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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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[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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.     

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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.

Do current political trends and patterns paint Africa as a wise investment?

   

Democratic trends in Africa

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the West embarked on an aggressive push for the democratization of the African continent. This involved the observance of human rights, multiparty elections and greater transparency.  Despite these attempts, inflexible African elites continue to dominate the modern political landscape. It is these heads of state who determine the political climate that shapes policies which impact economic activity and opportunity.

In Senegal for example, 85 year old President Abdoulaye Wade has been in power for 11 years and announced is running for a controversial third term. Not only does this violate term limits, but he has also proposed two controversial electoral reforms to ensure his victory and in a sheer act of nepotism appointed his son who had no prior political experience to several high level ministerial positions from energy to infrastructure.[1]

Cameroon’s recent elections on October 9, 2011 witnessed 78 year old President Paul Biya beat out 22 other candidates[2] to extend his 29 year rule. Biya’s control over the electoral commission mired the election in fraud, intentional delays and organizational shortfalls. There was evidence of voters casting more than one vote while others were not able to cast any vote at all.[3] 

Equatorial Guinea’s 2009 elections brought forth no surprises as 69 year Teodoro Obiang nicknamed El Jefe (the boss)[4] has been in office for last 32 years. His party the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) dominates and runs the country as a single party state. Elections held while the PDGE has been in power are considered to be the most ethnocentric, corrupt and undemocratic by International electoral observers.[5] 

Despite the perceived dysfunctional political culture that has plagued modern Africa; the winds of change are blowing.  All across Africa, citizens especially the youth are seeking greater demand in the steering of the country.[6] Secondly there is a resurgence of western educated expatriates returning home to Africa with a desire to develop the economic base in the form of entrepreneurialism. [7] Thirdly changes in hiring practices by multinational NGOs are allowing a greater number of Africans to have more access to employment and higher positions. Jobs that were once reserved for educated Westerners are now going to locally educated Africans who can perform the job at a lower cost.[8] These patterns that are taking place in Africa are having a resounding impact on its consumer base and are increasing the ranks of a highly skilled labor force among the local population. The incorporation of western ideals with local culture marks a shift in attitude that challenges the notion of the old guard and its refusal to make room for the next generation. All of this is giving way to a more viable and stable political and economic environment.

 

Political and Economic trends of the African diaspora

The economic and political power of the diaspora upon the African continent cannot be taken for granted. Diaspora aid in the form of remittances has surpassed international aid on the continent.[9] According to the World Bank remittances in 2007 were estimated at US$30 million and have doubled since.[10] Remittances to Uganda in 2006 were $845 million or 9.3 percent of the GDP and have increased to about $2 billion between 2006 and 2010,[11] while remittances to Kenya were roughly $525 million, 2.2 percent of their GDP.[12]  In 2010, Nigeria’s diaspora remittances totaled $12 billion[13] and rising despite the global economic downturn. These remittances are raising the standards of living as a form of supplemental income that enables family members to pay for school fees, hospital bills and to finance small enterprises along with other goods and services.

Aid from Africans abroad is expanding beyond remittances into long term economic development for their respective countries. For example  on October 2011, the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC organized an event of over 500 participants to present the vision for a 2030 initiative[14] designed to harness the economic and political power of those in the diaspora to play a greater role in decision making and public policy in Kenya.

In July 2011 the director-general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) unveiled the Nigerian Trust Fund which will allow Nigerian-Americans to invest in the Nigerian Stock Market.[15]  He also advised the association to develop a small board of political advisors to lobby on behalf of Nigeria. This trend goes beyond the “brain drain reversal” of African professionals returning from the West to live and work on the continent. Africans abroad are seeking more creative and impactful ways toward developing economic opportunities and political stability.

