Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bonjour Bombino De Niger

Author: Linda Vakunta

“Bonjour Bombino”


“Comment va tu?”

“Ca va, merci”

“Et le voyage?”

My co-host, Alhaji N’jai, and I went backstage to get acquainted with the artist before introducing him on stage. The young Tuareg guitarist and songwriter appeared a bit shy—the effects of a new environment, no doubt. He was dealing with a language barrier and a mild case of nervousness. It very well could have been a combination.  As we spoke, he loosened up, finally hearing a language he could respond to—French, with an heavy African accent.  He was reserved but smiled often, although, only enough to show some teeth. We went into the artist’s tent to meet his band members. They were less shy and a bit more eager to engage than their front man.

Peace and Natural-Resource Reliance in Africa

Staff Writer

The past few years have been marked by a series of events that indicate a mixed luck for Africa. While certain countries were able to strengthen their young democracies and develop their economic infrastructure, others trudged through election cycles, risking the eruption of violent and costly civil wars. Other countries didn’t go through election cycles, but faced rising tensions between different ethnic and religious groups in their countries. How is the turmoil in Africa linked to the poor state of African economies, and how could better economies help bring peace to the continent’s states?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Get Rich or Pray Trying

Staff Writer

The Road to Salvation is Paved in Gold

There is a ubiquitous presence in Africa, one that preys on the simpleness of common Africans and the continent’s desperation for salvation from their destitute condition. The culprit is religion in general, and Christianity in particular. The gospel and the salvation from earthly burdens that it promises has morphed and blended with the promise of riches and prosperity. Africa is now pioneering a new genre of Christianity called prosperity gospel that preaches and affirms God’s earthly rewards to his faithful and tight-giving followers.

Africa vs. The Diaspora: Shifting Assumptions to Rebuild Trust

Staff Writer

You can take the Africans out of the continent, but you cannot take the continent out of the Africans. The thought is evidenced in the latest trends that are beginning to take place within the African diaspora. As African immigrant communities are becoming better established in Europe and North America, diaspora Africans are now seeking ways to reclaim their purpose in the global African context. This growing trend, informed in great part by a sense of attachment to the motherland, and a growing faith in the future of Africa, may be encumbered with an undesirable social roadblock: the suspicions that Africans hold towards the diaspora.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Celebratory News for Africa

Staff Writer

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have presented some amazing news for Africa. According to a recently released report, Africa Pulse, Africa will experience a 5.4 percent growth rate this year, when you remove South Africa’s sluggish economy from the calculation. Reports of good percentage growth for Africa’s economy have been arriving for some time; this is neither the first time nor, hopefully, the last. But the report every African would appreciate seeing is how these strong growth rates translate into competent civil service; decent roads; factories that produce durable goods; increased access to drinking water; and African economies producing a wider array of value-added goods. It has become clear, over the numerous years that strong growth numbers have been reported for the continent, that they stubbornly do not translate into a noticeable change in the plight of everyday Africans. The report’s accompanying statement from Obiageli ‘Oby’ Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, and a former Nigerian minister of mineral resources, expresses this concern succinctly:

“In view of the turbulence that has beset the global economy in the last five years, many would be right to think that the prospects for Africa are terrible. But as this issue of Africa’s Pulse shows, African economies continue to show resilience and some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are now in Africa. The urgent agenda remains sustaining the macroeconomic reforms while accelerating the structural reforms that will deliver the right quality of growth that creates jobs and raises incomes on the continent.”

What Can Excellent Branding do for Africa?

Staff Writer

In a previous post, we discussed the country of origin bias. In the process, we reasoned that one causal factor is crucial for the quality of the country of origin bias: branding. In any given country, we saw the potential rewards of proper branding across the board, and we asked our readers to contemplate the consequences of misbranding Africa. In this post, the thought-worthy question at hand is the following: “what can excellent branding do for Africa?”

This is not a big fancy market study of African brands (although one may come later, you never know). This is closer to a mini-case study, in a blog post. The African continent is no small place, and measuring the effects of branding with adequate metrics would be no small task (hint and wink to all ambitious analysts out there). In the meantime, to tackle our golden question, we need not look any further than two recent examples of African branding and branding Africa.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Meeting Seun Kuti

Author: Linda Vakunta

Cooking for a rock star and his entourage is exactly what you would expect, backbreaking work. As I pre-heated a big pot of oil to fry puff-puff and sliced ripe plantains to make everyone’s all-time favorite West African side dish, do-do, I wondered what it would be like meeting Seun Kuti. I was going to find out in a matter of hours when I would meet him before and after his concert at the UW-Madison’s beautiful Memorial Union. Actually, my first encounter came during a promotional telephone interview on the popular Pan African radio show I host with my colleague Alhaji N’jai. In the interview, Suen Kuti seemed quite the conscious, direct and fearless young man you would expect any offspring of Fela Kuti to be. His father was a saxophonist, composer, and pioneer of Afro beat music, not to mention a renowned Pan Africanist and a political maverick.

