Monday, September 27, 2010

The Truth About Corruption in Africa

The concept of "corrupt Africa" has been a central theme permeating all sectors of the African world from the private sector to government. In fact, it is generally agreed by Africans and Non-Africans that corruption is a problem in Africa that often times seems insurmountable. Most people in the world in Africa and outside of Africa have internalized the legend of the corrupt African leaders. I call it legend here, because like a legend, the concept of the corruption in Africa takes on this form as it is often not objective, nor is it always completely based on the facts.

The majority of Africa's citizens are against corruption. Africa's citizens have been told repeatedly by the Western leaders, the World Bank, UN and other independent non-governmental organizations that corruption is the major reason for their not getting more programs, business, development and/or more loans. They have also been told that their leaders and their officials have an uncanny predilection towards white collar crime. So today, Africa's everyday citizens support anti-corruption candidates in elections and continuously long to get rid of corruption in their society. Almost all elected African leaders now run on a platform of stamping out corruption within their government. They understand that African people are tired of corruption and want to see change in this area. Corruption committees are formed and charges are filed against low profile citizens. On occasion, higher ranking government leaders, particularly from the opposition, are also brought down on corruption charges. Many African countries are making strides towards fighting corruption. According to Nigerian finance minister, Ngozi Ojonjo-Iweala, the data from the World Bank shows that there has been a decrease in African levels of corruption in recent years, but this is not often talked about in popular media. In spite of any efforts made to combat corruption or the levels of corruption, in 'Brand Africa', corruption is a word that has become synonymous with Africa.

Whilst I agree that corruption exists at different levels in Africa, it must first be stated that corruption is not something that is uniquely inherent to Africans and African leaders. Second, that there are different levels of corruption that exists within a country and continent. Third, that corruption doesn’t is not strictly an internal affair. Finally, that my arguments are not meant to absolve the responsibility that African countries should take for their own actions.

A large part of place branding requires follow through - one must certainly clean their own house in order to tell visitors about their clean house and in order to invite them in. I also think we should consider that not everyone else's house is clean but that this doesn’t deter them from trying to shape a 'clean' or positive image. For example, certain levels of corruption exists in US, but the US government doesnt make it its sole objective, nor does it stop them from marketing themselves to the world as a country thats relatively free from corruption. No country is free from corruption. True, rebranding African countries shouldn’t consist of a series of empty promises otherwise it diminishes the brand, but what is key is to draw out the positive and accurate realities of a nation as a basis. In other words, African countries and its citizens should not be blindly accepting and internalizing corruption as an automatic part of their brand, hence culture, without considering the reach and depth of the corruption or rethinking the validity of the label.

Corruption happens every day, all over the world at different levels but African corruption is always mentioned as a factor inherent to Africans. As if somehow, Africans are more morally corrupt than inhabitants of other nations. Other nations or leaders are often citing the example of African corruption as part of the 'Africa Problem'. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, noted in a speech at the TED conference, that it is not often mentioned but one needs to consider that African leaders do not act by themselves when corruption occurs. There is involvement from someone in the host country. Often, when large some of monies are being smuggled out of Africa, there is a law being violated in recipient country. Nigeria’s government has now put together a task force together with the World Bank that is slowly recovering African money that is being held illegally in foreign bank accounts (See: Okonjo-Iweala's TED presentation).

In reading the book, 'African Culture & American Business in Africa: How to Strategically Manage Cultural Differences in African Business' by Emmanuel Nnadozie which is a guide for American businesses doing business in Africa, Nnandozi notes that the oft cited reason of 'corruption' as a valid hindrance for companies and countries not being able to invest in Africa in fact, is not legitimate. He notes here that the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India, and China are ranked high on corruption indices but still benefit from favorable international business and trade relationships. Yet, in the case for Africa, the same  foreign companies or countries will cite corruption as the reason that businesses hold back investment in for Africa. It is clear through this, that the perception of corruption in Africa is not positive and that double standards may exist here.

In addition, the data I found for the Transparency International's Corruption Index 2009 and Nation Master's 2009 further corroborates this analysis. From this data, it can be noted for example that Russia, Brazil and China rank the same or above countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Burkino Faso, Senegal, and Ghana on the corruption indices, respectivley. Yet, there is a tendency by non-Africans to refer to African countries always being more corrupt than any other region. There is also tendency for Africans to believe the legend of the corrupt Africa without needed scrutiny. In fact, it is interesting that in the Transparency International data, it indicates that although regionally, both the Middle East/North Africa and the Newly Independent countries in East Europe (Russia, Georgia, Belarus etc...) where more corrupt then African countries, Africans actually perceived themselves to be the most corrupt of all regions. In contrast, the aforementioned countries perceived themselves as less corrupt than African countries when in fact they were more. Whilst the variables they use to define corruption by these two organizations may come in to question, the general patterns we see from the surveys show that the popular legend of the corrupt African country is not true for all African countries. It also shows that the perceptions of corruption in Africa are higher than the realities. These poor perceptions mean that some level of brand management is needed by individual nations for internal and external customers to view their brand as less corrupt hence lowering current negative perceptions.

Many countries outside of Africa have problems with corruption. Corruption is not unique to Africa. Although the levels and frequency may vary, if other countries can manage their 'corruption' brands in spite of their own internal corruption issues, so can African countries. They do need to follow through on consistency though so that anti-corruption is not just an empty promise. I think there is a need for Africans in Africa and abroad to reevaluate where countries realistically stand on factors like corruption. There is also a need not to streotype all African countires by taking the measure of corruption in one country and applying them to all the African countries. On certain issues like corruption, we should pull out the positives for each country, and then work from there to project accuracy if we are going to manage our places and products, and this may take a certain level of Afro-optimism. It may also mean debunking the legend of African corruption.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Corporate Irresponsibility, Extraction, And The Nigerian Oil Spill

The world recently watched a minute-by-minute play on the oil spill in the Gulf, but the inhabitants of the Niger-Delta region in Nigeria have been watching minute-by-minute oil spills for the past 40 years. As the world watches every single step taken by BP to clear up the oil spill, the Nigerians watch  rivers already flowing with oil due to lack of any clean up effort, giving the Gulf region a precedent of the damage that can occur, and leaving them little room to speculate about what may lay ahead for the Gulf. Large oil producing MNC's like Shell, have been spilling oil in the region with little regard for the environmental guidelines. According to the BBC, there were over 7,000 spills, large and small, between 1970 and 2000 which amounts to an estimated 13 million barrels of oil. According to News Desk article,  'Niger Delta Oil Spills Dwarf BP, Exxon Valdez Catastrophies',  Idris Musa, head of Nigeria’s oil spill response agency, said "an additional 2,405 spills by all major oil companies in the region have occurred since 2006." The discovery of oil in this region has been a nightmare for the 31 million living in the area. This has caused the pollution of water, land and air in this region. The Ogoni are the dominant ethnic group that live here and over the years, they have watched their fisheries depleted in the oil-rich area, catapulting them in to a life of hunger, disease and poverty. Although human rights groups and Nigerians have protested about the disregard of enviomental guidelines here, little improvements have been achieved. Shell, for example, has blamed sabotage for the oil spills and denied responsibility.

The oil spills in this area are a result of a mixed combination of  factors including an aging oil infrastructure, corroding pipes, and sabotage by thieves or rebel groups. Whilst Shell may not be responsible for every single oil spill, instead of making attempts to clean up the environment,  they have been using evasive tactics when it comes to Nigeria. Shell, which controls the majority of the oil industry in Nigeria, defends itself by claiming that 85% of spills are caused by sabotage instead of corroded pipelines and poor infrastructure. It seems like corporate social responsibility for Shell, is confined to select geographical locations -  Niger-Delta is not one of them. Nigerians that have resorted to protesting against the company and the government but have been met by paid armed Shell employees, and by a government clamp down, labelling protesters as mere rebels. A womens protest group protesting Exxon, was once met with armed gaurds who beat and assulted the protesters. In fact, the Niger-Delta conflict that arose in the 1990's centers around the struggle between the Ogonis and Ijaw people and the oil companies. They feel that they are being exploited and also want to see oil profit trickle down to their communities. Although, many regard their plight  and the civil war in Nigeria to inter-ethnic ('tribal') conflict over control of resources, their struggle is not simply about 'warring tribes' that dislike eachother fighting for oil. According to Walter Rodney in his book, 'How Europe Underdeveloped Africa' " accept such a contention would mean extending the definition of tribe, to cover Shell Oil and Gulf Oil!" In what some term, 'blood oil', there are definitive corporate roots in the development of the oil spills and oil crisis. In spite of a boycott by activists against Shell, and a call from the US and UN for the company to correct its wrongs, it also seems like there is more talk than action and the poor, as usual, will lose out.

While it’s easy to lay blame only on Shell and MNCs, we need to consider the role that the Nigerian government has played in branding the Niger-Delta area as a place for oil extraction and not oil investment.  Nigeria is a member of OPEC, and one of the top oil producing countries. Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States and the largest producer in Africa. The government gets about 80% of its profits from oil. It turns a blind eye to the wrong doings of Shell, and in exchange, Shell keeps the governments purses filled with oil money. In  a blatant display of loyalties, Nigerian government went as far as hiring a former Shell employee as the minister that overseas the oil sector. With recent progress, it makes, one wonders what image or brand Nigeria is trying to portray to the world about itself and its people. The stereotypical Nigeria or the new Nigeria under Goodluck Jonathan, that's trying to shake and rebrand its negative reputation and leave it behind them. The President, incidentally, is of Ijaw ethnicity, born in the Niger-Delta and has been able to stabilise the area in terms of attacks so far. He also has a degree in zoology and has worked for the environmental protection department. Hopefully, these factors and his desire to maintain good international relations (particulary with the Obama administration), will spark an interest in cleaning up, both politically and environmentally, the Niger-Delta crisis.

The rebranding of Nigeria began a few years back through the launch of the the Nigeria Image Project in 2004.  It was taken a step further in 2009 with a campaign to rebrand Nigeria. According to Robin Sanders of Galaxy television, the aim is to "not only aimed at improving Nigeria's image in the international community, but to position her as a good destination for tourism and investment in Sub-Saharan African." In the controversial documentary, "Welcome to Lagos", the Nigerian government is shown making progress towards trying to rebrand itself as a government concerned about the welfare of its people. They are seen cleaning up the streets for Lagos from loiterers, landscaping the city, implementing a sanitation and 'clean up' day once a month, and razing shanty towns which they cite as a breeding ground for crime and disease. Its actions in the Niger-Delta  region the past few years however, are a sharp contradiction from the country that its trying to become. A government needs to put its people first, and send out the message that it thinks all of its people deserve clean air, water, and land. Only when the Nigerian government is able to send a consistent and paternalistic  message through actions that protect its people from the big oil companies, only then it can truly realise the transformation that it seeks as a rebranded nation. Only then can we truly say that we see an image change in the country, a new Nigeria. Right now, Shell enjoys an extractive relationship with Nigeria, making other areas of development investment challenging.  One cant attract long lasting foreign direct investment with a system of extraction. The manner in which Nigeria is letting Shell treat its people is also the manner in which other people will treat Nigeria as a nation.

In a surprising  move though, the government did slap Shell with a fine of over $100 million in punitive damages for oil spill damages in Rivers State, Nigeria, which Shell has been violently protesting, claiming that such a fine will effect its future $40b  investments in the area. Claims which are ludicrous since that amount is really minuscule in comparison to the profits oil companies gain. The amount of money BP is spending for the Gulf oil spill fund alone is $300b dollars, an amount which people criticized BP for because it pales in comparison to the profits it earns. Shell should be prepared to shell  out more for its consistent history of abuses and violations in the area. The oil industry is very lucrative and 'black gold' is a commodity that the world relies on. Oil producing countries, in essence, are in a position where they can make demands on the companies that rely on oil. Cleaning up after an oil spill is a  socially and environmentally responsible demand to make and the Nigerian government should begin make better efforts. The chances of MNCs actually pulling out of the country are very slim since its a lucrative commodity.What we must do now is sit and watch to see if this fine will be paid or if the case will disappear in the system. It is also important to note that in spite of all the revenues earned by oil, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is unable to meet all its financial obligations which indicates that some of the oil revenues have also somehow disappeared in the system.

Since the Nigerian oil crisis can be seen as a precedent to the damage and abuses caused by oil companies, we also hope that other countries take heed and learn from it. American media attention is certainly keeping BP honest in the Gulf but unless  there is this type of pressure, many coporations will continue to neglect enviromental law for profits. They will continue to place profits over people.  They will continue to let pipes erode, spills to occur, and people to suffer... It certainly is the right time for Nigeria to move forward in making demands from the oil companies. Uganda is going to be an oil producing country in the next 5 years and may become an unwelcome competitor for Nigeria. It will also provide the oil companies with alternatives. I only hope that Uganda take the necessary precautions so that they don't create another Niger-Delta crisis in Uganda. Uganda will need to make an effort to brand its oil sector as investment and not extraction through greater controls. The discovery of oil should be able to uplift a country in to wealth and not impoverish it. With Libya, we have seen it taking several decades before their oil money has really began to create wealth in the country and trickle down. Under Gaddafi's new course for Libya, many of the recent public works and infrastructure developments have been long overdue. In certain aspects, for countries like Malawi, where their is evidence of oil but also where oil in Lake Malawi has not been fully explored, it may be a blessing in disguise. None of the Malawian Presidents have made oil drilling in Lake Malawi central to their economic goals perhaps its diverse population of Cichlids has been the lakes saviour. What will be the saviour for the crisis in Niger-Delta? Perhaps, the discovery of new energy sources.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

African Citizenship for African-Americans

Presidents from 12 African nations and private sector African American leaders began considering a proposal to grant dual citizenship to African-Americans in hopes of increasing  investment and interest in Africa at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006. The event was hosted by the Sullivan Foundation and included  former US President Bill Clinton and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The summit considered granting either: Africa-wide citizenship through the African Union, Regional African citizenship, or individual country citizenship. Since that summit, there has been other campaigns by African Americans for African countries to allow dual citizenship on grounds that they are members of the diaspora and originally from Africa. They feel it will help them gain a better sense of cultural identity, thus healing the wounds of separation from Africa and giving an opportunity for mutual collaboration. African Americans, under this plan, would be allowed to travel freely to African, own property, and start businesses.

In  past discussions, problems arose over identifying which countries African Americans could legitimately lay citizenship claims to. However, since technologies have improved, DNA testing has allowed several African-Americans to trace there roots back to select countries. In Teresa Watanabe's article, 'Called back to African by DNA', she highlights how celebrities like Isaiah Washington , have traced back their roots to Africa and are contributing to their ancestral lands. Isaiah became a citizen of Sierra Leone, after finding that he is a decedent of the Mende ethnic group and has since been contributing towards the development of the country. Likewise, many other Americans are seeking their African roots: Chris Rock- Cameroon, Whoopi Goldberg - Guinea Bissau,  and Oprah - Liberia (Kpelle ethnicity). The brothers that made up the 80's band, "The boys", moved to the Gambia a few years back and now operate music studios from Gambia . Under their new name, Suns of Light, they continue to produce music for both US (New Kids on the Block, Akon) and Gambian artists from their studio that is based in Gambia. They hope to promote Gambian music overseas (Interview: A Chat With 'Suns of Light'). Despite many calls from African Americans to have dual citizenship offered to them, many African countries have not taken any extra steps towards this other than encouraging such a move. 

Allowing dual citizenship would provide a sense of ancestral identity for African-Americans. It will also increase ties and trade between America and that respective country. In the sense of nation branding, it would make Africans appear warm, friendly, accepting and sympathetic towards the history of African-Americans. It would also be beneficial in carrying African culture to America using American born citizens. Oprah's much publicized school in South Africa may have been built in South Africa in part, due to her belief that she was of Zulu origin. As a celebrity, she has helped bolster the image of South Africa  through her link with the school. No amount of advertising money can buy they type of publicity she brought for South Africa in choosing to build her school in that country. Even for the non-celebrities, people with dual citizenship can influence their families, churches, employers etc.. to invest, visit or work with a particular country. These dual citizens would help promote culture and development. In essence, it sounds like this would be a win-win situation.

So far, Ghana is the only country that legally allows for dual citizenship for African-Americans. Currently, there are an estimated 5,000 African-Americans living in Ghana. Other countries have been more hesitant. Perhaps, this is a more difficult move for those African countries that do not allow for dual nationality for their owned citizens that acquire citizenship in another country, or are born abroad to citizens. Perhaps landlocked countries that had fewer slaves feel that there is less linkage to African-Americans or perhaps there is the larger question involved as Anor, editor of Asante magazine aptly notes, "Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?".

With Africa being the cradle of the humanity, essentially, anyone in the world could lay claims to African citizenship. Yes, some may feel inclined to dispute these distant claims using color lines, but does color define what it is to be African? Whilst I understand the plight for African-Americans in terms of self identity, I feel that African countries should tread cautiously in providing citizenship to large numbers of people that are distantly linked to the continent. One needs to consider the current image of Africa in the Americas. For example, a large number of African-American still have the 'Tarzan' image of Africa, and want little do do with the continent. Whilst some do not hold these perceptions, they are so pervasive to the point that they may inadvertently manifest in later dealing with Africa. Whilst we hope that African-Americans that discover their roots will have the desire to help improve the situation of their newly found cousins, we cannot assume that every African-American has good intentions and need to take protective measures.

If there is to be any dual citizenship, what I would propose, is to take the route of India. India's diaspora is widespread and includes many Indians living abroad that have been in foreign land for generations. What they have done is introduced a new status quite like dual citizenship only with more limited privileges than what one would normally associate with dual citizenship. Like in the case of African-Americans, many Indians living abroad are many generations removed from India. In South Africa for example, the people of Indian origin have been there since the late 19th century and early 20th century. In the 1800's many were sent to South Africa to work on the plantations as indentured servants (many involuntarily and on life contracts). South Africa hosts the largest population of Indians outside of India (about 1 million) and in some cities, like Durban, they are the largest ethnic minority (See: Indian South Africans). Given India's situation, it would be problematic for India to incorporate that many people of Indian origin in to their already large population as full citizens. Instead, the government of India decided to grant the status of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) as a way to tap in their diaspora.  Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) of certain category who migrated from India and acquired citizenship of a foreign country other than Pakistan and Bangladesh, are eligible for grant of OCI. It is commonly known as ‘Dual Citizenship’ but Indian constitution technically does not allow dual citizenship. It is more similar to a 'special status' visa. Their benefits include: life long multiple entry, multiple purpose visas, exemption from reporting to Police authorities for any length of stay in India; and the right to work, study, visit, or own property (except in the acquisition of certain agricultural or plantation properties). People that hold OCI status may not vote or hold Indian passports. They may also not occupy constitutional posts such as President, Vice President, Judge of the Supreme Court or legislative posts (See: Passport and Citizenship - Dual Nationality)

In drawing parallels with India, in Africa's case, African-Americans living in the U.S are also several generations removed, and also did not migrate purely from their own free will. A status similar to OCI would be suitable and perhaps more palatable for African leaders rather then conceding dual nationality with the same rights as a citizen. I will call the new proposed status 'Overseas Citizenship of Africa (OCA)'. Like the India's version, and OCA status would not concede the right to vote, change legislation, or hold high ranking government posts.It would make provision for multiple entry, land ownership (with restrictions), and the right to work, study or visit for an undisclosed period of time. It will hence facilitate trade, cultural sharing, and mutual understanding without the fear that exists in granting full citizenship rights to large groups of wealthy, and perhaps politically or culturally influential people (African-Americans are collectively the wealthiest population of black people). It would, in essence provide most of the benefits African-Americans are seeking from Africa, and it would provide Africa with most of the benefits they seek from the African-American diaspora.
Perhaps the biggest divergence from the Indian version that Africa may face with this level of integration, would be the language barrier. Unlike our Indian counterparts, Indians in the diaspora still largely speak or at least understand their mother tongue. African-Americans do not. Since language is a reflection of ones culture, I believe a requirement should be included that stipulates that person applying for OCA status, be required to speak at least one African language at the basic level. According to anthropological theory, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that language determines culture, and thought process. It would be beneficial for African-Americans to thus understand the language so that they can better understand the culture. If citizenship is granted at the local level, than it should be the predominant language of that country that is required. If it is regionally based, than it should be a language of that region. At AU level, then any language should suffice.
Since the discussions of dual nationality for African-Americans started a few years back, I am sure that it will be a while before other African countries follow in the footsteps of Ghana. There are other factors that way in the minds of African leaders that prevent them from moving this forward. A major one would be justifying granting this type of status to African-Americans for countries that do not allow for dual citizenship for their own nationals that acquire foreign citizenship, nor for foreign born children to citizens. In this brave new highly globalized world, I feel that African leaders should be able to make bold decisions that are not carbon copies of western citizenship and immigration laws. A form of OCA status may be the way forward for brand Africa.

Monday, July 5, 2010

President Obiang of Equatorial Guiniea to Rebrand himself

A few days ago, the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogomet briefly with Anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa. They discussed various issues concerning Africa and perhaps, touched on religion.  He went in to the meeting a caterpillar, and half-an-hour later, emerged a butterfly, outlining to the world a 10 year plan for Guinea-Conakry that would lift that country out of poverty, propagating it to new democratic heights. Guinea-Conakry, as it is sometimes know to distinguish it self from Guinea-Bissau, is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. It is also the host of the 2011 African Union meeting which will bring the leaders of Africa to its back yard. So whats in Obiang's back yard?

According to Slate author, Peter Maass, Obiang's back yard includes a three decade rule, corruption, repression, and oil money that did not trickle down to the masses. Their have also been rumours of spending-The situation in Guinea-Conakry has contributed to a mass exodus of Guineans migrating to Spain over the past few years. Arguably, Maas claims that Obiang is the worst dictator in Africa's history, surpassing that of the notorious Robert Mugabe. Yet, we rarely here about this man nor about oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. Perhaps, its because Equatorial Guinea lacks the drama of the land dispute issue in Zimbabwe that sent millions of white Africans to flee Zimbabwe, paving the way for land redistribution that  captivates western audiences who are still recovering from the discovery of white Africans. Media hardly reports about the on-goings of this small central African nation. Well, now this President who has gone virtually undetected by Western Media wants to put his country on the map, spread his wings and fly. He wants to distance himself from his current image as a corrupt, oppressive leader and become a progressive peoples president.

Obiang is so committed to rebranding himself and his country that, according to New York Times by Celia Dugger in African Leader Hires Adviser and Seeks an Image Change, he has hired an American lobbyist, Lanny J Davis, to help him with his image. He has entered in to a one year, $1 Million  contract with Davis, who has an extensive network in D.C and has worked with high profile clients like Bill Clinton. So it was in Cape Town last week, in front of heads of states,  including Bill Clinton himself, that Obiang announced his New Deal for Equatorial Guinea. This new path includes transparency and a goal to be  'just like the U.S'.

Yet this move has been met with much criticism. Cynics argue firstly, that a leopard can not change his spots. Secondly, that he has not accepted blame for all the human rights abuses and Third, that $1M is a hefty price tag for a nation where people live for less than a dollar a day. Is it possible that in his later years, he wants to be remembered as a hero to his people and not villain? Is it possible that he just wants prosperity for his country? Perhaps, their was a touch of Obama mania (yes we can!) or an instance of divine intervention as he met with the Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Every once in a while, we see caterpillars emerge out of their cocoons as butterflies. I believe that if this president has made change a part of his agenda, we should give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves us wrong. I say to the nay sayers, perhaps quite idealistically, that people have the capacity to change sans, civil war. In recent history, we have seen other leaders in Africa like Banda (Malawi) and Gaddafi (Libya) embrace transformation.

My VisionIn examining Libya, Gaddafi has taken active steps in paving a new road for Libya-literally. He is building super highways and improving the infrastructure for his people, and has set out on a pan-Africanist mission of uniting Africa under one banner. He has attempted to rebrand himself, going as far as admitting fault for the Pan-Am airways hijacking that he previously denied, in order to make amends with the rest of the world. Few in the west though are impressed by Gaddafis new image, and shake his hands at arms length. Although Libya is still under Gaddafis rule, I think it is important for us to accept these achievements. In Malawi's case, under political pressure, self proclaimed 'life President' Banda, stepped down in the 90's, to allow for multi-party elections. It is important to note that he was not re-elected. Banda, perhaps due to his old age, let Malawi change from a one party state to a multi-party state after being the sole president from 1964. So contrary to popular belief, change by African heads of state is possible, regardless of motivation.

If the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem in the first place, than in Obiangs case, that's part of the problem. Vehemently denying all allegations that have plagued his presidency, makes for a less convincing platform of change. According to the advice from his new image consultant needs to admit to a few wrong-doings, and as his new advisor has told him, win elections by a slim majority instead of a large majority.  Thus far, he is allowing  the Red Cross to come in and investigate human right abuses as a start, but many still doubt his sincerity. Davis has come under criticism too for accepting this role and being a 'stooge' to the president. Both Davis and Obiang are being criticised for taking advantage of the people of the country since his salary is coming from their government. On this matter, I would like to point out that whilst one should never take advantage of ones people, there shouldn't be an expectation of a discounted price because his client is African. Davis is working in his professional capacity. If that's the price that he charged Bill Clinton, than that is what his services are worth. Also, in the long run, if spending that 1 million dollars, is an investment in to Guinea's future in terms of building networks that will lead to favorable development projects, then it is money well spent.

The idea that African leaders should somehow be immune to spending money on items with high tag prices is a delicate one. I understand that in some instances, a leader will spend money on premium products while money could be used by the poor, but I also understand that in a socially stratified capitalist society, their is always going to be those that have, and those that do not. This is not to say I condone the wanton spending habits of some leaders, but to say that, unless Davis offers a 'developing country discount' for his services, for what Obiang wants to achieve, that is the going rate.  I recall an incident where South Africa was hosting several heads of state at a state dinner a few years ago. On the menu where lobsters, shrimp etc.. The media began to report on the lavish nature of the event due to the menu choice in light of the poverty in Africa. What they failed to do was to adjust for South African standard of living since South Africa enjoys ample access to water, the cost of a lavish dinner for head of state in S.A would nowhere be the same as it would overseas. Yes, it is more expensive than an ordinary dinner but since South Africa was hosting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, they had to make a menu befitting of the guests. Let us keep this in perspective by highlighting that Washington DC is also home to one of the highest population of homeless people in Washington D.C. yet, when the President holds his state dinner, we do not hear, in the same news story that, 'Washington DC is also home to thousands of starving Americans', yet we somehow think it is acceptable for them to mention a state dinner in South Africa and comment on the poor in that country.

No one can predict if this latest move by Obiang will be a move that will benefit the country in the long run or if K street can help him rebrand his image. In addition to Davis, Obiang has hired PR firm, Qorvis Communications and a security firm to help guard areas of national aquatic resources. We should help the people of that country by creating a less hostile environment for presidents in Africa seeking change and giving them room to come out of their cocoon's and let the change manifest. Rome was not built in a day, and we can not expect Obiang to change over night. Understandably,  with his past record, he also has personal interests that he has an invested interest in safeguarding. Obiang cannot change his past record, and the world should not forget it either but, if Obiang is committed to change and is taking steps towards this, than we should be enablers of Equatorial Guinea's change.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yes, Africa Can Unite!

Ghana 10-12 Away Soccer JerseyGhana is the last African team playing in the World Cup, and now enjoys the support of the majority of Africa. This leads me to point out a popular misconception - the one that depicts the idea that African nations that do not support each other and only seek self interests. Whilst no two nations can support each other 100% of the time, African nations are not warring all the time either and do know when its important to support each other ... when it comes to football (soccer). When Ghana qualified in their group and no other African nation went through to the next round, the rest of Africa threw their full support behind the Ghanaian team. In spite of the tendency of Africans substitute the three syllable 'Gha-nai-an' and opt to call their African counterparts four syllable 'Gha-na-ni-an', we all knew that their was no mistaking that it was the people of Ghana that they are now supporting. In an earlier post, Why African Teams Can't Suceed In A World Cup, I commented on an American sports commentator's view that part of the reasons African teams fail is due to ethnic, or in his words, 'tribal' fighting. I went on to dispute that, since from a sociological perspective, in inter group relations theories, when groups band together in a common goal, they tend to unite. Similarly, we can see the same thing happening in the World Cup.

Generally speaking, in sports, African people will tend to support the next African team before any other team in sign of solidarity, albeit being staunch fans of the English Premier League and other nations like Brazil. It is also interesting to note, that we do not see North Americans (USA and Canada) similarly throw their full support behind Mexico which is the last team representing that region. Now that USA is out, we see no massive support of U.S citizens for their neighbors. For South Africa, it has meant seeing the now generation of white South Africans, throw their support for Ghana as well, hence identifying themselves with Africa according to Alexandra Hudson's article 'World Cup fires African identity of young whites'. This is a significant shift because it shows the transition in self-identity in South Africa amongst South Africans of all shades. Many white South Africans are descendants of the Dutch, Portuguese, Greek and Italians and identify with this heritage. Whereas in the past they correctly, identified themselves with their rich multiple heritage, now it seems like the order in which they do is shifting. They see themselves as South Africans first, Africans second, and their ancestry third. This is the same trend we see for hyphenated-Americans in the U.S that see themselves as Americans first.

On a soccer report on Al Jeezera News channel a few days ago, I saw them interviewing what they called young 'Italian' fans in South Africa whom they asked to do a soccer cheer. These Caucasian boys were dressed in their Italian fan gear for the Italian match, but when asked to sing to show their Italian team spirit, they sang 'shosholoza' (A South African/Zimbabwean call and response song made popular by migrant workers) and it occurred to me that these were in fact, Italian-South Africans. Not to say that the World Cup had performed miracles in South Africa and that everyone is singing Kumbayaa, but we need to recognise that African identity is also taking shape in Africa. All Africans whether white, east or south asian, black, western, eastern, southern, or northern African can feel a part of this inclusive continent. Yes, we can all unite -- well, at least around a little white Jabulani ball.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Hasn't Asia Won A World Cup?

The World Cup: The Complete HistoryIt is understandable that since the World Cup 2010 is in Africa this year, there is a greater focus on the record achievements of Africa teams. This focus though is not unique to this year's cup. Every four years we anxiously place our bets on which country will realistically win the cup this year, and then place out bets idealistically to see which African team may bring home the trophy for the first time. Yet, World Cup after World Cup  we see repeated performances with familiar conversations about why an African country has not won the cup. Year after year, African teams are analyzed, individual players assessed whilst Asian teams rarely get mentioned and virtually go unnoticed. It is as if no one expects Asians to excel in soccer but everyone expects Africans to excel in soccer. One can examine how preconception may be a contributing factor to this particular question.

Albeit athleticism being a positive stereotype, it is a double edged sword for Africa- on one hand it speaks volumes that a continent that reveres soccer and produces top class players, has yet to win a tournament. So we do need to inquire about the lack of a cup on the continent. At the same time, it speaks volumes of the low expectations of Asian players, who are largely overlooked in terms of competitive sports like soccer, football, basketball, and are not expected to do well which is a stereotype that they have the burden of carrying.  African players, in contrast, are viewed as athletic, and natural athletes who can play the game, but lack the 'discipline', and mental focus to translate that talent to a win.

The continent's 'talented' players are scattered all around the world - it is the one time that visas pursue Africa instead of the other way around. There is an expectation for African players not only to be good at  soccer, but to excel in it, and when this doesn't happen, the world tends to ask, 'why hasn't Africa ever won a World Cup?" to this, I will respond, "well, why hasn't Asia ever won a World Cup?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

US Resturant Owner Serving Lion Meat Burgers As A Tribute to the World Cup

"Arizona restaurant serving lion meat burgers"
Associated Press: 6/23/2010
PHOENIX — An Arizona restaurant owner dreamed up a novelty meal to give customers a South African experience during the World Cup 2012 being held in South Africa. Serving burgers made with African lion meat has generated protests from animal rights activists.

Cameron Selogie says his Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa has received a bomb threat and more than 150 e-mails from protesters. He says African lions are on the protected list, but not endangered.
The restaurant ordered 10 pounds of African lion meat from a USDA-regulated, free-range farm in Illinois, which Selogie says he researched to make sure they were humane. It's mixed with ground beef, and the restaurant says it's serving about 15 burgers a day
USDA spokesman Jim Brownlee says lion meat is an uncommon dish, but he knew of no prohibitions against it (Information from: The Arizona Republic,


I remember reading about Uganda and the famous stories of Idi Amin eating Lion heart for virility and strength. Those particular aspects of Amin’s unique and outlandish habits travelled amongst Ugandans and the British because it was not the norm in Uganda to eat any Lion part. Similarly, in African Folklore and traditional tales about Africa, one always heard the brave young hunter or warriors had killed a Lion, and that they made clothes or jewelry from the body parts, but it was never followed by ‘and the village had a feast and ate for days’. I have never heard of Africans eating Lions as a common practice. If this happens, it is certainly not as widely known as this unfounded belief or claim about the way we eat. So without any witnesses to this meat eating habit or any traceable names of ethnic groups that eats Lion meat, the basis of such a statements derive from where exactly? The restaurant owners statements seems to be an illogical series of assumptions, ‘oh, the must eat Lions in Africa, since Africans eat anything and Lions are in Africa”. I have yet to hear of a specific ethnic group in Africa that does this as a practice.

I searched my memory files, I Googled it, I asked my friends from Uganda and Kenya and no, not even the hunter-gather ethnic group, the Masai's who are most famous for their feats in hunting kill Lion as a source of meat. According to the Masai Association, Masai's kill the lions for the mane, tail and claws but never for the meat. The Mane and tail are beaded and returned to the hunter to wear on special occasions. The claw is used in a similar manner. Killing of the Lion is usually done as a rite of passage (not so much in present day culture since Lions are now in a ‘protected’ class – not ‘endangered’ class). I would imagine that they would prefer to leverage their energy on the domesticated cows that they herd, rather than running around the hot Savannah in summer trying to catch a huge, fast and dangerous Lion. Even catching game that’s easier to catch like rabbits, kudos, antelopes, quail, etc is rarely practiced amongst the Masai's. If none of the brave hunters of one of the most infamous hunter–gatherers ethnic groups does not kill Lions for meat, then I doubt that the burly politicians in the African cities and towns or the sedentary villagers that trade in the market have acquired a taste for this meat either over the years. There are some restaurants in Africa like Carnival in Kenya, and Game in South Africa, that are specialty restaurants that serve uncommon game meats but Lion is not even on their menus. I have heard that the South African one serves Zebra, Giraffe (which is considered Kosher by the Jewish Rabbi's) and Alligator, but there is little difference with that practice and a restaurant in the US in the South that may serve crocodile, or the real-life restaurant in Chicago that does serve Lion meat ribs. So, even if someone finds and isolated case of Lion meat being served (and please comment below, if this is the case), one cant apply this to any whole ethnic group, country or, even worse, continent.

According to the UK Telegraph's Article , the restaurant owner, Selogie, also points out that, "In Africa they do eat lions, so I assume if it's OK for Africans to eat lions then it should be OK for us." "ooh say it again.. Mufasa! Ooh say it again" -- to suggest that eating Lion is a common practice in Africa or any African country sends shivers down my spine. It’s not like you go to the market and order a pound of lion meat, or come home to find a lion paw sticking out of mama's pot. Can you imagine the uproar if during the Olympics held in China, a US restaurant began to serve Dog or Cat patties? How furious would the Chinese Americans and Chinese people be over that move if they do not largley consume these animal.s? While animal rights groups are taking notice of this move, they seemed to have glanced over Selogie’s justification for serving meat – and yes, I will say it again, "In Africa they do eat lions, so I assume if it's OK for Africans to eat lions then it should be OK for us." To them this argument is a lesser point because the belief that Africans eat Lions has just been internalized (if it wasn’t lingering at the back of their minds already) as fact and their main concern is the animal rights aspect of this.

So why aren’t Africans as a community dispelling this or calling for boycotts of that restaurant? The African tendency seems to lean towards sitting quietly in the home and laughing at the ignorance of our less travelled neighbors, shrugging it off because there are bigger battles to fight, complaining to each other (preaching to the choir), or yelling at the wall that doesn’t talk back. Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of Arizona, a burger-loving brave young American warrior is honoring Africans by eating a Lion burger and perhaps, toasting us with a bottle of JC Leroux.

Monday, June 21, 2010

African Countries Losing On 'Home Soil' During World Cup South Africa 2010

Zakumi the Leopard, the official mascot for th...
Zakumi the Leopard, the official mascot for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is a lot of pressure on African teams this year to do well in the World Cup since its on African soil for the first time. Some commentators have noted that since its on 'home soil', the African teams should have an advantage. One thing to note is how all African teams, regardless of nationality, seem to be playing on 'home soil'. Let us not forget that Africa is not one homogeneous country, and whilst South Africa proudly is hailing an African flag for all of Africa, it is also representing South Africa as a nation and brand.

This idea that Africa is one homogeneous country is pervasive and can be seen in the assumption that African teams have an advantage because they are all playing on 'home' ground. When the World Cup was in Germany, were African teams proclaiming that somehow France or Italy had a 'home advantage' because they are playing on 'home' soil in Germany? A French citizen would think one was absurd for making that inference. As mentioned in an earlier post, in terms of the weather alone, South Africa's weather is closer to that of the European teams in terms of the winter weather the teams are currently playing in. Additionally, one can argue that FIFA rulings specifically banned the joint hosting of World Cup Tournaments after Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the games in Asia a few years ago so this is not a jointly hosted event.

There are other factors that makes that claim loaded with the pervasive imagery of Africa being one country, but ask any Ghanaian, Cameroonian, Algerian or Zimbabwean that has experiences xenophobia from South Africans in the last few months, and they will tell you that the World Cup is not in Ghana, or Cameroon, Algeria, or Zimbabwe - its in South Africa and they too, will need to hop on a plane or get a visa to go there.

Why African Teams Cant Suceed In The World Cup

There are many reasons why African teams have not won the world cup. It has been hard to pinpoint the main reason but one commentator attempts to explain 8 main reasons why this is the case.
Fox Sports commentator, Nick Webster, notes that African teams continue to struggle in their own World Cup due to the following:
  1. They don't have the infrastructure in terms of domestic leagues.
  2. Their players are scattered over the globe.
  3. There can be too many differences within the squad based on tribal allegiances.
  4. There are examples of money squabbles diminishing the World Cup challenge of an African team (Cameroon in 1994, et al).
  5. Coaches come and go at whim, and are usually foreign and usually overpaid.
  6. Pele predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the end of the 20th century (and anyone who knows anything about Pele's World Cup predictions would know that they are the kiss of death).
  7. There is a lack of competition at international level (the African Cup of Nations, while taking place every two years, does not provide enough experience for African national teams, whereas European national teams have tough qualifying campaigns for the European Championships and the World Cup).
  8. There appears to be an individual mentality rather a team mentality.
Now, I like to be realistic when it comes to the prospects of African teams in the World Cup. Yes, the prestigious trophy has not been brought to the continent yet for a winning team and yes, we do need to explore the reasons for this in order to correct them. However, are the reasons sited above legitimate reasons or do we also see undertones of popular images (stereotypes) of Africa propagated? I will touch on a few of the points that were mentioned that need to be redressed:

Reason 1. Africa lacks Infrastructure and organization. Does this include the host nation South Africa, in whose fields seem to meet infrastructural guidelines, and who's leagues play in those fields. During the friendlies, I saw fields in Zimbabwe and Tanzania that could have been a field in any country. These fields are used in domestic leagues. I don't think this is a good enough reason. This is like saying that a basketball player from a low income neighborhood can not make the NBA because the hoop, they practice in is in the inner city.

Reason 3. Inter ethnic Fighting (Tribalism). Now, I'm not one to speculate here, but I have never heard of inter-ethnic rivalry disrupting an African soccer teams ability to play a game. Particularly since, from the sociological perspective of  intergroup relationship, participation in common activities to achieve a common task, unifies member of a group, not divide them.  Sports teams are no exception, and they should display a tendancy towards unification of disparate ethnic groups not widening divisions. It may be that in the regular league games inter ethnic rivalries may surface but when playing for the national teams, I sincerely doubt that this is a factor in all countries when one is chosen to play for their country. Thus the reason that many differences in the squad due to tribal allegiance plagues African teams is a fallacy, and reminds us of the stereotype of tribalism and ethnic groups that just cant get along.

Reason 5.  Africans Cant Coach - Are Foreign Coaches the Best alternative? A lot of the teams spend millions of dollars to get a top world class coach but for the most part, we see little results from that coaching. Today, ESPN commentators noted that African teams have not seen much success with European coaches because the coaches have little time to understand the dynamics of the players who play for many disparate leagues abroad and domestically. Only one African team, Algeria, has an African coach in this years tournament. Whilst Algeria's performance was not super ordinary, their coach did not come with a price tag of $2M for one months coaching. Cameroon paid its coach $2M to coach for one month prior to the game and we have not seen a better performance come from them. So is it better for their teams to seek African coaches, who understand the dynamics of African players and those of African players that play abroad?

In the case of Argentina, we see Maradonna, successfully transition from a player to a coach. Why can we not see the likes of Roger Milla of Cameroon, be offered such an honour? He is surely someone whom a win for Cameroon would meet both a professional goal and an emotional goal as a Cameroonian. What about all the other soccer players Africa has produced? This is not to undermine career coaches because yes, not all players can coach, but these players understand the dynamics of international competition and their home countries and may stand the best chance of bringing home a cup. At this stage, African teams have nothing to lose from making the move. We saw Malawi in the African Cup of nations, led by a Malawian coach and former soccer player successfully beat Algeria, a team that qualified for the world cup. This is not to say however, that only African coaches can coach African teams or that coaches need to meet a nationality requirement, but that these former players, at minimum, need to be considered for the job alongside foreign coaches.

Reason 7. Lack of Experience. Lack of international competition may be a factor if the majority of the players in some teams were not playing abroad. Most of Cameroons player play abroad and many players in other teams play with the same players they are playing against during the World Cup. There needs to be another factor that comes to play other than this other than the old 'inexperienced' excuse.

Reason 8. Africans think about themselves. Individual mentality is perhaps, a factor that African teams really need to focus on. Its not simply because players are inherently selfish and don't want to play as a team, but, when being recruited by a league is at the back of the mind of most players, tendency to want to be the star will creep in for some players. We should see less and less of this though from teams that have many of their players that already play abroad and are not seeking their big break.

So Pele has predicted that no African team will win a World Cup until the end of the century. Maybe so, but maybe not. As we have already seen in this World Cup, There seems to be a shift in the World Cup that we are seeing. The once dominant European teams that have a 'tough' qualifying competition at the European Championship that Webster writes about, do not seem so dominant anymore. New teams are arising, and the playing field seems to be following the same route as the their economies, more equitable.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup Commentary - Hot African Weather

This stereotype of Africa being sweltering hot all year round is a hard one for Africa to shake. At the beginning of the World Cup 2010 - South Africa, many of the ESPN commentators were focused on the heat in Africa even as goosebumps grew on their skin.  They became overly concerned with how the heat was going to affect the non-African teams that were not used to the hot African weather. In fact many of the teams came early so that they could practice playing in the African heat. Africa is hot yes, but the problem is that this is winter in South Africa, which means temperatures in South Africa are cold. The irony is that these comments were being made as fans were bundled up in warm clothes, and teams were wearing long sleeved jackets. In fact, the weather was so cold that it snowed in the Western Cape region during the World Cup. They are also predicting snow in Cape Town. I took the liberty of researching ski resorts in Africa, and found that several countries including South Africa and Algeria, have ski resorts (move over Jamaican Bobsledders!) which is a sporting activity that is not usually associated with Africa. There are snow peaked mountains in Kenya, Tanzania and Algeria as well.

Albeit not having snow, Malawi's Mt Mulanje mountains has seen temperature so cold, that one can develop hypothermia. In the non-mountain areas, cities like Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre also experience cold weather in Malawi. Yes, Africa has the benefit of warm weather almost year round but many countries do have a legitimate winter although some may argue that there is no winter in Africa.

It looks like the sports commentators got a dose of African reality after spending a few days there since I no longer hear comments about how teams are getting acclimated with the heat. In today's Japan vs Holland (Netherlands) game, I simply heard the comment that its is a  "Sunny winter day in Durban, South Africa"