Chinua Achebe’s death at the age of 82 robs us of a great man but compels us to appreciate anew his stunning works of fiction, essays and memoir. Achebe spoke to Africans and non-Africans differently but urgently. For more than half a century he delivered revelatory insights about both the African condition and the human condition. In dying, he leaves a body of writing unmatched by any West African. While he never won the coveted Nobel Prize for literature, he received virtually every other literary acolade and won a place in the pantheon of the greatest 20th century writers. Achebe was beyond comparison but by anaology he was, in my view, what Orwell was for the British and what Camus was for the French. While his greatest works of fiction came in his youth, and while he lived for decades in a self-enforced excile in the United States, he was first and last a Nigerian, committed to the progress of his country. Even as he despaired of Africa’s problems, even as he wrote in sometimes contradictory ways about his education as a “British-protected child,” he took solace in his insistence that Africans would someday become the beacon of hope, intelligence and wisdom that he believed they were destined to become. At bottom, Achebe was a writer of conscience, of dignity, of purpose and seriousness. If Ngugi of Kenya bemoaned the colonization of the African’s mind by the colonial oppressor and neo-colonial experience, Achebe asked that we try our best to transcend the limitations of the past and to recognize that every tragedy contains within it a new dawn.
Mar 22 2013
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Mar 18 2013
The discerning editors at the august and influential World Policy Journal have produced an important issue devoted to the political economy of the sub-Saharanm entitled “Africa’s Moment.” Of special value in the issue are the conversation with Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, and a series of contributions, by African thinkers, addressing the important question of “what role should technology play in Africa’s development.”
The following framing paragraph from the WPJ editors both sets the tone of the special issue and underscores the profound shift in attitudes about the future of a region once often dismissed as hopeless and increasingly viewed as a global success story with plenty of good news to come:
“Africa has had moments of hope and optimism in the past, but this one seems different. The diverse continent of 54 sovereign nations appears ready for a genuine, lasting takeoff. Over the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies have been African. Across the continent, civil wars and despots are giving way to prosperity and democracy. Mobile technology has revolutionized nearly every aspect of life. Underwater aquifers have been mapped under some of Africa’s driest regions.”
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Mar 14 2013
Formal training in computer science and engineering is undergoing a revolution in East and West Africa. More than a decade after the introduction of the affordable Internet and low-cost computers to each of these African sub-regions, the era of self-taught, bottoms-up software programming and computer science is coming to an end. Formal, university-based CS education is growing in quality in East and West Africa, promising deeper, more sustainable understanding of digital technologies in these sub-regions. As I described in a lecture given on the Univeristy of California on March 13, in the best universities in Uganda and Ghana, new and increasingly original research is laying the foundations for the creation of authentic and even world-class CS knowledge enterprises, especially at the nexus of mobile communications, media and information services. The first evidence of an authentic East African research agenda is beginning to be seen. Obstacles to East and West Africans joining the mainstream of global CS research remain stubbornly high, but because of unique social, economic and cultural conditions in East and West Africa, the possibility is growing that CS researchers from these sub-regions will make significant, world-class contributions in coming decades. More broadly, the emergence of CS in sub-Saharan Africa could help orient digital innovation more towards the authentic needs and realities of life in developing regions, thus helping to reduce and perhaps (ultimately) nullify an innovation “gap” that has disadvantaged peoples of the developing world since the dawn of digital computing.
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Mar 11 2013
Alex De Waal is among the most trenchant observers of African affairs and his new essay, “The Theory and Practice of Meles Zenawi,” carries revelatory force. In his article, De Waal tries to rescue Zenawi, who died last August, from an unfair assessment by critics of his role as Ethiopia’s prime minister and domineering political personality over the past quarter century. That Zenawi contradicted the neo-liberal concensus on economic development is de Waal’s starting point. He importantly highlights the possibility that Meles’s body of ideas represent “an authentically African philosophy of the goals and strategies of development.” How successful Meles was in promoting and managing development, alas, is not part of the essay’s scope. Meles deserves more attention as a thinker on African development; de Waal is right to highlight this basic truth. But what kind of development he achieved in Ethiopia, one of Africa’s growth stars in the 21st century, deserves more examination. The question of the extent to which Ethiopian development has reiforced or expanded inequality challenges those who will carry on the task of building on Meles’ various legacies, however defined. May de Waal expand his essay into a book on this intriguing, contradictory and essential political leader.
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