May 25 2007

the death of the Igbo Frank Sinatra (1)

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:51 PM

Nigeria’s Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe dead (UPI, May 21, 2007)

LOS ANGELES, CA, USA –   Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, whose tune “Osondi Owendi” was the most popular record ever in Nigeria, has died in Waterbury, Conn., of lung failure at 71.

The Nigerian native was known as a titan of the popular African music genre called highlife, and as widely regarded as the “Doctor of Hypertention” because of the soothing effects of his music, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

“In Nigeria he’s loved not only by one ethnic group but by all the ethnic groups,” said Nnamdi Moweta, Osadebe’s manager and the host of Radio Afrodicia on KPFK-FM, Los Angeles. “When you live in a country like Nigeria … people go through a lot to survive, and we look for avenues to soothe this daily pain that we go through. His music played a very important role.”

Osadebe may not have created highlife music, but he did reinvent it by adding the merengue and rumba, said Moweta.

Also, Osadebe was a countryman through and through.

“A country without music is a dead nation,” Osadebe told the Sun. “Nigerian musicians are great people, and musically Nigeria is great. The unfortunate thing is that we are not accorded the recognition due to us.”

May 21 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:43 AM

“The African has been taught to abandon his old ways, yet he is not accepted in the new world even when he has mastered its ways. There seems to be no bridge, and this is the source of his terrible loneliness.” — Colin M. Turnbull, 1962

May 21 2007

Africa’s PR problem

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:40 AM

The May 28 issue of Time gave Don Cheadle, the star of the movie Hotel Rwanda, a generous platform to discuss problems in Africa. The whole of page six is devoted to Cheadle’s thoughts on Darfur and other issues. That Cheadle is viewed as a guru on matters African is a strange commentary. Yet he gets some part of the problem: the mis-represenations of Africa by so-called experts in the “field.” That he can make declarations such as the following nevertheless raise doubts about his “guru” qualifications:

Q: What is the greatest need of the African people?

Cheadle: One thing they need is better p.r. The news loves to talk about all the terrible situations, but it is very resistant to talk about the success. Liberia has a female president. That is huge, isn’t it. Cameroon has turned itself around. If people in this country think of Africa as a place with kids and flies swarming around their heads, then they won’t understand that these people are you and you are them.”

May 19 2007

the Lonely African

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:40 PM

I make a habit of collecting books about Africa ready in the twilight of colonialism (the late 1950s) and the early, heady and exuberant first years after independence. The outburst of independent African nations was accompanied by immense optimism and many leading scholars took turns in assessing the prospects for these newly freed peoples. Yesterday I picked up one of the most curious of these books, “The Lonely African,” by Colin Turnbull. An anthropologist, Turnbull is largely forgotten today but in the 1960s he was hugely popular for his romantic, closely detailed studies of “bush” Africas, people of the land who were being marginalized by the twin processes of modernization: political independence and urbanization.

In Turnbull’s first, pregnant line, he signals his immense appreciation for the polyglot character of the African continent. “It may be unneccesary to point out that Africa is not one vast jungle,” he writes, infested with animals and savages, but it is worth pointing out the immense geographical diversity of the African continent, a diversity matched by an equal diversity of peoples and cultures.”

Turnbull’s insights ring true, even today, 45 years after he published them. In 1962, when broadbrush labels for blacks and Africans were commonplace and indeed corrosive and chiefly negative, Turnbull’s perspective was fresh, arresting and even revolutionary. Yet in “The Lonely African,” as the title suggests, Turnbull insists upon a unitary African character and one that is rather confused, ill-suited to changing conditions and existentially bereft, trapped between “tradition” and modernity. In one typical observation, he writes, “In all the various situations in which the African has to choose between the old and the new he is in a dilemma, because he can accept neither with his whole heart and being.”
Turnbull’s comments are weirdly universal; the “African heart” is no more epistemologically grounded than the “Jewish soul” or the “Irish brain.” Less obvious is Turnbull’s embrace a duality, so popular at the time of African independence among intellectuals both African and non-African, that has come today to be seen as a false divide. Today we are comfortabe embrace both the old and new, mixing and matching the past, present and future, creating a melange that bears no resemblance to simplistic notions, even of post-modernity. Hence, the very title of Turnbull’s book evokes a bygone, an era of confusion and misdirection, a time that inspires our nostalgic ardor while at the same time crumbling on closer inspection. In these lonely times of ours, we do well to recall how far we have come.

