Jan 31 2008

Must Africa’s leaders fail again?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:38 PM

The killing of a second opposition legislator — this time, by a policeman — heightens the sense of urgency for Kenya’s leaders — and African statesmen from around the region — over the breakdown of order in the east African country. One of the economic and social powerhouses of sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya’s drift into open ethnic warfare should simply be unacceptable to all friends of the region. Negotiations are of course essential, but a political settlement cannot be constructed out of thin air. To bring Kenya back from the brink, President Kibaki must unilaterally concede a good deal of his executive powers to his Odinga, who many independent observers believe received a raw (even rotten) deal following the Dec. 27 national elections.

African leaders often complain, loudly and bitterly, that they get no respect around the world. Now is the time to show that they deserve respect. Now is the time for them to set aside their vanities and trappings of power — and join the moral universe. Swift and pragmatic actions are required to restore Kenya to its rightful position in the world.

Jan 31 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:17 PM

“Kenya is a country that was a hope for the continent. Today, if you look at Kenya you see violence on the streets. We are even talking about ethnic cleansing. We are even talking about genocide. We cannot sit here with our hands folded.” — Alpha Konare

Jan 30 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:45 PM

“The worry must be that Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga may no longer be able to restore order [in Kenya]. But to stand any chance, they need to agree now on some form of power-sharing government.” — Financial Times

Jan 30 2008

those “Headless Rats” are actually a delicacy in Ghana

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:51 PM

You can always count on the British media to sensationalize a serious story about African affairs.

Look at yesterday’s report in the august Daily Mail of London, where a headline screams, “customs officer seize hundreds of headless rats destined for London restaurants.” On further examination, the so-called rats, which have been smoked to preserve their meat and improve flavor, are reportedly destined for “African diners.”

Now set aside for a moment the casual British dismissal of the Other implied in the story: after all, these African diners are mostly, and most certainly, British citizens or residents of African descent. Let’s merely concentrate on the rats themselves. These are not your garden-variety urban rats, but giant rodents, enormous, fast-moving bush rats whose size can rival that of a domestic cat or even a small dog. My wife once served me one of these smoked delicacies during our courtship phase in Accra. Her name for these rodents is “grasscutter.” Everyone else in Ghana calls them the same name.

“Grasscutter” are even bred for slaughter in Ghana, though the most common means of acquiring them is capture in the bush. Along side most rural roads in the country, young men smoke the rodents on open fires and they fetch — in remote parts of the country — impressive prices. Even in Accra, a well prepared grasscutter can cost ten dollars.

No surprise then that grasscutter turns up in London, home to a large number of the world’s wealthiest Africans, who now make the metropolis their permanent home.

The Daily Mail speculates that grasscutter carry diseases. And the sub-text is clear: Africans carry diseases too. Unfair to the unnamed British scribe who penned the article? I dare not believe. Go to his very words, carefully selected to allow a wide berth for his anti-African views:

“experts fear the unrefrigerated meat is capable of carrying diseases such as foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB and cholera.”

Fear! Fear indeed. The heart of darkness arrives on the streets of London in the form of … headless rats! And smoked for superior taste!

To be honest, I never went mad for grasscutter, which carries an arresting aroma and, even well smoked, is chewy in the extreme. Still, my wife, who hails from Nigeria, ate insects in her youth — fresh and fried. Served in a sauce, grasscutter — or, if you prefer, headless rats of the giant African variety — indeed satisfy both hunger and the desire for the extraordinary meal.

Jan 29 2008

No Time for “African Time”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:50 PM

Kofi Anna, tasked with trying to mediate a bargain between rival political factions in Kenya, should trade in his watch. He’s told the media that he plans 4 weeks of talks to broker a deal on “short-term” issues and that longer-term issues could require an entire year of discussions.

A year?

Is Annan serious. Is he angling for a life-time appointment as Kenya’s mediator? Is he in such desperate need of filling his dance card?

