Egypt Looks To Africa For Investments

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 13.35.25.png

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is steadily turning inward to Africa to stimulate investment, trade and development. In June of last year, Egypt signed a tripartite agreement between three regional organizations (COMESA, SADC, and the EAC) to create an integrated market of 26 countries with a cumulative GDP that’s more than 50% of the continent income. Egypt will be hosting the Africa 2016 Forum this weekend February 20-21 in Sharm el-Sheikh. The aim of this forum is a potential game changer as it aims to boost political and economic ties throughout the continent.

Egypt’s march towards Africa integration

Historically Egypt’s largest and most vital foreign aid donors and trade partners have been the West and the Gulf States. According to the U.S. State Government 2013-2015 Foreign Assistance report, $1.3 billion of $1.5 billion received by Egypt was used for military-related activities. The European Commission has reported that since 2004, EU-Egypt bilateral trade has more than doubled and reached its highest level ever in 2012 (from €11.8 billion in 2004 to €23.9 billion in 2012).

Despite the decline in oil prices, the Gulf States continue to pour billions of dollars into Egypt in the form of aid and investments. During last year’s Economic Development Conference, Egypt’s Prime Minister announced:

“Egypt received $12.5 billion in support from the Gulf States, which will be directed at projects carried out within a year or two; this is in addition to $5.2 billion in loans and funds with the Ministry of International Cooperation.”

The recent shift in Egypt’s policy towards “intra-Africa trade” to spur on Africa integration should not come as a surprise. Ahmed Farouk Ghoneim Professor of Economics at Cairo University states:

“Egypt’s trade policy has been shaped over many years, driven primarily by political and economic objectives. Over time, changing domestic, regional and international circumstances have had a significant impact on trade policy in Egypt.”

Egypt’s realized the way forward is to work towards strengthening its ties politically, commercially, bilaterally and multilaterally across the continent to tackle common challenges like high youth unemployment, illegal migration, and poverty. Egypt shares positive commonalities with the rest of Africa including ample natural resources and has skilled resources in technology – an upside it shares with Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and other sub-Sahara Africa counterparts.

In recognition of these similarities, Egypt has demonstrated a willingness to cooperate during the ratification of the building for the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. The construction of the dam was/is a serious concern to Egypt’s government, which cite potential threats to its water and electric supply. After years of disputing over the dam’s construction, all three African leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan opted for a diplomatic solution and signed a cooperation deal in 2015.

The significance of the cooperation deal was it did away with the outdated colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959 which granted Egypt virtual monopoly over the Nile regardless of the aspirations of the other nine riparian countries. The cooperation deal also helped avert a regional resource conflict while ensuring greater cooperation and trade between Egypt and sub-Saharan African states via the tripartite agreement signed in mid-2015.

Furthermore, in 2014, Egypt’s government developed a new platform for cooperation in an effort to advance the African Union’s (AU) vision 2053 under the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD). The aim of the EAPD is to provide technical assistance in developmental financing and humanitarian assistance to African countries.

Expectations and going forward

As delegates and heads of state convene this weekend in Sharm el-Sheikh for the Africa 2016 Forum to showcase opportunities and strategies to encourage intra-Africa trade we can expect a litany of action plans and discussion pertaining to pressing issues of the continent. Amongst the topics covered will be B2B interaction, developing strategic public and private partnerships and regulatory harmonization towards strengthening business environments across the continent.

After years of upheaval via the Arab spring and the – ousting of former presidents Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Egypt has finally stabilized under President Sisi. Political stability in Egypt does not mean all divisions in the nation are resolved. The continued crack down on journalist, activists, and academics that are targeted as anti-government under the anti-terrorism law along with food and energy security remain major concerns. The bottom line is Egypt’s long-term growth and stability is linked to Africa, the success of the forum can only be measured on the actual execution of projects and the agency it instilled in its citizens.

The Mission To Be Heard

Founder of Chillen Muzic Entertainment Nkwain Ettiene Chambahcame

Founder of Chillen Muzic Entertainment Nkwain Ettiene Chambahcame

While in Cameroon on a research assignment, I encountered a music scene that went beyond the art form and into the entrepreneurial realm. The Cameroon music scene is about more than promoting and producing new sounds — it aims to level the playing field for Cameroon artists by developing the resources to push Cameroon entertainment beyond the country’s borders. Today’s Cameroonian tastemakers are about creating access to professional audio and video production and quality promotion.

Nestled away in the Southwest Anglophone capital of Buea located off the busy malyko junction is an inconspicuous bar bearing the name Chillen Muzic Entertainment (CME). CME is not just a bar; it is an emerging entertainment production powerhouse. Entrepreneur and founder Nkwain Ettiene Chambahcame up with the idea for CME in 2002 as a student at the University of Buea Nkwain. Originally, the company operated exclusively as a recording studio producing demos. Then in 2009, Nkwain expanded the company to include video production. Despite both audio and video production being produced in-house, Nkwain and his team found they were still paying exorbitant amounts to get their artists aired. It was through this particular experience that Nkwain took CME into an entirely new direction.

Nkwain lamented the company was being overcharged by Canal2, a privately owned satellite TV channel. “We’d pay 350,000 CFA (approximately $700 USD) and our videos would only get played at most 5 times. We then realized we needed to start our own thing. We believed we had to start from somewhere. On Labor Day, May 1st 2013, Chillen Muzic Entertainment sent out its first broadcast for Chillen Muzic Television (CMTV). Some people are doing video or audio production or both, but we are the only ones who are it and we are doing it for free.”[sic]

Chillen Muzic Entertainment headquarters

Chillen Muzic Entertainment headquarters

Entrepreneurs like Nkwain are providing a broader platform for artists to gain exposure in and beyond Cameroon. In the past, companies solely focused on production or promotion. Companies such as CME provide an entire package of artist development from creating and producing the demos to promoting the final product through various media outlets. The strategy allows companies similar to CME to have more control over the artists’ success, but it also keeps costs down for effective promotion by publishing content in-house.