May 17 2007

Wiring Africa, from a Canadian perspective

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:18 PM

Television Ontario, a major Canadian broadcaster, had me on a show called Agenda last night, discussing how wireless telephony is transforming the lives of ordinary Africans and speeding the pace of development, at least in conflict-free parts of the sub-Saharan. I was joined on the program by some interesting guests, including the incomparable George Ayittey, the political economist from Ghana. In the scant time I was allowed on camera, I hit my usual hobby horses about cell phones in Africa. I criticized the cartels that impose high prices. I highlighted the trend toward inequality among Africans and the deepening of the rural-urban divide. Finally, I said that donors were missing an opportunity to help civil society and government tackle the challenge of the private-sector-led telephony. Private companies are essential to expanding cell-phone services but there are stubborn market failures, such as the high cost of service. These can only be addressed by an alliance of citizens and government reformers. Despite these complaints, I underscored how cell phones are vastly improving the quality of life in Africa and, perhaps most significantly, strengthening links between Africans living in Europe and America with those at home. Most Africans, even those living in rural areas, are now only a cheap phone call away from favored loved ones in rich societies. Out of these phone calls come hopes and plans, reassurances and inspiration.

To see me prattle on about this topic,go to Agenda’s site, where the whole broadcast can be viewed.

May 17 2007

the invisible cure

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:07 PM

In today’s Salon, I write about some of the lessons gleaned on the importance of African self-reliance contained in Helen Epstein’s landmark book on AIDS in Africa. “Western do-gooders may want to help Africa stop the AIDS epidemic,” Salon’s editors write in the lead-in to my piece. “But Helen Epstein’s new book shows the most effective solutions are often the continent’s own.” After reading the piece, my friend Tom Higgins notes sagely: “You have to marvel at the stubborn resistance to simple lessons.” Donors aren’t likely to embrace the grassroots any time soon, either, because of the inherent logic of foreign assistance and international philanthropy.

May 16 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:28 AM

“Sub-Saharan Africa is the last great region of the world not to issue external sovereign bonds at all.” — Jerome Booth

May 08 2007

Wall Street

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:25 PM

My old newspaper, the Journal, summarized my latest article on African electricity issues in today’s edition. Worth quoting in full, if only for the repeated references to me as Mr. Zachary:

Small Dams Might Help to Electrify Africa

Small dams could help deliver electricity to much of Africa’s population, but since they lack the prestige of larger-scale projects, few of them get built.

Fewer than 10% of sub-Saharan Africans are connected to the electricity grid, and those people and institutions that do have power often depend heavily on dams. In addition, much of Africa is prone to droughts, which means that the sprawling dams that dominate the continent’s rivers rarely operate at full capacity.

Writing in IEEE Spectrum, a magazine published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, G. Pascal Zachary says small- and micro-size dams represent a better approach to electrifying the continent than their larger cousins. The smaller dams, which can work with water from fast-moving streams and rivers, can provide electricity to remote areas and are simpler and less costly to construct. They have a smaller environmental impact and are easier to remove if a river runs dry or the dam severely disrupts local agriculture.

In Uganda, which has plenty of rivers and streams to supply power, Mr. Zachary describes how a small water-power generator, supplied by a small nearby dam, delivers 60 kilowatts of energy to a nearby hospital. The generator would barely be enough to run a single magnetic-resonance imaging machine, a staple in Western hospitals. But it does provide enough power to light the hospital and keep basic equipment running for the 100 nurses and doctors who work there. The entire generation system cost $15,000 to build.

Still, Africa’s leaders are unlikely to abandon their preference for big public works, says Mr. Zachary, since they create thousands of construction jobs and reinforce the political might of the central government. Why not build both big and small dams? Uganda’s president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, says big dams are crucial to solving the country’s power problems, but a top energy adviser to the government says a mix of both kinds of projects is on the horizon.

May 05 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:12 PM

“The government has promised and promised to bring electricity to this village and never has. “So we  did it ourselves.” — Sabuni Seezi, of Uganda

May 05 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:50 PM

“For Africans, electricity remains an elusive technology, difficult to master.” — GPZ

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