Dec 29 2010

Ivory Coast: major test for foreign reformers of African politics

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:28 AM

The stalemate in Ivory Coast continues: Laurent Gbagbo, having lost the recent presidential election, still won’t relinquish his power over the government. And new talks today, by visiting heads of state in the region, did not persuade him to change his mind. Gbagbo is also staring down a threat from Nigeria, the largest West African country, of military action against him if he does not leave.

On the surface, the situation looks like another messy, embarassing political failure in a part of the world grown accustomed to them. But there is something different about the impasse in Ivory Coast. One thing the post-election crisis making clear: the international community cares deeply about elections and their outcomes in the sub-Saharan. The United Nations especially cares, and has done a great service to electoral reformers in the region by seating the ambasaador from Ivory Coast who represents the still unformed government of Alassane Ouatarra, the recognized winner in the country’s recent presidential election. As Stephen Smith told the Voice of America’s enterprising correspondent Nico Colombant, the U.N.’s action following a disputed African election appears unprecendented. Says Smith: “For the first time that I can remember a special representative of the United Nations has called the bluff on an election, not only observing an election, but actually speaking out after the election and clearly certifying who was the winner and secondly being followed by the international community in an unprecedented way.”

The question now is whether “technical” processes prove decisive in matters on the ground in Ivory Coast. I told Colombant  that well-intended outsiders need to move beyond technique and engage the existential issues that shape the social-political reality in the country. Colombant quotes me at length in a a fuller audio interview that he posted on his personal blog. Colombant nicely summarizes the gist of my comments in his own post:

“There is no real effort on the part of these outsiders [Zachary says] to understand anything about Ivory Coast. It is all just, here is a technical process, just follow it but you see the shortcomings of that. It is both promising but also the difficulties that (Mr.) Ouattara will face if he does take full control of the government are not trivial, that the longer that this stalemate goes on the more that is a possible outcome, that people will just say, hey the world is a very messy place right now, let us just abandon Ivory Coast to this dysfunctional politics because one thing that a lot of African countries have shown and I think Ivory Coast has shown it as well is that commercial life can sometimes prove surprisingly resilient in the face of a political breakdown.”

Dec 27 2010

Is film now Africa’s dominant form of artistic expression?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:34 AM

Is film now Africa’s dominant form of artistic expression? The Economist asserted this proposition in an otherwise reliable article on Nollywood, the Nigerian video industry. “Film is now Africa’s dominant medium, replacing music and dance,” The Economist writes. Can this be so? Perhaps for people under 20 years old, a new generation of more-urbanized Africans who comprise as much as 45% of the population of many countries south of the Sahara. For these African youth, the village can seem remote, making dance a forgotten art. Music, meanwhile, is adulterated, a melange of hip-hop, rock, reggae and other “imported” styles.

For older Africans, however, music is undeniably the form of expression most attuned to identity. One of my closest friends, from southern Africa, is a mighty technical brain and a power in media in his own country. And yet he pines away to perform his original songs. Another friend, a university professor who works in a most prestigious university in the U.S., is besotted by Franco. He can recite chapter and verse from Rumba on the River, the classic account of Congolese music. “I think there is story to be told about the record player as Africa’s true information revolution and Franco as its Field Marshal,” he reminded me on Christmas by email.

Nnamdi Moweta, the luminous African music impressario in Los Angeles, would agree, though he would likely claim to soldier under the generalship of Fela perhaps, or of Osadebe, the late Igbo troubedour whom he once managed. My own wife, Chizo, holds dearest the Igbo highlife musicians of her youth in Port Harcourt and Owerri, notably the Oriental Brothers and the rather neglected bandleader Oliver De Coque. While she delights in Nigeria’s cinema, music trumps movies for her any day. And virtually all of the classic cuts from Nigeria of the 1960s and 1970s can be found on authentic CD releases.

And so, reading the assertion about the new dominance of film in African society, I am reminded, not of the arts, but rather of the yawning generation gap that’s emerged in Africa — a gap that may do more to push change in African societies than any other force, demographic or not.

Dec 24 2010

U.N. makes brave decision on Ivory Coast presidency

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:41 AM

The United Nations has made a brave decision in choosing to back the moral victor in the recent failed election in this economically-important West African country, moving the candidate who is resorting to guns and violence and who is increasingly behaving like he aspires to be a military dictator.

Strictly speaking, the United Nations General Assembly late Thursday unanimously accepted the envoy sent to New York by Alassane Ouattara, amounting to diplomatic recognition for the internationally accepted winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election. In practical terms, he 192-country General Assembly recognized Youssouf Bamba as Ivory Coast’s UN ambassador, while withdrawing the UN accreditation of the country’s previous ambassador, who was appointed by previous president Laurent Gbagbo.