Nkwain’s strategy has a cultural benefit to the development of today’s Cameroon music as well. “Our client base is largely Afro Hip Hop and artists realize the need to be original, a need to get back to our roots has made it unique. This is a shift from the early 2000’s when Cameroon rappers sounded like Nigerians. Because we were sounding like them, we were ultimately selling Nigerian culture.”As artists increasingly integrate indigenous cultural nuances into their music, companies like Chillen Muzic have an opportunity to introduce that influence in all aspects of their image from start to finish. They are in a prime position to usher in a new direction for Cameroon culture.

This assessment rings loudly when we consider Douala-based award-winning artist Stanley Enow’s 2013 single and video ‘Hein Pere’ produced by fellow Douala native Shamak Allharamadji. Stanley draws upon his multi-cultural roots weaving pidgin-English, French and indigenous slang to convey his message of Cameroon street life while balancing the usual hip hop motifs (flashy cars and unsavory looking crew ) with a staunch pride in representing Cameroon.

CMTV’s commitment toward raising the profile of native talent is evident in its programming, as 80% of the videos aired are of Cameroon artists. Although no one can predict the future, Nkwain possesses a positive outlook on the trajectory of where Cameroon’s music and entertainment is going. According to Nkwain “I believe we need good media and marketing for the artist. Two years from now Cameroon will be very far, the content is really impressive.”

With artists such as Manu Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Wes Madiko and Andy Allo no one could ever accuse Cameroon of being bereft of musical talent. However, as with any industry, even a good product cannot sell itself without the proper platform for marketing and promotion to reach its target audience. After 12 years of experience we will have to see if Nkwain and his team at CME are up to the task.

                                                                                       

Photos by: Adolphus Washington – (C) All Rights Reserved

From Wolof to Olof: A Photographic Glance at Senegal and Gambia

These photos were taken during my time living and working in both Senegal and the Gambia and they are not images to fuel either side of the Afro-optimism or Afro-pessimism debate. Nor are they photos intended to highlight poverty porn or exotic otherness that has historically been the cornerstone of the image economy when it comes to the African continent. I am not a photographer so I cannot argue the technical aspects of light, shutter speeds and f/stops of a 35mm, but I do believe that the result of a photograph is largely based on what the photographer is looking for, or the narrative she/he is attempting to create consciously and unconsciously. This leads me to what is the narrative I was trying to tell. Unfortunately I do not have a dramatic story to tell except that these scenes caught my eye on a personal, political and cultural plane and I wanted to capture it. Here they are.

Image

Rainbow Over Dakar/ Dakar 2011 This was just after a downpour during the rainy season between June and September. Photograph by Adolphus Washington / © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

Image

Writing Is On The Wall/Dakar 2010  Visual protest from when former President Abdoulaye Wade pushed for controversial constitutional reforms to ensure his reelection. His proposals sparked a wave of protest and violence that spread throughout Dakar, neighboring suburbs and the country. Photograph by Adolphus Washington / © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

Image

Car Rapide Depot/ Dakar 2011 These colorful minibuses usually blue and yellow and beautifully adorned, with the names of Marabout and religious inscriptions are truly the life blood of public transportation in Dakar.  © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

Image

Football Table in Ouakam/ Dakar 2011 In Ouakam (a residential suburb of Dakar), a weathered and disused football table that has seen better days. © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

Image

Wade’s Immortality/Dakar 2011 Off in the distance and what appears to be erecting out of the rubble and debris is the African Renaissance Monument (French: Le Monument de la Renaissance africaine) the brainchild of former president Abdoulaye Wade which cost $26 Million to build and has been criticized by hundreds of Senegalese[1] in the context of the economic crisis and has become a symbol of Wade’s policy failure and squandering of scare resources. © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

Image

The Walk/Dakar 2011 The photo was taken relatively early in the morning and if I had to bet I would say great certainty the child with the bowl is a Talibé (students of Daaras or Koranic schools) who are sent out  by their marabout to beg for money. © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

UCAD Library - African Fractal design

Fractal side of Université Cheikh Anta Diop/Dakar 2011 After reading the book ‘African Fractals’ and meeting the author and ethno-mathematician Ron Eglash who cited the fractal design of  Cheikh Anta Diop University Library[2] I was inspired to check it out. ©Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

there is a MLK boulevard in every hood even in dakar in the neighborhood called Medina

From Birmingham to Dakar/Dakar 2010 While walking along the Corniche, I came across this street sign and immediately Chris Rock’s joke came to mind about the socio-economic stereotype of streets named after the slain civil rights leaders[3]. © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved

Buba taxi

Bush Taxi Caliente Supreme/Banjul 2011   When it comes to taxis (aesthetic, cleanliness and safety)  hands down Gambia is head and shoulders above their neighbor (Senegal). A bush taxi is basically a taxi that operates as a bus picking up more than one passenger at a time, which is very similar to dollar vans/cabs[4] that you will find in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

ethnic group in gambia jola's are known for their hard work

Ethnic Ethos and Occupation in Gambia pt.1 /Kololi 2011 .© Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

ethnic group in gambia Serer are fisher men (1)

Ethnic Ethos and Occupation in Gambia pt.2/Kololi 2011 © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

etnic group in gambia and fula are herders etc

 Ethnic Ethos and Occupation in Gambia pt.3 /Kololi 2011 © Adolphus Washington. All Rights Reserved.

 References

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Köpp, D. (2012). Controversial monument casts shadow over Senegal’s elections. Available: http://www.dw.de/controversial-monument-casts-shadow-over-senegals-elections/a-15762835. Last accessed 18th January 2014.

