Black Star Journal
Commentary on the news, culture, sports and current events of sub-Saharan Africa from someone who's lived there.
The author served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Guinea, West Africa.
All essays are available for re-print, with the explicit permission of the author. Contact him at mofycbsj @ yahoo.com
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Ireland's first black mayor
Congratulations Rotimi Adebari who was recently elected mayor of the town of Portlaoise, becoming the first black mayor in the Republic of Ireland. The Nigerian-born mayor arrive in Eire seven years ago after seeking asylum. The Irish broadcaster RTE adds that Mr Adebari has a Masters degree in Intercultural Studies from Dublin City University and works with the local authority in Co[unty] Laois co-ordinating an integration projects for immigrants.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
General strike in Mali
Since the introduction of democracy in 1991, Mali has been seen as one of the more stable and free countries of West Africa. But a few troubling developments have hit the headlines recently.
A teacher and a journalist were imprisoned for insulting President Amadou Toumani Touré. Four others were given suspended sentences for the same offense, which is a penal crime in Mali and many other African countries.
High school teacher Bassirou Kassim Minta was given a two-month sentence for giving his students an essay assignment about an imaginary president’s mistress. A journalist from the independent daily Info-Matin, Seydina Oumar Diarra, was sentenced to 13 days’ jail for having reported on the essay assignment.
And earlier this week, Mali's biggest labor union a two-day general strike that, according to reports, was widely followed.
The union wants an increase in civil servants' salaries, as well as reductions in prices for water, fuel, electricity and basic foodstuffs.
Mali holds legislative elections this weekend.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Developmentalism as neo-colonialism?
New York University professor William Easterly has an interesting piece in Foreign Policy entitled The Ideology of Development. I've sparred with him in the past in FP's pages and take issue with some points he raises here but this essay is worth a read. Easterly offers a pungent critique of top-down of what he calls 'Developmentalism,' an ideology he claims is just as dangerous as fascism and communism.
He contends that a noble idea (the free market system) has been hijacked by bureaucrats of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These institutions were created primarily to advance the interests of corporations in donor (western) countries. As such, they have typically advocated policies to achieve precisely this end. During the 1980s, the cure-all-prescription was for poorer countries to completely deregulate their economies and to open themselves up to unrestrained foreign pillaging.
I'm generally in favor of more openness in trade. But I believe in this to the extent that it helps raise the standard of living of people in countries that do so. Raising the standard of living broadly, not just for the narrow elite. Where more openness hurts the broader population, I see nothing wrong with regulations, social programs, etc. I do not believe in government intervention merely for its own sake. I do not believe in deregulation and free trade simply for their own sake either.
Easterly echoes a criticism I've often made myself. These international institutions try to shove down the throats of poorer countries one-size-fits-all policies, regardless of any other considerations. These policies are conceived in air-conditioned offices in London or New York and completely disregard local realities on the ground, realities that are key to the success or failure of any reform. This is why most structural adjustment programs (the formal name for when a country hands over management of its economy to foreign bureaucrats) have failed.
He points outs out that this top down imposition of policies is the antithesis of free markets. Furthermore, he argues that these ill-suited foreign prescriptions have had a counterproductive effect by giving open markets a bad name. This disillusionment is what opened the door to a populist demagogue like Hugo Chavez who has become a mythical figure precisely by attacking laissez-faire capitalism. Most of the countries in South America, the continent most harmed by structural adjustment policies, are run by at least moderately left-of-center governments.
Easterly fails to mention another situation that further alienates people in the non-western world: hypocrisy. Western countries preach the gospel of the free market. But it's only a one way street. Africa is regularly encouraged to follow the laissez-faire prescription by opening its economies to foreign exploitation, something which has obviously garnered the continent's people such wonderful results during the last 200 years. But western countries reject the same prescription by refusing to eliminate huge agricultural subsidies to their farmers, subsidies which make African agriculture uncompetitive in relation. Free trade implies a certain reciprocity that western countries presently aren't willing to concede.
Laissez-faire capitalism is a fantastic ideology in theory but ideology doesn't fill your stomach.
