Apr 29 2011

Malcom X in Africa: Marable’s bio charts shift in American view of Motherland

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 3:00 PM

One of the most revealing aspects of the rich life of Malcolm X, the African-American nationalist leader murdered 46 years ago, is his relationship to the African continent. Unlike many African-American nationalists, Malcolm didn’t invariably view Africa as the “motherland.” His embrace of the peculiar Nation of Islam meant that he didn’t reflexively even consider black Americans as having originated in Africa but rather, according to the wacky and weird cosmology of Elijah Muhammad, saw Asia as the original source of African-Americans (specifically, the Nation of Islam insisted, irrationally, that black Americans were descendants of a lost Shabazz tribe originating in the Middle East) . Only when Malcolm visited the African continent twice in 1964 did he grasp the organic and durable connection between black Americans and African soil.

The late Manning Marable, in his fascinating new biography, closely chronicles Malcolm’s revelatory visits in 1964 to Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria as well as his travels to Mecca and the Saudi Arabian peninsula, the historical home of Islam. A full year before his travels Malcolm displayed a new appreciation for the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and the relationship between colonial racism and the awful Jim Crow segregation system in the U.S. In early 1963, Malcolm said, “The man that you call Negro is nothing but an African himself. The unity of Africans abroad and the unity of Africans here in this country can bring about any kind of achievement that black people want.”

Of Malcolm’s two visits to Africa, Marable views the second as decisive. During this longer sojourn, which came in the last year of his life, Malcolm “experienced the fullness and profundity of his own African heritage,” Marable writes. The trip “immersed him in a broad-based Pan Africanism that cash into relief his role as a black citizen of the world.”

The galvanizng effect on Malcolm of the African independence era was no exception. As I have written elsewhere, much of the moral force and international appeal of the civil rights movement in the U.S. arose from forces unleashed by Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. From the independence of Ghana in March 1957 — a milestone of vast significance that drew Martin Luther King Jr. (and Richard Nixon) to West Africa for the first time — to Malcolm’s own celebrated “conversion” to racial tolerance in a pan-racial African Islam, the de-colonialization of Africans and the drive to end legal segregation in the U.S. fueled one another, reflecting the reality that the struggle against racism was, at its core, both global and existential.

Malcolm’s relationship with Africa remains frozen in time — an artifact the turbulent mid-1960s. His murder robbed him of the chance to deepen his appreciation for both the diversity within the African continent and the sometimes rather striking differences between African-Americans in the U.S. and Africans at home. In Marable’s necessary new account of Malcolm’s “life of reinvention,” Africa itself is reinvented in the American imaginary, deconstructed and then reconstructed in a manner that testifies to the powerful hold that the African continent still exerts on the body and soul of the American.


Apr 21 2011

for Kizza Besigye, “passive resistance” is the shape of things to come

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:38 AM

After he lost the election for Uganda president to Yoweri Museveni, Kizza Besigye and I sat together in his party’s offices, discussing why, if the election was illegally stolen from him by his opponent’s fraud, would not Besigye call his supporters to go into the streets and protest these violations? After all, Museveni, having begun his political career as a savior and redeemer of the “pearl of Africa,” was now nakedly and brazenly imposing his autocratic decisions on a great and dignified African nation, which is also home to one of the most dynamic economies and societies in the sub-Saharan.

I had come to Besigye’s office that day warily, concerned that I was being followed by state security agents and anxious that they might burst into our meeting room at any moment. Disciplined and dedicated, Besigye spoke passionately about the importance of elections in Uganda and the immense frustration that he and his supporters felt over once more being robbed of victory. After respectfully listening to Besigye’s complaints, I asked firmly and clearly why he did not ask his followers to take to the streets and passively resist Museveni’s reign?

“I cannot put my people at risk,” Besigye said. “I cannot have them brutalized and hurt.”

And so, in Kampala, where Besigye’s supporters are most numerous, there were no demonstrations, no passive resistance of the kind being witnessed all around the world.

My meeting with Besigye occured in 2006, more than five years ago. In February, Besigye once again lost an election to Museveni, giving him another five-year term in a presidency that has run already more than 30 years.  Having been robbed again in his view, Besigye finally did take to the streets. Earlier this month, hundreds of supporters — a large political demo by the standards of repressive Uganda — took to Kampala’s streets (and the streets of other Ugandan cities), and were met with predictable force.

