Nov 30 2009

Electricity now!

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:27 PM

Mobile phones in the sub-Saharan are the best and most important example of the benefits to the region of technological “leapfrog,” the move to the “latest and greatest” technologies without having to pass through older ones. Yet even mobile communications are not untethered from the legacy of African techno-backwardness. Electricity — often ignored by enthusiasts for Africa’s potential to “leap” past traditional barriers — remains a key limit on the expansion of mobile telephony, especially in the most remote and poor geographic areas.

The problem of electrification has bedeviled most African governments, who have failed either to democratize this critical technology or attract sufficient private capital to endow their countries without sufficient power. In a frank and revealing admission that electricity stands in the way of great mobile communications as much as any factor, an alliance of mobile phone companies in Uganda are targeting the electricity problem with a bold new plan.

The move is welcome. Mobile operators, while benefiting from innovations in communications technologies, now should set their sights on harvesting novel power solutions for the benefit of “cell” stations in remote areas where “grid” electricity is either unreliable or unavailable.

And the so Africans move forward.


Nov 25 2009

Richard Dowden’s wisdom: Africa ordinary and miraculous

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:13 PM

Richard Dowden once was an ambulance chaser, a chronicler of tales of disaster, disease and mayhem — stories that neatly fit media stereotypes of what about African affairs satisfies the appetites of the British, American and European minds. For Dowden, his earlier phase as a working journalist, reported on African affairs for British newspapers and magazines, is today a source of both understandable pride and some embarassment. A gifted reporter and a sturdy writer, Dowden’s pursuit of “heart of darkness” journalism made him worry about accusations that he was “giving Africa a bad image.”

He no longer can be so accused. His written a wonderful tour of contemporary Africa, based on his many visits and extensive assignments in the region stretching back decades. In an important counter to the cant and often ridiculous proclamations about Africa’s real and impending “disasters” by the great and the good, Dowden reminds us in a new book, “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles,” that the normality remains the norm in Africa — and pathologies is often peddled by people bent on profiting from providing aid and emergency relief to the region. Dowden’s book presents a valuable alternative view to the dominant paradigm of a dependent, diminised and indeed easily dismissed Africa. For a flavor of Dowden’s contrarian views, let me quote at length from Dowden’s perceptive introduction which, like the entire book, remains available only in Britain:

“The news of Africa has been almost exclusively about poverty, wars and death.”

“Not all Africans are fighting and starving. Millions of Africans have never known hunger or war and lead ordinary peaceful lives. But that is not news. … Africa may often look like chaose and madness but there is always a comprehensible — if complex — explanation. …. The new realities of Africa … have been ignored.”

“Only Africans can develop Africa.”

“The aid industry too has an interest in maintaining the image of Africa as hopeless, victims of endless wars and persistent famines. However well intentioned their motives may once have been, aid agencies have helped create the single , distressing image of Africa.”

Dowden’s words carry weight beyond his own inspired conscience. As director of London’s Royal Africa Society, he influences opinion about the region in a critical country, Britain, which continues to play an outsize role in the affairs of sub-Saharan Africa. Dowden’s insights reinforce my own view that outside donors risk “losing” the African while trying to “save” them. In effort after effort to reform and renew aspects of life in Africa, outsiders essentially “write out of the story” the actions of ordinary Africans themselves. The idea of African transformation, by and for Africans, living in Africa, often seem absent from discussions of policy and practice in the region. Dowden, in his introduction, reminds us of the high cost of losing the African while trying to chronicle him. As the august Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, writes in a brief prologue to the book, Dowden recognizes “the humanity o


Nov 23 2009

Is corruption is better than we thought?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:24 AM

The ever contrarian World Bank has a fresh thought on corruption: keep on giving financial aid to corrupt governments because, even if you don’t, those governments won’t be any less corrupt.

So says the bank’s chief economist for Africa, Shanta Devarajan.

I beg to differ. Devarajan generates many interesting ideas about African political economy, but in this case he’s trying too hard to be interesting. His argument commits donors to willing agree to have some of their assistance stolen by corrupt officials. While no one aid program can immunize itself from theft and pillage by recipients, donors must at least symbolically stand for something. Mere practicality seems a poor excuse for holding to durable values. Devarajan may be right that there is little “evidence” that cutting off aid to corrupt governments changes behavior of those governments. But striking back at corruption may make the donors feel better, and since donors rely on taxpayer dollars often for their own funds, these taxpayers may appreciate even “empty” gestures so long as they send a message worth remembering.


Nov 09 2009

in contemporary Africa art, is black beautiful?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:11 AM

In Saturday’s perceptive and beautifully illustrated survey of contemporary African art. writer Pernilla Holmes provides a revealing mini-profile of “uber” collector Jean Pigozzi, an Italian businessman whom Holmes unabashedly describes as the premier collector in the world of new art from Sub-Sharan Africa. Pigozzi reportedly holds more than 12,000 pieces and follows a straight-forward set of rules in collecting. “The artist must be black, live in Africa, and they must be alive,” Holmes quotes him as saying.

Pigozzi’s rules make sense to me, though for blackness I would substitute “indigenous,” as in “of Africa,” or born and reared on African ground. While Holmes neglects to highlight any conceptual issues, her article is a fascinating tour of the contemporary African art scene that gives equal weight to cosmopolitan artists as to those steeped in “exotic” African traditions. The balance, though difficult to strike, is worth forging because without reference to their traditions, contemporary African artists, especially those living in the diaspora, risks losing roots altogether and becoming dependent solely on the “wings” of their imagination. Great art can of course depend strictly on the human spirit, in the abstract, but need not either.