The U.N.’s action is hardly a declaration of war against Gbagbo, but the decision is brave nonetheless because for the first time — after years of dithering — the U.N. has called for an end to Gbagbo’s political career. This retrograde petty politician has tried for years to escape the reality on the ground: that Ivory Coast is too diverse geographically, ethnically, religiously and economically to be held hostage by a small urban elite.

Ouattara is untested and clearly unprepared for a military struggle. He seems to have ceded the force option to his international benefactors. His reinforced his low-profile style the other day by failing to even meet with a gang of journalists flowing by copter into his hotel compound by the U.N. Press-shy Ouattara sent his “prime minister” to address the press instead. Now will the U.N. authorize force against Gbabgo and his cronies? Will France move? The U.S?

The actors in the next act are not yet selected but the stage is now set for Gbagbo’s final scene. All Africans, and their faraway friends, await the outcome. If the international community cannot act against outlaws in Ivory Coast, where many years have been spent trying to placate them, and where the country is easily reachable by sea and air, can any African outlaw be held accountable? If not in Abijdan, then where?

Dec 20 2010

Africa’s (con)tested relations with international community

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:10 PM

The eminent scholar of African affairs, Stephen Ellis, writes to me about how the ICC’s action last week against Kenya’s political elite represents a new test for the international community’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa:

“There are quite a few prominent scholars (notably Alex de Waal) who, from a liberal perspective, have been quite critical of international justice in similar situations.  As you say, Kenya is far from being an impotent or failed state, which makes some of the implications of international justice different than in a case like Liberia or Congo.”

“Kenya is just one test of the changing relationship between African countries and the international community at present, with Ivory Coast being another.”

Dec 15 2010

Kenya needs political compromise, not indictments from international court

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:35 AM

For months, even years, Kenya’s politics has been conducted under the shadow of looming indictments from the International Criminal Court and its ambitious prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, against those high-level political leaders who allegedly directed violence, including massacres of women and children, during the post-election disorder nearly three years ago. From the very start of the ICC’s inquiry, my own considered view was that the settling of scores — moral, legal and political — from the post-election violence ought to be an internal Kenyan matter. To be sure, political leaders at the highest levels likely orchestrated some or much of violence, and because of extensive corruption in Kenyan politics, the chances of an independent court acting against these leaders was small.

The improbability of internal reform in Kenya is not reason enough to abandon the hope that Kenya can act as other nation-states do: and bring to the dock wrong-doers, no matter how mighty. By at long last allowing the U.N.’s ICC to assume the role of adjudicator, Kenyan politics may gain some clarity but the country’s civil society — and especially its home-grown reformers — will probably suffer a loss of strength and credibility.

If the facts bear out allegations against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, two leading politicians and possible presidential candidates at some future time, the best punishment is internal banishment from political activity and jail time — a double-barreled punishment to be imposed by Kenyans, for Kenyans, against Kenyans. The whole rationale of the ICC — that Kenyans cannot police their own affairs because they lack the capacity to do so, or the will to do so or the cleverness to do so — is suspect. What happened after Kenya’s failed election was no genocide on the scale of Rwanda; nor lethal criminality by a state actor on the scale of Charles Taylor in Liberia; and nothing approaching the misdeeds by insurgents and outlaws in Central Africa, Northern Uganda, Darfur or Eastern Congo. Kenya’s post-election violence was terrible but the breakdown of political order cannot be understand in the narrow terms of international law or the capacious terms of psychiatry. What is rarely acknowledged by anyone from the ICC, or the international humanitarian community, is that political violence is an instrument of power every day in Kenya. Police authority rests on the execution of the innocent and the guilty alike on the streets of Kenya’s cities. That violence is a tactic of the governors does not excuse it. But to reform Kenya’s dysfunctional political culture requires not legal rulings but a social and ethical transformation that transcends what any international court can do.

Moreno-Ocampo disagrees. He tells the New York Times: “This is a different kind of case. This isn’t about militias. It’s about politicians and political parties. It’s about investigating leadership.”

I hope the indictments lodged today by the ICC collapse. I hope Kenya’s political leaders, corrupt and selfish as they are, can be forced to make the hard, creative choices necessary to take ownership of the necessary process of giving the directors of the post-election violence their day of reckoning — creating a foundation for a new process of selecting presidents and members of parliament that helps Kenya balance ethnic, class and sub-regional tensions. Without a set of political arrangements designed by and for Kenyans, however, the intervention of the ICC threatens only to escalate the instability in Kenyan politics, weaken the democratic forces on the ground in the country and heighten the possibility that the next round of political violence in the country will draw even more heavily on ethnic and economic-class tensions.