And it's worth noting that developmentalism is not the sole provenance of the right-wing. Many moderate left-of-center folks, such as Professor Jeffrey Sachs, embrace these theories. They view it as a sort of benevolent update of old theories. Laissez-faire with a human face, you might say. But there's nothing particularly humane about any ideology that ignores the wishes and desires of the humans that it affects!
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Separation of church and state under threat in Madagascar?
The BBC takes a look at the increasingly close relationship between religion and politics in Madagascar under President Marc Ravolomanana. Many members of the majority Catholic sect are concerned that Ravolomanana is using his position to promote his branch of Protestantism. His explusion from the country of a long-serving Jesuit priest caused controversy. The president also pushed through constitutional changes that officially made Madagascar a Christian state. Ravolomanana's advisor denied that this constituted any threat to the separation of church and state.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
2007 Failed States Index
Foreign Policy journal published its annual Failed States Index. Unfortunately, African countries made up 8 of the top 10.
Many of the 'leaders' have been devastated by war. Others have been hampered by corruption and bad governance. Zimbabwe and Guinea are the most unstable countries that have not recently suffered through armed conflict. Both received poor marks for public services, factionalized elites and delegitimization of state
Perhaps the most surprising inclusion to me was Uganda at #15. Despite nagging instability in the north, Uganda is still seen by most as generally stable. Perhaps it's more wishful thinking. Uganda ranked particularly low in terms of refugees and displaced people. It also did poorly in terms of urban development, group grievance and delegitimization of state.
It's not all bad news. Liberia was the country most improved from last year's rankings. Thanks to the work of the newly elected government and national rebuilding efforts, Liberia is now more stable than 15 other African countries.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo was also one of the most improved states. Though it still ranks as the 7th most unstable country so work remains.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Le foot, c'est moi!
This weekend, Guinea's national soccer team stunned Algeria by 2 goals to 0 in an African Nations Cup qualifier in Algiers. Guinea is virtually unbeatable in competitive matches at home, but their form has always been shaky away, particularly in North Africa.
The result was all the more surprising because, only a few days earlier, #1 goalkeeper Kémoko Camara quit the Syli national after being accused of exagerrating an injury. This led national team boss Robert Nouzaret to declare that the Guineans had 'no chance' against Algeria.
After the shock win, which put the Syli on top of their qualifying group, residents of the capital Conakry descended into the streets to celebrate. Ailing head of state Gen. Lansana Conté seized the opportunity to leave for a bit his hermetic existence to 'bathe in the crowd,' as Guinéenews elegantly put it.
Interesting that Gen 'Man of the People' Conté never decided to 'bathe in the crowd' during the contentious general strike earlier this year during which over 100 people were gunned down by insecurity forces.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Reconciliation in Rwanda
The Anglican Bishop of Rwanda John Rucyahana says that 'wonderful things' are happening in his country
Rucyahana, who fled the country during the 1994 genocide, says the aftermath of the horror has united the different ethnic groups in Rwanda, and there’s a new spirit of hope and reconciliation in the country.
VOA has a long story on Rucyahana and his new book Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Annan to head Green Revolution
Former UN secretary-general and Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan has been appointed the first chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution.
The organization, based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi seeks to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families across Africa to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and hunger through sustainable increases in farm productivity and incomes.
The Accra Daily Mail also has an excellent, in-depth piece on the story.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Turabi the reformist?
The Christian Science Monitor ran one of the more surprising articles I've read in a while. Hassan al-Turabi was once the most powerful man in Sudan. He inspired a coup by Islamist military officers and, as parliamentary speaker, imposed Islamic Sharia law in the country. He also invited Osama bin Laden to live in the country during the 1990s.
Yet Turabi has recently advocated the use of traditional music and dance for Islamic worship... [and] encouraged the people of Darfur to oppose the government of President Omar al-Bashir.
The latter part might not be that surprising, since Gen. Bashir threw his former close ally in prison a few years ago. But the still influential Islamic scholar also recently declared that Muslim women didn't need to cover their hair with a veil.
"In Islam, the government is based on consultation and consent," he says. "We don't have a church. We don't have angels who come down to govern. When we imposed Islamic law [in 1991], we wanted to introduce religion so that it could supplement law, to mobilize religion in every citizen, because God is close to you and can guide your actions. To uproot corruption, people want to be democratic, they want to be equal under the law."
