•A version of this post first appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.
As the rain lashes down in the city of Guangzhou in southern China, a Malian trader named Moussa sits looking particularly glum in his sodden suit and shouting at his Chinese export agent. “Listen to me, trust me, it will all fit in a 20-foot container! I have to ship this tomorrow or it will not get to Lomé in time," he insists.
Moussa is referring to the thousands of pairs of jeans he has crammed into the back of a clapped-out Kia delivery van that will take his products to the port. “Sometimes, the Chinese don’t trust us," he explains. “We Africans see things differently to them – where they see no space, I put more jeans. I don’t need this mistrust today, because today I vote.”
Moussa is one of 648 registered Malians in Guangzhou (with an unregistered population believed to be much higher) who voted at the Malian consulate in the affluent Tianhe district of the city. For the Malian diaspora here, made up mainly of traders, this week has been a long time coming, with political rallies and meetings happening throughout the city for over a month.
The diaspora vote
Earlier, in a rather ordinary looking office building, hundreds of supporters of presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta – known popularly as IBK – were gathered together to discuss the coming election. One IBK supporter, Fatima, outlined how “for the diaspora, IBK is very important. He studied abroad and so he knows what it is like to be in the diaspora and how important we are for the development of Mali."
For Fatima, Keïta is the ideal candidate because “when he says he will do things, he does them. [Dramane] Dembélé and [Soumaila] Cissé are okay, but Keïta, he has experience. And this is what we need in Mali – someone who understands the history of our country."
Later on, Moussa and I walk towards the consulate through a labyrinth of skyscrapers, fountains, and fancy coffee shops. Moussa talks of his reasons for voting and about life in the diaspora. “My friends think I am a traitor." he says. “They say Mali needs businessmen like you back home. They say you should not be allowed to vote, you don’t live here, so can’t feel what happens when you vote.
“But that is because they don’t understand," he continues. “The diaspora, we give back more money to Mali than the World Bank, but our money is better because it doesn’t get swallowed by the government. Without us, Mali wouldn’t be working at all. In fact, what Mali needs is more people like me working abroad."
Indeed, according to the World Bank, in 2010 Mali’s diaspora generated $400 million in remittances, the ninth-largest remittance figures in sub-Saharan Africa. Those numbers are not to be laughed at when Mali's GDP is only around $11 billion.
Moussa reveals that will be voting for Dramane Dembélé. He believes that as a younger candidate, Mr. Dembélé understands modern economics and knows how vital the diaspora is to the country. “We need a new head," Moussa explains. “Look at what a mess we are in. The old people like Keïta think that France will save us. Forget that, we need new minds."
A three-way split
Outside of the consulate building, I manage to speak to a Mr. Doucoure, Vice-President of the Malian community in China, who is also keen to emphasize the importance of Malians living abroad. “The diaspora is so important for the election," he says. “We Malians are all over the world, not just in Bamako.”
Doucoure goes on to explain that amongst the Guangzhou-based diaspora, he believes there is a three-way split between Mr. Keïta, Mr. Dembélé and Aïchata Cissé Haïdara, and that turnout is expected to be over 90 percent. “The Malian community in China are serious and this election is vital for our businesses here in Guangzhou and the future of our children," he says.
Whatever the result of the upcoming election, one thing is for sure – there will be a party afterwards in downtown Guangzhou. “We have our differences," Moussa admits, having cast his vote. “Malians know politics but we also know how to party. When the election is over we will be glad to start again. We can be calm because we will be one Mali again, the Mali we used to be, and we can drink until the morning."
•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Freedom at Issue. The views expressed are the author's own.
Zimbabweans go to the polls next week for the first time since 2008. As the country prepares for the election, here are some numbers to keep in mind:
July 31, that is. The day of Zimbabwe’s general elections. On June 15, President Robert Mugabe unilaterally set July 31 as the date for the general elections, a move which directly violated the new constitution and a requirement in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) – a power-sharing deal signed after the electoral violence of 2008 – that the president consult with the prime minister in setting the election date. Despite appeals by both Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and Mr. Mugabe’s own ZANU PF party, the Constitutional Court held that the elections would take place as planned on July 31. These will be the first elections since 2008 and arguably the most important balloting in Zimbabwe’s history. The condensed timeline presents major challenges for a country recovering from decades of political intimidation and electoral manipulation.
The estimated number of people killed in Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections. During the run-up to the second round of voting in 2008, an estimated 200 to 300 people were killed and thousands were beaten and tortured by Mugabe supporters and security forces, prompting Mr. Tsvangirai to withdraw from the presidential runoff despite having taken the lead in the first round. As a result of this botched electoral process and a deepening economic crisis, the opposing parties eventually signed the GPA and formed the Government of National Unity (GNU), leaving Mugabe in the presidency and creating the post of prime minister for Tsvangirai.
The number of registered voters in Zimbabwe, out of a population of 13 million. Among undemocratic rulers, intimidation and manipulation are seen as foolproof ways to prevent a healthy political process and thwart a mobilized citizenry. In Zimbabwe, a deeply flawed and politicized voter registration process could mean that the upcoming elections were over before they even began. There are approximately 2 million Zimbabweans under the age of 30 who are not currently registered to vote, and there are significant discrepancies between urban and rural registration. According to Finance Minister and MDC-T Secretary General Tendai Biti, only 27,000 new voters were registered in Harare – where the MDC is favored – while 117,000 were registered in the ZANU-PF strongholds of Mashonaland West and East. In fact, the number of voters on the rolls in some Harare constituencies actually decreased compared with 2008. (Zimbabweans can check their registration status and report any inaccuracies at http://www.myzimvote.com/).