[2] Eglash, R. (1999). Futures for African fractals. In: Eglash, R African Fractals Modern Computing and indigenous design . United States of America: Rutgers University Press. 217.

[3] DA9THCHAMBERS – Chris Rock:Bring the Pain. (2007). Black people.Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7HHB3sDtfA. Last accessed 18th January 2014.

[4] Brown, T. (2012). Brooklyn’s Dollar Vans: Bringing Shadow Transit Out of the Cold. Available: http://thisbigcity.net/brooklyns-dollar-vans-bringing-shadow-transit-out-of-the-cold/. Last accessed 18th January 2014.

Live blog Nutrition For Growth Event 4.00 p.m. – Nigeria: Agriculture as Priority

Image

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Dr. Akinwumi  Adesina speaking as a panelist on Promoting African Agriculture: New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security Agriculture today in London has articulated with exuberance and resolve Nigeria’s aggressive agriculture policy.

Leveraging  mobile technology has enabled efficient distribution of seeds and fertilizers among farmers by registering 4.2 million farmers  through full biometrics, to ensure we (Ministry of Agriculture) know who received what. In the past, seeds and fertilizers were distributed through middle men, which cost the government millions of dollars over decades.

At the core of Dr. Adesina’s vision is to take agriculture fully out of the sphere of development and into the sphere of business. This vision is coming into fruition as 22 local companies will be investing in Nigeria’s agriculture to bring forth a robust agribusiness sector.

Dr. Adesina also highlighted and urged the need for doing business with women “We have to focus on linking women farmers and scientist and a special facility to incentivize them and support women owned agribusiness.”

With a strong focus toward being self-sufficient, Dr. Adesina articulated a target to lift rice dependency by 2015.

Live blog Nutrition For Growth Event 1.00 p.m. – Malawi’s Plan

Image

Photo: Rahwa Meharena

President of Malawi Joyce Banda speaking at the Nutrition for Growth event in London today stated her government’s commitment to addressing under-nutrition, child stunting and hunger through government policy, technology, traditional leadership and public and private partnership.

With Malawi having the highest rate of stunting at 47%, it aims to review national policy and strategy by December 2013 and develop a Nutrition Act by 2016 all of which should increase government spending on nutrition from 0.1% to 0.3%.

President Banda emphasized job creation which increases household income and is crucial towards fighting systemic poverty and hunger.

The government of Malawi is building upon the momentum of IIIovo on sugar fortification with vitamin A and mobilizing traditional authority to scale up nutrition. President Banda has reinforced this point by saying “Chiefs in Malawi play an important role in scaling up nutrition, because people listen to what they say.”

Live blog from Nutrition For Growth Event 11.30 a.m. – Angelique Kidjo speaks

Image

Grammy award winning International superstar and native of Benin Angelique Kidjo stopped by the press room today after taking part in the opening session of the Nutrition for Growth Event. Ms. Kidjo touched on the factors that contribute to under-nutrition and shared valuable insight and strategies for diaspora engagement in tackling such issues on the African continent.

On contributing to food insecurity and overall contributors to rampant under-nutrition and hunger, she emphasized the nexus between controversial issues such as land grabs and local farmers who find it difficult to eat, compared with companies that do business in Africa who don’t pay taxes (in those countries). She also spoke on the failure of the West to include African people in the groundwork of overcoming their own challenges.

“People who are trying to help in Africa (we) are not statistics, we are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and uncle…we’ve got to have emotional and human connections with the African people  and ask them what works in their communities in their villages.”

Ms. Kidjo also expressed the need to convey messages in native languages as a way engage and mobilize Africa’s rural sector, and the role the diaspora can play through social media and other forms of activism.

India: A Better Option For Egypt?

 

India’s rate of economic growth is expected to follow China’s trajectory within the next 20 years, according to a recent US Intelligence report.[1] This may not be far-fetched considering the following: India has the third largest economy in Asia, [2] with a population of over one billion; a rapidly growing middle class; and meteoric rise of its information technology industry, characterized by India’s Silicon Valley in Bangalore. In an effort to continue its burgeoning economy, India is positioning itself as a viable alternative to China and is gradually shoring up trade and investments in Africa. As a result, it came as little surprise when the President of India, Shri Pranab invited Egypt’s first freely elected President, Mohamed Morsi to India for a series of high-level delegation meetings in March of 2013. President Morsi met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 19th, to discuss bilateral relations covering strategic areas such as: military, crude oil, small and medium size enterprises, and information technology; along with fellowships for Egypt’s aspiring engineers to study in India. [3]Prime Minister Singh was clear on his vision for India and Egypt’s relationship when he stated that Egypt’s location, “as a bridge between Asia and Africa, astride a major global trade route, together with its skilled human resources, makes it an attractive business destination for India.”[4] Strengthening ties between New Delhi and Cairo fit well within President Morsi‘s aspirations to reduce dependency on the West, by looking east to bolster economic support and India is increasingly becoming the perfect suitor.