Unintentionally, we at the radio station have entered the routine of preparing authentic West African dishes for African artists playing in Madison, WI. It all started when we realized that most of them craved their native delicacies during the months of tour abroad. Baaba Maal, Khaira Arby, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Starts and others gave us good reason to carry on this African tradition of welcoming visitors with a good dish, a genuine smile and open arms as we presented and hosted them during concerts and festivals.

South Africa: Africa's Shining Democracy is in Need of a Political Makeover

Africa's shining democracy is in need of a political makeover.

Staff Writer

Wedding bells are ringing in South Africa. The president, Jacob Zuma, is preparing to wed his long time fiancĂ© very shortly. This development would only be slightly interesting as a diplomatic or state affair if it were his first time tying the knot. But that isn’t the case, and the news of a pending wedding is rather surprising since Mr. Zuma already has three wives. Adding to the unexpectedness of this state event is the political climate under which it will be taking place. At the moment, every politician in the world is having a really tough time explaining to their voting public the contracting global economy and the devastating impact it is having on the national unemployment numbers, not to mention the gloomy economic outlook economists are predicting for the coming years. It would appear this concern does not preoccupy the president enough for him to put away his plans to provide South Africa with its forth first lady. He has proven in the past to be up to the task, for public perception of his polygamous marriage is that all the Mrs. Zumas happily live under the same roof.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Country of Origin Bias: African #SocEnt’s Caveat

Staff Writer

Al-Jazeera’s social media based show, The Stream, opened the curtains this week with a discussion on aid in Africa. The purpose of the discussion was to solicit opinions on the helpful or hazardous nature of aid in Africa. The discussion is not new; echoed across academia and in African policy forums, the flow of international aid to the continent has been received with a patchwork of support and criticism among Africans. On Monday, The Stream boasted a commendable cast of Africans in the diaspora, and other experts and enthusiasts, via a Google hangout.

TMS Ruge, Founder of Project Diaspora (left)
Joel Charny, (right)
There are several opinions, bodies of research, and books published in favor of aid as well as the antipodes. In academia, while Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly enjoy a monopolizing duel (discussion) on the economics of African aid and development, the likes of George Ayittey and Dambisa Moyo help to carry authentically African voices on the matter at hand. In comes the social enterprise movement to bring balance to the seemingly black and white choice between ‘aid and no aid.’

Nigeria: a Country at Crossroads

Staff Writer

There are two good reasons why a phenomenon leaves one perplexed—either because the observed phenomenon is itself inexplicable, or its function, and the reason for it, is inexplicable. In the case of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, it is a mix of both—a country preparing for a bright future, while entertaining elements capable of tearing it apart. How this country persists as a “whole” is perplexing, to say the least. But, what is clear is that this country of over 150 million people, 40% of whom are under 15 years of age, is at crossroads. And before it lays the options of an immensely bright future, on one hand, and a fantastically ruinous disaster, on the other. The elements that stand to mould either one of these futures are quite prominent presently. Its chaotic national drama is in the news and it is felt in the throbbing pulse of the nation. With over 350 different languages and ethnic groupings, to say Nigeria has ethnic complexities in its politics is a gross understatement. Its successes, for many Nigerians, seem to herald an inevitably bright future, which is written in the hopes and aspirations of the country’s young and growing number of innovative entrepreneurs.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Diaspora Nudge: How do Youngsters Join the African Development Discussion?

Author: Mohamed Toure

Entering a few queries on popular search engines will quickly reveal that there is a big deal of activity going on both online and off-line around the issue of African development. Wanting of more African solutions suited for the African context, the field has benefited greatly from the flow of African students passing through colleges and universities all across Europe and North America. Many kids like myself somehow find their way into clubs, forums, and symposiums dedicated entirely to the discourse on Africa’s future. Therein we grow, developing and sharing our passion-driven ideas for the sake of Mama Africa. The fundamental question is ‘how' do we make it there?

Too many years back, before I even knew how to tie a tie properly, the field of African development was narrow, housed within the framework of western government agencies, colleges and universities, and international development/humanitarian organizations. The conception of ideas and the implementation of projects for the betterment of Africa were mostly vertical, many often condescendingly so. When those times existed, is of little consequence now. The epoch was the epoch, and then the Internet 2.0 happened. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other tools came along, widening the reach of the conversation on Africa and greatly diffusing anyone’s monopoly over ideas and opinions about the continent. The boom of social media also coincided with the coming of age of my generation, the children of the original African immigrants to the West Europe and North America.

