such as Bono. The one obvious flaw in Ibrahim’s approach: will any African leaders volunteer to accept the award, since leaving office will cost them, personally, far more money than Ibrahim can offer. In short, has Ibrahim simply come up with a more polite way of offering bribes to leaders who’ve gorged themselves on corruption and unaccountable political behavior? Ibrahim says he doesn’t intend to reward bad “big men,” so that raises the question of whether the award will have any real effect on African politics if the money will only go towards leaders who were otherwise leaving the political stage. My conceptual objection is a mere quibble, however. Ibrahim is setting a good example for wealthy people in Africa by showing the importance of getting involved and tackling big social and political problems. Next, maybe a wealthy African will encourage grass-roots political action; that’s another missing piece of the African landscape.
Oct 26 2006
Congo’s crucial second round of elections occur this weekend. I have called for the U.N.-funded elections to be scrapped because they pit an illegal head of state, Joseph Kabila, against a criminal militia chief, Jean Pierre Bemba (see my Chronicle article of Sept. 3). With the deep-pocketed support of international donors, Kabila is the likely winner. He gives lip service to donor-driven agendas which are likely to produce nothing more than White Elephants in the Congo’s unhinged political culture. Bemba, the likely loser, at least represents a frank admission that ethnicity matters a great deal in the Congo and that forging a unitary state out of the Congo’s vast diversity is a hollow exercize. For more background on the electoral contest in the Congo, see IRIN’s “Countdown in Congo” in coverage.
Oct 26 2006
“Our guys have no life after office. Suddenly, all the mansions, cars, food,
wine is withdrawn. Some find it difficult to rent a house in the capital.
That incites corruption; it incites people to cling to power.” Â — Sudan’s
Mo Ibrahim on Africa’s tired heads of state
Oct 25 2006
The pop diva first goes to Malawi to adopt an AIDS “orphan.” But the child turns out not to be orphaned. She takes the kid to England anyway. In Malawi- a poor southern African country — her critics mushroom and call for the return of the child. So what does Madonna do? She goes on Oprah to talk about her misadventures “saving” Africans. See my take on the Orphan Affair on Alternet, where judging by the comments, fans of Madonna are rallying behind her.
Oct 24 2006
Interesting how the NYT’s reporter on ground today tells us, finally, that Darfur is a civil war (this after she was positively certain a mere 2 months ago of Darfur as prototypical genocide). And no more columns (yet) from Nick Kristoff reminding the world of the awful genocide in Sudan either. What I wrote three months ago in the SF Chronicle still stands: no nations wants to intervene militarily in a raging battle between the Sudan government and murderous rebel groups. Even if the rebels have a just cause, and they do, military intervention by the U.S. and U.N. in Sudan face dramatically different terms when both Sudanese “sides” are armed and no one is “defenceless” or committed to non-violence.
For an in-depth but brief survey of the issues presented by Darfur, read Gerard Prunier’s masterful book, “Darfur: an Ambiguous Genocide” (Cornell,2005).
There’s still a case to be made for overthrowing the Sudan national govt but that’s an argument for another day.
Oct 24 2006
“Nigeria is a basket case today because her people were still under unaccountable colonial rule when oil was discovered in the Niger Delta in 1956.” — Ike Okonta
Oct 23 2006
The New York Times can’t put dead Americans in Iraq on its front page, by order of the U.S. government, but African governments have no power over the paper — so dead Africans are regular guests on page one of the New York Times. Today’s photo of three dead Sudanese, reportedly people killed by rebel forces in Darfur, is the latest example of how Africans are fodder for the pornography of violence that periodically erupts in American media
I think editors are justified in publishing photos of the dead. The horror of war is a legitimate subject for the media. But let’s not hew to a double-standard, depicting the dead Africans, because no one can speak on their behalf, while withholding the photos of dead Americans in Iraq, because the U.S. government holds powerful sway over newspapers and broadcasters in America. My point seems especially relevant this month, when more than 80 Americans have died in combat in Iraq. The New York Times hasn’t published any photos of these war dead (though the paper did provide a good account of the eye-witness films of Americans getting killed in Iraq that are available on the Web).
