Mar 29 2011

the Persistent Pornography of African Pain

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:35 PM

Rwandan-based journalist Jina Moore illuminates anew a common failing in Western media depictions of bad behavior in Africa: the pain is presented so graphically as to raise questions about whether the reportage reinforces negative stereotype of Africans and dehumanizes the victims of social breakdown even as the media demonizes the actors perpetuating this carefully-documented, even pornographic violence. Moore’s fresh examples and solid analysis comes in an article, “How Not to Write About Rape,” supported by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Brutalized Africans are not alone in being further brutalized by insensitive journalists seemingly unaware that they might be over-exposing the pain experienced by people in war, poverty, disease or natural disaster. But as I have argued elsewhere, and most expansively in my essay,“Just So Stories: Stories We Tell About Africa (and those we don’t),” literate people around the world remain profoundly influenced by negative meta-narratives about Africa, and its people, that make telling fair and balanced stories about African situations surprisingly difficult.


Mar 19 2011

Hidden history of Nigeria’s brain drain: a Physician’s story

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:30 AM

Kehinde Ayeni is a Nigerian physician working in the U.S. A published novelist, Dr. Ayeni is also a keen observer of African affairs, and especially those involving Nigeria and Nigerians. We got to talking recently about the problem of talented people leaving Africa, and not returning to work. This exodus, the subject of so much anxiety from so many perspectives, has complex roots in recent history. Here are Dr. Ayeni’s fascinating, and surprising, observations:

“For political reasons and as it crazy as it sounds, I know for a fact that Nigeria doesn’t like to retain doctors trained in Nigeria and they prefer to export them.  And I think that it is a throw back to some un-mourned aspect of slavery, I will not say this to anyone else, if I did, they will think I have lost it but I strongly believe it.

Most of the people I grew up with and went to school with are in the US or England and the rest are all over the world.  I know someone I grew up with in almost every country of the world!  Young people graduate from college in Nigeria and hightail it out of there as if the devil is chasing them.  And the parents like it!  The few times I would go back home to visit my parents and other relatives, I used to be met with “Kehinde, what have you come back home for, why are you here?” It used to make me so angry and I would say, ‘But this is my home, are you saying I cant just come home on a visit?” and once my father said to me, “Wouldn’t it be better if you stayed in America and you just send us money, instead of wasting money on air plane tickets to come visit us, the money would be better spent if you sent it to us.”  So Africans continue to sell their children.  So the brain drain and migration of young people out of Africa now is just humane slavery, one where they pay you very well.

This is the reason that I made that statement, at the time that the brain drain phenomenon first began in the 1980s and a lot of our doctors who were originally trained in England in the late 50s and early 60s and following our independence from the British (the majority of our professionals went to England for college education and most of them returned to establish hospitals, universities and take over from the English staff who were in place).

But then in the 1980s, when the economic situation started to deteriorate to the extent that doctors and college professors were not even able to feed their families, a lot of them just dusted their diplomas and applied for jobs in the Arab world and their was a massive migration of doctors, who were our teachers in medical school, out of the country at the time. And they were being paid the equivalent of the salary they would have earned in Nigeria in two years in just one month.

And the rest of us realized that we needed a foreign diploma along with the Nigerian one to really be respected as doctors anywhere in the world; and so those of us in medical school at the time started to apply for and take the American and the British medical board exams.

Prior to the 80s, Nigerians were hardly migrating, people would go abroad for one thing or the other but always returned home and the national spirit was that we had to make our country great.

But then with the recurrent pillaging by the military, it became such that uneducated people with good connections, and the military were the highly rewarded ones in the country and the more education that you had, the more at a disadvantage that you were.

Another reason was that the Nigerian government did set up a commission at the time to look into brain drain and see what they could do to curb it, but they returned after a year of traveling all over the world to investigate what was attracting young Nigerians out of the country and concluded that it was good for the country.  They never did go into details at to why it was good for the country, and so the government didn’t put anything in place to attract young people to stay in the country but rather things got worse and a lot of us started to leave.

Those of us who came to the US for our residency training did come on Exchange Visitor’s visa – a J1 or J2. And the condition of that visa is that on completion of our training, we must return to Nigeria for a minimum of two years before we could apply to re-enter the US.  This was an agreement arrived at by the WHO/UN to ensure that poorer countries do not lose their physicians to rich countries.  But then if you don’t want to return to your country, you could get a letter from your home Ministry of Health stating that they don’t need you and that if you returned there would be no job for you, and with that letter, you can then apply for a waiver job in the US and then the US will send you to an underserved part of the country to work.