Egypt’s political and economic strife

There was significant hope for change when 83-year-old autocrat Hosni Mubarak, was ousted on February 11, 2011, after 30 years in office. Since then, there has been increased political and economic instability in Egypt. Egypt’s first free elections in June 2012 ushered in candidate Mohammed Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party. Strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood, agitated secularist urban youth; moderate Muslims; and opposition groups, such as the National Salvation Front, who played a key role in the revolution. The controversial declaration made in November 2012 by President Morsi, [5]expanded his legislative powers, eliminated judicial oversight review of his acts, and pushed for an Islamist agenda. In response to the declaration, numerous protests and violent clashes across Egypt, such as the torching of the ruling party offices in Suez, Alexandria, and the arrest of Satirist, Bassem Youssef, after he poked fun at Egypt’s political class in the skits. In March 2013, one of the worst clashes occurred between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition protesters, where at least 200 people were injured due to street battles. Two days later, President Morsi responded to this civil unrest with a vague, yet stern warning aimed at the opposition, “If I have to do what is necessary to protect this nation I will, and I am afraid that I may be close to doing so…I will do so very, very soon. Sooner than those trying to shake the image of this nation think.” [6] Egypt’s political woes continue to mirror economic concerns. The current fuel shortages have led to oil imports on credit from Libya; Moody’s rating agency downgraded Egypt’s credit rating[7] on March 23, 2013, while its foreign currency reserves have shrunk from US $36 billion in 2011 to US $13.4 billion 2013;[8] Unemployment has increased to 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012[9] and approximately 500 factories have closed throughout the country. This has put an estimated 10,000 employees out of business contributing to the national unemployment rate of 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. At the time of this article, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has yet to give the green light for the US $4.8 billion dollar aid package that it was promised Egypt in November 2012.

The government under President Mohamed Morsi, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, has maximized its factional power, yet failed to engage the opposition with any meaningful reforms or governance to mend ideological discord. While the opposition rejects the Muslim Brotherhood’s conservative political posturing, it appears to want to see greater autonomy from both Western and Islamist influences. It is starving for an orientation that is more about the Egyptian people. This growing polarization in Egypt has produced an unyielding political crisis that makes addressing the country’s interlinked economic and social challenges impossible to overcome.

Can India give Egypt the lift it needs?

With the civil unrest that followed the revolution that overthrew autocratic President Mubarak in February 2011, President Morsi has struggled to restore investor confidence, which has since suffered sharply. Egypt being one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid has yet to receive that aid. This is due to the growing sentiments by certain members of Congress[11]  to reduce or withhold the US $1.5 billion aid package altogether until Egypt stabilizes itself or until the Muslim Brotherhood relinquishes power.[12]  This narrow view and reluctance by the U.S. to disburse aid to Egypt has emboldened President Morsi to intensify and attract investors– particularly from India. Prime Minister Singh Manmohan has conveyed India’s full support to Morsi and offered to “share our [India’s] experience as he [President Morsi] ably leads his nation in building strong institutions and frameworks for democracy, social justice, and inclusive economic development.”[13]

India has conveyed this commitment by not being deterred by Egypt’s political transition to Democracy. It is looking to double trade and investments with Egypt currently from US $5.4 Billion to US $10 Billion “within the next few years,” stated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during bilateral talks with President Mohamed Morsi[14] in March 2013. Prime Minister Singh’s projection for bilateral trade trajectory with Egypt is not far-fetched, considering trade between these two countries has grown significantly from US $2.5 billion in 2006-07 to US $4.3 billion in 2011-12, according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). [15] India is the 7th largest trading partner of Egypt and the second most important destination for its exports,[16] with about 50 investments and projects across the country. Indian companies investing in Egypt cover areas such as: energy, agriculture, biotechnology and information technology. To date, the Sanmar Group has invested approximately US $1.3 billion at Port Said, Egypt and setup chlor-alkali and PVC facilities employing over 1,500 Egyptian workers.[17] The Egypt-India Polyester Company (EIPET) has invested US $250 million in a major polyester resin plant that will produce a raw material needed to make plastic bottles and containers. Another major Indian company operating in Egypt for over four decades is Kirloskar Brothers, a fluid management company whose pumps are a household name in Egyptian agriculture.[18] On April 1, 2013, Kirloskar Brothers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Government of Egypt, Mechanical and Electrical Department and the Ministry of Water Resource and Irrigation, to build and upgrade the skill sets of engineers and technicians as training is slated to begin May 2013.[19] The conclusion of the bilateral talks held in March 2013, brought forth the signing seven agreements between India and Egypt: MoU in the field of cyber security; setting up of a Centre for Excellence in IT (CEIT) in Egypt’s Al Azhar University; cooperation in the field of protection of intellectual property rights; and prevention of illicit traffic of antiquities besides others. Other MoU includes e-governance and e-education, IT and electronics hardware, sharing of experiences in the creation of Technology Parks and IT clusters, and strengthening the cooperation between ICT companies in the private sector. These, among others can provide Egypt with the economic activity it needs to stabilize itself.

Looking ahead

Rekindling bilateral relations with Egypt boosts India’s positioning to play a more strategic role in the Middle East and increase its resource acquisition into Africa because Egypt is both a pivotal player in North Africa and the Middle East. Currently, Egypt is still the largest non-OPEC oil producer in Africa and the second largest natural gas producer on the continent[20], making it an attractive venue for addressing India’s increasing oil demands. Politically, India and Egypt has exhibited mutual support and alliance on key issues pertaining to a range of contentious issues. For example, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has voiced support to the Palestinian cause and acknowledged President Morsi’s role in trying to forge unity and his work towards a peaceful resolution between Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah. Both sides condemned the violence and the urgent need for a peaceful resolution through dialogue and agreed to increase coordination in various international forums such as the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarack, the U.S. policy towards Egypt has been ambiguous at best due to the reluctance of engaging Islamist-leaning President Morsi. This has been a core reason for U.S. foreign aid being withheld.  U.S. foreign aid to Egypt is about US $1.3 billion annually, but only about US $200 million goes to improving economic conditions[21]. The disproportionate about of U.S. aid that is allocated for military spending when the need for infrastructure and job creation is urgent sends mixed signals to the Egyptian people about U.S. support for democratic transition[22][23][24]. Skepticism is deepened by the U.S. relationship with Egypt during the Mubarack era, which was characterized as a patron-client relationship whereby U.S. interest and Mubarack’s hold on power were placed above the everyday Egyptian. Until the U.S. sorts out its ambiguous foreign policy, it will continue to lack credibility with the nation’s people. India represents a new start for Egypt, as it can draw upon its historical legacy built on the personal friendship during the 1950s between then-President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser and Prime Minister of India Jawaharial. Their political alignment as founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement also makes India more credible and palatable to President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the opposition.

