“With the support of Americans, the people of Africa can do more than survive. The people of Africa can succeed.” — George Bush
Feb 26 2008
The media hype over Obama in Somali clothing suggests that an Obama presidency will, if nothing else, expand the American definition of leisure wear.
The BBC patiently explains today that Obama’s clothes are typical nomadic Somalis and his turban is worn to show respect for elders.
I am looking forward to Obama wearing Nigerian lace to a White Press conference. Or stepping off Air Force One in, say, Paris dressed in a Congolese soukous suit.
Political leaders in the U.S. have suffered too long under the shared delusion that Western suits and ties — or psuedo-Cowbody outfits — are the only way of dressing that honors their great offices. Now is the time for Africa’s gorgeous clothing to re-define the term, “formal wear.”
Of course, I am biased. I routinely troll my house wearing nothing more than a Sudanese gown or a Ghanaian top-and-down. I’ve been known to frequent nightclubs in colorful Congolese suits made of fabric from the infamous Woodin company of Lome. In writing this post, I am merely taking the first step in my long campaign to become the next White House Wardrobe Manager!
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Feb 25 2008
Today’s story in The New York Times about Nigerian immigrants to Ireland reminds me of a story I wrote for The Wall Street Journal in the late 90s about a Nigerian priest working in Dublin. That improbable story — of a shortage of priests in Dublin being filled by Nigerians — ended up in the 2003 edition of my book, The Diversity Advantage. The past decade has seen a rising number of Nigerians — and back Africans generally — in Ireland. The country remains challenged by the task of integrating blacks into its society, but the situation continues to improve, thankfully because the Irish are well-meaning and the problems of exclusion faced by blacks in the country are large and vexing, demanding corrective action. How much more welcoming would the Irish be to immigrant Africans if their own special crusader for African justice, the inimitable Bono, trained his mind on the problem of bias against African in his own country? The mind boggles at the potential for Bono to do good … at home.
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Feb 24 2008
President Bus, on his trip to Africa this week, made a point of declaring that the U.S. wanted no “new” military bases in the region, implying that theÂ Pentagon’s new Africa command won’t have boots on the ground but will remain housed in Europe. The implication would be incorrect. The U.S. military already has hundreds of soldiers stationed in Djibouti, a city-state advantageously located on the Red Sea, across a small body of water from the Arabian peninsula (and all that oil!). Djibouti, a French colony until 1977, is a quiet picturesque port-city that borders Somalia and Eritrea — two countries that the U.S. has grave concerns about. Djibouti also borders Ethiopia, which has sent troops into Somalia at the behest of the U.S. So long as anti-American Islamic fundamentalists maintain a haven in East Africa, the Pentagon’s assets in Djibouti will be dug in, comprising a military base in all but name and official designation, no matter what President Bush says.
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Feb 22 2008
The news from Nairobi is promising. The two sides in Africa’s most urgent political dispute are talking, and Kofi Annan — the chief mediator — claims to see “light at the end of the tunnel.” Some kind of power-sharing agreement is being discussed, hopefully one that gives Odinga and his followers real power in a national government whose nominal leader, Kabaki, has lost virtually all of his internatiional standing because of the post-election violence in Kenya.
That violence could well erupt again, if a political settlement is not reached soon. The International Crisis Group, in a new report on Kenya, finds “armed groups are still mobilising on both sides.” As we have seen in Nigeria, which is to West Africa’s economy what Kenya is to East Africa’s, once groups arm the restoration of order becomes exceedingly difficult not the least because men with guns decide it is more profitable to use them than to give them up.
The ICG, a respected analyst of crises around the world, concludes that “international pressure” remains critical to achieving a workable compromise in Kenya. Part of the compromise includes rewritting Kenya’s constitution to spread power more evenly through levels of government — and reduce some of the “winner take all” ramifications of electoral victory in the country. These structural changes are crucial because, even if Kibaki and the dominant Kikuyi tribe manage to hold onto power for another presidential term, ultimately the Kikuyi will lose a national election and become subject to the same logic that the Luo today rebel against. Until “all or nothing” outcomes are avoided, no one is safe in Kenya or at least not for very long.
International observers routinely call for outside pressure to solve domestic disputes, and sometimes they are correct. Kenya is not one of those cases. Kenyans both inside and outside of the country hold the key to a sustainable negotiated settlement. Without an urgent drive for national unity on the part of Kenyans home and away, international pressure may yield only short-term fixes.
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Feb 15 2008
Earlier this week I had the chance to talk with Kai Ryssdal, host of the Marketplace radio program, about African agriculture on the eve of President Bush’s visit to five African countries. To listen to my commentary, go to the program’s site. Or read the Marketplace transcript below:
KAI RYSSDAL: The president may or may not be leaving for Africa tomorrow. He said today he’s going to wait and see what Congress does on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Bill. The House and Senate have passed distinctly different versions of the warrantless wiretapping program. If and when he does make the trip, he’ll see what some experts are calling an agricultural revival on the continent. G. Pascal Zachary covered Africa for many years for the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Zachary, where’s the president going to see this playing out?
