Oct 19 2006

Hotel Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:30 PM

Three cheers to the U.S. government for agreeing to permit 10,000 people from war-torn Burundi into America, on a permanent basis. Burundi has been in near-continuous conflict for decades, and these Burundians will welcome a chance to build lives free from strife. They also will join a vibrant and very diverse community of black Africans — now about 1 millionstrong — in the U.S. As the African-born community grows in the U.S., the ties between Africa and the U.S. will grow. And these ties will be based on real mutual interests, rather than charitable motivations. The new African immigrants to America are the subject of a long essay of mine in the summer issue of The Wilson Quarterly, one of the nation’s leading literary magazines.

See the full article, which includes a striking photo of a machete-wielding Nigerian woman who is also my wife.


Oct 17 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:30 PM

“Famine is conquerable. It has been eradicated from most of the world. But in some countries in Africa human suffering seems to be getting more rather than less common. This is a tragedy and a scandal: setting it right is what motivates the best humanitarians.” – Alex de Waal, 1997


Oct 15 2006

Microlending 2

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:58 AM

Ryan Shen-Hoover, of the newsletter Investing in Africa writes to remind me that a microlender in Angola, Novobank, is reportedly compiling a good record of making small loans to poor Angolans. I’m glad to hear this. My skepticism partly comes from my knowledge of the Angolan government’s practice of stealing billions of dollars of oil revenues each year. The government, essentially run by a small clique of aging independence leaders (who with the help of Cuban mercenaries over some 25 years consolidated control over the capital of this country), refuses to publicly account for the vast and growing revenues received from oil companies, including some British and American ones. The standard set by the government of Angola is so low that it is hard to imagine a well-functioning financial organization in the country, especially one devoted to the poor. But precisely because the scenario is impossible to imagine, it is most likely true. Africa is full of paradoxes and one of the best ways of thinking about African reality is to juxtapose an image of “islands of success” alongside “islands of failure.” These two distinct islands co-evolve in most African countries, which explains why it is so hard to assess the overall state of these countries. Is the glass half full or half empty? In Angola, no matter what Novobank achieves as a micro-lender, its success will always be limited by the venal clique that rules this oil-rich country. And — news flash — there is no regime change in the offing either.


Oct 13 2006

Asia in Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:41 PM

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus is much deserved, and
raises the question of whether microfinance — such a smashing success in
South Asia — is working in Africa. While it is hard to generalize of course,
in many cases microfinance projects have failed in Africa because the social
cohesion is not of the same nature as in South Asia. In short, it is easy to
welch on a debt in Africa. The social sanctions against doing so are weak
and indeed there are social norms that encourage welching (ie, free-riding).
All public-service organizations, including the NGOs, are somehow conflated
with the national government in the minds of ordinary Africans, making these
institutions fair-game for looting. This usually includes micro-finance
outfits. Microfince ought to have a larger effect on African economies, but
proponents need to think more deeply about the specific conditions in
africa, and not simply try to marry the asian experience to the african
situation. Microfinance operations in some parts of Africa are charging very
high interest-rates and behaving like banks, whose high costs are well
known. In Uganda, the government has moved to regulate microfinance
operators in an effort to bring down rates. The wider issue is
participation. Too many Africans have no access to credit and rural Africans
are especially cut off. Microfinance has the potential to remedy this
problem, however new methods of expanding credit must emerge in Africa to
address a different set of challenges.


Oct 10 2006

Hunter-Gault’s reflections on moving beyond mayhem

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:52 PM

Charlayne Hunter-Gault has focused her recent career on covering Africa from
a positive perspective. Sometimes she’s ignored vexing problems to maintain
a constructive stance. In general, however, her reports provide a useful
antidote to the mainstream media’s relentless emphasis on the negative.
Hunter-Gault sees beyond the ambulance-chasing that defines television
coverage of Africa and even greatly influences the reporting of the essential
New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times. For a better understanding of
her approach, read her revealing interview in AllAfrica.com.


Oct 10 2006

Straw Tech

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:48 PM

The brief report today on a $3 water purifier — a straw that hangs around
the neck and purportedly lasts for a year — is a reminder of the potential for small, ultra-inexpensive tools to transform material life for the African poor. I’m not sure there have been any true breakthroughs yet, though if this example holds up in the field, it will qualify. Tiny cheap tools, designed for ordinary Africans, is a space
worth watching. Prices need to fall below $5 and acceptance will likely come
first in the rugged environs of India and China.


