Dec 28 2006

Save the Children

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:14 PM

Michael Wines’ long piece on malnourished children in Ethiopia is latest installment of an unacknowledged series in the New York Times about the problems of childhood in Africa. Wines has done excellent earlier story on child labor in Zambia and a colleague on children toil on fishing boats in Ghana. These two earlier articles were shocking because of their locations: Ghana and Zambia are among the wealthier and better-run African countries.
In Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa, malnutrition is a longstanding problem that hampers cognitive development of children (ie, intelligence) as well as physical strength. The article, despite its fine documentation, is ultimately disheartening, repeating the usual cliche that solutions (to vitamin deficiency, in this case) are available, they are relatively inexpensive and yet too often ignored. Wines finds that Africa “has far to go” in this area. Yes, indeed. But how to get there?

Dec 28 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:06 PM

“Using Africa to prove a point about African Americans was, far more often
than not, what Africa meant to African Americans.”
— David Levering Lewis

Dec 28 2006

Never Lonely, Nigeria

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:05 PM

I am never lonely on email. One of my most ardent suitors are the many letter writers propositioning me with various “advance fee” frauds. These are the missives that begin with a story (“I have a large sum of money”) end with a plea of help (“the money can only be recovered with your assistance, for which you will receive a handsome benefit”). The letter writers tend to be fairly ignorant of politics and history, but one one such writer, making the rounds in the past few weeks, invokes the notorious Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who during the 1990s terrorized his country’s journalists, looted its oil money and generally drove the already low-standard of governance down to levels unimagined by even the most cynical Nigerians.
Abacha is dead, but he remains of use, improbably to the innovators in the field of advance-fee fraud. According to this letter, Abacha’s wife needs assistance. Show unexpected intimacy with a total stranger, she writes me for a second time:
Dear Beloved,
I need your sincere help and i want to put my trust in you.Due to the sudden death of my husband General Abacha the former head of state of Nigeria in June 1998, I have been thrown into a state of hopelessness by the present administration.I have lost confidence with anybody within my country. I got your contacts through personal research, and had to reach you through this medium. I will give you more details when you reply. Due to security network placed on my daily affairs I cant visit the embassy so that is why I have contacted you.My Husband deposited $12.6million dollars with a security firm abroad whose name is witheld for now till we communicate. I will be happy if you can receive this funds and keep it safe I assure you something “of this fund. I will need your telephone/mobile numbers so that i can forward it to my son Mustapha to enable him reach you and also discuss with you the modalities of the transaction and hence commence communication. Awaiting your response via my private email address. Yours truly, Hajia Mariam

Dec 23 2006

Harvesting Cash

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:06 PM

African farmers have plenty of burdens. Unpredictable weather. Poor soils and a lack of fertilizer to return nutrients to the earth. Lousy roads and weak ways of storing crops post-harvest. None of these problems are easy to repair, and all of them contribute to the low ranking of African farmers: on world tables, they rank as the poorest, least productive farmers in the world. One reason for this is getting more attention: large subsidies paid to American farmers who export large quanities of some of the crops most prized by Africans, notably corn and cotton. Next year, Congress will debate whether to continue these subsidies which total billions of dollars a year and allow American farmers to sell crops around the world at prices that don’t even cover their growing costs. The effect is to drive down international prices by as much 15 percent on cotton, for instance. African growers, who collectively are the second largest supplier of cotton to world markets, are big losers from American cotton “dumping.” The remedy: get rid of the subsidies.
Until the election in November there seemed little chance of that happening. Republicans have been formidable advocates of maintaining these welfare payments to farmers, who are concentrated in “Red” states. But with Democrats sweeping the elections last month, and gaining control of Congress, there is renewed hope among friends of Africa, that subsidies can be reduced, if not eliminated altogether. To understand the shifting politics around farm subsidies, see a new series from The Washington Post:

Dec 15 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:11 PM

“There is anarchy, yes. But have ordinary Nigerians given up on democracy?
— Ike Okonta