Africa 2020 Vision 

Africa 2.0 is an advocacy group made up of 250 young emerging leaders from all across Africa and the diaspora. Its aim is to achieve an inspiring and prosperous Africa within the next 20 years.[16] Businessmen, social entrepreneurs and opinion leaders from nearly 40 African countries, six of which are within the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, has marked 2020 as a key milestone toward the culmination of this Africa agenda. The agenda addresses key issues such as infrastructure, poverty gap, technology and governance.                                                                          

Underserved population

It is estimated that Africa’s population will reach two billion over the next 40 years. Currently, of the top ten fastest growing populations; six are African countries which include Uganda, Ethiopia, DRC, Tanzania and Nigeria. Accompanying the rise in population is the marked growth of the continent’s GDP.[17]  Interestingly over the last decade growth rates between Asia and Africa have been parallel and current IMF projections show that Africa will take the lead by approximately 2015.[18]

Following the lead of telecommunication giants Orange and MTN,[19] western retail chains like Wal-Mart[20] are aiming to duplicate similar success with sights on Africa’s growing middle class and their demand for branded goods and other consumer services. The GDP growth of Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco makes them attractive targets.

The link between employment and domestic security as it pertains to population growth within emerging economies is of keen interest for both foreign investors and political elites. Creating economic opportunities that will absorb surplus youth population are a priority as no state wants the threat of civil unrest by idling youth or worse ex-child soldiers with scarce employment opportunities. This is a significant issue for African political elites to address as continued socio-economic stability is dependent on it.

China-African labor relations

For all the enthusiasm expressed by African elites over China’s spending spree across the continent, there is a growing pattern of violent confrontations between Chinese owned businesses and African employees that is having an adverse effect on the investment climate. The weak enforcement of labor laws within African states has contributed to the lax observance by Chinese companies. The problem has become too large to ignore, as African elites are being forced to address citizen’s concerns for labor and environmental conditions while still maintaining a healthy economic relationship with China. The failure to resolve this issue adequately will result in politicized labor strikes which directly impacts foreign investment, global markets and threaten Africa-China relations.

During Zambia’s elections newly elected Michael Sata ran on a populist platform heading up the controversial labor issue pertaining to pay and hazardous working conditions particularly within the mining sector. On October 15, 2011 Chinese managers from the Collum Coal Mine (CCM)shot and wounded 11 workers who were among a group who brought their grievances concerning unsafe conditions to the mine’s managers (it is unclear what happened between the time workers presented their concerns to management and the shooting). CCM has a long history of unsafe work conditions. For example, in 2009 steam from the mine polluted villages and caused a cholera outbreak. In 2008 the same mine recorded three accidents in one week during which workers received no compensation and accidents continued throughout 2009 and 2010.[21]

In 2010 between 100 and 115 Chinese owned garment factories experienced work stoppages in Newcastle and the Kwazulu Natal province in South Africa. The work stoppages were caused by employees who went on strike and campaigned for minimum wage and safer work conditions.[22] Ghana experienced a similar situation where poor labor practices brought a halt to the construction of a major road in the Volta region. The cause of the work stoppage was due to the non-compliance of labor laws by China’s Jiang International Construction Company over the banning of employees from joining a union and failing to pay compensation after serious injuries occurred. [23] Violent protests by workers against Chinese managers have been reported from Algeria to the DRC.

Although labor relations has been tense between China and African states, both  are currently developing initiatives to bring Chinese owned companies into compliance with local labor laws. These initiatives will address environmental and wage concerns. Resolving these issues is mutually beneficial for both stakeholders as Africa continues to seek to develop its infrastructure and China seeks to meet the demands of its growing economy.

Summary

The path laid before Africa is a series of convergences that include multinationals and emerging economies seeking new investment opportunities and resource acquisition. The progressive and active engagement of the diaspora coupled with the repatriation of highly skilled and professional Africans to the continent. A burgeoning middle class placing greater demands on material consumption thereby affecting supply and demand and the inevitable decaying of geriatric leaders whose rule cannot last ad infinitum thus making way for new and effective administration. It is these patterns and trends that are challenging long held beliefs and perceptions of Africa as being the bastion for disease, poverty, corruption and ethnic conflict and in turn making investing in Africa smart, savvy and lucrative.

