Those who want to crack the code of Nigeria would do well to visit the essays of Chinua Achebe. Well-known for his novels, which include the classic Things Fall Apart, Achebe also crafts compelling short essays, which he then collects into slim but thoughtful volumes. His latest, The Education of a British Protected Child, is the subject of a new essay of mine in the March issue of the political monthly, In These Times.
Archive for February, 2010
Seems so. Goodluck Jonathan, vice president of Nigeria, remains “acting president,” despite the return to the country of ailing president, Yar’Adua. At most the acting president has a year in office in order to put a stamp on his benighted country. The first resident ever to serve as Nigeria’s top government official from the oil-rich Delta region, even in temporary role, Jonathan has plenty of opportunities to give positive direction — of even halt the dangerous drift — of Africa’s most populated country. Nigeria remains a power even in this time of trial. But how long can my wonderful wife’s home nation remain in the wilderness? The Christmas Day underwear bomber has highlighted the emergence in Nigeria of an international-linked Muslim extremism, which has a domestic agenda as well — of countering Christian extremism, especially as displayed in the difficult borderlands between the Northern and Southern regions of Nigeria.
South Africa’s former president, the austere and dignified Thabo Mbeki, often lectured Europeans and Americans, hectoring his country about the relationship between sexual promiscuity and the spread of HIV/AIDs, that African men are not obsessed with sex and in pell-mell pursuit of new sexual liasons as if quantity, rather than quality, matters most to them.
Well perhaps Mbeki never met Jacob Zuma, who happens to be his replacement as South Africa’s president. Reports that Zuma has fathered a child with the 39-year old daughter of one of his cronies has ignited an unusual level of protest in a country where, since his election, “Big Daddy,” as Zuma sometimes is called, has maintained high popularity ratings.
Zuma, who practices polygamy and an estimated 19 children with four former and current wives, last married only in January of this year. This month he admitted fathering a child with a girlfriend last year. Zuma divorced one wife and another committed suicide ten years ago. His latest paramour may become wife number four. South African media are reporting that Zuma may already have married her in a “customary” ceremony.
Whether Zuma’s personal behavior represents South African “manhood” as a whole is clear: the answer is a resounding no. Not only Mbeki but of course Nelson Mandela have provided very different notions of manhood and the male relationship to marriage and female partners. Mandela especially presented a model of husbandly devotion to Graca Machel, a wife of intelligence, independence and dignity.
By treating women as a form of property, and accumulating them in public fashion the way another man might collect art or race horses, Zuma raises questions anew about how best to promote gender equality in his country and the region as a whole.
Stephen Smith, the respected Africa analyst, thinks the answer to this question is yes. A former Africa editor of Le Monde, Smith knows as much about Francophone as anyone and his long essay on the subject, newly published in London Review Books, contains much of interest and is well worth reading closely. Yet I’m respectfully skeptical about his “retreat” thesis. The French have occupied Ivory Coast for years, insuring a partition of this benighted country. They have military forces stationed indefinitely in Chad. In their role as the leading influence on the European Central Bank, the French have guaranteed (at some cost) the continued support for the African franc, the legal currency in countries as diverse as Senegal and Cameroon. The French also insured that the sons of both Bongo and Eyadama took power in Gabon and Togo after the death of their fathers, both effectively the longest-running dictators in Africa. All this — and Smith must ponder the question of whether the French are retreating from Africa? What would staying the course in Africa be for the French: reinstituting slavery in their sphere of influence? The France have shifted ground certainly in Africa, and outside of the Francophone zone, their influence is tiny. But retreat? Only in Rwanda have the French left a former country of influence, and in Rwanda the French did not retreat: they received an eviction notice from Rwanda’s president.
For decades, American reformers have asked African governments to radically reorder their priorities, spending money on human needs, infrastructure and authentic law-and-order activities. Perhaps the best recent examples of American officials exhorting African governments to change comes from Kenya, where last year the U.S. Ambassador campaigned vigorously for “fundamental change” in the behavior of Kenya’s elected political elite. Now it is time for African reformers to do the same — and ask the American government to make fundamental changes on behalf of the American people.
Now when the U.S. lectures, often the Kenyans do not listen. In turn, the U.S., as the Ambassador to Kenya did last month, suspended aid to the country.
This suspension creates a nice precedent for Kenyans who call for reforms in the U.S. and get ignored. What can Kenyans withhold in order to punish the U.S. government? Perhaps they can, say, punish the U.S. by not moving to America with their skills and resources.