Where is his sense of urgency? Does his experience in the bureaucratized U.N. render him unsuited crisis management? Why can’t he set, say, a 48-hour deadline to solve the immediate crisis?

The world wonders, and waits.

Kenyans wonder — and die each day the crisis continues.

When will Kenya’s old men realize that their attachment to “African time” is unsuited to the necessities of governance today? And if Kofi Annan cannot move faster, should he not move on — and leave the task of brokering a peace to younger, more energetic people?

Jan 28 2008

Spectrum: Innovation Out of Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:06 PM

I’ve started to write a weekly missive on scientific and technological innovation and innovators in Africa for the on-line arm of Spectrum, the magazine of the IEEE, the association of electrical engineers. I’ve done four snapshots so far, the latest on digital photography and youth in a northern Uganda refugee camp. Prior to this, I profiled the improbable career path of John Quinn, a newly-minted Phd. from Scotland who is now happily teaching Computer Science courses at the best university in Uganda.

Editor of the on-line edition, Harry Goldstein, and I cooked up the idea for a column, which we named after the famous Pliny quote (“always something new out of Africa.” With Harry at the editing wheel, I’ve written a couple of long features for Spectrum in recent years (one an African “hackers,” or software writers; the other on novel approaches to generating hydro-electricity in the region). For now, we will be visiting more frequently, albeit on-line, not in print.

Jan 28 2008

Farm Boom Defies Africa’s Grim Image

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:23 AM

The Wall Street Journal’s popular “Informed Reader” column has kindly spread the word about my cover story in The Wilson Quarterly’s new Winter issue. The WSJ, where I served as a senior writer for many years, deftly summarized my article:

“There is an agricultural revival taking place in sub-Saharan Africa that defies the typically dire images of life on the continent that most Westerners see, writes G. Pascal Zachary in the Wilson Quarterly.
“The rural boom has been brought about by rising global prices for farm products and low labor and land costs. Exports of vegetables, fruits and flowers, largely from eastern and southern African, exceed $2 billion a year, up from virtually zero 25 years ago. In some areas, says Mr. Zachary, food production is growing faster than the population. The agricultural surge is changing the economic fortunes of millions, even though parts of the continent still are burdened by war, corruption, disease and climate change.
“As Africa’s cities have expanded, so has the demand for food production. On a smaller scale, an increasing number of city dwellers are returning to rural areas because they see better financial prospects there, often bringing new expertise with them. Mr. Zachary talks to one such reverse migrant, Ken Sakwa in Uganda, who represents a new wave of farmers who view land as a commodity and have sought to expand their acreage through leases of neighboring plots.
“To expand the commercial viability of African farmers, Mr. Zachary, a journalist who reports frequently from the region, composes a wish list of potential reforms. The recommendations include such long-heralded solutions as improving irrigation and fertilization rates on farms and reforming restrictive land-ownership policies, to a more outlandish proposal for expanding rural aviation to move crops while avoiding bad roads.
“While exalting the changes taking hold in Africa, Mr. Zachary’s narrative also underscores the difficulties so many farmers and communities face: When the journalist meets with Mr. Sakwa in Uganda again, the successful farmer confides that he, his wife and their newborn twins are all HIV positive.

Jan 28 2008

“Generation Kenya”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:17 AM

The ethnic violence in Kenya is popping a balloon of optimism around what was, until botched national elections in late December, the most successful African turnaround story since the end of apartheid in South Africa a generation ago. It was only a few months ago that informed observers were finding much to feel optimistic about in Kenya’s economic growth, tourism and rising zeal for equity. That optimism is shattered, at least around the world. In Kenya itself, many remain in denial over the unraveling of their country’s social order, from the elite banker I met on the plane to Nairobi on Friday to the interesting Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who penned a celebretary profile of a rising Kenya in the July issue of Vanity Fair (devoted chiefly to Africa).