He also refers to the rebellion in Darfur as "just a fight against a state that denied justice."
He argues that his interpretation of Islam is merely changing with the times, though it makes one wonder if times have really changed that much in merely 10 years. As a result, there not surprisingly remain questions about Turabi's true motives. Many wonder if he's truly become a reformist or is merely adopting a new populist line to replace the Islamist populism of the 1990s. Change of heart or opportunist?
Only time will tell.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Achebe wins Man Booker Int'l Prize
Congrats to Chinua Achebe for being awarded the Man Booker International Prize, which recognizes a living author for his or her entire body of work. His first book, Things Fall Apart, is generally considered the first modern African novel, which was inspired by his anger at how Africans were portrayed in western writing. Achebe also gave an audio interview with the Voice of America.
Ironically, the father of modern African literature has not been awarded the Nobel Prize, despite being one of the most influential authors of the last century.
Update: The Christian Science Monitor had a good article on it too.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
DRC gov't warns Nkunda
South Africa's SABC reports that the Democratic Republic of the Congo's government has issued a stern warning to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. Defense Minister Tshitez Diemu told the former DRC army general to stop threatening a return to war in North Kivu province, in the unstable east of the country. Nkunda has rejected the process of integrating rebel groups into the national armed forces.
Monday, June 11, 2007
The passing of Ousmane Sembène
A National Public Radio report paid hommage to the great Ousmane Sembène, who passed away this weekend at the age of 84. Though he originally made artistic waves with his novels, he is generally considered Africa's most important filmmaker. He was also a co-founder of the reknowned pan-African film festival FESPACO.
Update: To its shame, South Africa's SABC news website had an article on Paris Hilton (perversely in the 'culture' section), but apparently nothing on the passing on this great cineaste.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Half a Yellow Sun wins Orange Prize
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Soccer unites Côte d'Ivoire
I think it was last year that someone nominated the sport of soccer for the Nobel Peace Prize. When you look at all the soccer fan violence that occurs, particularly in Europe and Latin America, such a nomination seemed ludicrous me, as much as I love the sport. But much like religion, to which the sport is often compared, soccer can just as easily be exploited for good as for evil.
Last weekend's African Nations Cup qualifier in Côte d'Ivoire between the home country and Madagascar was played in Bouaké, 'capital' of the formerly rebel-controlled north.
The country was split in half for over four years, but progress seems to be moving forward, however slowly, ever since former rebel leader Guillaume Soro was named prime minister in a national unity government. Soro attended Sunday's match.
The match was held in Bouaké at the request of the national team's star player Didier Drogba. "The objective is reconciliation. We had to put on a show and we succeeded. Ivory Coast is reunited through football," the reigning African player of the year said.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Justice for Charles Taylor's victims takes another step forward
Yesterday was the first day of the trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. He is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers, for his role in the decade-long civil war that engulfed Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia.
The trial was praised by the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as "a significant move towards peace and reconciliation." Human rights' groups also welcomed the trial of the former head of state as a step forward in the battle against impunity.
Held in The Hague, the first day of trial at the UN-sponsored tribunal was was boycotted by the ex-warlord who whined that the Special Court would not give him a fair trial.
"I cannot take part in this charade that does injustice to the people of Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone," the one time Big Man sniffed in a letter read to the court. "I choose not to be a fig-leaf of legitimacy for this process."
The man most responsible for destabilizing West Africa in the 1990s claimed, "I stand ready to participate in such a trial and let justice be done and for those who have suffered far more than me in Liberia and Sierra Leone."
The first day was also punctuated by a sharp exchange between the tribunal's presiding judge and one of Taylor's lawyers who tried to walk out.
A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch explained how the Court was trying to make the trial's proceedings accessible to the people of Sierra Leone, whose former rebels Taylor is accused of backing.
"Audio and video recordings are made of all sessions and distributed throughout the region. This time, the court is inviting journalists and civil society representatives to attend the court hearings by rotation," she said.
The Liberian Analyst ran a piece explaining the difficulties in getting witnesses to testify for and against the man who held the nation hostage for so long.
A website site has been set up to follow the trial of the world's worst war criminal. It can be found at: charlestaylortrial.org