References


[1] Washington. (2012). US intelligence sees India as economic powerhouse in 2030, China distant ‘memory’. Available: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/us-intelligence-sees-india-as-economic-powerhouse-in-2030-china-distant-memory/1043128/ . Last accessed 1st April 2013

[2] Bose, A. (2012). Why India shouldn’t get high on its 3rd largest economy status. Available: http://www.firstpost.com/economy/why-india-shouldnt-get-high-on-its-3rd-largest-economy-status-281214.html. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[3] Ministry of External Affairs. (2013). India-Egypt Joint Declaration on the State Visit of H.E. Dr. Mohamed Morsy, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt (18-20 March, 2013). Available: http://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/21436/IndiaEgypt+Joint+Declaration+on+the+State+Visit+of+HE+Dr+Mohamed+Morsy+President+of+the+Arab+Republic+of+Egypt+1820+March+2013. Last accessed 1st April 2013. 

[4] DNA. (2013). Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi wants India to join Suez Canal corridor project. Available: http://www.dnaindia.com/world/1813149/report-egypt-s-mohamed-morsi-wants-india-to-join-suez-canal-corridor-project. Last accessed 1st April 2013

[5] Kirkpatrick, D. (2012). Egyptian Judges Challenge Morsi Over New Power. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/world/middleeast/morsi-urged-to-retract-edict-to-bypass-judges-in-egypt.html. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[6] AP Foreign. (2013). Egypt’s president warns may move to protect nation. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10715935. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[7] Reuters. (2013). Moody’s Downgrades Egypt’s Credit Rating. Available: http://www.voanews.com/content/moodys_downgrades_egypt_citing_unsettled_political_conditions_weak_finances_reuters/1626276.html . Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[8] Reuters. (2013). Moody’s Downgrades Egypt’s Credit Rating. Available: http://www.voanews.com/content/moodys_downgrades_egypt_citing_unsettled_political_conditions_weak_finances_reuters/1626276.html . Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[9] Rizk, M. (2013). Egypt’s foreign reserves decline to $13.4 billion.Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10731508. Last accessed 5th April 2013.

[10] Trading Economics. (2013). EGYPT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE. Available: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/egypt/unemployment-rate. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[11] United States Senate. (2013). U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress – 1st Session. Available: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=113&session=1&vote=00009. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[12] Reuters. (2013). U.S. lawmakers push to restructure Egypt aid.Available: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/19/uk-usa-fiscal-egypt-idUKBRE92I00R20130319. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[13] SAFPI. (2013). Egypt’s Morsi wants India to join Suez Canal corridor project. Available: http://www.safpi.org/news/article/2013/egypts-morsi-wants-india-join-suez-canal-corridor-project. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[14] AFP. (2013). Egypt president sets sights on joining BRICS. Available: http://www.modernghana.com/news/453753/1/egypt-president-sets-sights-on-joining-brics.html. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[15] PTI. (2013). India, Egypt to strengthen economic relations. Available: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-03-12/news/37651233_1_india-and-egypt-bilateral-trade-trade-profile. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[16] PTI. (2013). India, Egypt to strengthen economic relations. Available: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-03-12/news/37651233_1_india-and-egypt-bilateral-trade-trade-profile. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[17] Embassy of India. (2013). Indian Investments in Egypt. Available: http://www.indembcairo.com/en-us/bilateral/indiaegypt/economic/investments.aspx. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[18] Embassy of India. (2013). Indian Investments in Egypt. Available: http://www.indembcairo.com/en-us/bilateral/indiaegypt/economic/investments.aspx. Last accessed 1st April 2013. 

[19] Business Line. (2013). Kirloskar Brothers to train Egypt govt staff.Available: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/companies/kirloskar-brothers-to-train-egypt-govt-staff/article4573098.ece. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[20] EIA. (2012). Egypt Energy Profile: Largest Non-OPEC Oil Producer In Africa – Analysis. Available: http://www.eurasiareview.com/20072012-egypt-energy-profile-largest-non-opec-oil-producer-in-africa-analysis/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+eurasiareview%2FVsnE+%28Eurasia+. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[21] Sharp, J. (2012). Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations.Available: http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/201971.pdf. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[22] Admin. (2012). Made in America: How U.S. Military Funding to Egypt Undermines Human Rights. Available: http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2012/07/24/made-america-how-us-military-funding-egypt-undermines-human-rights. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[23] Khalil, N & Abdelaty, S. (2001). Egypt backs US anti-terrorism action. Available: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2001/555/war81.htm. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

[24] Council on Foreign Relations. (2002). Strengthening the U.S.-Egyptian Relationship (A CFR Paper). Available: http://www.cfr.org/egypt/strengthening-us-egyptian-relationship-cfr-paper/p8666. Last accessed 1st April 2013.

Spoken Images: A Perspective from Chester Higgins Jr

Chester Higgns Jr.

When you take a glance at Chester Higgins Jr.’s career, it becomes clear how he does what he does with authority and ease. As he conducted a presentation on his new collaborative photographic book  Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile at The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, NY, Higgins’ explained the anthropological and historical background of his images with fluid passion and depth. His work as a staff photographer for The New York Times for nearly three decades has led to coveted and prestigious fellowships, as well as numerous gallery exhibitions across the globe.

