Apr 30 2010

Africa’s Singapore: Rwanda in April

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:29 PM

April is a cruel month for Rwanda: the anniversary of the genocide. But 1994 genocide has been very good to Rwanda’s goverment of Paul Kagame, the most personally correct leader in Africa. Weaned on Uganda’s rebel movement that led to the end of the country’s civil wars, Kagame later received military training in the U.S. His victorious guerilla struggle, in the confusing weeks and months after the end Hutu-led genocide, was made into the stuff of legends by journalists. Today, Rwanda receives a “genocide dividend,” cherished by donors who failed to act during the genocide itself. Kagame’s ability to consolidate power at home, in fascistic style, and to maintain an enlightened, even visionary, image internationally remains one of the great political achievements of our times. Kagame ranks, if not the equal of Mandela, then a peer. He is the second great, world-historical African leader produced since the end of the Cold War.

Kagame is also an Anglophone, which suits the times. English after all is a kind of currency, and African leaders trapped in the Francophonie, while at best cultivated and Europeanized, lack the plain talk that Kagame applies to his advantage. He is, if anything, more attracted to Asian leaders and, because he presides over a small country, the Asian leader he most admires is the Singaporean independence leader and unabashed authoritatian ruler, Lee Kwan Yew.

Had Kagame lived in a less politically-correct time, he could also openly admire the Israeli leaders of the past. Israel after all was born following the mother of all genocides, and Kagame is, if anything, more Ben Gurion than proto-Confucian. Yet in global politics today, Kagame cannot appear to emulate Israel, even though his entire international-relations strategy comes straight from the Jerusalem playbook.

For some years now, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have hammered away at Kagame’s government, flinging accustations of HR violations wily nily. The French government, still boiling over their ejection from the country and the conversion of the Rwandese elite to English, have repeatedly accused Kagame of a “second genocide,” this against the retreating Hutus, who fled to eastern Congo after their defeat and for years carried on a pathetic yet vicious war against both the Congolese and Rwandese governments. Even a few foreign-assistance groups have shunned Rwanda, fearing that Kagame’s effecient police state might actually depend on something worse than intimidation to silence (or punish) critics.

But the murmur of dissenting views on Rwanda has long remained below the radar of the world community’s conventional wisdom. Now the convenient situation may change. The hugely influential New York Times, and its excellent East African reporter, have found that intimidation against its critics may be the ultimate aim of Kagame’s compulsion for order in a Rwanda that visitors count among the safest countries, not only in Africa but the world.

Kagame is a survivor and his Singaporean approach to conformity could acually be a model for a new kind of governance in Africa. By putting results over due-process, pragmatic Kagame could teach some other African governments a few lessons about the perils of promoting democratic form over the substance of economic gain. Good politics after all is the “secret sauce” lacking in so many disappointing African societies. Complaints about rights will always burden Kagame’s legacy. But in the end, if he can deliver economic growth, in an Asian style, then he justly will deserve the title of Africa’s greatest leader in the 21st century.

The trouble, of course, is that Rwanda is not experiencing any kind of economic leap forward. The country’s gaudy official growth figures are the result of foreign aid and good-samaritan money pouring into the country — and aided by Africans of Tutsi descent who have returned to the country in small but significant numbers. Unless Kagame learns his economics lessons as well as he has mastered politics and warfare, Rwanda is well–positioned for harsher criticism — and Kagame too. Perhaps Kagame, who is unquestionably intelligent and self-aware, recognizes the shifting terrain. His “sneak” visit into Oklahoma on Friday, officially to attend the graduation ceremony of a small Christian college, is evidence of his perceived need to maintain a low-profile. While media insisted that Kagame’s low-profile was merely to avoid being served in a counter-genocide lawsuit against him, filed by prominent Hutus, the likelier explanation was that Kagame made secret visits to the CIA and National Security Council while in the U.S. Kagame remains Uncle Sam’s most reliable ally in central Africa, and the strength of his national-security apparatus raises one other parallel with Israel: Rwanda is a valuable military ally and a frontline actor in any U.S. move against Islamic militants in East Africa.

Apr 26 2010

South Africa’s bold science strategy

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:17 AM

What can reduce inequality in wealth and income in South Africa, the richest country in the world’s poorest continent? Try any number of remedies and each will yield some benefits; that’s how pervasive and protean the wealth divide is. In a new essay, I examine the role of advanced scientific and technical skills in the South African workforce — and the influence of both markets and government in promoting the growth in a more highly-skilled workforce where South Africans already stand on top of the region’s table. I don’t conclude that the government’s efforts are working splendidly, but at least South Africans are trying to address a challenging problem that bedevils other African countries.