The Nigerian Ministry of Health was issuing these letters to us in droves, they didn’t want us to return to Nigeria to work for Nigeria.  And this is doubly sad because we all went to college free of charge, we didn’t pay any tuition.

So that is how we were able to stay in the US.

Most of us did have tried to return to Nigeria to work, for say a month a year or so. I have applied to many of the medical schools to teach free of charge, but you know, the reception is always hostile.  There was a time that I had an agreement with my medical school and did go there to try to establish a program….  The residents were very excited, but the faculty was very hostile to me, and they didn’t make the residents and students available, they would tell me they were busy with this or that but the residents later told me they were not.

And this is the experience of a lot of my friends.”


Mar 13 2011

The Myth of “Wild Africa”: a critical appreciation

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:20 PM

I’m teaching a class on technology, development and sub-Saharan Africa this term at Arizona State University, and one of my students, Dustin Short, has written a penetrating appreciation of one of the classic texts on conservation and environmental protection in the region, The Myth of Wild Africa. The challenge of balancing “man and nature” in Africa is made considerably harder by a legacy of international interventions that both pathologically romanticize Africa’s environment while at the same time relentlessly diminishing the capacity for Africans to strike a satisfactory balance on their own accord. International environmental groups continue to advance arguments that confuse as much as clarify how, when and where to control and coordinate the interplay between humans and animals and the lands they co-inhabit. Short writes eloquently and with necessary detail about one of the great and neglected subjects of African affairs:

Jonathan Adams and Thomas McShane, in The Myth of Wild Africa, argue that the idea of an Africa unspoiled by human activity was a fabrication of early white explorers. This perception of “Africa as uninhabited wilderness” [35] has persisted through colonialism into the modern era of African conservation. According to the authors “the myth of Africa as a pristine wilderness, problematic from the outset, was an utter fallacy firmly in place by the mid-nineteenth century” [17] is the greatest hindrance to conservation in Africa today. Instead of the West dictating a strict conservation policy of preservation that stems from an emotional response created by advocacy groups, Myth posits that “simple justice demands that we recognize the primacy of Africans in conserving their natural heritage.” [251]

The legacy of colonialism has created a mentality within the Western conservation community of “primitive Africans” who are presented for European consumption as not far removed from the animals that inhabit the wilderness. “Science and technology are the most powerful tools that the West has at its disposal. The inhabitants of the primeval African wilderness cannot protect it, many people outside of Africa believe, so it follows that the West must take on this task, and must send in its finest troops, the scientific foot soldiers.” [90] While not explicitly stated, Myth subtly intimates that the West must avoid considering “Africans just another species” [28] “incapable of protecting their wildlife.” [60] Even the rhetoric used by some members of animal rights movement claim that “it is only a matter of time before African culture ‘evolves’ to the point where Africans will accept the value of strict preservationism” [167] indicates that some conservationists still view Africans living closer to the wild animals than the civilized West. Myth counters this regressive mindset with the concept that African conservation “will most certainly fail if Africans are not included in every level.” [108]

Adams and McShane provide a wealth of examples to dispel this illusion of uncaring and incapable Africans. In contrast, the inclusion of rural Africans has produced some surprising results where exclusionary methods of conservation experience little success if not outright failure. As the Owens experienced in Botswana “If you cannot operate within the bounds of government, whom you are a guest of in this country, to work these issues out, then work elsewhere.” [146]

Africans from the governmental to local level have little incentive to conserve their resources beyond a sense of economic gain or national pride. If efforts are not taken to appeal to these aspects of African life, the authors argue that very little traction will be gained in conserving the wildlife of Africa. Where rural communities have been involved great strides have been made. In the pilot program that led to the creation of ADMADE, Lupande saw poaching rates decrease at least ten fold as the villagers gained skills from the training program [165]. Much of this was due to the program receiving part of the revenue generated by commercial safari organizations. The villagers saw a direct monetary benefit to protecting their wildlife and developed a protectiveness of the animals. In Botswana, the democratic environment created by “kgotla” (public meeting, community council or traditional court of a Botswana village) allows the rural populace to use their voice when provided the opportunity. In 1991 seven hundred residents of the Okavango Delta spoke out against a proposed dredging program, citing fears of draining the delta dry [152]. Clearly the rural Africans, given the chance, are willing to protect the very land that has sustained them and their families for generations, if not much longer. It is these cases, where the rural communities are directly involved, and given custodianship that provide the most hope for conservation in Africa.

