2. Afropolitans

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

An Afropolitan is: “An African from the continent of dual nationality, an African born in the diaspora, or an African who identifies with their African and European heritage and mixed culture.” And increasingly, Afropolitans are thinking about going home. Africa is increasingly politically stable, and Africa, not the first world, is where the economic growth is these days. Here’s a look at a small part of what calls Afropolitans home.

* Our Parents Left Africa – Now We Are Coming Home  Afua Hirsch The Observer

When I was a teenager, my mother overheard me telling my peers that I was Jamaican, a clearly absurd statement from a half-Ghanaian, half-English girl whose first name is one of the most common in a major African language…It wasn’t cool to be African in those days and in my ignorant teenage way, I was acting out a much bigger crisis of confidence, one that had been swallowing Africans and spitting them out as permanent economic migrants in Europe and America ever since the end of colonialism….

There is a symmetry to the journey that returnees are making, which speaks volumes about the state of Africa today. Our parents left – exactly 50 years ago in my case – fleeing deteriorating economic conditions and limited opportunities at home. Now their children are forming an exodus from the crisis-ridden eurozone, four years of recession and the dogged perception of inequality and discrimination in the west. “Who needs the glass ceiling when you could be running your own business in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, enjoying the warm weather and surrounded by your own people?” one returnee to Ghana told me. “There is no contest.”

The facts about Africa’s change in fortunes are dazzling. Dubbed the “next Asia” for its rapid growth, the IMF forecasts that seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the next five years will be in Africa; Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are expected to expand by more than 6% a year until 2015.

* How A Software Entrepreneur Became ‘The Bill Gates Of Ghana’ The Observer

He was born in Ireland, studied in America and worked in Britain. But when Ghanaian Herman Chinery-Hesse decided to build a software company, he was determined that it would be in Africa.

“I didn’t have an option in America,” he says. “I was a black African there; until Obama, we didn’t have a track record of leadership. It would be an uphill battle, whereas in Ghana the sky was the limit. Also I’m African: we need development here and it’s Africans who are going to develop Africa. I felt a sense of responsibility, apart from the fact that I thought I’d have a brighter future here.”

Moving to Ghana in 1990, Chinery-Hesse had no money but did own a computer. With a friend, he began writing programs and selling them, eventually moving from a bedroom to a garage to an office. Today, he is dubbed the “Bill Gates of Ghana”. SOFTtribe is the country’s leading software developer, providing management systems to dozens of companies, including Guinness and Unilever, and products to thousands of consumers. One of its most popular programs allows a user whose house is being attacked to text their GPS co-ordinates to police, neighbours and local radio.

*Africa innovations: 15 ideas helping to transform a continent The Observer

Idea: The Hippo water roller is a drum that can be rolled on the ground, making it easier for those without access to taps to haul larger amounts of water faster.

Problem: Two out of every five people in Africa have no nearby water facilities and are forced to walk long distances to reach water sources. Traditional methods of balancing heavy loads of water on the head limit the amount people can carry, and cause long-term spinal injuries. Women and children usually carry out these time-consuming tasks, missing out on educational and economic opportunities. In extreme cases, they can be at increased risks of assault or rape when travelling long distances.

Method: The Hippo roller can be filled with water which is then pushed or pulled using a handle. The weight of the water is spread evenly so a full drum carries almost five times more than traditional containers, but weighs in at half the usual 20kg, allowing it to be transported faster.…  

Verdict: Around 42,000 Hippo rollers have been sold in 21 African countries and demand exceeds supply. Costing $125 each, they are distributed through NGOs. A mobile manufacturing unit is set to begin making them in Tanzania. Nelson Mandela has made a “personal appeal” for supporting for the project, saying it “will positively change the lives of millions of our fellow South Africans”.

* The 10 best contemporary African books  The Observer



5. About “The Innocence of Muslims”

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Who would have guessed that Neil Gaiman would have the lead story about the bigoted film? But he knew the actress who wrote to him, and he ran her letter, and so the story came out. Al Jazeera sums up the story, and Stephen Walt points out that just how much the extremists on one side depend on the extremists on the other.

* A Letter from a Scared Actress Neil Gaiman’s Journal

Something very bad happened. I desperately need everyone’s help right now.

I don’t know how to start writing this letter. It’s crazy, the world is.. life.. I’m so shattered right now, I don’t know.. I feel very dead inside. 

Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role. The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers.

A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors’ permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD. 

I really need your advice right now? How can I have my voice shown to the world so that I can tell them the real story.

* The Attacks In Libya And Beyond  Al Jazeera (Thanks Gabe!)