Because of “brain drain,” simply educating more talented people — and producing more scientists and engineers especially — isn’t enough. These trained people must find homes in their own societies, a task often complicated by a legacy of undervaluing the highly skilled. Moreover, “techno-science” must become central to both the educational systems and the commercial cultures of African societies. Too often, the best and the brightest Africans content themselves with careers in law, finance and medicine. These are fine fields, but they should not be pursued to the neglect of science and technology. “Techno-science” carries a big bang for those who wish to more rapidly improve life in African countries, by whatever metric. Too often, “techno-science” is ignored, not only by policymakers but national elites themselves. South Africans should applaud themselves for avoiding this common failure — and for putting money into techno-scientific ventures that may yet further distinguish the country from its regional peers.

Apr 19 2010

Bono questions about himself, and capitalism in Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:08 PM

Bono, the self-styled Africa activist, generally ignores the plight of African immigrants in his own country of Ireland (home an beleagured community of Nigerians, for instance). The habit of ignoring Africans generally carries over to his encounters in Africa too. But Africans are working much harder to be heard these days, really heard, and even Bono is starting to listen, at least judging from his recent op-ed column in The New York Times. What Bono is hearing is what everyone who talks seriously with elites in Africa’s major cities inevitably gets told: foreign aid is demeaning, the money distorts African society in dangerous ways and cripples the initiative even of talented Africans. What elite Africans would much rather receive is “foreign investment;” in short, the fuel for business. Bono even perceived a meeting with Mandela as a call to take capitalism in Africa seriously. a word, Bono is finally hearing a viewpoint that the “invisible Africans” he has no long championed are passionable about — and so many foreign do-gooders ignore. Bono ends with a confession that he believes that “the people of Africa are writing up some new rules for the game.” Actually, the rules and the game are old, but saviors of Africa from faraway places — men such as Bono — have chosen to dismiss them. Perhaps Bono is undergoing his very own capitalist conversion, coming to a belated realization that old-fashioned, crass commerce will do as much for ordinary Africans than all manner of charitable acts?

Apr 16 2010

Exoticism in Reverse: “Through African Eyes”

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:31 AM

Like most non-Africans who possess a larger than ordinary interest in Africans in Africa and out, I’ve been accused of exoticizing Africans. Guilty. But in my life experience, I find Africans do the same, exoticizing Europeans and other “non-blacks,” endowing them with strange powers (such as uncommon ability to accumulate surplus capital) or personal habits that diminish dignity (touching in public?). Now a new art show in Detroit, “Through African Eyes, nicely summarized by Holland Cotter and curated with a certain guileless genius by Nii Quarcoopome, offers a rarified perspective on the penchant for Africans to exoticize the outsiders they’ve encountered over the past century especially. “Even after the initial mystification subsided, Europeans remained at least as exotic to Africans as Africans were to them,” Cotter shrewdly writes about the show, which is dominated by statues my wife would describe as “old colonials.” Opening Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Art, the show is a timely and useful corrective to the linear model of exoticism that often erupts at both appropriate and inappropriate times.

In my living room, I keep an old colonial, a Congolese carving of what is meant to be a cartoon-like Belgian soldier. The statue is recent, one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of retro-colonial representations that Congolese carvers and artists are producing these days. When faced with the conundrum of why we exoticize the other, and are seemingly condemned to do so, I will visit with my Belgian soldier who is dressed in pith helmet, big black boots and sports a pencil moustache. The old soldier says no words but speaks nonetheless.

Apr 13 2010

Tough love from Lusaka

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:59 PM

Chanda Chisala, the Zambian writer and journalist, has some of the most original notions of any African thinker. He finds some fascinating lessons for African politicians from the European Union’s decision to financially assist Greece. Writes Chisala in his characteristic tough-love mode: “African leaders should watch this episode carefully so that they know exactly what their European advisors really think about countries that beg for aid. Perhaps this will cause the African leaders to realize that there is no honour in begging: it is self-degrading, humiliating and even embarrassing to anyone who has any sense of pride.”

Apr 12 2010

And the purpose of Sudan’s election is …

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:33 AM







Apr 12 2010

Clogging the brain drain: Better aid to Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:21 AM

To stimulate growth and development in Africa, governments and international organizations to reverse the negative consequences of the “brain drain.” Aid donors should tap into the underutilized knowledge of Africans living outside of Africa when trying to craft aid plans. However much contested, financial and technical aid to Africa is inevitable. The important questions are over who supplies aid, who receives it, and what outcomes are achieved and for the benefit of whom in Africa. My critique of aid to Africa is not that aid isn’t effective, because sometimes it is (I’m especially impressed with the Millennium Village program, the malaria initiatives by the Gates foundation and some small-farmer assistance programs in East and West Africa funded by the Agency for International Development and often implemented by Chemonix, a development contractor). Much foreign aid to Africa does reinforce pathologies, fails even in narrow technical terms and sustains corruption.