Most promising, rural Tanzanians complained to the state government that “the Wildlife Department had not created any game reserves” in their region, the first occurrence of Tanzanians volunteering their land for a game reserve [158]. The afterword explains it best: “Conservation in Africa, once the exclusive province of Europeans and Americans, increasingly carries an indelibly African stamp.” [251]

Unfortunately The Myth of Wild Africa has begun to show its age. Written nearly twenty years ago many recent developments in conservation have addressed the issues discussed. While the afterword, written in 1996, does a commendable job of acknowledging the changes that Africa has seen from political to environmental, that was still fifteen years ago and even more has changed. Many conservation programs have begun to incorporate rural communities into their scope.

One such program seeks to protect the wild African dog, which is the most endangered species of canid, and is threatened by rabies contracted from domestic dogs. The wild dogs are elusive however and vaccinating them was not feasible. So a program was designed to vaccinate domestic dogs kept by the Maasai. The Maasai were enthusiastic at the prospect of protecting their pets from a grisly death as well as villagers bit by infected dogs and in the process a rabies free quarantine zone was established around Tanzania’s wild dog populations. This is a clear example of conservation efforts providing tangible benefits to rural Africans while simultaneously protecting threatened wildlife.

Adams and McShane consistently portray American conservation policy as synonymous with American and European conservation advocacy groups. The authors mention that ”a fenced park plays on a Western Ideal of wild Africa by making the mistaken claim that a fence is a barrier against both man and nature, creating in effect a time capsule; the land inside the fence shall endure, untainted by man, regardless of what happens beyond.” [56] However look at the National Parks of the United States where few, if any, parks have a fence surrounding them. Some have border fences to counter illegal immigration, like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but those are roundly criticized by conservationists as preventing animal migrations. This is exactly the same criticism that African parks face. Adams and McShane frequently mention safari hunting as a source of revenue to fund conservation efforts but the position is unpopular with advocacy groups [169]. While many advocacy groups do not support this route, the sale of hunting licenses in the United States is a major source of conservation funds. In a similar vein, the authors frequently make a distinction between conservation tactics of the West and methods that will work for Africa. This implies that the West operates differently from Africa as far as conservation. However when recently reintroduced California Condors were dying of lead poisoning, hunters were educated about the problem and many subsequently switched to using non-lead ammunition to preserve the species.

While the “march of civilization destroyed has destroyed or tamed the wilderness of North America and Europe.” [xii] The West still faces the same conservation challenges as Africa. Both must balance short term economic needs with long term environmental considerations. If Africa can find ways to develop economically without destroying the charismatic megafauna that charms the international community, maybe there is hope that one day America can find ways to coexist with bison, grizzlies and wolves throughout the American West.


Mar 05 2011

land, titles, Africa: solution in search of a problem?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:53 AM

Are creative adaptations to customary land arrangements in Africa sufficient to insure adequate stewardship of land and provide a framework for sustainable productive use of land, especially farmland? Many international experts say no (most famously Hernando de Soto) arguing that Africans need the same sort of formal land rights that contribute to the relatively smooth functioning of property markets in the developed world. I might have agreed some years ago, but after witnessing the havoc created by lax lending in the residential real estate market — and the vast number of resulting foreclosures — I’ve begun to think that ordinary Africans, and especially rural African farmers, might consider themselves lucky to be spared the vagaries of fully free markets in land that depend on explicit land rights.

Outside of African cities (and excepting South Africa), formal land titles — registered with government 0r courts — are unusual. Few experiments in land titling are occuring in Africa either. While more power for peasants would be welcome, the best tool of empowerment may not be land reform from a strictly legalistic framework. I fear that national land titling opens the way for two kinds of predatory actions against small holders: taxes by government and foreclosures by lenders (if farmers default on loans that are supposed to liberate them). Better for rural Africans to continue to creatively adapt to the absence of formal land titles. They are doing so, though as I explain in a new article based on field research in eastern Uganda, there are costs as well as benefits. In the windup, I question the land titling orthodoxy (what one wag has aptly called “de Soto’s delusion,” even as I concede that the “tragedy of the commons” — or in my example, the tragedy of the “mud people” — is a very large cost indeed.