Alex Russell writes in The Financial Times today about the new memoir (“On The Contrary”) published by South Africa’s Opposition leader, Tony Leon, whose minority party has scored increasingly well at the polls in recent years against the dominant African National Congress of Thabo Mbe Leon’s memoir, Russell writes, “goes to the heart of a longstanding dilemma for white opposition politicians in post-colonial Africa: should they criticize or fall into line? The tension is at the core of the book.”
Russell congratules Leon, who stepped down as Opposition leader last year, for preciently understanding Mbeki’s autocratic tendencies and the real threat of overwhelming power acquired by the ANC. With Mbeki’s term as president soon to expire, South Africans will experience a new phase in their post-apartheid society. Long marked by an admirable form of rhetorical racial harmony, South African society seems increasingly racialized. Russell blames Leon for “accentuating the racial division of South Africa’s politics.” That was inevitable because ten years ago the question was not what role whites would play in South Africa politics but whether they would play any role at all. Leon helped to establish a sustainable role for whites but he failed to establish a compelling role. Until a true opposition within the ANC emerges as an independent force, white dissidents such as Leon will always be on the defensive. Reform, not race, remains the central challenge in South Africa.
I’m just getting around to perusing Roddy Doyle’s volume of short stories, the Deportees, published in the U.S. early this year. The stories are inspired by the experiences of Nigerian immigrants to Ireland, and Doyle originally wrote all for a Dublin newspaper founded by two Nigerian journalists living in the city. Of these eight short stories, my favorite open is “Black Hoodie,” which opens with a riveting passage I can personally relate to:
“My girlfriend is Nigerian, kind of, and when we go through the shops, we’re followed all the way. We stop — the security guards stop. We go up the escalator — they’re three steps behind us, and there’s another one waiting at the top. We look at something, say a shoe, and they all look at us looking at the shoe.”
Doyle adds, in the opening passage, a telling line: “You’re never lonely [in Dublin} if you’re with a black girl …”
I must confess I am smitten by this passage because I once had a Nigerian girlfriend myself. She is now my wife. My own memoir of our marriage — Married To Africa — will be published by Scribner in January.
One of my favorite African newspapers, the feisty Nairobi Star, has a fair and balanced story today about the decision by reform prime minister Odinga to put his very own wife on a government salary of more than $6,000 U.S. dollars a month. That’s probably enough money for to run a school for a month. I know democracy in Africa has its costs, and that even countries with lots of poor people still must have appropriately-compensated government officials, but Odinga is a self-professed reformer and the leader of a movement to widen democracy in Kenya, one of the region’s most important countries. Putting his wife on the government payroll sends a bad message. He should “fire” her immediately — for the sake of his reputation.
The BBC pointed out, wisely, that perhaps Odinga’s own salary as PM should cover his wife’s costs in addition to his own. The news service
also cited the former head of the Kenyan chapter of Transparency International Gladwell Otieno as saying the payments to Odinga’s wif is fresh confirmation that Kenyan politicians are just a greedy caste, looking after themselves at the expense of poor Kenyans recovering from the effects of post-election violence.
Odinga’s wife, Ida, is receiving less money than Lucy Kibaki, whose allowances increased last year to nearly $8,000 a month.
President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to share power in February after negotiations ended weeks of violent clashes.
“African content needs to take its place in the global constellation. We need more African content — so tag something today.” — Guido Sohne
“Africa’s past has stamped itself deeply on Africa’s present.” — Jared Diamond
“Africa has burst into a frenetic spasm of criminalizing HIV.” — Edwin Cameron
“The Chinese are not here as investors. They’re here as invaders.” — Michael Sata, opposition leader, Zambia
Two-thirds of all people with HIV-AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa. So the disease is, not quite but almost, an African problem. American taxpayers, through their vessel, the lame duck president George Bush, this week showed enormous generosity in extending for another five years a program called PEPFAR that essentially makes possible anti-retroviral treatment for people with full-blown AIDS. The treatment works in most cases, though as the Financial Times reported yesterday, a growing number of people — perhaps as many as 25% — have resistant strains of HIV/AIDs.
The problem of drug resistance is neither new nor insurmountable. At this week’s international conference on the disease in Mexico City, many words will be spilled on how to limit the growth of resistant strains — and extend the effectiveness of front-line drugs. These are technical issues of course. The grand policy has been set: U.S. taxpayers, and their elected representatives, have a long-term stake in African health-care policies. Rather sadly, an American who needs AIDs treatment may not receive such generosity from taxpayers; for the uninsured and uncovered in the U.S., the humane deal offered ailing and anonymous Africans is rarely available.