References

[1] Royal African Society, S Mbaye, 2012. Senegal’s day of reckoning: it’s the economy stupid! [online] Available at <http://africanarguments.org/2012/02/08/senegal%E2%80%99s-day-of-reckoning-it%E2%80%99s-the-economy-stupid-by-sanou-mbaye/> [Accessed 2nd February 2012]

[2] BBC News, October 2011. Q&A: Cameroon presidential elections. [online] Available  at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15219543>   [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[3] Cameroon Center for Democracy and Human Rights, 2011. Cameroon not ready for transparent for transparent democratic presidential election on October 9, 2011 [online] Available at <http://www.ccdhr.org/press-releases/2011/09-26-CameroonNotReadyforTransparentPresidentialElection.htm&gt;  [Accessed 2nd February 2012].

[4] New Internationalist, 2006. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [online] Available at <http://www.newint.org/columns/worldbeaters/2006/09/01/obiang/&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[5] 100reporters, 2012. Obiangs American Enablers [online] https://100r.org/2011/12/obiangs-american-enablers/ [Accessed 6th February 2012].

[6] ACSS Special Report, 2011. Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations [online] <http://africacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ACSS-Special-Report-1.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[8] Eprints. Are expatriate staff necessary in international development NGOs? A case study of an international NGO in Uganda [online] <http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/29092/1/int-work-paper4.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[9] IFAD. Sending Money Home to Africa: Remittance markets, enabling environment and prospects [online] <http://www.ifad.org/remittances/pub/money_africa.pdf>%5BAccessed 5th February 2012].

[10] Diplomat East Africa. Leveraging Diaspora Remittances for Development [online] <http://www.diplomateastafrica.com/component/content/article/106-leveraging> [Accessed 4th February 2012]

[11] FutureChallenges, 2011. “Cash Back:” Remittances from the African Diaspora [online] <http://futurechallenges.org/local/cash-back-remittances-from-the-african-diaspora/&gt; [Accessed 6th February 2012].

[12] Center For Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, 2010. Housing Finance in Africa: A review of some of Africa’s housing finance markets [online] <http://www.housingfinance.org/uploads/Publicationsmanager/AFRICA%20HF%20YEARBOOK%202010.pdf&gt; [Accessed 4th February 2012].

[14] Kenya Diaspora Conference – USA 2011. Theme identifying opportunities for the diaspora under vision 2030 [online] <http://kenyaembassy.com/pdfs/conferencepacket.pdf.&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[15] Leadership, 2011. Former US envoy calls for Nigerian Diaspora Investment Fund [online] < http://www.leadership.ng/nga/articles/1328/2011/07/01/former_us_envoy_calls_nigerian_diaspora_investment_fund.html&gt; {Accessed 6th February 2012].

[16] CP-Africa, 2011. Africa’s emerging leaders launch 2020 growth vision- CNN [online] <http://www.cp-africa.com/2011/10/13/africas-emerging-leaders-launch-2020-growth-vision-cnn/&gt; [Accessed 4th February 2012].

[17] AFDB, 2011. The Middle of the Pyramid:Dynamics of the Middle Class in Africa [online] <http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/The%20Middle%20of%20the%20Pyramid_The%20Middle%20of%20the%20Pyramid.pdf&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[18] The Economist, 2011. Africa’s Impressive Growth [online] <http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/01/daily_chart&gt; [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[19] African Brains, 2011. Israeli telecom firm enters Africa market. [online] Available at: <http://www.africanbrains.net/2011/01/06/israeli-telecom-firm-enters-africa-market/> [Accessed 5th February 2012].

[20]The Guardian, 2011. Walmart gets first foothold in Africa. [online] Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/may/31/walmart-to-buy-massmart&gt; [Accessed 7th February 2012].

[21] MAC: Mines and Communities, 2010. Zambia: Chinese managers arrested for shooting protesting mineworkers [online] Available at: <http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=10463&gt; [Accessed 7th February 2012].