The Sudanese: Lacking Commitment from Well-Wishers

 Author: Staff Writer

A lacking commitment from their well-wishers.

The international community will have to take unprecedented steps to prevent South Sudan and Sudan from beginning a new campaign of mass atrocities against each other’s citizens. Sudan and its southern neighbour have together been the two African countries garnering the most attention from the West lately. What had been taking place within Sudan, and now between Sudan and South Sudan, since the latter succeeded from the former, has received the interest and commitment of global actors. But since the terrible conflicts between the two nations began, the necessary commitment from Western governments to stem the violence has been sorely lacking. One feels a sense of feigning interest on the part of these governments. The United States and its Atlantic partners took a matter of weeks to deploy and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya for eight months in their combined efforts to depose Colonel Muammar Gadaffi—the madman of the Middle East as once referred to by President Ronald Reagan. Omar Al-Bashir shares a similar accomplishment in crimes against humanity as Colonel Gaddafi. And Gadaffi was never charged with genocide, the one crime every western nation has universally pledged to do everything within their power to prevent from ever happening again after World War II.

Letter to Sudan (Malcolm Anderson)

Dear Sudan,

How are you? There has been much talk and gossip about you and your young cousin, South Sudan, in the news lately. I suppose you don’t pay them much attention. I am writing to offer you some serious family advice, which you need badly. You’ve a pre-pubescent teenager on your hands and unruly behaviour comes with the territory. However, you need to know that it’s merely a phase that South Sudan is going through right now. Pretty soon she will be consumed with the social complexities of junior high—with the self-esteem and insecurity issues that accompany studying from text books that weigh as much as her bony 100 lbs frame. Her boy crushes won’t call and, try as she may, with all the advance pro-active medication in the entire world, her acne will conquer her face like an invasive species foreign to the Australian outback. That’s when you will use whatever new iPhone version is the latest craze, probably iPhone 12, and the family car—for date nights—to get her under your control again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

African Diaspora, Student Groups Could do More

Author: Mohamed Toure

Speaking with love, as a sibling member of the African diaspora family, I must share a thought which may or may not be well received by my siblings… my African brothers and sisters. My thought is born of the notion that the African diaspora has demonstrated an ample potential to become a major contributor to Africa’s well being, and to that of its respective home countries outside the continent. The thought is simple; the African diaspora, with its faculties and resources, could do more to live up to its full potential.

“If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success,” opined the great late Malcolm X. This observation was made more than four decades ago; yet, it is timeless because it hits the nail on the head. It so happens that in order for observers to issue critical opinions about our endeavors, they must first take notice. Being the authors of our efforts, we are the first to know ourselves, and for this reason we must become our first critics.

Mali, a Notable Surprise in History

Author: Staff Writer

A Notable Surprise in History

A patient examination of what is taking place in Mali would bring most people to the careful analyses that something unprecedented and important is unfolding in this West African country. Some, like myself, would even go as far as to say that a norm-establishing event is currently taking place on the continent. Democracy in Africa, it would seem, now has the institutional resilience Africans and her well-wishers have always hoped for. And the recent turn of events in Mali represents this change. On the 21st of March, led by a cadre of junior officers, Malian soldiers unhappy with the government’s handling of the ethnic Tuareg rebellion, attacked several strategic locations in the capital Bamako, which included the palatial residence of President Amadou Toumani Toure. The president was forced to flee the country. Subsequently, the coup’s leaders have received unanimous international condemnation, including from the United Nations Security Council. And have agreed, due to harsh sanctions from Mali’s neighbours and the African Union (AU), to step down and hand over power to the speaker of the parliament.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Polio: Africa's Lingering Guest

Author: Staff Writer

Africa's lingering guest.

You could be forgiven if you thought polio had been eradicated in the 70s, or the 80s, or even the 90s. The vaccine for polio has been around for over sixty years now and, when it was discovered, was supposed to be one of humanity’s greatest public health achievements. No one would have thought it would live through the decades and once again threaten a crippling blow to the poorest people in the world. As of early last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan as polio-endemic zones—meaning that they have never successfully stopped the transmission of the virus in their indigenous population. Regrettably, the virus has surfaced in Chad. Chad and Nigeria share a very porous border and the two countries have an overlapping ethnic group—the Hausa-Fulani. They are the largest ethnic group in West Africa and have historically traded and settled across multiple countries in the region. The virus’ presence in Chad is especially sad because the country has one of the least capable public health infrastructures in the world to deal with its virulence. Chad was polio free between 2000 and 2003. According to the WHO, Chad is experiencing outbreaks of both wild poliovirus type 1 and type 3. In 2011, the Organization recorded 65 cases of type 1 and type 3 cases.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Timbuktu: A Town Transformed Through Trade