The lack of humanity has been evident clear across the world this week, from the con-man in California who produced a bigoted anti-Muslim film, to some crackpot, cracker of a preacher who promoted it, to a bunch of zealots in Libya who murdered innocents, people performing public service whose only crime was to be from the country from which the film hailed.

Then there was the American presidential candidate – Mitt Romney - who grinned like the Cheshire cat as he politicized the death of innocent Americans, including our ambassador to Libya. All of this occurred, mind you, within 24 hours of 9/11, when an act of unspeakable inhumanity led to mass death and suffering in the United States. Not a good few days for the human species, I’d venture to say.

What does this all tell us? Mostly, it reminds us of some sad realities with which we’re already all too acquainted. That while religion and ideology can lead to spirituality and righteous passion (think the civil rights movement), they can also lead to the suppression of women’s rights, the justification of economic subjugation, and when it comes right down to it, hatred for one’s fellow man (and woman) for no other reason than they are “different”.

* Lessons of Benghazi (and beyond)   Stephen M. Walt

Extremists on both sides are engaged in a dangerous duet: They depend on each other for sustenance and reinforcement. The extremist views and radical violence of groups like Al Qaeda create a mirror image here, in the form of paranoid Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and support for endless war against the entire Muslim world in turn gives Islamic extremists potent arguments to use in their battle to win hearts and minds. Matt Duss has a great rundown on this whole problem here. My point is that if you want to make Islamic extremism stronger, you should write a check to your favourite Islamophobe. 



4. Some Views on Africa

Sep-07-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A very fine lead article reminds me how much our world view is skewed by the limited media coverage we get. But the media does cover pockets of horror. And a fascinating Reddit piece reminds us of how much of the conflict is the toxic residue from the tides of colonialism.

* Our Image Of Africa Is Hopelessly Obsolete Ian Birrell The Observer

Think of Ethiopia and what do you see. Perhaps a starving child, flies in her eyes and belly distended. Painfully thin adults in raggedy clothes, staring balefully at the camera in a fetid refugee camp. Or possibly a famous self-declared saviour from the west, striding purposefully past the decaying corpse of an animal beside a dusty road.

Think again. See, instead, a booming capital city, its cafes filled with graduates and cranes lining the horizon. A nation that is one of the world’s largest livestock producers and recently became the second country to take delivery of Boeing’s new 787 passenger jet. An economy that doubled in size this century and is growing at 7.5%.

Few countries symbolize the disconnect between outdated western perceptions of Africa and fast-changing realities on the ground better than Ethiopia, the continent’s second most-populous nation, whose long-serving leader, Meles Zenawi, died last week. Although the example of one country can never fully explain a diverse continent, this ancient nation illustrates in many ways Africa’s progress, potential and problems. Mostly, it is a picture of amazing progress, far removed from the usual stereotypes presented by much of the media and their allies in the aid lobby. They offer simplistic images of death and destruction, ignoring complex realities of a continent encompassing 54 countries and 11.6 million square miles in which life is becoming more peaceful and prosperous.

* Slavery Still Shackles Mauritania, 31 Years After Its Abolition The Guardian

 In 1981 Mauritania became the last country to abolish slavery, although it was only criminalized in 2007. Officials repeatedly denied it existed and refused to talk to the Guardian about slavery. But activists and former slaves spoke of a centuries-old practice, a relic of the trans-Sahara slave trade when Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, flourishing in remote outposts of this vast desert country.

A rigid caste system that favours “noble-borns”, and zealous efforts to brand the country an Arab republic, concentrates power and wealth among overwhelmingly lighter-skinned Moors, leaving slave-descended darker-skinned Moors and black Africans on the edges of society. Up to 800,000 people in a nation of 3.5 million remain chattels, according to activists who routinely document cases like Aheimed’s.

* What Africa Would Look Like Today If National Boundaries Were Drawn By Africans  via reddit.com

Almost all state boundaries would shift a bit, but mono-ethnic states would not be guaranteed. Take Ethiopia, for example, which is essentially split between Amharic and Oromo peoples, with large groups of Tigrayan and Somali peoples. Still, a break-up of some of the larger states with artifically set borders from their colonial past would seem almost inevitable. Nigeria, Congo, Chad, and Angola all would be candidates for redrawn maps that would obviate those states. I’m assuming here that Christianity still spread despite the lack of colonialism, because this is already a huge counter-factual on a huge continent, so I’m trying to keep it “simple.”….



