Oct 31 2007

Rwanda Rising

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:27 PM

A new optimistic study from George Mason University of Rwanda’s coffee industry that’s indicative of the new enthusiasm for coffee growing in East and Central Africa. The report, while well documented, mirrors an earlier report by Cehmonix, a contractor to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has spent relatively generously on training of Rwandan coffee farmers and market-access assistance. Alas, the report doesn’t identify the serious obstacles that Starbucks has faced moving volume out of the country. Still, the rise of Rwanda’s speciality coffee sector is impressive, and another sign of the growing wealth (and potential) of agricultural producers in Africa. Friday and Saturday in Sacramento, Rwandans living in the U.S. are meeting to discuss challenges facing the country, especially in the area of political economy. Since the 1994 genocide, English-speakers have come to dominate political, social and cultural life in Rwanda, starting with the country’s President Paul Kagame. The gathering in Sacramento includes some serious players in Rwanda’s economic reconstruction. Americanized Rwandans continue to play an important role in Rwanda.

Oct 29 2007

The New Nigerian can live anywhere (and probably does)

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:11 AM

The largest number of immigrants from Africa hail from Nigeria now, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census. As interesting as the lives of immigrants are (see my “Hotel Africa” in the 2006 summer issue  of The Wilson Quarterly for more), their children — raised in America — are even more interesting. And most interesting, at least as the temperature rises in this seasons National Football League competition, is the performance of some players of Nigerian origin (or ancestry). The NFL has been benefiting from Nigerian talent for some time, but this year’s newest defensive star, Osi Umenyiora is creating the biggest star yet. Born in London of Nigerian parents and raised in the U.S., Umenyiora set a record earlier this season for quarterback sacks. The defensive end is lighting quick. In a recent game, he stripped a running back of the ball, collected the ball on a bounce and raced more than 70 yards for a touchdown. That single play was perhaps the most breathtaking by a defensive linemen in many years.

Today Umenyiora got to play a football in his hometown of London, where the Giants played the Miami Dolphins (as a gambit to stimulate European interest in American football). Mainly because of the rain and  jet-lag, the game was  sluggish, but the occasion gave an opportunity for Umenyiora  and his colleagues to reflect on is hybridized identity.

Read this revealing excerpt from the New York Times on the player:

“Osi told me the other day he was from London,” [star receiver] Plaxico Burress said. “I said, ‘I thought you was from  Africa.’
“Burress was right, sort of. Umenyiora’s parents are Nigerian and he was reared in a household that embraced Nigeiran customs. Last off-season, he was made a chief in the Nigerian village of Okbunike.
“But Umenyiora … was born in Golders Green, a suburb of London. He has a British passport and once spoke with a cockney accent.
“I feel Nigerian,” said Umenyiora, who sounds more like he could have been born in Anywhere U.S.A. “But in actuality I’m British.”

What strikes me as both revealing and amusing is Umenyiora’s ease with which he embraces so many different identities — and the confidence with which he labels himself a Nigerian. For as a professional athlete living in America — and a man schooled in the grammar of British race relations — Umenyiora is a very unusual Nigerian indeed.

Or is he? In a book of mine called The Diversity Advantage, I predict that hybridized identities are the wave of the future. These new transnational forms of identity are an animating force that are reshaping Nigerian society (both home and away). And ultimately all African identities will become hybridized under the force of mass migration and the pressure of the sub-national affiliation on the failed “national project” of many “zombie” (aka “failed”) African nation-states.

Oct 28 2007

Mugabe: “Nothing lasts forever.”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:52 PM

I spent Saturday night at Yoshi’s in downtown Oakland, where the incomparable Oliver Mtukudzi, the singer/songwriter from Zimbabwe and one of Africa’s greatest musicians, led his Black Spirits band in two rousing one-hour sets. Genial and energetic on stage, Mtukudzi dance as well as sang, backed by two female vocalists and accompanied by his sweet-stepping conga player. Before the gig, I happened to be standing near the entrance to Yoshi’s, with my wife Chizo, when Mtukudzi walked in, his guitar slung on his back. After thanking him for the countless hours of enjoyment I’ve received from his music, I asked Mtukudzi about Zimbabwe, where the relentlessly destructive Robert Mugabe is making life increasingly miserable for people. “Nothing lasts forever,” Mtukudzi told me with a smile. I asked him if he is safe in Zimbabwe and he said yes — and that he plans to return to Harare on Monday. I asked about Mugabe’s baroque misrule and he pointedly refused to discuss the Zimbabwean dictator, letting his prediction (“nothing lasts forever”) speak for itself. On stage, he also refused to criticizes Mugabe, though in never mentioninghe president’s name, he dissed him by implication. In the second set, Mtukudzi performed his stunning song, “What does it take to be a hero?” While he made no reference to Zimbabwe’s president, clearly Mugabe is no hero, and Mtukudzi’s song is a reminder of the many namesless heroes who stand ready to rebuild this beautiful and bountiful country once the old “big man” is gone.