Author: Mohamed Toure

Where did my ancestors come from? The answer to my question, I know not in full detail. I know that my ancestors dwelled in West Africa during the past few hundred years, between Guinea and Mali. I know that, on my mother’s side, my Fulani ancestors made soul mates of their cows with whom they travelled and captured the soul of Africa’s rich pastures along their nomadic journeys. I know that my rich Mandingo heritage on my father’s side was built through trade, which in turn attracted wealth and culture. I believe that in the beginning all human beings came from Adam and Eve, so we all belong to one big family. Yet, I am not sure what my ancestors were doing 1,500 years ago. Perhaps the knowledge is there. Maybe it isn’t... or maybe I am the one who is ignorant on this point. Nonetheless, one truth about my heritage is clear in my mind. And it is that one token of pride for my ancestors and many tribes was the African city of Timbuktu, with its wealth of lessons to be learned by Africans today.

Letter to Mr. Joseph Kony (Nairi Fasula)

Dear Mr. Kony,

Seeing that you don’t know who I am, I should probably introduce myself first. My name is Nairi Fasula, and I am 27 years old. I am a graduate of Emory University in America, where I majored in International Studies. The bottomed out economy means I am currently underemployed. But you don’t have to worry about that. I recently moved to New York City, and I love it here.

Actually, I just moved from Washington, D.C., where politics was really getting on my nerves! As if anyone cares what another Republican presidential candidate has to say about abortion or single parent families. I know you don’t care, and rightfully so. Mr Kony, or, can I call you Joseph? Because, I feel like I really know you. Well, I have read a lot about you, enough to make me think we could be on first name basis.

Letter to Mr. Joseph Kony (Alvin Schwartz)

Dear Mr. Joseph Kony,

It has come to my attention, and those of my fellow Americans, that you are a bad man—a really, really, bad man! What you do to children, making them kill their parents and their best friends, is unforgivable. What kind of a man rapes girls and uses them as spoils of war? What kind of a man snatches children from the clutches of their parents only to put AK-47s in their hands? All I know is that you have a sick ideology fuelling your murderous campaign.

That is why I am in full support of President Barack Obama’s decision to send troops to kill you. And, I hope, after you have left this planet, you will be judged in the afterlife as the vermin that you are. There definitely is a fiery pit waiting for you and those like you! Say hi to the other African dictators when you get there. I am sure Mobutu Sese Seko will be sharing his Satan sandwich with you. Maybe you guys will hit it off and watch champion’s league soccer matches together. Yes, I called it soccer not football! I did it because I knew it would injure you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Social Benevolent Thievery

Author: Staff Writer

What Africa's dictators could have done with their stolen loot!

It is generally accepted that corruption to a certain degree is “good.” And that inequality in society, to a certain degree, should be “desired.” On both accounts, corruption and inequality, it is safe to say that mankind may never, but for divine intervention, rid itself of these social scourges. Why corruption and inequality are “good” is the very reason why Africa’s dictators could have done some good with the stolen loot! Everyone is familiar with the astronomical sums of money filched by African dictators from their respective central banks. In fact, it is as though the national treasury has a private hallway leading into their place of residence—that is the ease with which they conduct the thievery! Many are outraged by this fact, and for good reason, too. Understandably, the “subjects” of these dictators have legitimate qualms with this kind of banditry. The stolen amount is often enough to make an appreciable dent on the unimaginable poverty most people in these countries live under. Not to mention that there just so happens to be a way for this group to steal the money while still doing a considerable good for their countrymen. A quick look at two of Africa’s most notorious dictators, their acquired largess while in office, and a more socially benevolent way of spending their booty makes the point.

Africa is Open for Business: How and for Who?

Author: Mohamed Toure

Africa is now open for business! During the past few years, the slogan has spread with epidemic momentum, turning the chins and noses of multi-national business executives towards Africa, and shifting the academic discussion about the continent from aid to business, at least in part. To what extent will this new attitude benefit Africa and its citizenry and who is responsible to regulate this balance?

Generally, the occurrence should be well received. Not very long ago, all that the world saw in Africa were some war and famine stricken banana republics. It was widely accepted that all that these rogue/helpless/savage states could do was either offer up the earth’s wealth to aliment western capitalism, or take loans and humanitarian aid in repeated failed attempts to provide a caring western crutch for their helpless citizens.