[22] Human Rights Watch, 2011. “You’ll Be Fired if You Refuse” Labor Abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State-owned Copper Mines [online] Available at: <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/zambia1111ForWebUpload.pdf&gt; [Accessed 8th February 2012].

[23] China Africa News, 2011. Blog: Discontent spreads after Sata Victory [online] Available at: <http://www.chinaafricanews.com/index.cfm?fa=contentGeneric.ovyutlplrkflmoex&pageId=4701534&gt; [Accessed 8th February 2012].


Is the reluctance to concede power by African leaders a main cause of instability throughout the region? Senegal riots: A case study

                                                                                                                      

 Le Monument de la Renaissance africaine

Le Monument de la Renaissance africaine

Pharaoh Complex

In ancient Egypt Pharaohs were the political and spiritual leaders who ruled until natural death or assassination. Their reign was hereditary and considered dynasties. By and large this brand of autocratic rule has been found throughout the African continent since antiquity and has become synonymous with modern African politics. Within the last several months local populations and the international community has posed challenges to these political dynasties. In Egypt for example, former President of 24 years Hosoni Mubarak was ousted from power through civil unrest and is now being tried in court for corruption and human rights violations. After losing the presidential elections and refusing to concede power the French military intervened and bombed former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo out of power after 11 years[1]  The 42 year reign of Libyan strong man Mummar el-Qaddafi came to a bloody end by the hands of NATO backed Libyan rebels. Collectively all three former African heads of state have been in power for a total of 77 years, which would be the equivalent to approximately 19 consecutive U.S. presidential terms. This illustrates African leaders disregard for democratic order and their unwillingness to relinquish power in the face of popular dissent, caused by eroding social and economic conditions. This is evident in the recent Senegal riots.

11 is not enough

Bitten by the “pharaoh complex,” President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal breached electoral term limits by announcing his candidacy for a third term  prior to a ruling being made by the Constitutional Council  to decide whether he can legally run. He attempted to extend his 11 year reign and political shelf life by proposing electoral reforms that would reduce the number of votes needed to secure another term.  Secondly, he moved to abolish the senate vote needed to determine presidential succession in the event that the incumbent is unable to complete his term. Lastly in 2010 he appointed his son Karim Wade, who has no prior political experience, to various ministerial positions which included Minister of State, Minister of International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, Infrastructure and Energy[2] which accounts for 46% of the state’s budget.  These measures were designed to secure his son and running mate succession to the presidency thereby ensuring Wades political dynasty continues into the future.                                                                                

Heightened police presence at Sandaga Market, Dakar

Heightened police presence at Sandaga Market, Dakar

                                            

Systemic problems under Wade’s administration

The relentless rolling blackouts and Wades proposed electoral reforms were the tipping points that unleashed a wave of civil unrest in Dakar and throughout the region. Riots, street protest and the vandalizing of government ministries and power company offices highlighted deep cracks within Senegalese society which is often seen as a beacon of democratic stability in West Africa.

Firstly the bold attempt by Abdoulaye Wade’s Democratic Socialist Party (PDS) to introduce these kinds of reforms is evidence the regime overplayed its hand in thinking Senegal would just accept it with little to no fanfare because of a fragmented opposition and control over two-thirds of the parliament.[3] Secondly, the disillusionment with Wade’s administration particularly by the youth (citizens under 25 represent 68% of the population) who were his strongest supporters during the 2000 and 2007 elections is a clear indication of Wades weakening power and influence over his constituency. Thirdly of Senegal’s 12.9 million citizens, 55% live below the poverty line surviving on less than $1.25 a day.[4]  The rate of productivity is low and unemployment and underemployment rates are high. Senegal’s annual population growth is approximately 3% with some 100,000 young individuals entering the labor market each year with scarce employment opportunities available to them. In addition there is a lack of access to basic education and illiteracy is widespread, especially among women and girls.[5] Lastly the rising cost of living and food staples like bread and rice in Senegal and across the continent [6] has contributed to both hunger and malnutrition. Considering all of the above it is not surprising Senegal ranks 144 out of 169 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index[7] and civil unrest has occurred.