It was Higgins’ experience growing up in Alabama in the 1960’s and his participation in a civil rights protest march from Tuskegee to the state’s capital Montgomery that defined his mission. Poring over those disparaging images taken by photographers and the racially biased reporting of that day’s march invoked his aspiration to document the civil rights movement from his perspective “The image of us, we were not portrayed as American citizens, petitioning the government. The photographers and the slant of the story rather portrayed us essentially as thugs or hooligans and it for the first time made me realize the power of the camera. Because my interest with the camera was to make messages of the heart, and now I began to realize how other people saw us. So I thought…if I can make photographs from the inside showing people as we are… maybe that can make a difference. So that’s what I tried to do, and that became my role then and in the civil rights movement to document it.”[1] This aspiration to provide a more authentic narrative and reportage would extend well beyond the civil rights movement and African Americans to encompass the African diaspora and the continent.

I had the opportunity to ask Higgins’ a few questions about his art and his mission:

AW. With an impressive body of work under your belt, how would you describe your contributions to the African Diaspora?

CH. As an artist, as an African centric person, my desire is to highlight those things that need to be appreciated and respected in the world African experience — both ancient and contemporary. My work is about the exploration of African identity, highlighting the elements of decency, dignity and virtuous character.

AW. How does this latest book differ from all of your previous publications?

CH. In the book, Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the River Nile, my work illustrates the essays of several Egyptologists concerning this empire that bridged ancient Axum and Kemet. But like all my books, these images provide the visual lens by which to view the drama of this ancient culture. As in the first chapter, “Most Ancient Place” of my book, Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa, my photographs are of things that remain along the River Nile from a people who no longer exist. What has remained in stone — the architecture, the concept of time and divinity, the messages to God from these ancient people — speaks to their statecraft and religion, elements that have been absorbed into today’s culture.

AW. Your work largely centers on people of African descent, history, politics and art. What is the attraction? What has drawn you to these subjects?

CH. The portrait of me must reflect the complexity of my people. In my work, I look for the many reflections of myself as seen in the faces and eyes of those of us of African descent. In my own imagery I show the multi-dimensions of our identity over time and space. Africa is the land where God planted the black people. For western-born Africans, I say that we are Africans not because we are born in Africa but because Africa is born in us. My mission is to enable Continental Africans and Diasporan Africans to come to appreciate each other in the fullness of our collective selves for the future well-being of the world African family.

For one to appreciate Higgins’ work there is what many would call his signature image: a photo titled ‘Moslem woman,’ which can be found under the platinum gallery on his website. In this image, the woman’s eyes are dark yet translucent and piercing. The pearly white hijab cascades gently over her head and over her nose, while only the eyes and minimal skin are revealed. The contrast between white hijab and dark skin and eyes are striking, yet it flows quite naturally. This is what Chester Higgins Jr is able to capture with his camera. “The eye is the most sacred thing, the eye reveals the soul,” says Higgins, “I would say that part of my approach when I am looking at eyes I see myself as a diver. You know, the eye is much like a pool and your diving off into the eye, into the soul, into the spirit. Layers and layers you get textures and textures of the person the moment the place.”[2] Chester Higgins’ Jr exhibits an air of humility and conviction as he articulates his mentors like P.H. Polk, Gordon Parks, Romare Bearden, Cornell Capa, Arthur Rothstein; but when you observe his body of work, you then realize that he is a giant upon whose shoulders many photographers nationally and internationally stand. His images take you on a journey that transverse the African diaspora to speak to the core of the collective. 


[1] Chester Higgins JR. (2011). ‘My Soul Flies Home to Africa’ Interview with Brian Lehrer. Available: http://photographs.chesterhiggins.com/index-slides.html?gallery=Profile%20Videos&folio=Portfolio. Last accessed 16th Jan 2013.

[2] Ibid.

Chester Higgins JR -photo by: Sanviki Chapman – (C) All Rights Reserved

Election Time in Africa: All eyes on Ghana

Image

Stability in the Black Star State

African nations do not always have the luxury of being free from the violence or havoc that destabilizes elections. Take Mali for example: just days before the election earlier this year, there were two coup d’états in the southern and northern parts of the country by two different factions. In April, a military junta in Guinea-Bissau erupted, leading to the disposal of elections front-runner Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. months later. [1] 

Political critics deem Ghana as an exceptional African state. The establishment of the constitution in the fourth republic nearly 19 years ago fostered political stability; and the transition of Jerry John Rawlings from a military figure into a civilian president marked a seminal moment in the country’s governance. [2]. Ghana has managed to execute relatively peaceful democratic transitions since. In fact, one of the biggest tests of the country’s democratic fabric was the recent passing of President John Atta Mills in office five months ago. Despite the few rumblings here and there over succession, Ghana’s political machine honored the rule of law and vice president John Mahama assumed office as head of state.

Image

Two Main Contenders 

Among the eight candidates, opinion polls are indicating a tight race between President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), which could be a repeat of the 2008 elections where Mills narrowly defeated Akufo-Addo by less than 1% of the vote. [3]

Throughout this campaign season, the NDC and NPP rivalry has intensified as both parties continuously fight off criticism from each other. The NDC has been accused of not maximizing the economic potential of the new oil and gas production due to endemic corruption in public service. Secondly, lack of funds for spare parts, backlog of debt and broad mismanagement at Tema Oil Refinery has contributed immensely to power shortages in the country. Thirdly, there have been accusations that contracts between the Ghana National Gas Company (GNGC) and Chinese companies like Huawei have secured tax exemptions in return for political contributions,[4] as well as rumors of sketchy contract deals and overpricing by Sinopec.[5]

These criticisms by the NPP did not go unanswered as the NDC responded in kind.[6] NDC has accused the NPP of being compradors for Monsanto, the United States agricultural company, by making it mandatory for local farmers to use the genetically modified seed varieties.[7] Secondly, Nana Akufo-Addo’s social housing hostel initiative for vulnerable youth workers has been ridiculed as an unsustainable solution to the housing crisis. In addition, the NPP has been labeled as the disconnected party – unable to relate to the urban and rural poor.