Dec 14 2006

Fear and Loathing in Nigeria

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:47 PM

The prospect of national elections in Nigeria – set for this coming April – has focused Big Media attention on the country, which is one of the largest oil suppliers to the U.S. First, there was George Packer’s superb profile of Lagos in The New Yorker. Then Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times has produced two strong pieces on the yawning divide between haves and have-nots in Nigeria, and the perilous politics pursued by the country’s debauched elites
Nowhere in Nigeria are the contradictions more painful than in the Niger Delta, the old stomping grounds of my wife Chizo Okon and the center of the failed seccessionist state of Biafra. The Niger Delta is the center of Nigeria’s oil production – and a great deal of conflict, tension and mystery these days. Last weekend, Chizo and I hosted one of the most visible and active journalists on the Niger Delta, Ibiba don Pedro. Ibiba, who served as my wife’s “best woman” at our wedding, three years ago, was in the U.S. to visit Houston, where her ethnic group, the Ijaw, held a conference to launch the U.S. chapter of the Ijaw national congress. Ibiba, who has twice won African journalist of the year (the second time, from CNN, in 2003), turned up in northern California for a couple of days carrying a copy of her newest book, “Oil in the Water: crude power and militancy in the Niger Delta.” The book is a collection of her most recent journalism – “a collection,” in her words, “that captures discord, disharmony and the searingly disruptive impact of the production of crude oil in the lives” of ordinary Nigerians. Ibiba’s message is hopeful. She thinks economic justice is possible in the long-run in her country, the most populous in Africa. But nearer-term, she fears more violence and disappointing and disputed elections. Her one chilling prediction: current Nigerian president, Obasanjo, will cancel the elections, citing instability in the country. Obasanjo cannot run for a third term (and failed in an effort earlier this year to get Nigeria’s congress to allow him to run again). Evidence for Ibiba’s prediction is scant, however in a telling sign that Ibiba may be correct, Obasanjo’s party has yet to select his successor.

Dec 13 2006


Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:13 PM

In its new forecast for the global economy, the World Bank remains bullish on overall growth for sub-Saharan Africa. Higher prices for commodities, oil and other raw materials are providing a strong foundation for growth in many countries. Aid flows are up too, which helps, and so are remittances — money sent from the millions of Africans living in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East. How much of this growth is trickling down to ordinary Africans? Not much. But the overall environment for helping the poor in Africa is better than any time in many years. “Robust growth in the region reflects favorable economic conditions and a substantially improved domestic policy environment,” writes the World Bank approvingly in a report released Wednesday.

Dec 13 2006

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:09 PM

“Africa is creating for itself a time of opportunity the life of which we
have not seen for a generation.” — Jan Eliasson, speaker of U.N. General
Assembly, Oct. 2005

Dec 13 2006

Action, Not Hope

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:08 PM

I shared a couple of beers the other night with the important environmental writer, Tom Athanasiou, author of the seminal, “Divided Planet,” and more recently the co-author of “Dead Heat,” from Seven Stories Press. Athanasiou, whose latest ideas can be surveyed at, is increasingly concerned about the effect of climate change on Africans. In Malawi, in September, I heard the concerns of ordinary farmers worried about unpredictable weather. I also met with the country’s leading climate-change scientists. Athanasiou’s projections are indeed sobering (even over beers) because he thinks that the climate situation is worse than even the pessmists like Al Gore say. In the rich “North,” immediate and dramatic action is at least possible to contemplate. The resources exist to make even radical adaptations in pursuit of preserving something of our way of life. But what of Africa? How can people and resources be mobilized against climate change at the same time as the battle against AIDS, government corruption and ethnic strife is also being fought? Athanasiou tells me he is at work on a new book. We can’t have it too soon. A gifted writer, Athanasiou is also unafraid of courting unpopularity. People want to hear a hopeful message, even about climate change. But according to Athanasiou, action must trump hope.

Dec 06 2006

The bitter fruits of “good” losers

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:41 PM

In Zambia, an opposition leader who gracefully stood aside after a disputed presidential poll earlier this year is getting an undeserved “reward” this week: an arrest on charges of making false statements about himself.
The dissenter, Michael Sata, clearly won the majority of votes in Zambia’s cities, outpolling incumbent president Levy Mwanawasa, who piled up huge majorities of his own in rural areas. Sata is widely believed to have been cheated of victory by Mwanawasa, who won a second term as president in October with an official vote of 43 percent. Rather take to the streets in protest against the disputed Mwanawasa victory, Sata took the high road and promised to maintain a vigilant opposition to the incumbent president. The specter of close monitor by critics must be too much for Mwanawasa, who has been dubbed “Mr. Lucky” because soaring copper prices have boosted Zambia’s economy this year, obscuring the lack of achievements by Mwanawasa’s government. “The government is very scared of me,” Mr Sata told the French Press Agency after his release on bail. If convicted of making false statements in connection with his election filings, Sata could serve too years in jail. The hounding of Sata is sad for Zambia, where the copper boom could reverse years of decline in one of the most peaceful and well-endowed African countries. Sata’s plight also is a reminder of the tendency towards sham democracies in many African countries, where presidents prevail in flawed elections and then relentlessly hound their political opponents (or co-opt them through bribery), paving the way for easier election victories in the future.

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