Back in July Wainaina wrote that despite political scandals and corruption, economic growth and modernization were occuring rapidly in Kenya. While decrying Western media for concentrating too much on the negative, he enthusiastically concluded, “What is notable [about Kenya’s revival] is that most scandals are now revealed before they become a significant threat to public safety and economic security.”

Wainaina of course had in mind, when writing these words, political and economic corruption. He was not thinking of another scandal — of the corruption of ethnicity, of the failure of Kenyan society to address the challenge of diversity, especially among its most influential ethnic groups. The cost of failing to manage diversity remains untallied, but it is growing with each day that Kenya’s President Kibaki fails to accept that some kind of power-sharing — some kind of “affirmative action” for Kenya’s less advantaged groups — is inevitable in order to restore order and a sense of common purpose to this benighted east African country.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Wainaina makes a similar suggestion that deserves serious consideration:
“Nations are built on crises like this. If there is such a thing as Kenya, it should be gathering energy right now. Two leaders can sit down, form a power-sharing agreement and put together a system to handle elections and transition. A Constitution that names and recognizes the tribal nations within our nation, that decentralizes some power and that includes us all in the process is possible.”

Jan 28 2008

While Kenya burns, Uganda waits …

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:53 AM

I spent the past two weeks in East Africa. I landed in Nairobi, intent on meeting friends in the city, but no one would trouble themselves to visit me at the airport. The protests against President Kibaki’s stolen election victory were too violent. Even in the best of times, Nairobi is a daunting city, but the police are shooting protesters to kill, even felling children with their real bullets.
I waited in the Nairobi airport, then flew on to Entebbe, the international airport in neighboring Uganda. Here the Kenyan protests are watched with great interest, and not academic interest either. Because of problems moving goods out of Kenya’s Mombasa port, the inflow of goods into landlocked Unganda is more difficult than usual, causing shortages (especially of gasoline) and surging prices on some essentials. Uganda also harbors its own ethnic grievances, which hide under the surface of an impressive sense of national unity, one of the achievements of the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni.
After 20 years in power, Museveni’s ability to inspire and lead Uganda’s people is increasing challenged. In the north of the country, a restive ethnic group, the Acholi, fitfully seek greater local autonomy while at the same time trying to cajole and prod an infamous rebel leader, Joseph Kony, into disbanding his terror army for good, turning a temporary cease fire – now in its 18 month – into a permanent peace. The Acholi are only one source of ethnic tension. Another flash point involves the very successful Indian community, which dominates retail and light manufacturing businesses in Uganda. And then there are the “westerners,” ethnic groups related to Museveni’s own tribe. Westerners – a significant minority — are widely resented by the rest of the country, and Museveni is routinely accused of promoting members of his own group, while excluding others, especially Northerners and Easterners.
In addition to the recovering North, I visited Uganda’s Eastern region, spending time with the Arabica coffee growers of the Mount Elgon area. The mountain, known as Masaba in the local patter, is the result of an ancient volcano. The soil is rich, and the elevations are ideal for Arabica growing. In Kapchowra, at about 6,000 feet, I spent a few days visiting with farmers in their coffee gardens, joined by agriculture extension workers (whose salaries are paid, not by government, but by multinational coffee brokers and the U.S. government).
Back in Kampala, where I write this post, the tension over the continuing unrest in Kenya, weighs heavily. Last night I dined with one of Uganda’s finest literary writers, Doreen Baingana, who splits her time between the U.S. and Uganda. The author of a wonderful collection of short stories, “Tropical Fish,” set in her home town of Entebbe, Baingana is at work on a novel about troubled northern Uganda. In a favorite local Indian restaurant, Masala, we gamely tried to discuss personal literary pursuits, but Baingana kept coming back to the subject of Kenya’s ethnic battling, asking the question, “Can it happen here?”
All Ugandans wait for the answer.

Jan 14 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:13 AM

“For 40 years we have been dancing around each other, a gaseous nation circling and tightening. The moment is now to make a solid thing called Kenya.” — Binyavanga Wainaina

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