Mar 29 2010

Are three Nigeria’s better than two?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:32 AM

Libya’s leader, Qaddafi, has long tried to assert leadership on African affairs, so his suggestions on the benefits of dividing the nation of Nigeria into pieces were not uninformed even if they at first seem unwelcome.

First Qaddafi called for a division between North and South (Muslim and Christian) and then, reflecting on the regional and ethnic differences that bedevil relations even between Christians, he wondered about whether more countries could emerge from Nigeria.

Let’s not dismiss his ideas so quickly. Qaddafi has a history of promoting useless notions about Africa as a continent, confused by his own brand of geographic determinism. But he may stumbled onto a notion worth seriously exploring — that Nigeria as a political entity is too large and contradictory to govern successfully.

Nigeria’s political integrity has of course been called into question before, during the late 1960s when the Igbo ethnic group (of which my wife is a member) seceded and then failed to defend “Biafra” from occupation by the national Nigerian forces.

Since then talk of splitting Nigeria into pieces is usually quickly dismissed. But perhaps not this time. Another large African country, Sudan, plans a national election on dividing itself into two. The Congo, home to endless civil wars since the fall more than ten years ago of the wily dictator Mobuto, deserves to be split at least in two, with the Eastern Congo going a separate path (and benefiting from “natural” geographic relationships with the East African countries of Uganda and Rwanda).

Admittedly I am one of the few fans in the West of re-thinking existing African borders. That African nations chiefly reflect the borders established by colonizers remains a major unaddressed issue, promoting both violent conflicts and hindering any flowering of electoral democracy. While federalism offers some remedy for overly centralized nation-states, the limits of federalism are evident in Nigeria, where sub-regions have been granted much autonomy for decades.

Mar 25 2010

Rice is nice in Bamako

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:54 AM

Africans, aided by aid donors, often spend an inordinate time at conferences discussing the obvious. I usually find ways to contain my outrage over these festivals of waste, but a meeting of the so-called African Rice Congress in Bamako, Mali, makes me wish to replace my cooler head with a hotter one.

An entire week devoted to handwringing over the well-known facts around the importation of about $2 billion worth of rice into Africa annually! Surely, the rice trade, and its causes, could be thoroughly explored in a single day or two.

The highlight of the conference appears to have been the rousing exclamation by Mali’s prime minister, Modibo Sidibé, that Africans ought to wean themselves from imported rice in favor of local grains. “I remain convinced that the salvation of Africa will come from agriculture. Africa can and must feed itself, and export more rice,” Sidibé said. “This will require the adoption of policies to stop [imports].”

I agree and have written elsewhere about measured protectionist policies in Uganda and Nigeria that seem to yield positive results: more rice grown by local farmers, and less imports.

To be sure, Africa’s rising population translates into rising demand for all kinds of foods. Pressure on rice supplies is even greater because as Africans urbanize, their diets become more global and rice is the major global starch. In Africa’s largest cities demand for rice continues to rise as rural transplants gain an appetite for the grain. Production of rice by Africans is also growing, but not quickly enough, as those in attendance at Mali’s rice conference heard again and again. In short, there is no quick fix to Africa’s rice “addiction,” but neither is the outlook grim. In an important counter-trend, urban Africans are discovering various “lost crops,” to paraphrase Calestous Juma, the Kenyan scholar who has done valuable studies on the subject. Some of these are exotic indigenous grains, such as fonio, that ought to compete well with rice, especially when tied to the wider project of sustaining African pride and self-reliance.

Mar 23 2010

Ghana is paying parents not to sell their own children

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:06 AM

Foreign aid donors are ever creative and peaceful Ghana is an ideal place to run social “experiements.” The latest in this West African country involves paying the parents of children — at-risk of being forced into labor away from home — to keep their kids, at home if not also in school.

The basic idea is beguiling in its simplicity. Use a market incentive to reward parents, for whom children can be an economic burden, to “benefit” by doing the right thing — and thus prevent an awful result: the sale of hundreds of kids annually into forced labor “by parents desperate to raise money for their own upkeep,” says  the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Yet the program raises an immediate problems, and reflects a wider crisis in the performance of humanitarian aid around the world.