Besigye was shot in the hand, and hospitalized briefly. He plans more marches, though for now he must direct any civil disobedience actions from a jail cell.

The protests seem ill-timed. They should have come before the national election, not afterwards. Besigye is brave and consistent in his criticisms of Museveni’s cronyism, and excessive spending on military equipment. Yet he lacks strong tactical instincts and his failure to galvanize the diverse opponents of Museveni into a overwhelming political movement indicates that perhaps the time has come for his to step aside and allow a younger, more creative opposition leader to tackle the enormous task of forcing Museveni from power.

With civil protests throughout the Middle East, and in North Africa, the question of why no similar protests have emerged in the sub-Saharan is important. Uganda provides perhaps the most fertile ground for such protests, because of Museveni’s brazen behavior, his long tenure and the strength and diversity of Uganda’s civil society. And yet nothing out of Egypt or Yemen or Bahrain has happened in Uganda. And neither have sustained protests erupted in Cameroon or Zimbabwe, two countries whose political leaders (Biya and Mugabe) surely deserve immediate ejection from power. The simplest explanation is that ordinary people in these countries have been thoroughly demoralized about the possibilities for lawful, rational political change. Pluralistic alternatives, such as “rotating” presidents among sub-national power blocs, seemingly offer no better outcomes: witness the presidential election this month in Nigeria, where an incumbent won by a wide margin, igniting regional unrest that seems likely to persist for months, if not years.

For scholars of African politics, of which there are many excellent ones, the deeper answers are familiar and durable. Yet the great leap forward that appears to have happened in the political arenas in North Africa and the Middle East, in which the rising generation is engaged in political protest and reform mobilizations in novel ways, had no apparent precedents either. The time for African reformer is not now. But the question can no longer be denied: if not now, then when? The clock on Africa’s repressive rulers is ticking louder; with roughly 50 percent of black Africans under the age of 25, African politics is condemned to experience a revolution. If not soon, then later.


Apr 15 2011

Pentagon’s “enlightened” Africa strategy: casualty of Libya campaign?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 9:56 AM

The central role of Africom, the U.S. Africa Command, in the civil war in Libya, while geographically determined by Libya’s position in North Africa, complicates the Pentagon’s careful strategy of wooing African governments with promises of technical assistance, while reassuring these same political leaders that Africom doesn’t represent an effort by the U.S. to intervene militarily in their countries. This last question is especially important since most African nation-states that are nominally at peace experience some form of seccessionist or ethnic movements within their borders. For instance, famously peaceful Senegal continues to witness resistance from within its Casamance district. In the anglophone area of Cameroon, calls for regional autonomy (and even union with neighboring Nigeria) persist. Some Acholi of northern Uganda dream of union with the new nation of South Sudan. And so on, across the continent.

To the extent that U.S. military forces show discipline and restraint, African governments expect to accomodate the legitimate desire of the Pentagon to operate an Africa command. Which is why the Libya intervention raises so many concerns, at least in the abstract — because the very commanders in charge of overall Afrcom operations have been intimately involved in the Libya campaign.

The most urgent question is whether these officers, especially Africom’s “air boss” Maggie Woodward, ought to temporarily give up their posts in favor of a Libya-specific assignment. Africom’s many programs of engagement with African military establishments around the continent would seem to be undermined by the presence of commanders actively engaged in a war on African soil. By shifting these officers, perhaps including Africom’s ultimate chief Army General Carter Ham, the Pentagon could continue its pan-African activities without the risk of individual African countries concluding that they were somehow, however remotely, colluding and cooperating with a Pentagon military action they may oppose or at least hold deep reservations about.

Supporters of Africom argue that the command’s role in Libya demonstrates its “minimalistic” approach to the continent. But critics say the Pentagon has risked too much in the current intervention.

From its inception in 2007, Africom has been presented by its architects (and promoters such as the writer Nathan Hodge) as “unlike a traditional military command” because of it heavy focus “on humanitarian and development issues. The Libya campaign may alter this carefully cultivated image — and prove that the risks were greater than the rewards of this military intervention of African ground.


