Oct 30 2011

Pan-Africanism Reconsidered

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:39 PM

My old friend Eric Osiakwan, from Accra, Ghana, reminds me that Qaddafi may have cynically used and abused the dream of “one Africa,”  but that the deposed dictator’s exploitation of the idea of unity across the African continent should not lead to the abandonment of the Pan-African ideal. He writes about a recent Atlantic article of mine, : “I don’t agree with the premise of your article that due to Africa’s “diverse diversity” she should not try to unite, for me that’s all the more reason why she should unite and the unity in this case is not to water down our diversity but to establish a common framework for political and socio-economic development. When you look at the history of pre-colonial Africa, we had pretty much a united front (or something close to it). Salaga was a big marketplace in Mali and people from all parts of Africa go there to trade. Timbuktu was a city of higher learning and many Africans from different part of the continent went there to study.” Osiakwan adds, “I agree with you that the approach of our post colonial leaders as well as recent bandits like Gadafi needs much to be desired and so lets not throw away the baby with the bath water.”

I agree with Osiakwan that Pan-Africanism has more than historical value and that many pragmatic Africans continue to dream of African unity as the foundation for more rapid development within the continent and more geo-political power for Africa across the globe. Indeed, a persuasive rebuttal to my argument against a rigid, ideological Pan-Africanism is to insist, as Osiakwan does, that pan-Africanism has been badly implemented over the past 50 years but that the concept is still worth trying. Now would a well implemented, unified approach to governing the African continent be desirable? I’d say yes loudly but the difficulties remain to realizing this aim remain enormous — and the pursuit of the aim, if it sucks energy from other worthy sub-continental initiatives, could mean that Pan-Africanism still does more harm than good. To be sure, governance along continental lines is no panacea for poor governance by smaller units. Look, for instance, at how badly the U.S. is being run, and quite possibly because the U.S. government is simply too big. Look at the political, financial and economic problems Europe is having because of flaws in the structure of the European Union, which is often presented by Africans as a model for their own political and economic unity.

So can we expect better from Pan-Africanism when Europeans and Americans struggle with the disease of giantism? In contrast to Pan-Africanism, I’ve always favored the construction within Africa of strong sub-regional groupings — like east African Eco community or ECOWAS. Make these sub-regional groupings much much stronger and in the meantime forget pan-Africanism.

The benefits of subregional groups with clout could be enormous: a powerful Ecowas for instance could ban Biya from office or put Togo into a regional trusteeship until a functioning legitimate government was formed.

Once there are  five or six successful sub-regional political groups in Africa, the task of constructing significant continental-wide institutions will undeniably be easier.

Oct 24 2011

How Qaddafi reshaped thinking about (black) Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 11:18 AM

Lost in the scramble to understand how Qaddafi died — and to assess his death on Libya — is a review of his influence on sub-Saharan Africa, especially his role in the African Union, the most important contintental body in the region. For insights, see Howard French’s essay from this past March in the Atlantic. And this morning, the Atlantic published my assessment of Qaddafi’s perversion of Pan-Africanism, and a brief critique of the entire movement, which has long influenced the shape of African politics — and often for the worse.

Oct 22 2011

Paul Biya, scourge of Cameroon, “wins” another election

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:04 PM

Cameroon’s Supreme Court declared Paul Biya as the winner of the Oct 9 presidential poll. Biya, who is 78, will serve a sixth seven-year term as president of this West African country.

Effectively a dictator, Biya has run Cameroon as a personal fiefdom since the early 1980s. He pushed through a change in the constution a few years ago that permited him to seek another term.

The official poll gave Biya 78 percent of the vote, a tally that defies belief if not the imagination of the shadowy cartel that surrounds Biya the man. The election pitted 22 candidates against Biya, who for decades has adroitly exploited tensions within his country to divide his critics. Biya is believed, for instance, to pay people to run against him for president — the more, the merrier, it seems — in order to make legitimate opposition candidates less able to muster diverse support.

Cameroon is among the most beautiful countries in the sub-Saharan. The country has a powerful agriculture sector as well as diverse natural resources. Biya runs the government in a highly casual manner, earning the nickname, “the ghost,” in part because he is believed to spend relatively little time in the country.

International donors have scant leverage over Cameroon’s government. France continues to limit pressure from reformers who would seek to end Biya’s tenure. French-owned companies control wide swathes of Cameroon’s economy, dominating cotton production (in the north) and cement production in the south. The country also hosts the longest oil pipeline in the region, bringing crude from Chad to the Cameroonian port of Kribi.