First, the very incentives that might motivate the parents of at-risk children will also attract parents who are already doing the right thing. Now they need only to pretend to be ready to give away their children in order to get a benefit that they would otherwise not receive. The aid donor, in this case the migration agency IOM, has a perverse incentive not to check the veracity of these parental claims, because accepting the claims on face value enables the donor to say, “See, I saved this many children from trafficking!”

Second, for parents who intend to do the wrong thing — that is, they need to enlist their children in an economic project, whether fishing or serving as a market porter or household domestic in a faraway place — the program essentially removes the issue of personal morality or responsibility from the social equation. Embedded in the program is the belief that Africans are not free and that they will not act responsibly in the absence of immediate material rewards. Poverty so constrains them that they cannot act in a decent manner. Of course, the assumption is true in many cases; even in rich countries, people want rewards for doing the right thing. In Germany, for instance, the government directly pays parents a stipend for every child they raise, in part to stimulate more births in the country.In the U.S., parents receive tax reductions for caring for their children.

In Ghana, extended families and communities often assume the roles played by government in rich countries. By intervening, donors such as IOM risk weakening these indigenous structures. Relatives who might once have helped a needy cousin or sibling now may insist that they try harder to persuade a foreign donor, usually white, to bail them out. The impulse towards self-reliance is weakened.

The question is always empirical in part: are the results of the intervention worth it? Given the first problem — that cash incentives promote dishonest or bogus claims of need — identifying the actual size of the problem becomes, if not impossible, difficult to define. The self-reinforcing logic of aid thus renders evaluation irrelevant.

Mar 22 2010

Uganda in flames: ethnicity as mask for political dissent

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:12 PM

Make no mistake, the violent and angry protests directed at the Ugandan government earlier this month have nothing to do with the power and priviledges of traditional monarchies in sub-Saharan Africa or Uganda in particular. The outbreaks are so threatening to the government of Yoweri Museveni because, as president, he has strained ethnic relations in his multi-ethnic East African nation that’s blessed with great physical endowments but also afflicted by a long history of political turbulence. The Bugandan people, who are rallying behind their traditional monarch, are the most numerous ethnic group in Uganda and they feel victimized by practices of Museveni’s government that seem to favor the president’s own relatively small Banyakole ethnic group against the much larger Buganda. Lacking a secular political party of their own, the Buganda have only a ready means of resistance in the form of their traditional “tribal” authorities. Museveni, however, strongly opposes any form of autonomous sub-national government for the Buganda as such.

To be sure, the conflicts between the Buganda and the Ugandan national government are not the only instances of ethnic tensions within the country. Museveni and his government have long been accused of discrimination — and worse — against the ethnic Acholi of northern Uganda. And in the past year, complaints about ethnic favoritism have grown, with some even claiming that Museveni himself is fanning ethnic suspicions in order to maintain his own power base through divide-and-rule tactics. One of Africa’s finest journalists, Andrew Mwenda, has consistently confronted the use and abuse of ethnicity in Uganda and he remains the best single source on the contradictions of Museveni’s rule. As Mwenda noted in an important column this month, Museveni continues to woo donors with dreams of grassroots decentralization of governmet, while at the same time straining ethnic relations and creating new avenues for official corruption.

Underlying much of the tension in Uganda is a simple reality: Museveni aims to maintain a projection of democracy amid a reality of family, dynastic rule. Unwilling to abide by term limits on his own presidency, Museveni takes steady actions to engineer a succession by a family member, perhaps a child or even his own wife, Janet, who is a member of Parliament and a political force in her own right. Once a political icon who justly achieved acclaim for bringing stability to a strife-torn Uganda and fighting AIDS with intelligence, Museveni has become a kind of Mugabe-in-the-making, ever-more willing to sacrifice his country’s well-being for his own narrow interests.

Mar 15 2010

Nigeria’s turn: a culture of political violence takes root

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:19 PM

The detonation of two car bombs in the oil city of Warri today represent a new level of violent protest — and another sign of the unrest that’s undermined the legitimacy of the Nigerian state.

Violence aimed at innocent civilians has not been part of the grammar of dissent in Nigeria — one reason for optimism in a country where human sympathy, despite the rigors and hardships of ordinary existence, runs high.