The estimated number of deceased or absent voters on the rolls. A preliminary audit of the voter registry by an independent organization, the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), found over a million names of people who were deceased or no longer living in Zimbabwe. In addition, 63 constituencies had more registered voters than they have inhabitants, based on the 2012 national census. On July 17, the High Court of Zimbabwe issued an order barring the RAU from presenting the complete findings of its audit at an event in Harare.
The approximate funding shortfall for next week’s elections, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti. The total funding needed for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to administer the elections is $132 million. While the Ministry of Finance has released $40 million, Mr. Biti claims, “We are far away from reaching the target. We do not have the money. We can’t increase taxes.” Funding from international donors has been hard to come by due to the disregard Zimbabwe has continually shown for international electoral standards. In March, the United Nations said it was ready and willing to fund the elections in Zimbabwe, but Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa of ZANU PF barred a UN pre-election assessment team from entering the country.
The estimated revenue from the Marange diamond fields since 2008 that remains unaccounted for. The watchdog group Partnership Africa Canada reported that the $2 billion, siphoned off by the political elite and members of the military, is a conservative estimate. Besides demonstrating Zimbabwe’s rampant corruption, lack of transparency, and poor governance, the illegal diamond trade also represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue – money that could have been used to organize free and fair elections, among other things. In 2011, Biti claimed that the Treasury would receive $600 million in revenue from diamond sales during 2012. Only $41.6 million ever materialized.
The estimated number of breaches of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) since it was signed in 2008. The civic group Sokwanele, through its Zimbabwe Inclusive Government Watch, has undertaken extensive media monitoring in order to document all violations of the GPA. According to its findings, ZANU PF has breached the GPA on 20,847 occasions since 2008, while the MDC-T has been responsible for 1,009 violations. There has been very little progress on consolidating democratic reforms, largely due to a lack of political will on the part of the Mugabe regime. While a new constitution was adopted in March with nearly 95 percent voter approval, nearly all other key provisions of the GPA – such as the professionalization of the security sector, prevention of future political violence, and protection of independent political activity – have been neglected, severely threatening the credibility of the July 31 elections.
The (far from exhaustive) number of incidents of persecution against civil society in the last year, as documented by the RFK Center for Human Rights. Although the GPA called for the protection of independent political activity, civil society organizations, especially those doing election-related work, have repeatedly come under attack by security forces in an effort to intimidate them into silence. These incidents include the arrest, detention, and abuse of activists, as well as raids on organizations’ offices. A number of high-profile cases, such as the disappearance of human rights activist Paul Chizuze and the arrest of human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, highlight the dire weakness of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and the lengths some elites will go to in order to keep their hold on power.
The number of police officers approved to vote in a July 13 special election. The special balloting, intended to accommodate security and other personnel who would be deployed and unable to vote on July 31, had 69,322 approved police voters. There are only 44,133 police officers on Zimbabwe’s official payroll. In response to this discrepancy, the MDC-T filed a case with the Constitutional Court, which was thrown out on July 19. Compounding the controversy around the special election was the fact that it was a logistical disaster: Only about 29,000 of those approved to vote were actually able to do so, despite an illegal one-day extension of voting to address a ballot shortage. Furthermore, voters who were unable to cast their ballots will be allowed to vote on July 31, raising legitimate concerns that there will be widespread double voting. With election day fast approaching and logistical problems abounding, election observers are badly needed to ensure a credible process.
The number of election observers from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) who will be present in Zimbabwe for the July 31 elections. SADC’s 442 observers and the AU’s 69 will monitor the polls in all 10 provinces of a country of 13 million people that is slightly larger than the US state of Montana. No countries or regional organizations that have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, including the United States and the European Union, were invited to send monitors. However, an invitation to send five observers each was extended to countries such as Sudan, China, Iran, Cuba, Russia, and Belarus, all of which are ranked "not free" in Freedom House’s 2013 Freedom in the World report.
The number of chief executives in Zimbabwe in the last 33 years. President Mugabe, who led the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, has been in power since 1980, serving first as prime minister until the switch to a presidential system in 1987. If he wins the July 31 elections, he will be 94 years old when he next faces voters. He ranks third in sub-Saharan Africa for longest executive tenure, behind Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos (in power for 34 years this September) and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (in power for 34 years this August). Zimbabwe has never experienced a democratic transfer of power, and Mugabe’s 33 years in office have been marked by violations of basic freedoms, undemocratic governance, and economic crisis.
Keep a close eye on Zimbabwe next week to see whether this reign will continue for another five years.
On June 19, Zimbabwean Member of Parliament Edward Chindori-Chininga was driving through his rural district in the northeastern part of the country when his silver SUV swerved erratically off the road and slammed into a tree. By the time police arrived, the veteran lawmaker – a longtime member of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU PF party – was dead.
Investigators quickly cleared the crumpled Jeep Cherokee from the scene and declared the death a tragic accident, but another story started to circulate.
“Chininga wanted transparency and he [was] taken out” by his political enemies, wrote one critic of the regime, an anonymous and immensely popular Facebook user who goes by the moniker “Baba Jukwa.”
Indeed, his claim was not without reason: Mr. Chindori-Chininga had recently spearheaded a damning parliamentary report about government corruption in the country’s diamond mines. And he certainly wouldn’t be the first Zimbabwean politician to die in a car "accident" after refusing to toe President Robert Mugabe’s official line.
But something else also lent credence to Baba Jukwa’s claim. Just a week earlier, the self-declared former member of the ruling party had told his quarter million Facebook followers that local officials were “planning to sink Edward Chindori-Chininga and replace him with their puppet.”
Suddenly, the anonymous Facebook informant, who describes himself as a “concerned father, fighting nepotism” and uses a cartoon avatar of a wide-eyed old man, had the world’s attention. The Economist wrote that some thought he was “a sort of Zimbabwean Robin Hood,” while Business Insider trumpeted the “anonymous mole revealing Zimbabwe’s secrets.”
But within southern Africa, Baba Jukwa had already made waves. Beginning in March, when the Baba Jukwa account first appeared on Facebook, it drew a loyal following with its daily, gossipy missives about the internal workings of ZANU PF, which has ruled Zimbabwe since Mr. Mugabe came to power in 1980 at the end of a brutal civil war with the country’s white regime.
The party’s steely grip on power is set to be challenged again next week, when Zimbabweans go to the polls for the first time since widely criticized 2008 elections, in which opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew after widespread violence against his supporters. (Mr. Tsvangirai later became prime minister in a power-sharing agreement).
In the meantime, Baba Jukwa is waging a kind of social media war on the ZANU PF party machinery. Vicious and often intensely personal in his attacks, he posts several times daily, unflinchingly naming names – and phone numbers. Nearly every message on the site includes contact details for party officials whom the anonymous informant accuses of corruption, non-delivery of services, and other crimes.
“Asijiki!” goes his signature sign off, We are not turning back!
Baba Jukwa claims to be a single former ZANU PF member, based in the capital city of Harare and working alone. He told the Monitor – on Facebook, naturally – that he left the party 17 years ago, after seeing how the country was being run in a “partisan manner with masses suppressed, our people raped, maimed, killed and victimised.”
The vacillating tone and structure of his posts, however, has caused some to speculate that there may not be a single person behind the account, but rather a cohort of opposition members. But whoever he – or they – are, Baba Jukwa’s intricate knowledge of the ruling party’s inner cabal has caused those in power to take him seriously.
In May, one ZANU PF official told a South African newspaper that Baba Jukwa was a “modern-day Judas Iscariot.” Meanwhile, the state-controlled Herald published a scathing editorial denouncing Baba Jukwa as a “rogue” faction engaging in “unrelenting efforts to destroy the very party that raised them from the dust.”
“Zimbabwe under President Mugabe remains the first country to embark on reforms meant to totally reverse all the ills associated with colonialism,” the editorial read. “We are … the envy of the world’s oppressed masses…. It is only the [opposition including] Baba Jukwa who still cherish colonial conquest.”
And over the last several days, a rumor has circulated widely in national and international media that Mugabe has placed a $300,000 bounty on Baba Jukwa’s head. But the Facebook informant says he is undeterred.
“I am not worried at all, these people are not intelligent as the world thinks,” he wrote in a message to the Monitor. “They are only murderers thriving on people's fear with their continued intimidation's on masses.”
Indeed, mass intimidation has been part and parcel to Mugabe’s hold on power over the last 33 years. And he has cultivated a media landscape to match.
The state controls the largest newspapers in the country and state-run channels provide the only TV and radio news access for most Zimbabweans. Arrests of independent journalists are common.
Within that context, “there’s a great appetite for alternative sources of information,” says Mohamed Keita, the Africa advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Project Journalists, an international NGO based in New York.
But such a media vacuum also means that those who enter the fray to challenge the status quo may not operate exactly like traditional reporters.
“He’s just a citizen who’s used social media to expand the national conversation,” Mr. Keita says of Baba Jukwa. “So the way this person operates is not going to be bound by the rules of ethical journalism.”
Indeed, Baba Jukwa’s posts have often veered towards hysterical. Earlier this month he called on his followers to kidnap the children of Youth Development Minister Saviour Kusukuwere, who he says was involved in Chindori-Chininga’s death. (He also published a panicked screed alleging that Mr. Kusukuwere was gay, part of a “bandwagon of thieves and homosexuals [who] must be voted out.”)
And his impact on the wider political conversation may be limited. After all, the nearly 300,000 people who follow the Baba Jukwa page are from the minority of Zimbabweans who have Internet access to begin with – a group that is already more likely to skew educated and urban, and therefore to support the opposition already.
But Baba Jukwa insists his page serves an essential function in the country’s pockmarked political landscape.
“It's sad that the international community has let Zimbabweans down by allowing evil people to remain in the picture,” he wrote to this reporter. “Here I am giving hope to our people through the truth which they are denied.”
•A version of this post first appeared on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
It is no secret that Zimbabwe’s two days of early voting for the country's security forces on July 14-15 did not go well. Lindiwe Zulu, former ambassador to Brazil and current international relations adviser to South Africa president Jacob Zuma, had the temerity to say so.
She commented publicly that the polling in the general election, slated for July 31, would be challenging. In response, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who previously called Ms. Zulu “an idiotic street woman,” demanded that President Zuma “stop this woman of [his] from speaking on Zimbabwe.” Whereupon President Zuma, through his spokesman, promptly disavowed Zulu, as did South Africa's governing African National Congress.
Knuckling under to Mugabe recalls the Zuma government’s failure to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama for fear of offending the Chinese in 2011. How do we account for it?
Writing in the South African Daily Maverick, Greg Nicolson provides one credible explanation. Zuma has consistently followed a “soft diplomacy” approach to Mugabe, appeasing him in public while (presumably) talking sternly in private. The thrust of Mr. Nicolson’s piece is that South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have failed to reform Zimbabwe politics in the aftermath of the 2008 post-elections bloodbath. Looking toward the upcoming 2013 Zimbabwean elections, if South Africa and SADC want to stay involved, they know they will need to work with Mugabe. So, he writes, “Lindiwe Zulu was sacrificed on the altar of diplomacy.”
South Africa's official political opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), sent election observers to Zimbabwe for the special polling earlier this month. Unsurprisingly, the observers reported serious irregularities in the polling, including the police and the army campaigning for Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party.
In response, the DA argues that Zuma should abandon his diplomatic soft approach: “It is clear that the South African government’s quiet diplomacy has done nothing to curtail poor pre-election preparations and continued aggression towards voters, especially in rural constituencies. It is now time for President Zuma to consider a hard line approach," they wrote.
What happens in Zimbabwe, of course, has consequences for neighboring South Africa. Not least because, if there is widespread violence following the upcoming elections, there could be a new refugee flow from Zimbabwe to South Africa. That's what happened after the last election, in 2008, helping to trigger a wave of xenophobic attacks across South Africa.
•A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are her own.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir sacked Vice President Riek Machar and dissolved the government Tuesday, leaving undersecretaries of various ministries to run said ministries until further notice. Although there had been a few recent indications of internal fissures within the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the cold war between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar had been heating up since the spring, I don’t know that anyone had been anticipating anything this drastic. Indeed, national and international observers expected Kiir to eventually fire Machar, but I don’t think anyone expected him to nuke his entire cabinet.
For those unfamiliar with the history between these two men: Machar and Kiir were both senior commanders in the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) during Sudan’s Second Civil War (1983-2005). In August 1991, Machar, along with Lam Akol and Gordon Kong, issued a paper entitled “Why John Garang Must Go Now, ” criticizing the leadership of the head of the SPLA and launching a breakaway faction of the movement.
(This is a vast oversimplification of the events leading to what is called the Nasir Coup and what the implications were for the SPLA and South Sudan, so I recommend reading Douglas H. Johnson’s The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, Robert O. Collins’ A History of Modern Sudan, and John Young’s The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process.)
The split within the SPLA was detrimental because up until that point, the SPLA had been beating the Sudanese military on the battlefield. (Matthew Arnold & Matthew Leriche’s South Sudan: From Revolution to Independence is a great source for understanding the ebb and flow of SPLA strength from 1983 through independence.) However the SPLA’s rear base in Ethiopia and support from the Derg regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam there went away when that regime fell in May 1991, leaving the SPLA extremely vulnerable.
Thus, on top of the crisis of losing Ethiopia’s support, the coup not only further weakened the SPLA, but also fanned the flames of a brutal decade of South-South (Dinka-Nuer, Nuer-Nuer) violence in the Greater Upper Nile region (present day Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states) from which South Sudan is still recovering.
The Nasir Coup did not, in fact, result in an uprising against Mr. Garang within the SPLA, so over the next decade Machar went on to lead many alphabet soups worth of rebel movements and even formed a tactical alliance with the ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) / National Congress Party (NCP) regime in Khartoum. He reconciled with Garang in 2002, and became Kiir's vice president upon Garang’s death in July 2005.
Due to Machar’s betrayal of the SPLA in 1991 and the fact that the Nasir Coup precipitated South Sudan’s “civil war within a civil war” in the 1990s, his presence in the government had always been a marriage of convenience, and even of necessity. As a former rebel leader and a influential politician from the Nuer ethnic group (second largest in South Sudan after the Dinka), having Machar in such a high position was one of the ways to demonstrate that the Republic of South Sudan would not suffer from “Dinka hegemony.”
To fast forward to today’s events – fortunately (or unfortunately?) Salva’s entire cabinet has been sacked, so this hopefully will not be interpreted as specifically targeting Machar or collectively, the Nuer, for marginalization. Note that Deng Alor (former Minister of Cabinet Affairs, and previously Foreign Minister and a Dinka) had already been sacked last month and is said to be under investigation for corruption, while Pagan Amum (SPLM Secretary General, from the Shilluk ethnic group) was also part of today’s mass firing.
Therefore, until we see what South Sudan’s new cabinet looks like, it’s going to be difficult to see who’s been marginalized and speculate as to what they might do about it. But just to plant this idea in your mind – the previous period of political competition in South Sudan leading up to and following the 2010 elections corresponded with a proliferation of armed groups led by or supported by individuals excluded from the country’s new political dispensation. So the recomposition of Salva’s cabinet and how the SPLM handles the runup to the 2015 elections will be critical in determining whether or not we see armed movements re-emerging.
For insight on why today’s developments are such a big deal, I highly recommend the International Crisis Group‘s April 2011 report, Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan. By many accounts, comparisons between Kiir and his predecessor, Garang, distinguish between Garang’s authoritarianism and Kiir’s efforts to be more conciliatory towards his opponents inside and outside of the political elite.
This approach, one could argue, is what enabled southern Sudan, which was emerging from south-south violence during the 1990s, to come together to vote for independence in the January 2011 referendum and to become the Republic of South Sudan just over two years ago.
Conciliation and compromise on the part of Kiir led to him bringing former adversaries into the SPLM/A fold – into his large tent, as the report describes it. Viewed positively, these characteristics led to the signing of the 2006 Juba Declaration, which neutralized the threat armed groups posed to the government of South Sudan in the immediate aftermath of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Viewed negatively, Salva’s need for consensus coupled with the weakness of his government meant that he could, until recently, only pay lip service to tackling massive corruption within his government, lest his allies and former adversaries turn against him.
Throughout his time in power, Kiir has played a delicate balancing act, trying to remain in control of South Sudan while bringing rebels and dissenters into the fold. Sacking the entire cabinet and dissolving the government, however, doesn’t track with anything he’s done as a leader thus far.
•A version of this post originally appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.
David Lith is a tattoo artist working out of Nakuru, the third largest urban center in Kenya. On weekends he embarks on a two-hour journey by minibus to the capital, Nairobi. There he works extra shifts in a couple of larger tattoo parlors that service the city of over 3 million people. In both the capital and in his hometown, David sticks out.
I meet him at The Goth Shop, a clothing store and tattoo parlor housed in a mall in the affluent Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi. The very existence of this shop is noteworthy – it is fairly unusual to hear rock music in bars or shops in East Africa, much less experience anything related to goth culture. For some, old Dolly Parton and Jim Reeves cassettes in supermarkets remain the closest thing to even "rock culture" available in the mainstream.
David is acting as my guide, taking me on a tour of the awkward little tattoo parlors, shops, and bars that occasionally host the itinerant goth population of East Africa’s regional hub. A profile in local newspaper The Star estimated that Nairobi’s goth scene extends to about 300 people. Clothed head-to-toe in black and adorned with multiple piercings, David attracts many stares from passersby as we walk around the center of town. Most are curious or entertained, a few fearful or openly hostile, but whatever the reaction, David does not seem to mind too much.
New generation, new identities
It is rare to see much about Kenyan youth culture in the media. Most international news stories focus on the plight of the young and unemployed or the demographic trends that promise perhaps the largest generation of 15-to-24-year-olds in history. Especially amid a lack of jobs for many, commentators ask. how can this generation be harnessed to drive growth? And how can we avoid the kind of disenchantment that could potentially lead to unrest and even violence?
These are good questions addressing important economic and political dynamics, but in these narratives, the dimension of culture ought not to be neglected. There are dramatic cultural differences between this youth generation and their predecessors. This is a generation less concerned with tribal loyalty than their parents, and looking to forge a new, contemporary identities.
While the notion of tribe has driven most of Kenya's post-independence politics, young people born and raised in urban centers have stopped speaking in quite the same terms. In fact, many young Kenyans speak a wholly different tongue – an informal English-Swahili mix called Sheng – which is increasingly replacing their parents' regional languages. And they are seeking identities in new ways, such as through purchasing power, consumer goods, nightlife, and other entertainment.
Some changes are occurring that are aiding this transition. Nairobi used to have such a serious reputation for crime that it earned the unfortunate moniker "Nairobbery." In recent years, however, crime rates have begun to drop and excursions into the nightlife of the city are less fraught. There are various types of bars and clubs catering to the ever-growing youth population, who represent divergent attitudes on both culture and politics.
The meaning of style
Back in Westlands, a wall unit displays uniformly large, black, leather, metal, and plastic boots. They appear heavy and warm, and are particularly at odds with the general trends of East African fashion.
“Once we sold a pair," the clerk explains with a smile, “to a mzungu" – a white person. “We sell mostly t-shirts, trousers, jewelery. These are too much!" he says, gesturing to the shoes.
The clerk himself is dressed in a plain t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He does not seem to buy into goth culture but enjoys the work well enough. “We have maybe seven or eight customers a day on weekends," he says. “On weekdays it’s even less.”
Later, David takes me to see Taz, a fashion designer who makes goth-inspired accessories and clothing. Taz has been a goth for several years and claims to be amongst the most committed members of the scene. He informs me that the interest in goth culture came about shortly after tattoos were popularized in the early 2000s through MTV and other Western music channels. Across the several parlors visited, most had at least one goth-influenced artist on staff.
Kenyan goths largely share an aesthetic rather than a strictly defined musical taste. Yet while their look is their most defining feature, many will take it on and off like a costume, only displaying their goth credentials in the safety that comes in numbers. Even in the tattoo parlors, stares and smirks at the goth artists are obvious. But while walking through town dressed as a goth is rarely a pleasant experience, those involved in the scene are hoping that that will change.
Thanks to the launch of a rock-heavy radio station, XFM, and an increasingly popular metal DJ called Van Doom, the number of young Kenyans partaking in goth culture seems likely to expand in the near future. While this means increased sales and a wider acceptance of his subculture, Taz expresses some reservations about the newest converts.
“There’s these young guys – let’s say posers – and then the older crowd. The older guys are relaxed, they just enjoy. Some of these kids are crazy," he says.
Indeed, many people share stories of dangerous and sometimes harmful public behaviour emanating from the goth scene: the teenage goth who publicly self-harms at events in town, cutting himself and drinking so heavily people are forced to physically pick him up and put him in a taxi; or the young man who set himself on fire after watching one of the local metal bands playing, eventually dying of his wounds. Then there are the countless stories of goths becoming involved with the slum-based drug runners; use of "brown sugar," a volatile mixture of heroin, marijuana, and tobacco is reportedly on the rise.
While these stories could very well be distorted or entirely false, they do allude to the negative perception of goth culture in Kenya, which has forced much of the scene to remain underground. Goths are seen as unusual, violent, and anti-Christian. Most of the older goths are in fact practicing Christians, but their attire is misinterpreted as an attack on traditional or conservative values, particularly by the older generation. Many bars are unwilling to host metal or goth nights because of the crowd they believe will be attracted. Events are planned and cancelled, moved and rearranged.
The negative public image of the goth scene also extends beyond the general public and is apparent in the attitudes of local authorities, at times with dramatic consequences. David used to have long hair, another way to stand out in a country where men tend to wear it very short. A couple of weeks before I met him, he was walking in town at dusk, waiting for the bus back to Nakuru, when a police car pulled over in front of him. The police approached him and asked to see his passport, which he was not carrying, before they accused him of looking like "an Al Shabaab" – a Somali militant Islamist group responsible for several terrorist attacks in the region.
David denied this, stating that he was a Kenyan. The police then challenged him as to why he had untidy hair and facial piercings, preposterously claiming that these are hallmarks of Somali terrorists. They put him in their car and drove him to a nearby barber where they forced him to shave his head. They said that this would "stop confusing them," and they told him to "dress like a decent person" in future.
When I met David one of the first things I asked was whether he wore his preferred clothes all the time. I asked most of the goths this question and generally they admitted to traveling incognito, blending into the crowd. David, however, looked vaguely insulted at my question before replying, simply, “me, I even wear this in church."
•A version of this post originally appeared on Africa on the Blog. The views reflected are the author's own.
President Obama's three-country trip to Africa this summer has fueled a lively discussion about what – if anything – his presidency means for the African continent, as well as what American policy toward Africa should look like. But how has the trip actually registered with Americans?
In my experience, black Americans, most of whom have descended from African slaves, tend to think of Africa as an extension of the United States’ own domestic struggle for racial equality. For them the greatest drama of the trip was generated by suspense over whether or not Mr. Obama was going to get a chance to meet Nelson Mandela, and the fear that Mr. Mandela might die during the journey.
Significantly, for those who believe that the Obama administration has been negligent about developing a meaningful policy on Africa during the five years he has been in office, the fact that Obama arrived too late to meet Mandela was a metaphor for the failure of the administration to clearly articulate a coherent Africa policy in general – long after the Chinese, the Indians, the Turks, the Japanese, and the Brazilians had already made significant inroads.
The ties between Africa and America, in the minds of Americans, have always been at once distant and close. We share Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. as archetypes of social justice. The mythologies surrounding the two historic figures contain parallels. Like Mr. King, the narrative about Mandela has been softened and diluted in the popular imagination to make his story more acceptable to American institutions.
In America one doesn’t often hear about Mandela’s opposition to imperialism, just as one doesn’t hear very much about King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. One doesn’t hear about Mandela’s fight against the concentration of wealth among a financial elite, just as one doesn’t hear very much about King’s struggles for the rights of poor people and for organized labor in America.
What one does hear is a great deal about is Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, which parallels the institutional emphasis on King’s struggle against racial segregation in the United States. One hears about Mandela’s patience while in prison, and his willingness to forgive his captors, just as one hears about King’s persistent nonviolence in the face of hostile racist mobs in the US.
Lacking much detailed knowledge about the continent as a whole, for many Americans, Africa is Mandela and Mandela is Africa., So their attention has been riveted by the story of the rapid deterioration of the South African leader’s health, almost to the exclusion of other topics.
For recent African immigrants to America, however, it was another story. This group, while often proudly distinguishing themselves from native black Americans, frequently expressed a less romanticized view of African governments and institutions during Obama's trip. They tended to be much more critical of African governments. They often argued that most of these governments were hopelessly corrupt, and that the only sensible thing for Obama to do was to not try to engage them at all.
Then there was a third group of Americans – those whose views perhaps most closely reflect the mainstream. Americans often seem to feel most keenly motivated when we believe that we are in competition with someone else. This third group reflected those competitive tendencies, focusing on their fears about the growing influence of the Chinese in the African continent. The greatest question on their minds was how Obama’s trip could be used to counter Chinese investment and business deals with African governments.
Similarly, there were those who watched the trip for signs that it would signal the expansion of an American military presence on the continent as part of the borderless “war on terror."
A version of this mainstream American thinking was expressed by resentment toward the tendency of some black Americans to continue to claim an African identity, just as many white Americans still identify with their European countries of origin. Those who resent the enduring African identity among black Americans expressed this resentment in their criticisms of Obama’s trip. They saw the trip as being a lavish vacation for the first family at taxpayer expense. They also saw it as being an attempt, by the president and the first lady, to get in touch with their “African roots” and strengthen their appeal among black voters back home. These critics noted that at a time when the federal government is raising taxes while its agencies are cutting services, the Obamas have embarked on a journey to Africa at an estimated cost of $100 million.
The complaints became so fierce that the White House was forced to explain that the president was conducting the nation’s business – but since the destination was Africa, and most Americans are not aware of the rising economic and geopolitical significance of the continent, the president’s attempt to promote his trip as being in the nation’s strategic interest was a hard sell.
Finally, there were small, progressive groups in the country that used media coverage of the trip to promote the view that Americans must take a second look at the African continent. Their message was that there is a “new Africa” emerging, and narratives that focus on corruption, violence, poverty, and disease are missing the point. This final group supports increasing deals and partnerships between African and American businesses, even though they are unclear about precisely how one should go about this.
They are ambivalent about more charitable aid to Africa, believing that such aid is condescending and paternalistic but might also be actually needed. Above all, they are clear about the fact that Americans must treat Africans with greater respect than they have in the past – they see respect, at the very least, as a good starting point.
So, what Americans see in Africa often reveals more about the state of mind of the Americans than it does about the realities in Africa. Reactions in the United States to Obama’s trip reflected what Americans needed to see and believe about Africa in order to reenforce what they see and believe about themselves, as Americans.
For some, Africa is a continent toward which Americans can express their generosity, or contempt, by focusing primarily on charitable aid, while for others it is a continent of budding economic opportunity that they haven’t quite figured out how to get in on. For some, Africa is a romantic and mythological motherland that possesses the mysterious elixir to heal the wounds of over 400 years of American racism, while for others it is a chaotic no-man’s land of failed states, child soldiers, rampant disease, and random acts of violence, and it will be the next battlefront in the US war on terror. And for many Americans, Africa does not even seem to register in their consciousness at all.
The range of reactions to the president’s trip reveals the divided image of Africa in the American imagination.
•A version of this post originally appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views reflected are the author's own.
Natural resources could be the next great development financing tool.
It is quite simple. Take the money that a government makes from the sale of oil, gold, copper, etc. and give citizens a cut.
Giving direct cash will help out the people that need it most and it could spur on development as people will then spend the money on local businesses and services. Additionally, it will reduce corruption and let the average citizen hold his or her government accountable for how money is spent.
That is the basic case made by Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development with his oil-to-cash initiative. A new working paper from World Bank economists Shanta Devarajan and Marcelo Giugale takes the idea and applies it to resource-rich African nations. They come up with some theoretical ways that countries can design schemes that will turn natural resources from a curse to a blessing.
It matters now because more African countries are discovering major reserves that will significantly alter their national trajectories. The researchers suggest that governments can follow the example of Alaska and the Canadian province of Alberta who developed schemes that distribute a fixed proportion of resource revenues to all citizens, adopting what the researchers call direct dividend payments (DDPs).
Giving a modest amount of natural resource revenues to citizens can contribute significantly to the elimination of poverty in some countries.
“A transfer of about 10 percent of oil revenues in Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, distributed universally, would be sufficient to close the poverty gap in these countries,” write Mr. Devarajan and Mr. Giugale. “For larger countries such as Mozambique and Nigeria, the transfer would cover about half the poverty gap.”
Governments were initially resistant to DDPs for three reasons:
- Too hard and costly to identify citizens;
- No incentives for present leaders to give up resource revenues;
- Cash-strapped governments cannot afford to give away valuable revenue that pays for public services.
Devarajan and Giugale admit that all were problems year ago, but changes in countries and technological advances wipe away the three concerns. Identifying citizens is easier than ever. India, home to 1.2 billion people, is a third of the way done with its identification card scheme. If India can do it, so can smaller countries. The second concern is less of an issue due to increased democratization. With more countries having elections, candidates can campaign on the idea of initiating a DDP scheme.
Finally, the implementation of DDPs may actually make governments better. With less money, governments will have to eliminate wasteful spending and programs and may even increase public scrutiny for government spending. DDPs recognize the limitations of governments in accomplishing what they set out to do.
In an ideal world, where governments perfectly reflect the preferences of citizens and face no constraints in providing public goods, there is no need for DDPs or, indeed, for any type of cash transfer. The government will choose the correct mix of public investment and consumption, and implement it costlessly.
That sounds simple enough, but it may not be so easy. Prior research from Devarajan shows that increased scrutiny can slow down the ability of the government to invest natural resource revenues into services. Other research shows that governments may react by providing people with the services they want in order to avoid further scrutiny. In such a case, DDPs would ensure that governments are more responsive to the needs of citizens in order to keep people happy.
This careful balance means that DDPs will work well in countries already benefiting from natural resources, where the transfers would increase level of government scrutiny and the political system where the ruling party has to respond to citizen needs.
It will also work better in smaller countries where taking a small cut from revenues will go a long way. However, large countries should not be dismissed, say the authors. The transfers can move people living in poverty above or closer to the poverty line. Picking up on DDPs will improve transparency in governments, something that the authors say is a good thing.
They are not a substitute for continuing and enhanced efforts at developing the institutional capacity of governments. On the contrary, they complement those efforts, because they trigger additional demands for public accountability.
•A version of this post originally appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last week, the French government sold off nine luxury cars at an auction in Paris, raising $3.6 million. Luxury names took the stage including Porsche, Bugatti, and Bentley.
The luxurious fleet once belonged to Teodorin Obiang, son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodor Obiang. The cars were seized in 2011 when the younger Obiang was charged with embezzling public funds in France.
It is quite the collection for someone who earned an official salary of $7,000 a month during that time. He has also managed to purchase a $30 million home in Malibu and liberated a $23.5 million art collection from the walls of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
The money comes largely from the oil that the tiny west African country produces, whose profits have mysteriously made their way into the smooth rides and stylish suits worn by the Obiang family.
Corruption may feel like a problem in a far off nation, but it is also much closer to home than one expects, said Charmain Gooch, co-founder of the international NGO global witness, which studies corruption, in a recent TED Talk.
“Corruption is made possible by the actions of global facilitators,” said Ms. Gooch.
He did business with global banks. A bank in Paris held accounts of companies controlled by him, one of which was used to buy the art ,and American banks, well, they funneled 73 million dollars into the States, some of which was used to buy that California mansion.
And he didn’t do all of this in his own name either. He used shell companies. He used one to buy the property, and another, which was in somebody else’s name, to pay the huge bills it cost to run the place.
Corruption is a worldwide problem. The Global Corruption Barometer 2013 asked 114,000 people from 107 countries questions about corruption, finding that some 1/4 of people say they paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions. It is roughly the same rate as last year.
More than two-thirds of Americans say that corruption is a problem in the public sector. Nearly the same amount of people also said that corruption has increased over the past two years.
“Bribe paying levels remain very high worldwide, but people believe they have the power to stop corruption and the number of those willing to combat the abuse of power, secret dealings, and bribery is significant, “ says Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International. “Too many people are harmed when these core institutions and basic services are undermined by the scourge of corruption.”
To do so requires more transparency from governments about the money collected and how it is spent, says the report. Governments should also support rule of law, provide stiff punishments for corruption, and clean up the democratic process.
One way that countries can reduce corruption is by taking on shell companies. Gooch cited a World Bank study that found shell companies were used in 70 percent of the 200 corruption cases it studied. These companies are set up in countries like the UK and the US. She remains optimistic that corruption can be defeated. A transparency campaign launched in 1999 and aimed at the oil and mining sectors has led to an increase in the number of transparency laws for companies, for instance.
“So this is change happening. This is progress. But we’re not there yet, by far. Because it really isn’t about corruption somewhere over there, is it? In a globalized world, corruption is a truly globalized business, and one that needs global solutions, supported and pushed by us all, as global citizens, right here,” she said.
•A version of this post originally appeared on Think Africa Press and is republished here with permission. The views expressed are the author's own.
In the past few months, there have been increasing indications that the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union are flirting with reconciliation – or at least a less stridently antagonist relationship – with the once internationally reviled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
In March, for example, Western sanctions against some members of Mr. Mugabe’s inner circle were lifted after a constitutional referendum in Zimbabwe was deemed “peaceful, successful and credible” by the EU. Some of these aides were even invited by the British government to London for a re-engagement meeting. Then, last month when Mugabe announced – unilaterally and somewhat provocatively – that Zimbabwe’s general elections would be held on July31 , the EU and US were notably silent. A similarly muted response would have been hard to imagine just five years ago when Mugabe’s international standing was at rock bottom.
There are a number of possible reasons behind the apparent thawing of the West’s icy stance towards Mugabe. The first is that the president and his ruling ZANU-PF party have genuinely managed to reassure the West of their democratic credentials and that elections this time round will be free and fair. However, this seems to fly in the face of the fact that there have been virtually no political reforms since 2008 and that ZANU-PF has already made public its intentions to change the new constitution were it to regain power.
For the real reasons into the possible shift in the West’s position on Mugabe, we may have to look to other factors.
Zimbabwe’s new face
Over the past few years, the Zimbabwean government has made some attempts to reach out to the international community. In these endeavors, there is no doubt that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), have helped give Harare a friendly face. Mr. Tsvangirai’s international tours and other diplomatic efforts have helped sanitize the Zimbabwean government, and his role as prime minister has allowed foreign powers greater flexibility to deal with Zimbabwe without being seen to be dealing with Mugabe.
However, Zimbabwe’s improved relations have in turn reflected well on the government as a whole. For his part, Mugabe may have also been hoping for painful relations with the West to heal over. His rhetoric against the British government, for example, appears to become more subdued compared to in the run-up to the 2008 elections.
Mugabe’s staying power
The US and UK’s softened stance could be derived from an acceptance that ZANU–PF and Mugabe are here to stay. As surveys undertaken by Afrobarometer and Freedom House suggest, ZANU–PF not only enjoys a great deal of popular support in country, but this support has been increasing while the MDC’s has been declining. Furthermore, as analyst Phillan Zamchiya has explained, even if the MDC were able to generate more willing voters than ZANU–PF in the next few weeks, it is likely that ZANU-PF would still be able to manipulate the result to ensure victory.
Given how deeply entrenched Mugabe and his party are in Zimbabwean politics, Washington and London may have calculated that unrelenting criticism would be futile and simply Zimbabwe into the arms of other interested parties such as China.
Access to Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth
Following on from the last point, the West’s change of tactics could be seen as a demonstration of realpolitik entrepreneurship. Western sanctions and the increasing involvement of other economic actors in Zimbabwe such as China – in part thanks to Mugabe’s ‘Look East’ policy in the face of those sanctions – has also left many Western countries on the back foot when it comes to Zimbabwe’s considerable mineral wealth. Recognizing that their sanctions did not work as intended, Western nations may now be trying to ease the way for Western companies to regain a stronger foothold in Zimbabwean economic affairs.
The opposition’s fraying image
Since the two MDC factions – the MDC-T led by Tsvangirai, and the MDC-M led initially by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and now by Welshman Ncube – joined the coalition government, Western support for them has faded. This is partly due to the corruption and undemocratic practices some MDC members have been accused of since taking office. Western governments may have realized that criticizing Mugabe and ZANU-PF without extending similar disapproval to MDC members allegedly involved in similarly corrupt activities would be hypocritical. Unwilling to denounce the MDC, Western powers may be consciously holding their tongues more when it comes to Mugabe too.
London’s new leadership
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush were the main architects of the policies which saw Mugabe’s government portrayed as a pariah state. Mr. Blair relentlessly lobbied the EU to impose sanctions against President Mugabe. And his successor, Gordon Brown, intensified the assault on Mugabe’s regime.
Under the Conservative-led coalition government which took over in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron has taken more of a back seat on Zimbabwe, possibly due to the UK’s numerous domestic problems and a shift in foreign policy focus towards Somalia. Some senior Conservative officials have even used a conciliatory tone towards Zimbabwe. Without lobbying from London, the EU has also become more circumspect in its criticism of Mugabe.
Faith in Zuma
During the political crisis that engulfed Zimbabwe between 2001 and 2008, Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa at the time, tried to resolve the situation through an approach which was dubbed ‘quiet diplomacy’. This soft approach was heavily criticized by the EU and the US, and Mr. Mbeki was seen as reluctant to put pressure on his fellow ‘revolutionary cadre’ to institute political reforms. Unsure of Mbeki, the UK and US may have felt it necessary to engage more directly in Zimbabwean affairs.
Today’s South African president, Jacob Zuma, is seen as more assertive towards Zimbabwe. Indeed, on his recent trip to the South Africa, US President Barack Obama praised Mr. Zuma’s administration for reining in ZANU–PF and for confronting them on issues such as violence and intimidation as well as the lack of progress on electoral reform. It is possible that the UK and the US trust Zuma to take an effective lead role on Zimbabwe and so feel more comfortable taking a hands-off approach themselves.
Avoiding an imperialist image
Another reason the West might have toned down its stance on Mugabe and avoided openly expressing support for opposition parties is the realization that such rhetoric could actually bolster ZANU-PF’s campaign and undermine the MDC’s. In the past, Mugabe has been able to generate much popular support by denouncing Western interference as imperialist and painting the MDC as puppets of the former colonial regime.
How long will it last?
Throughout the last decade, EU and US officials have told Mugabe’s government that it must bring an end to human rights abuses, corruption, and political violence if it is to be rehabilitated internationally. Yet despite the lack of political reform, the West has recently lifted sanctions, toned down criticism, and engaged in some conciliatory language. The EU and US appear to be attempting to deal with Mugabe and ZANU-PF quite differently than they were five years ago.
How long this will last, however, remains to be seen. Zimbabwean politics are in a precarious poised position and it is highly uncertain how the election will unfold. Rather than marking a whole new era of Zimbabwean-Western relations, the West’s softened stance is probably more part of a wait-and-see approach.