Oct 09 2006

Elephant Man

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:42 PM

I am trying to sell a yarn about elephants in Africa, so I wasn’t cheered to
see the Times magazine put an elephant on its cover on Sunday.
The story is clever, creative journalism but badly misses the big issue in obsessing over the question of the mental health of pachyderms. Elephants need a lot of
space, for feeding and recreation, so whether they are crazy or not, they
are bound to collide with human beings. And especially the folks in Africa,
who are multiplying at a high enough rate to require more land themselves.
Thus, elephants are a burden, and they will continue to be a burden, so long
as their populations are recovering (and they are in Africa). The question
of elephant psychology, however interesting dinner chatter, is of no real
consequence. Human psychology, in this as in so many other realms of
experience, is decisive. Elephants are mere infants in the game of
psychopathology played daily by homo sapiens. We need more articles on what
disturbs us.

While human self-destruction is endlessly interesting, elephant attacks
are more than a footnote, if only because they can be lethal in the extreme.
Consider the death of a British man last week. Patrick Smith was visiting
Kenya on his honeymoon when an elephant in the Masai Mara national park
trampled him to death in front of his new wife. Picking up the story filed
by Associated Press, the couple, married only one week:  “had arrived in Kenya for their honeymoon and were staying at the luxury Richard’s Camp lodge in the game reserve. The camp is on the edge of a forest in the Masai Mara conservation area, about 100 miles southwest of the capital, Nairobi.”

“The couple set out for their nature walk Sunday morning and were with a
Masai guide just 330 yards outside the camp when the elephant attacked,
Maina said.”

”We think the elephant must have been at very close proximity to the
couple and was surprised,” she said. ”They don’t normally do this kind of
thing. It is terrible. The wife saw what happened. I am told the wife is OK
but is shaken up.”

“Jake Grieves-Cook, chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, said the
elephant knocked over their guide but the wife escaped injury.”

”No one knows what startled the elephants, but the guide was doing
everything right. They were downwind and thought they were a safe distance.
Elephants have very poor eyesight, so this was not an attack,” he said.
”It was a tragic accident.”

“Tourist officials said the tented camp, in the northwestern corner of
the Masai Mara, would be closed for several days because of the accident.”

“Julie Smith and her husband’s body were flown back to Nairobi. She was
expected to leave for Britain later Monday.”

“Kenya’s elephant population is estimated at 35,000, down from a peak of
167,000 in the 1970s due to rampant poaching.”

“According to Kenya’s Wildlife Service, the last tourist killed by an
elephant in Kenya was in 2000. But there are frequent incidents between
elephants and villagers in rural areas. In August, Kenyan officials shot
dead a pair of rogue elephants who had killed four people in the north.”


Oct 09 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:23 PM

“Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto
you.” – Kwame Nkrumah, 1957


Oct 06 2006

Africa is Hot in Hollywood

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:47 PM

From “Blood Diamonds,” filmed in Mozambique, to “The Last King of Scotland,”
about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Africa is hot stuff for the pop-culture
machine. The question remains whether Hollywood can promote a deeper
appreciation of African people, and a deeper understanding of African
problems, than the cartoon depictions usually presented on TV and the Big
Screen. What’s sure, though, is Africa deserves wider attention – and by
filming thsese movies on location, Hollywood is bringing money and some jobs
to the region.

Hotel Rwanda, one of the best movies of 2004, signaled a break with
Hollywood’s tired past of telling African stories through American or
European eyes (think Out of Africa, Casablanca, even Tarzan). Hotel Rwanda,
which starred Don Cheadle, told the story of a Rwandese hotelier who tries
to save Tutsis from genocidal execution. In presenting the successful drama
through the eyes of an African, Hotel Rwanda marked “a huge change,” a
Hollywood director told USA Today. “I think (the studios) saw that audiences
are willing to movies that don’t just mirror their own lives.”

Read U.S.A. Today’s story on Thursday on Hollywood’s infatuation with
African themes and locations.


Oct 05 2006

Does Anderson Cooper Have No Shame

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:39 PM

Here is how the CNN correspondent promotes his program on the Congo this evening. Surrounded by small African children he asks the question: “After all the atrocities how do the children in africa’s killing fields find their way back to hope?” Can Anderson tell us?


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