So long as the Times and other media protect the dignity of Americans killed in combat by not showing them lying dead in the dirt, Africans should be afforded the same dignity.
Oct 23 2006
This Saturday morning my wife is braiding the hair of a Catholic nun from Nigeria. The two women are about the same age (mid-30s) and both live in the Bay Area, where liberal ideas dominate and tolerance is taken for granted. The activity is taking place in my living room, so I can eavesdrop easily. I once again am amazed by the enthusiasm Nigerians have for the own country.
â€œI love my country, Nigeria,â€ the nun starts off.
â€œI donâ€™t care what Nigerians do,â€ my wife says. â€œThey are the most
wonderful people in the world.â€
â€œWeâ€™re all not cheats,â€ the nun says, referring to the negative image
of Nigerians as crooks.
â€œNigerian are happy,â€: my wife says. â€œThey find a way to celebrate life.â€
â€œI love life,â€ the nun says.
â€œIf you donâ€™t have money, youâ€™ll still groove,â€ my wife says.
â€œYes, youâ€™ll always groove in Nigeria.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll find friends, and enjoy life,â€ my wife says.
The nun smiles and declares: â€œI want to be reincarnated as a Nigerian.â€
I have been listening quietly but now my mind is, as they say in
Berkeley, blown. Wow! She loves Nigeria so much she wants to be born again â€¦as a Nigerian.
â€œYou like Nigeria that much,â€ I say?
She laughs. â€œIn this country, people are suspicious of Nigerians, but
most of them are fine,â€ she says. â€œPeople are only running from Nigeria because of poverty. Thereâ€™s plenty of money in the country, from oil. The money is there, but it is in the hands of a greedy few.â€
Greed and the violence men, she says, are undermining prosperity inNigeria. â€œMen get with anything,â€ she says. â€œThey beat their wives. They take other women. They even bring them home.â€ She then tells the story of her late father who brought home many girlfriends to join his own wife and children for dinner.
A more pressing problem is male violence. â€œThey kill people like chickens in Nigeria,â€ she says. â€œYou kill a human being and no one questions you.â€
Since the nun is married to Jesus, she need not worry about the antics of Nigerian men. â€œIâ€™m happy to be myself,â€ she says. My wife adds that she waited so long to marry because â€œI didnâ€™t want to marry and suffer.â€ In Nigeria, she says, â€œWomen suffer too much.
For a less feminine but still sobering perspective on Nigeriaâ€™s problems as a national approaches, see the report on the country in the new Economist.
Oct 20 2006
I spent Monday evening giving a lecture at Colorado College on the subject of poverty in Africa, its root causes and plausible steps towards amelioration. One example I gave, of the way European countries continue to dominate economically former African colonies, involves the curious popularity in Accra, Ghana of German-grown oats. I’ve eaten these imported oats myself and agree they are tasty. But not so tasty as to make me stop wondering how Germany manages to win over African consumers with a breakfast food that’s alien to their menus. For many European countries, including Germany, Africa represents an important market for their foods, even though Africans grow or make some of these foods on their own. Italians sell canned tomatoes in Ghana. The French sell cheese. The British sell chocolate, none of which uses cocoa, one of Ghana’s biggest export crops. European commercial interests in Africa are often overlooked, not the least because Europeans talk so much about the foreign aid they offer. In a rare break with this practice, the German government on Wednesday said that it plans to encourage private-sector development in Africa when it assumes the presidency of the G8 organization next January The G8 represents the world’s richest countries and the organization often tries to set standards or policy directions. The German government’s recognition of the importance of the private sector seems banal, or even suggests that development officials in Berlin have been asleep for decades are awakening only now. A more generous interpretation is that German officials are fully aware of the profits earned by European corporations in Africa and hope to encourage more penetration of African markets in the future. The lack of candor by German officials may simply be the result of embarassment over the trading surpluses that their country piles up with various African nations.
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