The intelligent editors at the Yale Global website has taken seriously my argument for disciplined management of rice imports by African nations — as a way of stimulating their own rice farmers to do more. Any forms of protectionism tend to be dismissed by economists and trade policy analysts — but then they don’t have to live in an African country. Africans in the real world need to defend themselves — and advance their own economic prospects — with the very same tools that people in wealthy countries use. These tools work. And employed intelligently, they will work for Africans. The blinding notion of unrestricted trade led Africans don’t a blind alley — and now they are finding their way back towards a middle road between openess and control. Stirking that balance is an endless quest — not only in agriculture but across the range of human activities.
Archive for May, 2008
The government of Japan, the Financial Times reported today, plans to double assistance to African governments as part of a new charm offensive aimed at winning Tokyo more international allies.
With China and India already wooing Africans, Japan’s increased attentions are no surprise. As I have written elsewhere, Asians are suddenly in love with Africa, trying to elbow aside Europeans and Americans who have long dominated discourse on how to help Africans. I call the phenomena, “the browning of Africa,” in reference to a decisive turning point in world history: once a stage for whites and blacks to play out historic psycho-economic dramas, Africa is now becoming multicultural, and Asians see the opportunity to destroy “white” hegemony over the “dark continent” through economic penetration and technical assistance. Given the sorry history of black-white relations in Africa over the centuries, the Asian insertion can only be good news, even though interest in Africa by official agencies of India, China and Japan reflects complex motives.
For decades, the Japanese have quietly run curious aid programs in sub-Saharan Africa. This past January, in Kampala, I met a young Japanese man who confessed to being an auto mechanic assigned by the Japanese government to train the Ugandan police “motor pool” on how to repair their growing fleet of automobiles.
When I asked how long Japanese taxpayers were covering his stay in Uganda, the Japanese car mechanic gleefully confessed, “One year!”
When I expressed astonishment on the length of his stay, he explained, “Toyotas are popular here.”
And about to become more so. This week Japan’s prime minister Fukuda expects to hold marathon private meetings with the governments of 45 African nations. Does he even have the auto mechanic to help him?
The arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese warlord and former vice-president of the DRC has been arrested on war-crimes charges. Bemba’s arrest creates a new opportunity for the UN’s International Criminal Court to demonstrate both consistency and determination in the prosecution of cases against African outlaws. As the trial of Charles Taylor is showing, convicting rogue African leaders for crimes against humanity is difficult, especially when conventional rules on evidence and testimony are followed. Bemba’s case is complicated, but his arrest at least takes him out of play. For years he has destablized electoral politics in central Africa. Some time ago, I argued he should be banned from political particpation because of his lengthy resume of violent actions. Instead, the international community allowed him to stand for president in the last Congolese national elections, which proved both to be an embarassment for the election’s sponsors (the European Union) and harmful to the Congolese (who suffered violence during the pre- and post- runoff period).
Bemba’s arrest is not a pure victory, however. His jailing represents a compromise between human-rights “purists” (who, absurdly, would probably like to arrest — on general principles — every African leader that ever picked up a gun) and pragmatic “problem solvers” around the world who would admit that Bemba is being selectively prosecuted but that imprisoning him simply carries too many utilitarian benefits to argue against. In short, Bemba’s arrest means — pace Bentham — the greatest good for the greatest number.
“There’s also the view among many black Americans that Africa is home. But when you’re a black American you’re very much an American first.” — Michelle Obama
“The real battle is not at the government level but at the grassroots.” — Guido Sohne
One of my favorite Africans died the other day. Guido Sohne, a brilliant software programmer who worked for Microsoft in Nairobi, was found dead in his living room on Monday. People discovered him when he didn’t turn up for work. Guido and I go back some years; he was a close companion when I lived in Accra in 2003. Guido was witty and sharp and always ready to debate arcane points, either about technology or development. We spent many hours together and, when my teenage son visited Accra for a summer, Guido tutored him on computer games that bewildered me.
Guido was from Accra and had only moved to Nairobi late last year to join Microsoft. A passionate and principled person, Guido was well known in Africa’s small circle of programmers. Born in 1973, he attended Princeton University and returned to Ghana to work in computing. For some years he was a fixture in Busyinternet, the Accra web cafe founded by the Welch entrepreneur Mark Davies. Guido long promoted open-source software as a way of Africans gaining a stronger position in information technology, and his move to Microsoft was a large shift for him. His belief in the potential of a single smart African to change the world remains a source of hope for me and others who knew him. He was a singular person in the region and he will be missed.
An opening salvo of mine on a widening debate over how Africans — who have in recent years imported as much as $2 billion worth of rice — can raise their own production of the critical crop. With rice prices sharply higher in recent months, the question of which policies can provide more self-reliance is critical. See my poist this week on Foreign Policy’s site for the view from Uganda. Through wise government policies and shrewd investment, rice production in the country has soared.