Challenges to the regime and looking ahead

Given the current climate of mass protest, electricity and gas shortages, rising cost of basic needs and pressure from the international community regarding its fiscal irresponsibility and misuse of aid,[8] Wade’s chances for re-election is in question but anything can happen between now and February . As it stands the opposition is still divided and fragmented along party lines. The inability to consolidate a coalition and the cunningness of Wade’s ability to subdue opposition is also a factor on the outcome of the upcoming elections.

Despite this, Wade’s former protégé and current Mayor of Thies, Idrissa Secka is being touted by the media as a contender for the presidency. Secka and Wade’s relationship soured when in 2004 Wade publically accused Secka of embezzlement of state funds which ultimately led to him serving a 7 month prison sentence. The current political climate moving toward support for Secka[9] is indicative of a growing trend of discontent for this nepotistic and maladaministrative style of governance. It also reflects a heightened demand for the people to begin having greater say in how the country is governed and the desire to hold their political leaders to a higher standard of accountability.

The riots that spread throughout Senegal in June were symbolic of the growing intolerance throughout the continent for neglectful and corrupt leadership. The emergence of organizations like Y’en a Marre (fed up), has placed sustained pressure on governments to become more accountable to its citizens.  With the inner political circles in Dakar faced with these challenges and conscious of the growing changes across Africa, it’s likely they will do what they can to avert further acts of civil disobedience that would set the stage for full scale unrest, akin to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Senegal’s tradition for peaceful democratic transitions is crucial toward the further stabilization within the West Africa region and Africa as a whole.

References


[1] Monica Mark / Abidjan. (2011). Ivory Coast Epilogue: The Fate of the Gbagbos. Available: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2089794,00.html.  Last accessed 28th Oct 2011.

[2] Hassan.P. (2009). FORMATION DU GOUVERNEMENT : La composition intégrale de l’équipe de Souleymane Ndéné NDIAYE. Available: http://www.seneweb.com/news/Politique/formation-du-gouvernement-la-composition-int-grale-de-l-quipe-de-souleymane-nd-n-ndiaye_n_22588.html. Last accessed 3rd Nov 2011.

[3] Ibrahim, J. (2011). DEEPENING DEMOCRACY: Battle of Dakar . Available: http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/News/National/Politicz/5721325-147/story.csp.  Last accessed 3rd Nov 2011.

[4] Africaw Group.. (2011). Major problems facing Senegal today. Available: http://www.africaw.com/major-problems-facing-senegal-today. Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[5] Canadian International Development Agency. (2010). Senegal . Available: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/ACDI-CIDA.nsf/Eng/JUD-217123240-NKY#a4.  Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[6] The World Bank Group. (2008). Rising Food Prices Spell Hunger for Millions Across Africa . Available: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/0,,contentMDK:21727859~menuPK:258657~pagePK:2865106~piPK:2865128~theSitePK:258644,00.html.  Last accessed 7th Nov 2011.

[7] United Nations Development Programme. (2010). Senegal Country Profile: Human Development Indicators. Available: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/SEN.html.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.

[8] Delevingne, L. (2010). The Joy Of Doing Business In Africa: How Senegalese Politicians Tried To Shake Down Millicom For $200 Million. Available: http://www.businessinsider.com/business-in-africa-how-corrupt-senegalese-politicians-tried-to-shake-down-millicom-for-200-million-2010-2.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.

[9] Fall, A. (2011). PRESIDENTIELLE 2012 Wade-Idy-Karim, la guerre du «plan B». Available: http://www.seneweb.com/news/Politique/presidentielle-2012-wade-idy-karim-la-guerre-du-laquo-plan-b-raquo_n_49729.html.  Last accessed 8th Nov 2011.