Yet perhaps the long era of good feelings — of more than a decade since the end of Nigeria’s period of military mis-rule — may have ended ingloriously, if not surprisingly.

The sense of betrayal is understandable. There’s hardly been time to absorb last week’s massacre of villagers near Jos in Nigeria’s central plateau — apparently reprisals by Muslims against Christians. These attacks, while part of a cycle of religious violence, themselves seemed especially disturbing because many of the victims were women and children who were attacked while they slept.

And now car bombs in the oil-rich Niger Delta, a region of armed revolt where kidnapping has been a norm for some time. The Nigerian national government believed it had bought off the most militant of the Ijaw oil rebels last year, but the rebellion has been reborn even as a member of the ethnic group has temporarily assumed the presidency of Nigeria.

Nigeria is of course experiencing a worsening crisis. The country is too big for an international power to come to the rescue. While the world waits for a new election in Nigeria, which may indeed be the only basis to establish a durable security environment in the country, Nigerians living abroad — especially those hundreds of thousands of well hybridized Nigerians living in Britain, Canada and the U.S. — must do their best to help their people back home rise above narrow differences in pursuit of humane, rationale steps towards addressing, if not settling, the many and complex grievances in this public sphere of this dangerously mismanaged nation.

Mar 07 2010

Togo’s democratic fallacy

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:43 PM

Tiny Togo, a blessed sliver of territory sandwiched between Ghana and Benin in West Africa, has demonstrated once more that merely holding an election doesn’t deliver a democratic outcome. Even an election where the mechanics are sound and the process seemingly transparent, as a regional West African authority has pronounced.

Despite relative non-violence and procuedural transparency, Togo’s presidential election, held last week, highlights the problem of representative democracy in an Africa where incumbent presidents repeatedly win elections.

In the case of Togo, the son of the country’s late dictator “won” re-election, according to officials reports. The opposition put up six candidates against Faure Gnassingbe, thereby insuring his victory. Why did the Togolese not rally around a single candidate? Why did the international community not insist on such a show of unity? What kind of “democracy” re-electes the son of a dictator who ruled since the 1960s?

The answer: no democracy at all.

Togo was and remains a dictatorship.

Let’s set aside any speculation that Gnassingbe may have bribed opposition candidates into standing against him and thus fracturing the opposition. Let’s set aside the speculation that Gnassingbe manipualted the media, the courts, the election commission — indeed the entire official apparatus of the national government — to insure his victory.

The facts are unnecessary. Gnassingbe should not have been allowed to stand for re-election.

That his right to rule Togo was forfeited is not merely the result of biology. His father was not a monarch, and the younger Gnassingbe is not a king. Rather he is a failed president because of Togo’s miserable condition under his (lack of) leadership.

Five years of mis-rule, above else, should have disqualifed Gnassingbe from standing for re-election. And his victory, over a divided opposition, should be a prelude to the African Union’s refusal to recognize his new government.

Let Togo struggle for development without Faure Gnassingbe.

Mar 07 2010

the other Kenya: IRIN shines

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:00 PM

Hats off to the UN’s development news agency, IRIN, for a insightful report on the neglected subject of marginalization and inequality within African countries. In a collection of articles, “Another Kenya,” IRIN shines a bright light on the forgotten have-nots of rural Africa. I never tire of saying that the divide between rich and poor within Africa is now a problem of greater magnitude and urgency than the problem of African marginalization within the world economy, society and culture. The global community remains mired in an outmoded view of Africa’s contradictions within the international arena. IRIN can play a helpful role in re-0rienting media priorities, towards inequalities within Africa, where African solutions — by and for Africans — can do a great deal of good.

Mar 05 2010

Police reform in Nigeria — around Africa — is essential

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:33 AM

The widespread killings by Nigeria’s trigger-happy police are receiving welcome condemnation from government officials. Today even the country’s police minister joined in the chorus of complaints about police brutality. Will fresh attention lead to reforms?

Nigeria is not alone in seeking a new approach to policing. Kenya also faces an urgent need for police reforms. Indeed, across Africa, there’s probably no more important improvement to be made in civil society. While the U.S. in its foreign policy continues to emphasize assistance to the armies of Africa, the triumph of civil society and nominal democracy has meant that policemen and policewomen, not soldiers, are on the front lines of securing law and order in African cities and rural areas.