2. Egypt and the Arab Spring: Costs, and Challenges

Jul-06-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Two excellent pieces take insightful overviews of the Arab Spring, a useful supplement to the day to day updates on Syria, or “someone I knew had a friend in Egypt who told them that…” news. Juan Cole follows up with an excellent piece (eviscerated excerpt below) on the real issues facing Morsi, which are economic and domestic. As Brecht wrote in What Keeps Mankind Alive, “Food is the first thing, morals follow on….”

* Was the Arab Spring Worth It?  Hussein Ibish  Foreign Policy

Last year’s Arab revolutions captured the world’s imagination as they toppled dictators from Tunis to Sanaa. But what they haven’t yet done is make life measurably better for the people throwing off the tyrant’s yoke.

The price of freedom may be incalculable, but it seems equally hard to tally up the very real costs of the so-called Arab Spring. How many have died or been displaced in these conflicts? How have they affected economies and standards of living? Have they made their societies more or less stable? A look at the numbers so far makes for grim accounting: In the four most violent uprisings, in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen — all four of which slid backward on the Failed States Index for 2012, and likely will again next year — as many as 50,000 people have died since the revolutions began. Some $20 billion of GDP evaporated last year in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, in addition to more than $35 billion in public finances, according to International Monetary Fund data.

But each country will assess the revolutionary toll in its own way. In Libya, clearly the staggering death tally from the civil war dwarfs all other prices. For average Egyptians, growing political tensions and the cratering economy probably outweigh the violence between protesters and security forces. Yemen was well on its way to failed statehood and economic collapse before the Arab Spring, and virtually all indicators are distinctly, and in some cases alarmingly, negative, while the benefits of the protest movement have yet to manifest themselves in any concrete way. In Syria, there is only cost — including thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of displacements, and an incipient economic meltdown. The benefits, if any, of the Syrian intifada will only be realized far in the future.

So, was it worth it?

* The Arab World’s Fourths of July Juan Cole Informed Comment

Young Americans followed the events of 2011 in the Arab world with great interest and remarkable sympathy, such that a real difference now shows up in polls between younger and older Americans with regard to their views of the region. As the heady days of expelling tyrants gave way to the hard task of transition to democracy and plans for its consolidation, interest dropped off. As it became clear that the young leftists and liberals weren’t going to be the main political beneficiaries of the revolution, American commentators often soured on the changes.

That Muslim religious parties did well in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Moroccan elections suggested that the region had moved to the religious right rather than toward liberalism or a European-style center-left direction…. The continued role of old regime elements and, in some countries, the military, caused many to assert that there had been no revolutions at all. A troubling string of incidents of violence in Libya suggested that where a revolution really did take place, it simply led to instability.

Americans have given up too soon on the Arab Spring. They have bought into overly large generalizations, some of them purveyed by right wing American pundits who have their own reasons for defaming the Arab region.

* Top Five Things Morsi has to Do if Egypt is to Succeed Juan Cole Informed Comment

For understandable reasons, analysis of the political changes in Egypt has focused on personalities (new president Muhammad Morsi is not charismatic); on ideology (how far can he depart from his sectarian commitments as a hard line Muslim fundamentalist truly to be president of all Egyptians?); and on military-civilian relations.But those questions are not the big ones for the future of Egypt. Its politics has become unstable because it is stagnating socially and economically. Here are the most important steps Morsi, an engineer and scientist, could take to turn the place around. It can be done. Turkey has moved up to the world’s 16th largest economy, and is set to grow 9% this year.

…1. Morsi must make the attempt to root out corruption from the Egyptian system. People are not going to put up with having to pay bribes to government workers to have them do their jobs, and entrepreneurs will just stay home in their pajamas if they think they have to deal with a mafia bureaucracy.

…2. Egypt has to grow economically faster than its population. Egypt began a demographic transition a couple of decades ago, but it hasn’t gone all the way and has stagnated.

…3. Egypt has to attract foreign investment and get its tourism industry back to normal. Tourism brought in about $12 billion in 2010 but has fallen off substantially in the past 18 months (which is silly, since security is fine). Tourists won’t want to come to Egypt if puritan laws are passed forbidding alcohol, swimming suits, etc. etc.

…4. Egypt has to start making things the world wants, at a quality and price that is competitive. Egypt’s exports have typically been on the order of $25 billion a year in recent years. That is 61st in the world, not nearly good enough.

…5. Egypt has to do something about its ramshackle education system, especially the universities. It is an embarrassment, and is interfering in economic growth. You can’t make high tech products like computer chips without an educated work force. A lot of people in Egypt don’t go to high school, and relatively few go to university….

It isn’t the issues of piety or irreligion or of civilian and military, that will be decisive for Egypt. It will be the hard economic and social realities.



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