Image

Rawlings Family Political Influence in Question

When Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of former two-term president and NDC founder Jerry John Rawlings, lost the bid to represent the party in this year’s election, it highlighted interesting changes in the ruling party and Ghana’s overall political landscape. This was the first time in history that a member of the ruling party ran against a sitting president, which pointed toward unresolved conflict between Nana Konadu and then-president John Atta Mills (Mills has since passed). The overwhelming defeat of Nana Konadu in a 97 to 3 delegate vote[8] proved the Rawlings legacy was not enough to elicit votes, and indicated that the Rawlings do not own the NDC despite having founded it. After conceding defeat, Nana Konadu’s team launched accusations from cash for votes to coercion as reasons for how Mills won by a landslide.[9] 

Nana Konadu officially broke away from the NDC to form the National Democratic Party (NDP), but ultimately fell short in gaining a presidential nomination after the Electoral Commission disqualified the former first lady on technical grounds.[10] Even if Nana Konadu had run she would not have garnered enough votes to win or lure enough rank and file members over to her camp. All of this leaves the Rawlings on the sidelines in this election, placing their political clout in question.     

Image

The Issues

After December 7th, the party that emerges victorious must contend with the central issues plaguing Ghana today:

  • Unemployment Rate: Unemployment is particularly high among the youth, which makes up approximately 39% of the country’s population.[11] The debate over the possibility and feasibility of free Senior High School (SHS) education has also been at the top of list for both President Mahama and challenger Akufo-Addo.
  • Universal Healthcare: The vision of quality and affordable healthcare through the National Healthcare Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has come under much scrutiny and is currently dream deferred. Despite the majority of funding that stems from a 2.5% VAT, most Ghanaians cannot afford the premiums, making the system unsustainable.[12]
  • Housing Shortage: There still remains the question of tackling the housing crisis. With the rapid growth of the working age population in the next decade, it is estimated that Ghana will need 2 million housing units by 2020.[13] In 2009, the government of Ghana and South Korean company STX Korea agreed to a joint venture to build 200,000 houses over a decade for $10 billion. The joint venture has since produced nothing, creating an albatross for the NDC.  
  • Extractive Resources: Ghana has made moves in the right direction toward strengthening the legal framework around gas, oil and mining extraction, but it needs to get the Petroleum Exploration and Production ACT, Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Act and regulations for the newly created Petroleum Commission and Public Interest and Accountability Committee out of limbo. [14] By doing so Ghana will set a new precedence for extractive resources to be done in a manner that is not a threat to local farmers and the overall health of its citizens. In addition these laws should be designed to take Ghana from a passive partner toward an operator.

Summary

The phrase ‘to the victor goes the spoils’ best illustrates the universe African elections occupy, especially when the management of the very lucrative gas and oil industry is at stake. The party that manages to win the presidency and controls parliament can only mean Christmas comes early for their supporters. The gifts they receive will be in the form of jobs, civil service posts, directorships, building contracts, etc, while opposition supporters will be alienated, detracting from effective statecraft and in some cases invoking violence.

Despite this pervasive ‘winner take all’ political climate we tend to encounter in Africa, Ghana has worked along political, ethnic and religious lines to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. In 1994 the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) instituted the Inter-Party Advisory Board (IPAC) where the aim has been to cultivate transparency among all parties; further steps were taken by the IEC when they implemented the biometric system to mitigate voter fraud. The participatory nature of this election has generated much excitement brought on by social media buzz from the Ghanaian ghetto in the west Bronx, throughout Ghana and in the African diaspora.

References


[1] Embalo, A Y. (2012). Guinea-Bissau Premier, Election Front-Runner, Is Deposed in a Coup. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/world/africa/guinea-bissau-coup-removes-presidential-front-runner.html?ref=guineabissau&_r=0. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[2] Courtesy Embassy of Ghana, Washington. (1994). Ghana-Launching the Fourth Republic POLITICAL DYNAMICS UNDER THE FOURTH REPUBLIC. Available: http://www.mongabay.com/history/ghana/ghana-launching_the_fourth_republic_political_dynamics_under_the_fourth_republic.html. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[3] Vines, A. (2012). Ghana’s Election – High Expectations. Available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201212010100.html?viewall=1. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[4] Huang, R. (2012). Huawei under fire in Ghana for alleged bribery.Available: http://www.zdnet.com/huawei-under-fire-in-ghana-for-alleged-bribery-7000005963/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[5] Odoi-Larbi, S. (2012). RED FLAG OVER GHANA-SINOPEC DEAL. Available: http://ghanaian-chronicle.com/red-flag-over-ghana-sinopec-deal/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[6] Africa Asia. (2012). Political storm over gas contracts. Available: http://www.africa-asia-confidential.com/article-preview/id/823/Political_storm_over_Chinese_gas_contracts. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[7] Ali-Masmadi, J. (2012). NPP Manifesto on Agriculture is Bogus and Fraudulent!. Available: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=250074. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[8] GMS. (2011). Africawatch. Africawatch. 1 (1), p8-9.

[9] GMS. (2011). Africawatch. Africawatch. 1 (1), p9-10.

[10] Vines, A. (2012). Ghana’s Election – High Expectations. Available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201212010100.html?viewall=1. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[11] Population reference bureau. (2012). World Data Profile: Ghana.Available: http://www.prb.org/DataFinder/Geography/Data.aspx?loc=262. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[12] GUAHC. (2012). Achieving universal health coverage in Ghana: why a premium-based health insurance model is not a better solution.Available: http://www.modernghana.com/news/429196/1/achieving-universal-health-coverage-in-ghana-why-a.html. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[13] Oxford Business Group. (2012). Ghana renews efforts to tackle housing deficit. Available: http://www.tradeinvestafrica.com/feature_articles/1345870.htm. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

[14] Gary, I. (2012). Elections and Oil—Ghana’s Choice. Available: http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/category/issues/oil-gas-mining/. Last accessed 1st December 2012.