Oct 27 2007

Philanthropists and food aid

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:49 AM

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has taken note of my criticism of CARE International’s decision to continue accepting food donations –earmarked for Africa — from the U.S. government until 2009. The charity says the government assistance conflicts with its humanitarian mission because subsidized American farm goods compete with African crops and lowers prices paid to farmers. All bad. I pointed out in August that CARE should end the practice immediately, relieving African farmers of at least some of the burden of competing with donated food grown by American farmers.

Oct 26 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:55 PM

“What you have is the biggest bank in China joining forces with the biggest bank in Africa, but on a commercial, arm’s-length basis.” — Jack Maree, CEO, Standard Bank

Oct 26 2007

Darfur as consumerism, commodity fetishism

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:35 PM

The hoary Marxist term, “commodity fetishism,” long ago was dropped in the dung heap of history. Marxism, as opposed to Marx the man, has made no revival in recent years. Yet a favorite Marxist term seems wholly appropriate for a failed attempt by some French do-gooders to place putative orphans from Darfur with families living in Europe. As the BBC reports today, nine French citizens have been arrested in Chad over an alleged plan to fly more than 100 children out of the central African country, which borders the Darfur region of Sudan. The BBC reports that families in Europe paid as much or more than $1.4 million to arrange to receive one of the children. At this point, no one knows for sure where the children are actually from. The appetite for these children is more certain. When concern for human rights becomes synonymous with “ethical consumption,” the purchase of Darfurians is a logical outgrowth of internationalism. The commodification of human-rights victims thus becomes the end-game for humanitarian aid.

An absurd reification of discarded Marxist categories? Listen to the ring-leader of the aid group who admits to organizing the scheme: “There has never – I repeat – never been any question of us being an adoption agency,” she said. “These children were not intended for adoption. Our motives were simple: we just wanted to rescue them from death.” 

In a global economy, rescue itself becomes a transaction, and the goods in question are irrelevant so long as the motives of the brokers are only misguided but not malevolent.

Oct 22 2007

African heroism: a new chapter?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:26 PM
The BBC reports that former Mozambique president, Joaquim Chissano, has won the first Mo Ibrahim prize rewarding a retired African head of state for excellence in leadership.
The prize is a significant African initiative to highlight the capacity for Africans to solve their own problems. Ibrahim, who made a fortune assembling a lucrative network of mobile phone companies in Africa, believes that by offering African political leaders a graceful way out of office — and funds to lead a comfortable post-political life — that more of them will do so.
Chissano is credited with bringing peace to Mozambique.
Ibrahim, who hails from Sudan, has said he hopes his prize, paid out over ten years, will increase Africa’s self-sufficiency and bring a day when the continent’s people no longer need to live on aid.
Kofi Annan, one of the judges and former head of the U.N., praised Mr Chissano’s role at home and more widely in Africa. “His decision not to seek a third presidential term reinforced Mozambique’s democratic maturity and demonstrated that institutions and the democratic process were more important than personalities,” he told the BBC.

Oct 19 2007

Lucky Dube is Dead

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:20 PM

South Africa’s greatest male singer — and a reggae composer and performer who has attracted comparisons with the legendary Bob Marley — was shot dead in an attempted car-jacking in Johannesburg on Thursday night. The murder of Lucky Dube has shocked a South Africa grown weary of rampant killings. The country is believed to have the highest murder rate in the world and car-jackings are common and too often violent.
I was introduced to Dube’s music only six years ago in Ghana, where the country’s small Rasta community treated him with reverence and he was viewed as Marley’s musical (and moral) successor. Dube’s songs, such as “Together as One” and “Soul Taker,” highlighted the continuing blight of racism in the world. He also attacked the corruption, ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of African government. A brilliant singer, Dube was a major voice in African music for nearly 20 years. Only 43 years old at his death, he embodied one of the least understood cultural transformations in Africa: the influence of the black diaspora — not only from Jamaica but the U.S., Britain, Cuba and Brazil — on style and substance of Africa’s urban youth.

Oct 19 2007

Afrigo takes LA by Storm

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:07 PM

The inimitable Nnamdi Moweta, the tireless manager of the late Osiat Osadebe, helped stage two concerts earlier this month of Uganda’s incredible Afrigo Band, whom I have heard many times in Kampala. Led by Moses Matovu, Afrigo played two concerts in Los Angeles to close a three week tour of the U.S. The L.A. Times raved about the performances even though Afrigo played with a scaled-down band and without its trio of amazing dancers (led by the one and only Jasintah Wamboka). Even a rump version of Afrigo knocked out Moweta, a Nigerian-American who’d never heard the band live and in person. And the Times reviewer was similarly blown away, observing: “By the time Afrigo Band took the stage at Temple Bar in Santa Monica on Friday night, the room already felt a long way from Southern California. A good African club show is not just a concert but also a visit to another continent, and to many of the people crowding around the stage, it was clearly a chance to spend a few hours back home.”

Oct 19 2007

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:54 PM

“We need to give agriculture more prominence across the board. At the global level, countries must deliver on vital reforms such as cutting distorting subsidies and opening markets, while civil society groups, especially farmer organizations, need more say in setting the agricultural agenda.” — Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank President

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