A potential bright star of Africa, Cameroon instead languishes. the victim of Biya’s persistence and a perverse set of economic factors that reward both domestic and multinational capitalists for policies that insure the stagnation of social conditions in the country. While ill health has often led to speculation that Biya’s days as the country’s president are numbered, he continues to defy expectations of a deserved exit. That he officially received another term in office in the same week of Ghaddafi’s death is a reminder that, at least in lovely Cameroon, home to West Africa’s highest mountain and most haunting plateaus, there is only winter.

Oct 16 2011

New leader at legendary African newspaper

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:08 PM

One of the most decorated journalists in contemporary Africa — Gwen Lister, editor of the Namibian — has handed off her duties to her equally capable deputy, Tangedi Amupadhi.

The Namibian has for decades been a lonely voice of independent analysis in sparsely-populated Namibia, where the government has long been suspicious of the press and worked against stronger voices for civil society.

Lister has withstood relentless criticism from the government and its allies.

Amupadhi has won a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and been a prominent journalist in southern Africa for many years.

Oct 05 2011

Finally, an African president in a hurry

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:55 PM

Zambia’s new president, Michael Sata, is wasting no time putting his stamp on the country. My friend in Lusaka, the publisher and political analyst, Chanda Chisala, writes that Sata:

“has already fired the whole board of the energy regulation board (because he believes the price of gas is high mainly because of their corrupt deals with the oil companies), he has fired the whole Roads Development Agency (who everyone believes were bribed to inflate road contracts, etc), he has fired all the 72 district commissioners – they were all party appointments and he wants to return the jobs to professional civil servants instead of party cadres. He has fired the Central Bank governor (he had helped the former president grab a bank that belonged to his personal enemy and sold it to South Africans — the sale has now been reversed), he has fired the Chief of Police,the chief of the Anti-Corruption Commission (for becoming partisan instead of professional)…..he has set up a commission to investigate the apparently corrupt way ZAMTEL was privatized, …too many things have happened in the last ten days alone. He has done in ten days what most presidents do in three years, seriously!”

Oct 04 2011

How a political “spring” might spring come to Africa, again

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 2:34 PM

The election of a new president, Michael Sata, to Zambia has renewed attention on the prospects for democratic renewal in the sub-Saharan. In an essay last week in the Atlantic, I argued that absent an Arab-style “spring” in black Africa, Zambia’s emergence as a beacon for democratic change in the region is a shift of great significance. The perspicacious observer of African affairs, George Ayittey, took issue with my central characterization: that radical political change has eluded the polities of the sub-Saharan and that, furthermore, civil-society activists in the Arab world had learned much from their sub-Saharan counterparts. Drawing on important historical context, Ayittey writes:

“You have the chronology and timeline incorrect. The African village revolutions occurred before the Arab Spring. Africa’s village revolutions occurred soon after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, winds of change swept across toppling long-standing dictators, such as Mattieu Kerekou of Benin, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. It started out in Benin in 1991 and ended with the dismantling of apartheid in South in 1994.

“In 1990, only 4 African countries were democratic: Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius and Senegal. By 1994, the village revolutions had added the following: Benin, Cape Verde Islands, Congo (Brazzaville), Namibia, Sao Tome &Principe, South Africa and Zambia. There was a reversal in Gambia when a coup was staged in 1994. But by and large, Africa’s village revolutions produced more democracies in the early 1990s. Black Africa was ahead of the Arab world. There was no such thing as the Arab spring in the early 1990s.

Second, what occurred in Zambia was a second revolution. The first occurred when Frederick Chiluba, a trade union leader, won the country’s multi-party presidential election in 1991 as the candidate of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), defeating long-time President Kenneth Kaunda. He was re-elected in 1996. Chiluba was a hopeless failure and corrupt and the MMD started to look more like Kaunda’s UNIP party. The election of Michael Sata was a rejection of the MMD.

“Sata’s election is not emulating the Arab Spring. If anything, the Arab Spring has much more to learn from Black Africa because what occurred in Zambia was a reversal of a revolution. The liberation and democratic hero elected in 1991, Frederick Chiluba,  turned out to be no different from the dictator he ousted. As Africans are wont of saying: “We struggle very hard to remove a cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing. Haba!”

“It could happen in the Arab world, just as it  happened in black Africa.”