G. PASCAL ZACHARY: Well, there’s quite a few in East and West Africa in particular, countries like Nigeria, the most populist in Africa, and Uganda, are producing increases in food that are greater than population growth. They’re exporting food. They’re beginning to reduce reliance on food imports and farmer incomes are rising in many African countries.
RYSSDAL: How are they doing, though? Increasing those yields. Is it traditional Western agro business or is it something else that they’ve hit upon?
ZACHARY: It’s a combination. I think the aid donors have realized that the key is not just giving better seeds to countries in Africa, but finding them buyers. So in Malawi this past year, farmers made record incomes in part because there were buyers to buy all that stuff. And farmers have shown themselves to be pretty darn responsive to having customers.
RYSSDAL: Are we at a point yet where they’re competing with American farmers?
ZACHARY: Yeah, actually it’s true. In Nigeria and in Uganda there are growing outputs of rice and that’s reducing the imports of American rice. In many parts of the United States you can buy fish that comes directly from the Nile called Nile perch. It’s airlifted into the United States. I saw flowers barcoded in the Kampala airport ready to go on Kroger’s shelves.
RYSSDAL: Does that production for the export market hurt local African consumers? Are they having to pay higher prices?
ZACHARY: No, just the opposite is happening, paradoxically. As the capacity of these small holders — and they’re almost all small holders of two, three, five acres — as their capacity improves, they’re producing more for the local market as well. So some of the differentiation is around quality. So the higher quality Arabica goes for export. Higher quality maize may go for selling across the border, but there’s more food all the way around.
RYSSDAL: But things, obviously, are not perfect in Africa. I mean you have extreme poverty, regional conflict, there’s climate change. There’s a lot that farmers have to worry about.
ZACHARY: No question. And what we see in Kenya, one of the agricultural powerhouses of Africa, a country that has been sending hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food a year to Europe, obviously the breakdown in their political stability is adversely affecting these farmers. In a lot of ways it underscores the need for political stability in these countries for farmers to prosper.
RYSSDAL: What does it look like when you go out to a farm in Africa somewhere? I mean does it look like a traditional big business operation?
ZACHARY: No it looks more like Ireland of the 1930’s or 19th century America; Very small farms, there are almost no tractors, some farm animals, no electricity, but the bright spot on the horizen is the mobile phone. Almost all parts of rural Africa now have some mobile phone service and it’s created a great sense for the farmers of reality, of what urban markets are like. It helps them sell their products and makes it easier even for aid donors to reach them.
RYSSDAL: Mr. Zachary, thank you so much for your time.
ZACHARY: Oh, thank you very much.
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Feb 14 2008
I’ve never been to Zimbabwe, and my chances of going any time soon seem slim. I’ve never taken the “ambulance chaser” approach to African affairs and — getting older by the day — I’m not about to start chasing ambulances now. And with Zimbabwe’s election looming at the end of next month, the ambulance indeed is the right metaphor. After watching Kenya’s disputed presidential election become the trigger for ethnic violence, few Africa watchers remain sanguine about the prospects of any contest vote in the region. On past occasions I’ve bemoaned the perils of elections in Africa, and highlighted the apparent lack of benefits of holding them. In the case of Zimbabwe, the planned elections on March 29 are likely to provide a flimsy pretext for the repressive and irrational Robert Mugabe to bully and abuse his many opponents. Americans — and all friends of Africa — ought to proclaim the end of Mugabe’s reign of terror as the number one goal of diplomacy in the region. That South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki has failed to deliver a peaceful transfer of power in Zimbabwe is no reason to despair. Mbeki is a lame duck and the long period of deference to his status should come to a crashing end. Mbeki deserves to hear harsh complaints over his protection of Mugabe. The human cost of Mugabe’s hold on power is of course enough to justify his removal as Zimbabwe’s president. Yet the damage to the prestige of the African Union — and Mugabe’s own moral standing — is also very large. African leaders are quick to remind Westerners in particular that they do not deserve the disrespect they so often receive from do-gooders and media the world over. By refusing to isolate and ultimately break Mugabe’s hold on power, however, Africa’s “big men” make themselves seem very very small.
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Feb 14 2008
“President Mbeki, if you won’t do it for us, if you won’t do it for Africa, do it for your own country. Do it for your legacy.” — Morgan Tsvangirai
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Feb 07 2008
“The war for Chad is not over. It is likely to become more bloody and involve a wider humanitarian disaster before any solutions can be grasped.” — Alex de Waal
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Feb 05 2008
“Africans have to learn to pull themselves up by themselves.” — Kwesi Kwaa Prah
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