Archive for the ‘Africa’ category

Debating “Hafrica”

January 10, 2007

My good friend D. Stephen Goldman and I have been throwing down over the idea of pan-African unity and ethnic identity over at his blog. Go and see the rhetorical spittle fly or join in the melee yourself.


The Story of Angola

November 21, 2006

In 1975, the central African country of Angola cast-off the colonial regime of Portugal and declared independence. The country promptly descended into civil war. Because of the larger context of the Soviet-American struggle this civil war was rapidly transformed into a proxy war. As James Traub reports in a terrific piece from this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, by the end of 2002 more than a million people had died and about a third of Angola’s population of 12 million had fled from their homes. Angola was a quintessentially broken country.

Angola is still a broken country. But Angola has oil, immense deposits of which lie under the South Atlantic Ocean in Angola’s territorial waters. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ruling regime’s longtime patron, the past decade found a war-torn nation adrift. America was not so keen to provide aid to an obnoxiously corrupt and brutal regime. In March 2002, the IMF reported that the nation’s finances remained hopelessly opaque despite efforts to reform Angola’s bookkeeping. Things were at an impasse.

Enter China. Though a long source of infrastructure development throughout Africa, the Chinese have for the past number of years been proactively on the prowl for oil and influence partners throughout the third world. And, perhaps most importantly, China extends its hands with no strings attached. Suppress the role of a free press? No problem, we do it too. Brazenly rob billion in oil revenues from the public coffers? No problem. Angola has replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s oil source.

China comes to Africa offering aid without conditions. As Traub notes, China’s official Africa policy seeks “a new type of strategic partnership [which] respects African countries’ independent choice of the road of development.” (Read: We do not care about human rights. We do not care about good governance. We abhor transparency.) This is how, as my thought-partner noted, China is positioning itself to become the 21st century’s illiberal superpower. The story of Angola overlaps with the stories of Sudan, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and elsewhere.

And with $5-billion in Chinese oil-backed loans the Angolan economy is booming. Construction is everywhere. Conference centers are being constructed in close proximity to international airports that are being built. And yet, in Angola one in three children dies before the age of 5, and the life expectancy is 38. Development, Chinese style. – a process, as Traub describes it, “imposed from above and answerable to no one.”

A Cry for Who to Intervene?

September 12, 2006

Here in Washington, DC there was a march this past weekend on the White House. It was modest in scope, a few hundred at most, calling on the Bush administration to “Stop the genocide! Break the deadlock! Protect the people.” The gathering was organized by Africa Action, who planned the rally to coincide with the release of their new report, “A Tale of Two Genocides: The Failed US Response to Rwanda and Darfur.” The report (funded in large part by the American Jewish World Service and the indomitable Ruth Messinger) explores the similarities and differences in how US policymakers responded to the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. The report, poignantly, was released on September 9 to mark the two-year anniversary of the Bush administration’s acknowledgement that what is happening in Darfur constitutes a genocide.

As my partner recently pointed out, the situation in Darfur has reached a crescendo of horror. The worst case scenarios that were for too long blithely dismissed as, well, worst case scenarios are in fact coming to fruition. The Abuja peace accord, brokered with American assurances and American pressure, has crumbled. It is yet another example of how America’s role in the world is so compromised at the present moment. The very idea of American resolve seems farcical in the present context. The Dinner Jacket sees this as clearly as I do (or at least as clearly as a delusional man can gauge any situation. And I am increasingly of the mind the Dinner Jacket is delusional like a fox. That or he is the crazy pawn on the backroom Mullah’s chessboard).

The mendacious government in Khartoum is asking for the tiny, ineffectual (though valiant) African Union force to leave Darfur. One Darfurian told Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times, “We beg the international community, somebody, come and save us. We have no means to protect ourselves. The only thing we can do is run and hide in the mountains and caves. We will all die.” Meanwhile, Kofi Annan – ineffectual and not valiant – warned the Sudanese government that they will be “held collectively and individually responsible for what happens to the population in Darfur.”

There are plans for large-scale rallies this weekend in New York City. A number of months back there was a similar demonstration on the Mall in Washington. The crowd on that sweltering afternoon seemed an interesting mosh of Africanists and human rights advocates. Though the organizers worked to keep the affair apolitical, the general ideological temperature of the audience (judging by the signs, conversation, and common sense) was decidedly liberal. I would guarantee you that there were a mere handful of Iraq War supporters (and even fewer out and out Bush supporters) in that audience. I was most troubled by the fact that the calls for action were all ambiguous, almost delusionally ambiguous. The most often-repeated refrain was “Not on My Watch!” But there was little rhetorical consideration offered by those at the podium as to what American would in fact have to do to ensure that this does not occur on our watch. I wanted to ask these passionate, heartfelt protesters, whether they support stopping this at all costs. In short, do they support American boots on the ground? Less dramatically, do they support American planes administering a no-fly zone?

Now, many months and deaths later, with no diplomatic option on the horizon, will the speakers at the rally this weekend resort to the same platitudes? More to the point, will President Bush take the opportunity of a speech next month at the General Assembly of the UN to publicly shame and admonish the Sudanese government? Will he call out, specifically, the Sudanese representative who will be sitting in that chamber on that day?

Free Speech in Africa

August 29, 2006

“The conditions of press freedom and freedom of expression are deteriorating rapidly or systematically in all regions of Africa.”

So says the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO). At a June meeting in Lagos, Nigeria NAFEO took note of significant increase in the arrests, detention, repression and harassment of journalists and other media professionals, singling out six countries for particular opprobrium:

• The Gambia
• Ethiopia
• Eritrea
• Zimbabwe
• Tunisia, and
• Swaziland

NAFEO is planning a campaign to pressure governments to repeal laws criminalizing press offenses and to free individuals who have been detained or imprisoned for exercising their free speech rights. We will keep you posted. 

Shameless Nepotism Corner

August 22, 2006

Well, altruistic nepotism anyway. Educate! is an excellent charitable organization whose Montreal racketeering and extortion operations are run by my equally excellent cousin, AJ Hirsch Allen. The organization provides scholarships to refugees in Rwanda and Uganda covering the cost of tuition, food, safety and healthcare. All funds raised go directly to aiding refugees and a mere $990 (can’t tell from AJ’s message whether this refers to Canadian or U.S., but a steal either way) will buy you an entire refugee for a whole year, or at least the opportunity to make a meaningful change in his/her life. For more information, check out