Jul 29 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:24 AM

“Africa is now so far behind other regions that it cannot relate to other economies apart from through resource extraction. Market mechanisms alone cannot enable Africa to catch up with Asia as an exporter of manufactured goods.” — Paul Collier

Jul 25 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:57 PM

“The U.S. has a vital interest in strengthening the military and intelligence capacity of poor countries like the ones we find in Africa. For their part, African countries could immeasurably improve their ability to solve the problems of peace and security with the aid of the U.S.” — Edmond J. Keller

Jul 21 2008

the Afro-geeks of Nairobi get their 15-seconds of fame

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:50 PM

The New York Times published my Ping column — the twentieth in as many months, if you are counting — yesterday. The column was devoted to the unnoticed emergence of an underground Geek culture in Nairobi, Africa’s most dynamic and cosmopolitan city. Over the coming days, I’ll be tracking reaction to the piece, which looked at the interaction between African aspirations for a greater role in the digital revolution and the engagement of leading technology agents, most notably Google, which has opened a development office in Nairobi and is hiring technical people from around Africa. In this Ping, I explored some of the dynamics of trying to innovate in unlikely places. For people who care deeply about the prospects for more even development of technological changes around the planet, the question is perhaps the hardest of all the hard questions inspired by the Internet revolution. If the Net is truly a force for democratic advance, must we not have more democratic — and truly diverse — activities supported by it? I doubt I will live long enough to learn the answer. So asking — and asking again — the question must be enough.

Jul 19 2008

the Kenyan way: past as prologue

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:26 PM

Since I visited Kenya last month (and then again early this month), friends and strangers have asked me for my impressions about efforts to reconcile the disputing sides in the country’s post-election turmoil. I made no serious examination of this question while in Kenya, only coming across random impressions in passing. My sense is that life in Kenya is back to normal and that supporters of Kibaki and Odinga (who are both in government under a power-sharing arrangement) simply are denying their differences. My discussion with people at media houses in Nairobi supported the denial explanation. Media actors are promoting reconciliation in the abstract but they are unwilling to examine ethnic pride, mobilization and discontent. Indeed, there is essentially a regime of self-censorship in Kenyan media around the subject of ethnicity and “tribal” affiliations. That people in Kenya who identify with the Luo group (of Odinga) feel unfairly treated by people who identify with the Kikuyu identity (of Kibaki) is undeniable. Yet from reading the media, the existence of both the Luo and the Kikuyu would seem to be in great doubt.

There is much to applaud in people who can see the worst in each other and then move in, forgiving and forgetting. There ought to be more of that in the world, I suspect. Yet Kenyans, from the very start of their history as independent country some 45 years ago, have shown an outsized willingness to set aside past differences — to pretend, in short, that the past does not matter. Kenya’s first president, Kenyatta, from the very start of his new nation in December 1963, chose to set aside concerns about who did what during the violent campaigns by British colonial authorities and “Mau Mau” freedom fighters to alter political arrangements in Kenya during the 1950s. Kenyatta decided not to examine ethnic differences in his country; he chose instead to priviledge the “fiction” of Kenyan identity in hopes of turning this lie into a reality.

To some degree, Kenyatta succeeded. I was struck in Nairobi by the intense patriotism of young Kenyans with education; people of talent and good character who weren’t born even during the last years of Kenyatta’s stern rule. For these young strivers in Nairobi, their pride in nation is palpable and, actually, moving. Kenya is a destroyer of hopes as much as a creator because of the long night of poor governance under Kenyatta’s successor, Moi. Today, hopes are reviving and young Kenyans can dream of a better day without suspending either their reason or their morality.

Which brings me back to the post-election violence. The willingness of people to move on, without examining what happened only a few months, is of a piece with Kenya’s modern history, which has never received even a rough kind of reckoning, either inside Kenya or without. These closing words in Caroline Elkins disturbing book, “Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya,” could well stand as a coda on the Odinga-Kibaki rivalry — and the ethnic violence it spawned earlier this year. Elkins is writing of course about political violence in Kenya 50 years ago. Her words seem eerily relevant to the recent crisis and not only because of the obvious observation that if Kenyans can’t come to grips with the history of a half-century ago, what chance exists to reconcile less distant, more hot and painful conflicts of the moment.

“To this day [Elkins writes] there has never been any form of official reconciliation in Kenya. There are no monuments for Mau Mau, children are not taught about this part of their nation’s past in school, few speak about it in the privacy of their own homes, and, with the exception of the relatives of the Hola massacre victims, there has never been any kind of financial consideration given to those who lost family members in the camps and villages, or property to the local loyalists [to the British]. Some men and women lost the use of their limbs, others their minds, as a result of years spent behind the wire…. But they too have insisted that bygones remain bygones.”

Is this the Kenyan way?

Jul 18 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:56 PM

“There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty.” — Nelson Mandela

Jul 18 2008

Technological hubris: the folly, futility and lasting allure of an AIDS vaccine

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:27 PM

Mourn the death of the campaign for an AIDS vaccine but also cheer it. The push for a “silver bullet,” however human an impulse, reflected as much an overwhelming arrogance on the part of scientists as the inherent difficulty of engineering a preemptive technological response to a protean disease.

The field of vision should be clearer now. Pragmatic and relentless behavioral and societal adaptations are the best (and most humanistic) responses to the persistence of new cases of HIV/AIDS. As Helen Epstein wrote last year in her brilliant polemic on the disease, “The Invisible Cure,” the most effective responses in Africa — where the disease remains an enormous public-health issue — are animated by mass-based social mobilizations. In Uganda, where social mobilization has perhaps gone the furthest on matter of AIDS, the results have been impressive.

After 20 years of discussing the possibility of an AIDS vaccine, the time has come to pause and let the social mobilizers hold sway in the field of prevention, unburdened by the “noise” of well-meaning technocrats holding out the hope of a swift and easy intervention, unfettered by concerns about social organization and culture. In fighting AIDS, as in much else, social values and political mobilization, is decisive. The failure of the vaccine movement provides a convenient opportunity to remember the limits of technological innovation and the perils of engineering arrogance.

To be thrown on the social and cultural, however, is not to escape the awful dimensions of HIV/AIDS. On my visit early this month to a community of farmers in eastern Uganda, I was humbled by the capacity of human beings — alone and in their chosen groups — to deny, dissemble and even self-destruct in the face of lethal threats. In the foothills of beautiful Mount Elgon, the leaders of a community I’ve come to know and respect have fallen prey to new cases of HIV/AIDS. These men and women only fitfully sought treatment, and their “prevention strategies” remain flawed.

The hollow promise of an AIDS vaccine had never reached this Ugandan village. In the homes of the stricken, there are no technocratic delusions, only evidence of flawed humanity.

Jul 13 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:01 AM

“I think the West does some injustice to us. They don’t want us to be ourselves, to develop into partners, into people who also have sense, values, and culture to live by.
… Even in politics, we are never meant to graduate from being pupils of democracy or governance. We are always people to be brought up, educated, told what to do, be consumers of ideas and practices that come from the West. There is no point at which you graduate.” — Paul Kagame

Jul 09 2008

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:11 PM

“African leaders need to learn when to retire. Those who cling around in a naïve hope that they will achieve more only end up destroying the very foundations of their previous success.” — Andrew Mwenda