To read the rest of my contribution, the Berlin-based Atlantic-Community.org.

Apr 07 2010

Trading Truth for Justice: Ten years, and one murder, later

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 5:43 PM

The slaying last week of the South African racist reactionary, Eugene Terreblanche, provides an opportunity for another examination of the persistent and peculiar divide between some whites and some blacks in the “new” South Africa of black-majority rule. The Terreblanche murder, which may have had nothing to do with politics, also reminds that the task of reconciliation with the apartheid past — and so much else — is not over in South Africa. In a country with a super-high murder rate, where even a national (black) hero such as Lucky Dube can be massacred for the value of his car, and where hundreds and possibly thousands of white farmers have been murdered in the 15+ years since the end of apartheid, there’s no telling what caused the slaying of Terreblanche since, in South Africa, killing appears to have its own logic, to be its own twisted affirmation of human ambition. But if Terreblanche’s death cannot be analyzed easily, the efforts at reconciliation can indeed be further analyzed, starting with the justly famous if famously  flawed Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A good place to begin a review is with Susie Linfield’s superb article, published some 10 years ago, “Trading Truth for Justice.”

Much of the energy spent on reflecting about the TRC experience has looked at the relative merits of punishing whites who did really bad things under apartheid, and of compensation blacks who suffered really really badly under the same regime and especially during its dying days. No doubt, the decision by the Mbeki government to issue scant monetary awards to bone fide victims who stood before the TRC was wrong. The awards should have been larger. Some whites meanwhile escaped without any punishment except public rebuke; so did some blacks. To be sure, these people of all colors could have received more negatives than social shame and stigma. Yet I think of the main debate over the TRC as essentially a sideshow. The main show ought to be what to do about racial tension — and worse — in today’s South Africa. That Terreblanche could publicly and openly reconstitute a racist political party says much about the confusion in South Africa between dissent and the impossibility of reclaiming the old forbidden segregationist ideology. Just as in Germany today, any neo-Nazi party is essentially inconceivable (and illegal), so too should be a white supremacist party in South Africa.

Terreblanche did not deserve to die, but he didn’t deserve to lead a political movement either.

Apr 07 2010

the folly of Dakar: Wade’s delusion

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:57 AM

At a cost of nearly $30 million, a new statue in Dakar has ignited an uproar that an African leader is once again putting vanity ahead of practical outcomes.

Senegal’s president Wade, now 83, was already old when I met him a decade ago at the outset of his presidencyin 2000. He came to power as a reformer, promising to awaken one of Africa’s most enigmatic under-achievers. Senegal is blessed with relative peace, a well-educated people and rich traditions. Wade has done little or nothing to accelerate the country’s desultory economy and seems bent on becoming president for life. He says he intends to seek re-election in two years time.

That Wade says he was personally involved in designing the statue suggests the dimensions of his public delusions. Critics have found the statue, which  depicts an outsize manholding a baby in his outstretched arms, with a woman seated behind him. The statue, more than 300 feet tall and reportedly built by imported North Korean workers (yes, that’s not a typo), reflects some fractured understanding of Soviet-era realism and carries no hints of any the traditional African art forms that the world so admires.

Wade has called the statue, unveiled to coincide with Senegal’s 50th anniversary of independence, “African Renaissance.” Wade is fond of presenting himself as in the vanguard of a new Africa. But he is merely an Orwellian orator, his best days were in the past. Part of a post-colonial Africa that cannot be forgotten but is nevertheless forgettable, Wade mocks himself — and squanders his people’s great potential — not only with this statue but with his entire political project.

Go, Wade, and let a dynamic generation of Senegalese, born about a half-century ago and now at the peak of their careers, take over the running of your country. Step aside, and the sooner, the better. Tommorrow even.

Wade’s dignified retreat into retirement is the only monument to African revival that the proud Senegalese deserve.

Apr 07 2010

Tired of media images of “depressed-looking” African women

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:35 AM

Hats off to the Daily Beast for presenting a different way of looking at african women, and in words of a woman from Liberia, the activist Leymah Gbowee.

Her first sentences in her debut column in the Daily Beast say much about the sorry state of media images of African women in the U.S. — the strong medicine needed to correct the situation.

“I’m so tired of seeing photographs of depressed-looking African women with sagging breasts,” Gbowee writes. “I know from experience that African women can be absolute hell-raisers. We have no other choice.”