Apr 11 2011

In Ivory Coast, now the hard part …

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:03 AM

Given the immense difficulties in imposing the results of a free and fair election on the losing political leader in Ivory Coast, observers might be tempted to conclude that the reform process in this West African country will unfold relatively easily. Not so fast. As hard as it was to arrest Laurent Gbagbo for refusing to accept his electoral defeat, rallying the country behind Alassane Outtarra, a longtime political opponent and Muslim northerner, may be just as difficult, or even more difficult, given the ethnic and geographic divisions in Ivory Coast, and the costs in human suffering and economic stagnation brought about by years of civil war and political instability.

Outtarra deserves time to sort out his plan for governing one of the best-endowed nation-states in the sub-Saharan. For today, at least, congratulations are in order. At last, Ivorians of good will must no longer say, Gbagbo must go. He is gone, and good riddens. Soon, however, the celebrating will give way to a sober appreciation of the difficult days ahead. As John Kerry, the U.S. Senator, declared today, “This is an important step forward, but there will be challenges ahead and I urge President (Alassane) Ouattara to support a peaceful dialogue that will ensure the long-term stability and prosperity of Cote d’Ivoire.”


Apr 10 2011

In Zambia, China rules

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:42 PM

In Zambia, follow the money. Chinese investment rises; the treatment of abusive Chinese employers in Zambia is tolerated. The relationship is logical, if not moral.

The government of China has made Zambia a high priority. While Chinese investment with Africa, and socioeconomic engagement with Africans, is growing rapidly, no country in the sub-Saharan has captivated official China as comprehensively as southern Africa’s most stable nation. China owns rights to copper, many large farms and even a growing class of small merchants and shop-keepers. So the government Zambia faced an especially difficult problem when last October managers of a Chinese-owned mined fired guns on protesting Zambian miners, injuring 11.

The government, which first wanted to try the Chinese managers for attempted murder, has now dropped the charges. Zambians wants to know why, and whether bribes were paid in order to obtain the exoneration of the Chinese managers.

China’s investment in Africa is welcome. I have written elsewhere that Chinese technical skills, investment capital and business energy are needed in the region. But Chinese support for capital formation, technological enhancement and economic growth need not come at the expense of rule of law and basic human decency.


Apr 03 2011

The road to peace in Ivory Coast: or why did Outtarra turn to violence?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 8:35 AM

The months-long stalemate in Ivory Coast stands as an indictment of the international community’s inability to resolve paralyzing political disputes in sub-Saharan Africa. As in Zimbabwe, Togo and the Congo, in Ivory Coast elaborate attempts at bringing genuine political change — and ousting presidents who’ve essentially become dictators — have failed to accomplish their ultimate goals. In Ivory Coast, a peaceful resoluton seemed possible, especially because the winner of national elections four months ago appeared willing to wait until his country’s usurper, Laurent Gbagbo, ran out of money and enthusiasm for holding his beautful, industrious country hostage to his own petty desires.

Now the Mandela-like resolve of Alassandra Outtara appears to have vanished. Soldiers who appear to be his supporters are moving on Ivory Coast’s capital, and doing battle with Gbagbo’s dwindlng forces and the civilians who support them. Reports of massacres by pro-Outtarra forces see, credible, and have shattered the illusions surrounding the Ivory Coast stalemate. It is still possible that Outtarra still seeks a peaceful resolution to the ousting of Gbagbo, who has been condemned even by U.N. and African councils. Yet increasingly, Outtarra’s silence in the face of a renewed civil war in Ivory Coast suggests that he himself now favors armed conflict as a path to power. The uncertainty thtreatens to ruin Outtarra’s reputation as a potential national healer for an Ivory Coast which has experienced more than a decade of political upheaval. Rather than relying on his aides to speaks to the international community, Outtarra must help himself seize the microphone and clearly communicate his plans for a postwar Ivory Coast — and his position on whether violence is indeed the only way to remove Gbagbo from power.  It is not enough for Outtarra to support investigations in violence against civilians by his supporters; he must either endorse or reject such violence as a means to settling the question of political power in the wake of a peaceful election. Otherwise, Outtarra risks losing his international support — and plunging Ivory Coast back into a political limbo in which international agencies must continue to manage the country’s internal affairs.