So beware, Luis Moreno-Ocamp, what you wish for.

On Monday, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki announced his government would launch its own investigation. To be sure, his order comes very late in the game, and is designed, undoubtedly to create some kind of firewall against the ICC’s charges. But though his motives are impute, Kibaki ought to be given time to follow through with concrete prosecutions against the culpable in his own ranks — and in those of the opposition parties.

Dec 12 2010

Every Journey Began in Africa (or how Bono sells bags)

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:26 AM

The luxury brand, Louis Vuitton, has a new advertising campaign, promoting its line of travels bags in a print ads starring Bono and his wife Ali, who are both seen departing a small plane in the African savannah, an LV bag slung over their shoulders. The slogan of LV the campaign, “Every journey began in Africa,” echoes both a travel-writing cliche and the hoary truth that human beings did make their first journeys in Africa (home of the original humans). But the image of Bono and wife in the bush is contested. As my own wife, Chizo, from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, noticed immediately on examining the advert, Bono and wife are in the middle of nowhere, and yet there’s no one to greet them. “Why can’t there be some Africans in the picture?” Chizo asks. “Isn’t this someone’s land? Shouldn’t someone be there to say hello. At least, the people who take care of this land?”

Removing Africans out of the scene, out of the image of the “natural” African landscape, is an old trope in the exploitation of the image and reality of Africa. The real Africa is so unspoiled, according to this powerful myth, not even the Africans themselves can spoil it with their presence. If you’re wondering why Bono would permit “Africa” to be exploited so obviously, look no further than the small print of the ad, where an anonymous copywriter assets: “Profits from the bag,” as well as Bono’s fee benefit Conservation Cotton Initiative Uganda and his own Edun line of clothing, which he markets as garments and jewelry made in Africa with African materials.

So on the one hand, Bono is secondarily promoting African cotton farming, while on the other hand promoting one of the most significant meta-narratives in the story of Africa: that Africa is the motherland, so that we have all, in some sense, journeyed out of Africa — and, therefore, we all could journey back to Africa, in a redemptive return, just as Bono is doing in the advertisement.

And when we go back to Africa, why not carry our stuff in Louis Vuitton leather?

If we were to ask Bono, the man, what’s really going here, he’d probably not tell us that promoting his own brand, as well as a luxury brand, is essential, if wealthy Westerners are to be persuaded to care about “Africa.” And since he knows that Africa is not a place, but a myth, a complex set of stories that mutate over time, he is not satisfied with merely invoking the myth. So he’s targeted a specific myth, that Africans are despoiling their own land and won’t stop unless Westerners teach them not to.

The role of the cotton initiative is do just that. The initiative, which is more talk than walk, proclaims that African cotton growers could go organic, use less pest-controls, use less fertilizers, manage their resources better. Fair enough. But the initiative’s producers don’t say that small private African farmers, working with cotton buyers around the world, are expanding output, raising income and even, in some cases (as in Uganda), growing relatively large amounts of organic cotton.

Even in the far north of Uganda, in a region recovering for a long civil war, small private farmers are profiting from cotton, with technical help from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the multinational Memphis-based cotton broker, Dunavant. Ugandans themselves are driving the expansion of organic, even in the most marginalized part of their country. None of these achievements, however, are cited in the promotional video produced for the project. Cotton from in Uganda, meanwhile, is not apparently used in Edun’s material. Moreoever, the Ugandan initiative appears to have no links to buyers of African cotton. And after all, buyers are essential to any project to help farmers in Africa (or anywhere else).

Which bring us back to Bono, who embodies the marriage of the consumption of African culture with the consumption of global celebrities, all wrapped in a moral crusade that itself illustrates the protean nature of capitalism: more trade with Africa. Even humanitarians have gone business-mad, but they remain isolated from the heartbeat of business in Africa: Africans themselves, partnering with global corporations in pursuit of new markets and new investment opportunities. Curiously, even as Bono rides the wave of naked capitalism driving African economic growth, he cannot speak the language of capitalism, only the language of charity, and to do so by invoking the myths of the motherland as the justification for linking producers and consumers.

Dec 11 2010

Is it time to remove Gbagbo by force?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:32 PM

With each passing day that Laurent Gbago refuses to relinquish the presidency of Ivory Coast to the winner in the recent national elections, the case for his forced removal from office grows clearer.