An Africanist Journey: In my own words

In the beginning

Political theories such as neopatrimonialism and the words of Africanist like Patrick Chabal and Nicolas van de Walle or African historians such as John Henrik Clarke and Cheikh Anta Diop all played out like an academic mixtape in my mind, competing for the space that serves as reference points for my analysis and perception of Africa. So as I write these words I struggled to find the right ones to describe who Africa is and my relationship with her.

The seeds of interest and passion tend to begin within the realm of informality or non linear structure. For example, before a basketball player turns professional the journey often begins after school at a neighborhood playground and for many they cannot even recall the very first time they were introduced to the sport, as it was always there. My journey toward becoming an Africanist which is in short is someone who specializes in the study of African affairs i.e., history, culture, language, politics began somewhere between being black in America and the emergence of hip hop.”

Courtesy of the golden era

There was a seminal point in hip hop where groups like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers and Boogie Down Productions ushered in a paradigm shift in lyrical content from gold chains, misogyny, and overall indulgence of materialism to social and political consciousness. It was far from an understatement when Chuck D said “Rap music was the CNN of the Black community.”[1]  I would go a step further and say that rap music during this era also functioned as supplemental education. The lyrical content prompted and enticed the listener to want to learn more about Black history and actors within it past and present.  To illustrate this point, on A Tribe Called Quest album Midnight Marauders there is a song entitled “Steve Biko (stir it up).” I had no idea who Steve Biko was as the song was not exactly a biography of the man. The title alone sparked my curiosity which led to my informal introduction to late South African anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. Then there was Public Enemy’s “Who Stole the Soul,” which cleverly intertwined our struggles here in the United States with the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa:

Ain’t, no, different
Than in South Africa
Over here they’ll go after ya to steal your soul
Like over there they stole our gold

As I mentioned rap music functioned as a kind of supplemental education that politicized and illuminated my existence and power within the black body politic of America and beyond. It was the anchor of my journey as an Africanist and it led me to lectures of those whose shoulders I was standing upon. The words of the giants who were left behind were fundamental in reinforcing Africa to the core of my identity. Haunts like Harlem’s Oberia Dempsey Center, National Black theater and Brooklyn’s Slave Theater was basically the chitlin circuit for Afrocentric scholars. The style and feel of these lectures accompanied by the colorful oration filled your soul with controversial discourse, pride and sometimes…racial superiority. From Dr. Molefi Kete Asante to Dr. Phil Valentine the works of Afrocentrist have been criticized and often dismissed by mainstream academia on the grounds of making untenable historical claims and being accused of promoting reversed Eurocentrism.

Academic roadwork                                                                                                              

Corporate restructuring not only meant that I would lose my job but also afforded me the time to find employment within African affairs. My point of entry into this field was through internships with NGO’s, whose missions were largely advocacy based. Offices from New York City to London were stocked with multilingual, multicultural, transnational people whose political leanings ranged from right of center to far left. Between the work I was doing for these organizations and the stories shared from workers in the field, it all challenged my ideas of Africa. For example, it became harder to entertain overshadowing and championing Robert Mugabe’s anti-colonial and neo-imperialist rhetoric over his policies that have been detrimental for the majority of Zimbabweans for decades or recanting the historical significance of the empire of Ghana and Mali if its own people are unable to read about their history because of the high rate of illiteracy.

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details,” so the time arose for me to delve into the nit and grit of African politics. My enrolment in the postgraduate program at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies was perfectly suited for pouring over case studies like Ujamaa: villagization and modernization in Tanzania, 1962-1985 to Nation, Clan & Authority in Somalia, 1920-2007 and doing presentations and writing papers on Ethiopian land tenure and modernization to Superpower involvement in Africa during the Cold War and more. Despite gaining greater insight into the dizzying complexities of African politics and practical sensibility regarding who Africa is today; I knew that I had to go beyond the theories, panel discussions, African ex pats, food and western media sound bites.

“Change and uncertainty are not to be feared but embraced because they are the fabric of our potential.” STICMAN DEADPREZ

After many submitted applications and networking with those who either worked in or had connections with those who currently work in Africa, the door finally opened for me. I secured a teaching gig with a small English services/bookstore based in Dakar. Granted it wasn’t my ideal but there was no way I was passing up this opportunity to work and live in Africa. Next thing I knew I was in at the travel clinic getting shots for yellow fever, prescription for 6 months worth of malerone, visa for Senegal; hand recharging flashlight and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

My disposition of favoring sobriety over romanticism and false expectations with regards to Africa developed over time. I was not looking for Kunta Kente only to find Biggie and Tupac nor was I expecting to be received as the prodigal son only to be received as just another westerner. This outlook served me well while living and working in Africa as it allowed me to accept her as she is and not who I consciously and unconsciously built her up to be during my journey as an Africanist. That did not mean I was not in awe that I had made it to the continent. In many ways Africa remained an abstract expression despite all of my knowledge of its geography, culture, history and people. To experience it physically held a different kind of weight. Africa hosts everything from gross deprivation and crimes of all kinds to resilient family networks in the absence of adequate state sponsored social services along with industrious creative entrepreneurialism embodied by “Afropolitans” and more. With that being said, I am still learning to take comfort in the uncertainty regarding who Africa is and my relationship to her, and not constructing the reality of Africa around a need for a static identity or narrative. It is as the ancient Latin saying – Ex Africa semper aliquid novi, which translates as “Out of Africa, always something new.”

Reference


[1] Thorpe, David. (1999). Chuck D. Available: http://bombsite.com/issues/68/articles/2251. Last accessed 16th Sept 2012.