In general, Africa’s police use to heavy a hand against alleged criminals and legal protesters. In Kenya and Nigeria both, police have maintained informal death squads in a misguided attempt to rid the streets of armed robbers and others who prey on the poor and the weak.

Some African countries continue to have police forces that are too weak rather than too strong. South Africa needs more effective police, for instance.

Whether to aggressive or too passive, police forces across Africa need to strive for a higher standard. Civil activists within countries — and across the globe — should strive not only to expose “extrajudicial” killings by police, and other forms of brutality, but they must also provide concrete suggestions on police improvments.

The media also has a special role to play. African journalists should make “the police beat” among the m0st important on their papers. Close monitoring of police behavior, including the taking of bribes as well as the taking of lives, could be the most effective way for the media to assist in Africa’s social uplift.

Mar 04 2010

The 21 best Living African musicians by region

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:56 AM

A good friend asked me to compile a list of my dozen favorite African musicians (and their groups) by country and region. The musicians must be living, he instructed, and for a reason: His dream is to produce a great African music festival. With the aid of digital music, the festival can occur every day, actually, by drawing on the music of these classic performers. Here’s my list, of 20 (I have large appetites). A few of the biggest names in African pop music are missing because, honestly, I’m not drawn to them. A few of my own West African favorites are from Ghana, and relatively unknown internatonally. The Nigerian band, Lagbaja, is the most political of the performers listed. The East African selections number only three, which reflects the overwhelming influence of hip-hop, Soukous and other “derivative” forms, especially on Kenyan music. Two of my choices for this sub-region are from Uganda, both groups whose leaders I personally know and admire (and whose work is most easily found on the sound track to the movie “Last King of Scotland). The best-known of my selections from the Francophone zone are Yousou N’Dour of Dakar and the incomparable Malian singer, Oumou Sangare. The Francophonie has other outstanding musicians of course, including the wonderful Cheick Tidiane Seck, whose album with the great jazz pianist Hank Jones represents the greatest colloboration ever between an American and African musician. And the lineup from Southern Africa, while diminished by the deaths of Brenda Fassie and Lucky Dube, remains extraordinary. Oliver Mtukudzi, from Zimbabwe, performs regularly in the U.S. and his “Tuku Music” is one of a handful of “essential” African albums by anyone, living or dead. Of South Africans, Pops Mohamed is perhaps the bandleader most deserving of wider recognition (his “Ancestral Healing” album is among the rarest and most affecting pieces of pop music ever created). The greatest living South African female singer, the diminutive Busi Mhlongo, remains shockingly little-known in the U.S. Sello Twala, meanwhile, was the musical genius behind Brenda’s rise to super-stardom in 2000 — and a terrific performer on his own.

I could go on … and on … but let the list speak. Listen, enjoy, and celebrate:

Southern Africa:

Thomas Mapfumo

Pops Mohamed

Oliver Mtukudzi

Busi Mlongo

Sello Twala

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

East Africa:

Afrigo Band

Percussion Discussion

Makame Faki and the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar

West Africa:


Daddy Lumba

Kojo Antwi

Rex Omar

Les Amazones de Guinee

Richard Bona

Congo and Francophone Africa:

Youssou N’Dour

Oumou Sangare

Lokua Kanza

Cheick Tidiane Seck

Baaba Maal

Dobet Gnahore

Mar 03 2010

The theft of aid to Africa by warriors: new evidence of bad outcomes from good intentions

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:01 PM

The BBC has brilliantly retold an old story: how in the mid-1980s charitable aid intended for hungry Ethiopians was diverted to rebel soldiers, some of whom even pretended to be humanitarians in order to get their hands on cash from private donors, who meant the money to be spent on food.

A quarter century ago, the CIA privately documented how soldiers grabbed famine aid, making mockery of the international movement to assist poor, hungry Ethioipians. Revisiting these allegations, the BBC found soldiers themselves admitting to the cruel farce.

The familiar story is a reminder that humanitarian aid often fuels the very violent conflicts that humanitarians seek to curtail or end.