Though Gbagbo is trying to negotiate another power sharing agreement to extend his term as the titular head of this West African nation, he had agreed in advance of elections to step aside if he lost.

He lost.

He must now go, or face arrest by the U.N. forces — about 10,000 of them — keeping the peace in Ivory Coast. As Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe recommends the time is over for governments of “unity” in Ivory Coast. Such governments have accomplished their objective: to stage a fair national election to move the country forward.

Or the French could arrest Gbagbo, and then send him into exile.

The case of Ivory Coast is an important test for the international community. If Gbagbo is allowed to remain endless in office, condmening Ivory Coast to effective partition, then the years-long effort to broker a settlement between north and south in this economically-strategic country, has been a failure. The days of babysitting demonstrably ineffective and illegitimate African leaders should be over. The days of making excuses for their vanity and their disgraceful disregard for their own promises, ought to be over. The time for giving Gbagbo more time ought to have expired. Gbagbo’s behavior should be met not with “sanctions,” but with his with his arrest and, if necessary, his removal from the country. If he cannot obey the law, he should be considered to have extinguished his claim on remaining in Ivory Coast as a private citizen.

Gbagbo need only look to his neighbors to see that the precedent for this scenario is well established. In both Nigeria and in Ghana, former presidents live peacefully, declining to interfere in unlawful ways in the political process. So does Kenneth Kuanda in the Zambia he once ruled essentially as a monarch. All of these former rulers obey the law, refuse to succumb to the temptations of extra-legal manuever for political gain. And they are honored for this commitment to law. Gbagbo ought to do the same and if he cannot do so, he should suffer the consequences of banishment. That was, after all, the tactic that sent Charles Taylor out of Liberia and enabled that nation to begin to rehabilitate itself.

To be sure, there are risks in arresting and exiling Gbagbo. His supporters could take up arms. But the alternative is to leave this magnificent country, hostage to bandits and thugs wearing suits. As a price for removing Gbagbo, Alassane Ouattara, who is the rightful winner of the election, should be required to take demonstrable steps to protect and support the southern Christian community in Ivory Coast. Ouattara has every reason to support Southerners because of their vital importance to the economy — and because Northerners depend on the South for access to the Abidjan port, the most important in West Africa.

Dec 07 2010

Gbagbo must go!

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:51 PM

The whole messy affair in Ivory Coast was easy to predict (I did). The election process once more is being held hostage to the imperatives of a discredited president. Once more, a legitimate challenger is being denied electoral victory. Rather than provoke another poll, the time has come for Laurent Gbagbo to step aside and be replaced by Alassane Ouattara.

The nation-state of Ivory Coast must move past the hollow calculus of counting votes. In the end, the imperatives of political transition — and national healing — demand that Ouattara get his turn as president. Ouattara can do no worse than the baffling Gbagbo, and he likely will do better. Ivory Coast has ample resources, talented people and a choice geographic position. With improved leadership the apparent rift between north and south, Christian a Muslim regions, could be quickly and peacefully closed. For insights into why, and how, see the excellent essay published this fall by Abu Bah of Northern Illinois University.

The good news is that Ivory Coasts’ neighbors in West Africa now accept the reality on the ground. In an important declaration this week, ECOWAS (the critical West African political group) has called on Gbagbo to step aside. May he heed the request from his neighbors.

Dec 04 2010

More evidence Africans benefit from smart adaptations to climate change

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:12 PM

Alex Perry, the devoted Africa correspondent for Time magazine, has published a valuable report on how smart adaptations to climate-change are already benefitng rural Africans. The article is entitled, appropriately, “land of hope.” And the subtitle explains that despite spreading deserts, “innovative policies can push the deserts back.”

Rather than a doomsday wipe-out predicted by many professional “Afro-pessimists,” Perry forsees diverse benefits to Africans from adapting creatively and boldly to lowered rainfalls and higher temperatures in much of Africa. Reporting from landlocked and drought-prone Niger, he finds much evidence on the ground of expanding forests and booming agriculture, based on wiser use of land and the limited water available.

Perry’s article is all the more impressive because his positive viewpoint today contrasts sharply with a prominent report in 2008 where he linked an upswing in wars and political violence in Africa to climate change. To be sure, parts of Africa will fail to respond adequately to the challenge of climate change — and more conflict may result in these places. But Perry’s article shows that there’s growing awareness of a broad powerful trend that I’ve been writing about for some time — along with other astute observers of the real Africa. Or rather, let’s let Perry make this point that pessimism about climate change and Africa is “plain wrong.” My intellectual allies, he writes, “argue, paradoxically, that climate change may be the chance Africa needs.”

As Perry writes eloquently: