•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
South Africa is much more developed than its neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Economically, it dominates the entire region. Apartheid South Africa regularly intervened militarily outside its borders during the struggle against the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements, thereby highlighting their neighbors’ weaknesses.
A consequence of South Africa’s disproportionate power and influence is that today it is often resented by other Southern African nations. Occasionally this breaks out into the open.
That happened in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London when, upon returning to Lusaka, Zambian Vice President Guy Scott publicly compared South African president Jacob Zuma to F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid South African head of state, according to The Guardian.
But he did not stop there. He also said South Africans are “arrogant.” Further warming to his subject, he continued: “The South Africans are very backward in terms of historical development.… I hate South Africans. That’s not a fair thing to say because I like a lot of South Africans but they really think they’re the bees’ knees and actually they’ve been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world.”
He went on to say that South Africa’s blacks model themselves on white behavior now that they are in power. Saying out loud what many Africans say only after a few drinks, he continued, “I dislike South Africa for the same reason that Latin Americans dislike the United States, I think. It’s just too big and too unsubtle.”
He also denounced South African membership in the BRICS, a major policy initiative of President Jacob Zuma.
“Nobody would want to go in for a partnership with Brazil, China, India, and South Africa for Christ’s sake.” He concluded with a bouquet for Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, telling the Guardian, “I’m sure any good African nationalist admires Mugabe.” He also said that Mugabe would like to retire from the presidency.
The South African government says it is demanding an explanation for the remarks from the Zambian high commissioner in Pretoria. In contrast, Zimbabwe is playing down the incident, commenting publicly that Mugabe is “close” to Scott and Zambian president Michael Sata. Zimbabwe insists that it will not allow “the media” to shape the Zambia/Zimbabwe bilateral relationship.
The immediate cause of Scott’s ire appears to have been Mr. Zuma’s maneuvering over Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections in his capacity as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) designated mediator. While Zuma is ostensibly operating with the mandate of SADC, of which Zambia is a part, in Mr. Scott’s view the South African president is trying to keep the other SADC states out.
Scott is hardly a typical southern African politician. Born in 1944, he is of Anglo-Scottish origin with a degree from Cambridge. However, his father was involved in anti-colonial journalism and Scott has liberation credentials. He is a fierce critic of white racism in southern Africa. He compared fellow students at a school he attended as a youth in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as having the attitudes of the Hitler Youth. Scott, also a journalist like his father, established an important agribusiness and later served as the Zambian Minister of Agriculture. He became vice president in 2011.
Dozens died in the collapse of an unlicensed gold mine in the Sudanese region of Darfur this week, underlining the vast infrastructural challenges that face the country as it attempts to transform itself into one of the world’s leading gold producers.
The collapse apparently occurred Monday, though reports of the disaster did not reach the capital city of Khartoum – 500 miles to the east – until Thursday. As of Friday morning close to 100 miners remain unaccounted for, along with nine first responders sent in to rescue them, according to SkyNews. Local officials have estimated at least 60 deaths.
Gold has taken on particular importance in Sudan over the past two years as the country scrambles to replace the massive oil revenues it lost when the southern region of the country became independent in 2011. When Sudan lost its oil fields, most of its export earnings disappeared overnight, Agence France-Presse reports. This forced the government to quickly negotiate new sources of cash.
That year, Sudan exported 22.5 tons of gold. In 2012, that figure nearly doubled, to 41 tons, catapulting the country into the ranks of the top 20 gold producers worldwide. It is on track to become Africa’s third-leading gold exporter this year, Mining.com reports.
But the demand for gold has also fueled dangerous working conditions in the remote, deeply impoverished regions where it is mined. Most of the country’s gold comes from so-called “artisanal mines,” informal, unregulated operations that are often little more than an open pit in the ground.
Miners climb down the holes and chip away at the rock below, often using their bare hands to mix mercury and ore together to separate the gold.
The mine disaster Monday was reportedly triggered when one of these small operations collapsed, setting off a chain reaction through other mines nearby. In 2011, the Sudanese government estimated there were 200,000 unlicensed gold producers in the country. Worldwide, they account for a quarter of global gold production, reports The Financial Times.
The gold supply chain is complicated and opaque, with plenty of weak points where illegal metal can leak into the system. Local dealers pick up scraps of gold from artisanal mines, sell them to other dealers until they end up in the nearest big city. From there, the gold makes its way to a smelter, then a refiner and then into Europe or Asia. All the Asian and European refiners get their gold from the same sources, so dirty gold reaches all markets equally.
In Sudan, as elsewhere in the region, illegal gold mining is also a prime source of funding for militia groups.
For a decade, Darfur has been the site of intense sectarian fighting between local rebel groups and government-sponsored militias. More than two million Darfuris are still in internal refugee or displacement camps, and for those who have returned home, economic prospects are often grim.
Close to 70,000 people allegedly work in artisanal mines in the Jebel Amir district, where the accident occurred.
"Nobody takes the names of those who go inside,” one miner told AFP. “Only their colleagues or their relatives know where they are.”
•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
Brazil is negotiating an agreement with Mozambique to finance the construction of a dam to provide drinking water for the city of Maputo, according to local news sources. It is expected to cost $500 million and the Bank of Brazil has funded an environmental impact study for the project.
With a population approaching two million and growing rapidly, Maputo needs an assured water supply. A successful agreement between Brazil and Mozambique means that construction on the dam could start as early as 2014.
The dam – known as Moamba Major – highlights Brazil’s expanded engagement in Africa. In November 2012, British think tank Chatham House published a highly useful briefing paper on Brazil’s growing role on the continent. It highlights Brazil’s African economic interests – notably, its trade with Africa has increased from $4.2 billion to $27.6 billion over the past decade. Africa is potentially an important export market for Brazilian manufactured goods.
But as the Chatham House briefer highlights, Brazil sees African engagement as more than economic. It is a key to Brazil’s recognition as a major world power, and close south-south relations focused on Africa could help build international support for a permanent UN Security Council seat for Brazil. Brazil seeks a partnership for development with an important political dimension rather than solely an economic relationship.
But Brazil’s expanding role in Africa is overshadowed in the international media by China and India’s larger role. (So, too, is the role of South Africa.) But, Brazil’s approach to Africa appears to be the more broadly based, with important political and developmental aspects, as well as economic. And there are important cultural ties between Brazil and the Lusophone Africa states such as Angola and Mozambique.
Brazil also has the diaspora’s largest population of African origin. Thus far, the Brazilians appear to have avoided the cultural and other mistakes of the Chinese. The Brazilian relationship with Africa may prove deeper and longer lasting than that of its higher-profile rivals among the BRICS.
In March, the United Nations approved a so-called "intervention brigade," the first of its kind, to carry out offensives against militant groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo's conflict-ridden eastern regions. Now the brigade has been formally organized, and as Congo analyst Jason Stearns explains, its impact is likely to be felt across the continent.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.
The intervention brigade is on its way, and it has inspired Cassandras and Pollyannas alike.
Most of the talk has focused on the military efficacy of the brigade, which will consist of 3,069 troops from southern African countries and will be led by a Tanzanian general. This focus is not surprising, given the robust mandate the UN Security Council provided in Resolution 2098 to "carry out targeted offensive operations ... to neutralize [armed] groups."
The brigade is expected to deploy by June or July, with its base in the town of Sake and operations probably beginning in the following months. But, despite the aggressive media campaign waged by Congolese militant group M23 against the brigade, its political importance is likely to be as hefty as its (few) helicopter gunships and armed personnel carriers.
As one Rwandan official put it to me: "Imagine the M23 kills ten South Africans. It doesn't matter whether we support the M23 or not, [South African President Jacob] Zuma will blame us." The brigade forms a sort of political firewall – if the M23 puts it to shame, it will draw some of the most powerful countries in the region into the conflict.
This points to a larger dynamic, the regionalization of the conflict. Between 1998 and 2003 the Congolese war drew in eight countries and effectively split the region between enemies (Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) and allies (Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe) of Kinshasa. We are obviously not back to that sort of escalation, but the intervention brigade makes this conflict more regional than at any point in the past decade.
The big, muscular newcomer to the Kinshasa camp is South Africa. Two reasons can be made out.
First, relations between Pretoria and Kigali have soured since the assassination attempt against Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa in the middle of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the country's most important international event in a generation.
Secondly, South Africa's government has become increasingly financially invested in the Congo – the energy-strapped country is particular intent on cornering access to Inga Dam hydroelectric projects (and Mr. Zuma is alleged to have personal interests in the oil sector in the Congo).
Just last month, both countries put final touches to a draft agreement that would give South Africa around 2,600 megawatts of power from the Inga II dam, around 6 percent of that country's current power supply.
At full capacity, Grand Inga could produce up to 39,000 megawatts. South African involvement was particularly on show during the 2011 elections, which took place just weeks after Congolese President Joseph Kabila granted the South African government a contract for Inga III. Zuma was then one of the first presidents to congratulate Mr. Kabila for his victory, despite rampant irregularities in the voting process.
Then, when Uganda began facilitating peace talks with the M23 rebels as chair of the ICGLR – a regional organization dedicated to stability in the Congo and its surrounds – South Africa and Angola, worried about Uganda and Rwanda's influence in the ICGLR, offered to send troops to Kinshasa's aid through the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Kabila reportedly believes that the brigade will help bring an end to the nettlesome M23 rebellion.
Tanzania is more of a cipher – while relations between the country's president, Jakaya Kikwete, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have been strained in the past, Tanzania, where Kabila grew up, has been much less politically and economically involved in the Congo than South Africa.
The arrival of the brigade will therefore introduce new political as well as military dynamics to the conflict. The M23 may well try to use another military offensive, either before or after the brigade's arrival, to gain political leverage.
But while it is unclear whether the brigade will be able to live up to its ambitious military mandate, it comes with hefty political clout to back it up.
A version of this post originally appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.
A tiny landlocked kingdom with a largely impoverished population scattered in often inaccessible villages dotted around a stark mountain landscape, Lesotho appears to have little to offer the prospective Chinese migrant.
And yet, this country of just over two million inhabitants boasts a Chinese population of several thousand. This community is overwhelmingly made up of shopkeepers from China’s Fujian province who have established a trading network that extends deep into Lesotho’s mountainous hinterland, selling everything from basic groceries to clothing and manufactured goods.
But as in many other countries across the continent, the presence and success of Chinese traders has been a double-edged sword. Some Basotho – the local ethnic group – hail the availability of cheap goods from the Chinese, while others decry the squeezing out of local businesses and accuse the Chinese of shoddy practices. And like many observers, most also wonder how they have managed to become so successful.
Keeping to themselves
Despite the best efforts of the Lesotho government, no one knows exactly how many Chinese currently live in the country. Official census takers in mountain villages often encounter bolted doors or truckloads of tipped-off Chinese residents speeding down the road in the opposite direction, suggesting many of Chinese who reside in Lesotho do so illegally. Most estimates, however, put the figure of the Chinese population in Lesotho somewhere between four and twenty thousand. (To learn more about Chinese immigrants in Lesotho, read this piece on how one shopkeeper has found a niche for himself.)
Interestingly, Lesotho’s Chinese migrants also seem to be as wary of their own government as they are of national authorities. Despite their inescapable presence in the country’s retail sector, the Chinese tend to keep themselves to themselves and the Chinese embassy does not typically facilitate the entry of economic migrants to Lesotho.
Instead, it prefers to distance itself from the migrants. When discontent over the presence of foreigners in Lesotho’s retail sector boiled over into xenophobic violence in 1991, for example, the Chinese embassy in the capital Maseru shut its gates in the face of distressed shopkeepers who sought help.
Setting up shop
Rather than being in some way tied to Chinese state assistance to Lesotho then, migrants come to Lesotho under their own steam, lured by rumors of easy profits.
But they do not arrive as hostages to fortune, without a plan and alone. Rather, given that kinship networks are the main pull factor behind Fujianese migration to Lesotho, new arrivals usually have links to one of the local Fujianese business associations before they even land.
These commercial networks link Fujianese traders across Lesotho with wholesalers in neighboring South Africa and suppliers in mainland China, and help new arrivals in number of ways. The presence of Fujianese merchants in villages that, at first glance, seem too small or remote to support a retail business, is testament to the success these associations have had.
To begin with, these networks direct new migrants towards niches in the market and away from areas already saturated by Fujianese businesses. In this way, they create a centrifugal force, pushing new arrivals into remote corners of the country.
Fujianese commercial associations also give advice and provide start-up loans and insurance for new ventures. In fact, Fujianese traders typically spend their first couple of years in Lesotho paying off debts to these associations and to the migratory agents who facilitated their entry into the country.
This is part of the reason Fujianese businesses have a reputation for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – their owners must work extremely hard and live very frugally simply in order to pay their initial debts.
Start-up capital, hard work and frugality are central to Chinese traders’ success. Also crucial, however, is the ability of Chinese businesspeople to undercut their local competitors. This is made possible by using local Chinese business associations to buy and ship goods in bulk. This helps lower wholesale costs and, additionally, given that the many of the goods sold by Chinese businesses are non-perishable, they can also be stored on site for long periods of time to save on transport costs.
All these factors help make the Chinese community in Lesotho commercially successful. However, all is not perfect. Despite – or perhaps because of – their success, strong anti-Chinese sentiment prevails in popular opinion in Lesotho.
Rather than distinguishing between different East Asian groups, local Basotho often designate all Asians as “Chinese,” sometimes calling them “the dog eaters.” Local frustration with the perceived Chinese takeover of the small-scale retail industry in Lesotho frequently manifests itself in stories of Chinese managers abusing local staff or of forbidding their Basotho employees from ever working at the till or handling cash.
Furthermore, Fujianese shopkeepers have been accused of every imaginable malpractice, from removing pieces of chicken from barbecue packs and selling the underweight packs at full price, to vending poisonous baby formula and rotten vegetables, to relabeling and selling goods well beyond their sell-by date.
Chinese businesses are also often accused of operating under fake licenses and avoiding tax. And Chinese migrants are widely believed to eschew the national banking system, preferring instead to keep their earnings under their mattresses or on their person. A combination of xenophobia and opportunism has made East Asians the most frequent victims of violent crime in Lesotho – though since 1991 there has been no popular violence against the immigrant community as a whole.
The prevalence of anti-Chinese rhetoric at all levels in Lesotho society, however, does not change the fact that the Basotho are increasingly reliant on the retail services provided by the immigrant Fujianese population. As one local told Think Africa Press, “if there was no Chinese in Teyateyaneng, where would I buy?”
As well as sometimes obscuring the benefits locals gain from cheap Chinese imports, anti-Chinese sentiments also sometimes obscure the realities of Fujianese immigration. While popular belief has it that Chinese immigration to Lesotho is increasing exponentially with the help of the Chinese government, for example, there is evidence to suggest that there are actually more Fujianese leaving the country today than entering.
In fact, as economic prospects in Fujian continue to improve and China transforms itself into a country of net immigration, we can expect to see a shift in Fujianese migratory flows in Africa away from the poorest countries such as Lesotho, and towards wealthier African countries and China itself.
Unless the Basotho take advantage of the Fujianese presence in the country and learn from their highly effective business model quickly, it may be too late, as we can expect Fujianese traders to be replaced by another wave of foreign merchants – if not from China, then from West Africa or elsewhere in the global South.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.
Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to reach more than 5 percent on average between 2013 and 2015 as a result of high commodity prices worldwide and strong consumer spending on the continent, ensuring that the region remains among the fastest growing in the world.
In 2012, about a quarter of countries on the African continent grew at 7 percent or faster and a number of countries – including Sierra Leone, Niger, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda – are among the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Forecasts indicate that medium-term growth prospects remain strong and will be supported by a gradually-improving world economy, consistently high commodity prices, and more investment in regional infrastructure, trade, and business growth.
However, the need for faster progress in areas such as electricity and food in vulnerable areas of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, as well as significantly more energy and agricultural productivity, are desperately needed to raise the quality of life for Africans throughout the continent and reduce poverty significantly.
Specifically, without additional focus on electricity and higher agricultural productivity, Africa’s development future cannot prosper at the rate needed to address the still-high levels of poverty and inequality on the continent.
African governments should continue to be pressured to upgrade their specific country’s capacities so that their citizens can better measure and monitor their development progress and analyze the reasons for its success and failure, especially in resource-rich countries and fragile states.
The recent discoveries of oil, natural gas, copper, and other strategic minerals, and the expansion of several mines or the building of new ones in Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia – together with better political and economic governance – are sustaining solid economic growth across the continent and bode well for the future, if managed correctly.
It is also forecast that by 2020, only four or five countries in the region will not be involved in mineral exploitation of some kind, such is the continent's abundance of natural resources.
According to the World Bank, resource-rich African countries will consciously need to invest their new mineral earnings in better health, education, and jobs in order to maximise their national development prospects.
Increased investment flows into Africa are also supporting the continent’s growth performance.
In 2012, net private capital flows to the region increased by 3.3 percent to a record $54.5 billion and foreign direct investment inflows to the region increased by 5.5 percent in 2012 to $37.7 billion.
Exports are also driving the continent’s growth and that the traditional destination of these goods over the last decade is changing as well.
Since 2000, the overall growth of African exports to emerging markets, including those of China, Brazil and India, and to other countries in the African region, has surpassed that to developed markets. Total exports to Brazil, India and China were larger than to the entire European Union market in 2011.
Even though the broad picture emerging from the data is that Africa’s economies have been expanding robustly and that poverty is coming down, the aggregate hides a great deal of diversity in performance, even among Africa’s faster growers.
As an example of this trend, Ethiopia and Rwanda saw their economies expand between 8 percent and 10 percent each, which directly resulted in a 1.3 percent to 1.7 percent annual drop in their national poverty rates. In contrast, poverty reduction in some other countries has lagged far behind growth.
A number of emerging trends on the continent could help to transform its current state of development over the coming years. These include the promise of large revenues from mineral exploitation, rising incomes created by a dramatic expansion of agricultural productivity, the large-scale migration of people from the countryside into Africa’s towns and cities, and a demographic dividend potentially created by Africa’s fast-growing population of young people.
A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the Enough Project. The views expressed are the author's own.
Nadia Taha is a producer at Sudan Radio Service (SRS), based in Nairobi, Kenya. We met in March to talk about her childhood in Darfur, activism at university in Khartoum, and work as the first female reporter with SRS. This Q&A is excerpted from our conversation.
Can you talk about your experience growing up in Darfur at the height of the conflict?
I grew up in El Fasher and did my schooling there, and then I studied law at El Nilein University in Khartoum. I was in high school during the time of war in Darfur, in 2003. Actually, I was just doing my final exam for high school in [the town of] Tina, on the border between Chad and Sudan, and at that time the rebels came and attacked the town – while we were there sitting for our exam. So the government had to cancel the exam, and we had to travel to El Fasher. Imagine, when I was traveling with the other students from Fasher to Tina before the exam we had come through many, many villages. We would stop in villages, eat in the market, sleep, and then take the bus in the morning – it took three days. But when we came back there were no villages there. Can you imagine? The villages had been burned down. And I said, "but we were just here, and now, nothing."
Who had burned all the villages?
It was the Janjaweed [government-aligned militia]. They were retaliating for the attacks by the [rebel] Sudan Liberation Army, but at that time we didn’t know. We were just traveling through the villages and finding them not there. It was a dangerous time, taking that road. We met many times the rebels, and they would ask where we were going, and we told them we are students. Before we came to El Fasher, like 50 kilometers from the city, we came to a village that had just been attacked. The people were crying, some people were injured. And we asked them, “Who did this?” And they said it was the government’s military.
So when you were back in El Fasher you took the exam to finish high school?
Yes, and I passed. Then I was going to Khartoum for university. My mother had died this same year – she had been sick. So in 2004 I traveled to Nyala with my grandmom and my aunties to sell my mother’s cows so that I could go to school. They sold most of them, and then they gave me the money so I could go to Khartoum to study.
Had you ever been to Khartoum before?
Never. I was very excited. I had heard so much about Khartoum, so when I was going there I was so happy. You know, after that incident in Tina I had much hatred for the government in Khartoum, the National Congress Party (NCP). So when I got to university I joined a Darfuri political activist group, and I was very active. I joined ... the student group that was supporting the rebel group on campus. We used to argue with the students of the NCP.
What kind of activities did those student groups do?
If there was any violence in Darfur we would do a demonstration. We did many demonstrations. During my first demonstration in 2004 it was really difficult. We went to give a letter to the UN saying there is genocide in Darfur. And there was a big reaction.
They came to our hostel [dorm] at the university and bombed it. Most of the Darfuri students were staying together in the same place, so we all had to run. It was a very big incident. No one died, but there were many injured.
Were there many women involved in the Darfuri student movement?
No, not many. We were very few Darfuri girls at the university.
Where do you feel like your political activism comes from? Are your parents political?
No, all my brothers are very quiet, they are doing their school. None of them are involved in politics, only me. When I was coming from Tina I could see that the government doesn’t want the civilians of that area to live, so they bomb and kill the people of certain ethnicities. My father used to tell me not to get involved; he would say, "they will kill you." But I didn’t listen to him.
I guess it was particularly risky for you as a woman, because you stood out among the male activists at school.
Yes, that’s true. Some of the other students used to call me Condoleeza Rice!
How did you decide to study law?
My mom wanted me to do it. To come to Khartoum to study law is very difficult for Darfuris. You have to have high marks. But some people succeed.
I did my training with a lawyer in Khartoum, but when I was finished in 2010 I didn’t find a job. But that’s when I got recruited to work for Sudan Radio Service. They were looking for women who could speak Arabic, some English, and the Zaghawa language, and a family friend knew about the job and nominated me.
So that’s when you moved to Nairobi, to do this job?
Yes, I came to Kenya immediately.
Do you ever go back to Sudan?
No, I can’t. The Sudanese government thinks of Sudan Radio Service as “rebel radio,” because we bring the news to Sudan, especially about the conflict areas, like Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains, and Darfur. We talk to the citizens there, and to the rebels as well, so it would be dangerous to go back. Today we’re also covering east Sudan as well.
You were the first female radio producer for Sudan Radio Service?
Yes, when I came to Sudan Radio Service there were no other women – just six guys. I started presenting in my local language, Zaghawa, and in Arabic. And finally I came up with the idea to do a program about women’s issues. The project agreed, so I started this program, focused on violence against women, women’s education, human rights. It airs on Fridays and Tuesdays in Zaghawa and Arabic.
Are there many radio stations that reach Darfur?
Yes, there are many, but the way we cover the news is different, because we believe in balance. Some radio stations only cover the rebel side. But at Sudan Radio Service, if the rebels say that they attacked a government position and killed a certain number of soldiers, we have to ask the government for its view. We put the two voices in the stories together. The listeners decide who is saying the truth.
Do you primarily cover Darfur, or do you cover other areas as well?
I cover Darfur daily. Other reporters focus on the other conflicts. I report daily on North and South Darfur in Zaghawa. I even went to Chad once, to visit the Darfuri refugee camps in the east. In some of the camps I was focused on women’s stories.
That must have been very interesting to speak to people from your home area but who had been displaced for a long time.
People were very happy that I came, because they listen to me on the radio and they know my voice, and I speak their language. I was there for Eid [the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice], and you know that for the holiday you’re supposed to buy new clothes for the children, have a big feast. But of course, no one could follow those traditions anymore. It was a sad story. The situation in the camps was very sad. Some people were hopeful they would be able to go home, but only, “after [President] Bashir,” they said. They told me only after Bashir goes to the [International Criminal Court] will we be able to go home. Some of them were even born in the camp, and they don’t even know their home.
Do you ever see yourself living in Darfur again?
Me? Yes, yes, I will. I have to go home one day. At any time that this Bashir government leaves I will go back, because I want to do projects to help my community there. Projects for women and kids, development projects, radio programs about avoiding tribalism.… There is so much to do there.
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, Africa on the Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
As competition for raw resources heats up globally, economic and political elites in the West are turning to Africa for quick and generous capital gains and for the promotion of British and American geostrategic interests.
This is not the first time that these elites have been optimistic about Africa – about a decade and a half ago “Africa experts” boosted new “progressive-minded” leaders, who were said to represent political reform, more grassroots participation in government, more transparent economic policies, and an end to tribal favoritism and conflicts.
Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Isaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, and Paul Kagame in Rwanda were symbols of this new leadership. It didn’t take long, however, before more tribal conflicts followed and persistent charges of corruption seemed to dash hopes for economic reform.
The problems facing Africa were compounded by the way HIV ravaged the continent, cutting down many men and women in the prime of their lives. Much of the media in the West questioned whether or not Africa would ever be able to recover.
By 2000 the Economist described Africa on its cover as being “The Hopeless Continent."
That was then.
Now, coverage of Africa promises a bright new future while noting that there are still a number of difficulties that African nations have to overcome. Population projections show that in the next 25 years Africa will more than recover its population losses from the '80s and '90s. At the same time, investment companies see Africa as having some of the world’s most promising opportunities for sharp economic growth.
Who's leading the charge?
There is, of course, South Africa, which is the leading economy on the continent. Price says that South Africa plays the role of the continent’s economic powerhouse, by providing the continent's other countries with goods and services, as well as investments. Price says that South Africa has a stake in seeing the standard of living rise in its potential trading partners and that this will continue to stimulate economic growth in the continent.
Then there is Nigeria, which Price describes as benefiting from a large population base and from the petroleum export business. Nigeria is consolidating political reform, as exemplified by two peaceful transfers of power within the past decade. Nigeria also has demonstrated its prowess in mobile telecommunications technology. Price points out, however, that the Nigerian economy is still hobbled by its political patronage system, and that the economy has not sufficiently diversified.
A third country investors have their eye on is Angola, which is growing rapidly due to oil exports. Price reports that Angola’s economy is vulnerable because it lacks diversity, but for the time being it is rapidly expanding its infrastructure as part of a controversial “infrastructure for oil” trade agreement with China, which critics believe benefits the Chinese more than the Angolans.
A fourth promising country in Africa is Ghana. Price reports that Ghana is “one of the fastest growing economies in the world.” Ghana’s economic growth is based primarily on its oil production, but Price says that political and economic reforms that were in place nearly two decades before oil was discovered in 2007, play a major role in the country’s long-term economic prospects and sustainability, even though Ghana’s rate of growth will not remain at its current astronomical levels.
Price reports that Ethiopia is yet another country with a promising future. Ethiopia represents a huge market that can drive economic growth and integration in the Horn of Africa region. Ethiopia’s economic growth has been fueled by hydroelectric power, which enables it to export electricity to neighboring countries. Price says that Ethiopia has also benefited from large-scale government investment in agriculture, industrialization, and infrastructure.
Much of the promising economic news coming out of Africa reflects rising commodity prices. The continent can also expect to capitalize on having a comparatively young demographic structure, as the growth 16 to 30 age bracket provides the potential for an expanded workforce. This is also the demographic that will rapidly adopt mobile technology, which is likely to increase both markets and productivity on the continent.
With sharp and rapid growth, however, there is greater economic disparity. While global demand for Africa’s natural resources will continue to attract investors, the growing gap between the rich and the poor could trigger social and political instability in the future if countries do not take measures to reduce economic disparity so that more people will benefit from the growth of national and regional economies.
African nations should also be careful to direct a sizable portion of the surplus from this growth into infrastructure and economic diversity, so that nations will not be dependent on high commodity prices to sustain a higher standard of living over the long-term.
But when Madonna visited Malawi last week, no one seemed to have gotten the script.
First, the American pop star fired off a rambling, handwritten note to the country’s president, Joyce Banda, congratulating her on her recent election (“what an honor and what a huge responsability! [sic]”) and requesting an audience during her six-day trip (“If you have any time in your busy schedule to meet that would be great”).
President Banda flatly ignored the request. But then, when Madonna turned up at the country’s main airport to fly home Saturday, she was told her VIP terminal access had mysteriously been revoked and she’d have to go through check in and security like any other passenger. And four days later, a blistering, 1,000-word invective from a government spokesman appeared against the pop star on a Malawian news site, entitled "State House responds to Madonna's outbursts."
“In the feeling of Madonna, the Malawi Government and its leadership should have rolled out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute in her honour because she believes that as a musician, the whiff of whose repute flies across international boundaries, she automatically is candidate for VIP treatment,” the statement read. “Neither the President nor any official in her government denied Madonna any attention or courtesy during her recent visit to Malawi because as far as the administration is concerned there is no defined attention and courtesy that must be followed in respect of her.”
The livid pronouncement is the latest installment in a long-running soap opera between Banda and Madonna that has pitted Africa’s second female president against one of the most visible enthusiasts for celebrity aid projects on the continent.
The bad blood between the two stretches back to 2009, when the singer broke ground on a glitzy $15-million all-girls boarding school in the village of Chinkhota – a gift, she said, to the country from which she’d adopted two of her children.
But two years later, the site remained a sun-baked empty lot, and an audit showed $3.8 million had disappeared into the project. Madonna abruptly called off the building of the school and fired its leadership, including the head of the school, Anjimile Oponyo – who just happened to be Banda’s sister.
In a withering audit, Madonna’s Raising Malawi organization described Mrs. Oponyo’s failings. "Her charisma masks a lack of substantive knowledge of the practical application of educational development, and her weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos,” they wrote.
From there the feud turned bitterly personal.
When Banda became president in January, she appointed her sister to a senior position in the education ministry, and Madonna charges that the two have a personal vendetta against her and her ongoing educational projects in the country, which include the renovation of several existing schools.
For its part, representatives of the government have accused Madonna of overstating her impact on the country and say they have been puzzled by Madonna’s “do first, ask later” approach to aid.
As John Bisika, Malawi's national secretary for education, science, and technology, told the Guardian in 2012, "For someone to go to the papers and say, 'I'm building schools', without telling the government, I find it a strange way of working.”
“I wouldn't just go to the UK and start building schools. We need to be approached and work out where the schools are needed,” he said.
For now, however, Madonna has promised to stay the course. “I’m saddened that Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has chosen to release lies about what we’ve accomplished, my intentions, how I personally conducted myself while visiting Malawi and other untruths,” she said Wednesday in a statement on the website of Raising Malawi, her charity. “I made a promise to the children of Malawi and I am keeping that promise.”
And the Malawian government? They had some final moralizing words for Madonna’s humanitarian impulses in the country, for which they argued she wanted Malawi “forever chained to the obligation of gratitude.”
“Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous,” the statement read. “If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else.”
A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.
For a continent that has historically been largely unconnected via land-based telecommunications, mobile telephony uptake over the last few years has been nothing short of a revolution on the African continent.
In 1995 there were an estimated 600,000 mobile phone subscriptions in Africa. A decade later this number rose to 87 million and in 2012 it was estimated that there were 735 million mobile subscriptions on the continent. This makes Africa currently the fastest growing and second-largest market for mobile phones in the world.
For the first time in its history, large numbers of Africans can communicate with each other over distance, receive information, and access services via mobile devices. As a result mobile telephony has significantly impacted the way people communicate, socialize, play, pay for things, and interact with their governments.
These connections also offer an opportunity for education.
Mobile technologies are being used to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services.
A tangible example of this is Mxit, Africa’s largest home-grown mobile social network. The South African technology start-up not only allows its young users to stay in touch by text chatting, it also facilitates live tutoring for mathematics homework. Dr. Math on Mxit, a project launched in 2007, has helped more than 32,000 school-aged children work through math problems by connecting them with tutors for live chat sessions.
While the mobile revolution is taking off in Africa, it must be noted that the mobile landscape is spread unevenly across and within countries on the continent. Some areas have good mobile broadband in place, while in others access is unreliable and limited to basic services such as voice calls and SMS.
To have a real impact on education, mobile learning initiatives must – and do in Africa – cater to a range of technology contexts.
An example is Nokia Life, an information service with more than 70 million subscribers in India, China, Indonesia, and Nigeria. In Nigeria its popular information channels deliver exam preparation tips for middle and high-school students, health education aimed at families, and English language learning. The service has traditionally used SMS to deliver the content. Nokia Life+, launched in late 2012, uses mobile data to offer an improved content experience. As mobile data connectivity infrastructure improves, additional services will come online across Africa.
However, the barriers to fully realizing the potential of mobile learning in Africa are often complex and significant.
For instance, while prices for mobile usage have dropped, they are still too high for many Africans, who spend on average of 17 percent of their monthly income on mobile phones and connectivity plans. In comparison, people in North America and Western Europe spend under 2 percent. Additional obstacles include a shortage of local-language content, low levels of literacy that make mobile learning difficult and a low numbers of smartphones and digital tablets that could enable richer mobile learning experiences.
School or district policies that ban mobile phone usage are another hindrance. Still, despite the challenges, which are increasingly being addressed, mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before on the continent.
The past decade has seen a surge in the number and types of physical devices that can support digital platforms. Where it was once possible to categorize devices into three broadly delineated “classes” – mobile phones, tablet computers and desktop computers – the lines between these devices have shifted and blurred, and today technology that fits comfortably in a person’s pocket or handbag can open a plethora of educational opportunities previously restricted to stationary technology.
Small devices are hardly limited in terms of power. A high-end smartphone has the same computing power and many of the same multimedia functionalities as mid-range desktop computers that are 20 times as large. Additionally, high-resolution touch screens, intuitive operating systems and applications designed specifically for use on small screens have mitigated, if not eliminated, many of the disadvantages of mobile technology versus traditional desktop computers.
As mobile hardware and the networks that support them become more powerful, more dynamic and more affordable, the mobility of these technologies offers new options for teaching and learning. Education studies have historically conceptualized technology as existing in two separate spheres – at schools and in students’ homes – but this dichotomous view is changing and does not fully describe how many young people use and conceive of technology.
Today, learners are likely to have technology with them constantly, either at home, at school, on public transportation, at work, even in bed. Technology use is no longer, to a large extent, geographically constrained.
The widespread availability of information technologies has also sparked important societal changes, and these changes are beginning to ripple into education. People are rightfully asking what easy and instant access to these devices means for education.