Saturday, December 29, 2012

Africa (Re)invented:Africa's Innovative Past

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana 2009
Maker Faire Africa: African Invenmtion fair in Ghana 2009 (Photo credit: whiteafrican)
I can’t recall the number of times I have heard people say ‘nothing’ was invented in Africa or that Africa never contributed anything to modern civilization. Naturally, this statement is far from the truth but is still a popular lingering stereotype about Africa. Although ‘western’ centered (Eurocentric) history has taught us that Africa was a dark continent that was underdeveloped until the European man ‘civilized’ it, this is not the case.

Africans had a different way of living that was not understood or valued during the period of renewed foreign contact with Africa. Africans were just as creative and innovative as any other civilization. Assessing the continent’s history provides insight as to why there is little knowledge of Africa’s innovative past,  why there have been periods  in Africa’s history where few inventions occurred, and why their hasn’t been much recognition for African inventions where they did occur. The idea that Africa was a place where no innovation occurred though needs to be debunked and reassessed.

Africa was a continent where the earliest human beings lived. Therefore many of the inventions made during the earliest moments in human history were made by Africans. This includes the discovery of: 
  • ·         Fire in Southern Africa;
  • ·         Palm oil in West Africa which is used in cooking and as a lubricant;
  • ·         Yam cultivation (and hence, modern farming methods) in West Africa;
  • ·         Shaving tools made from glass around the Njoro River;
  • ·         Water pipes (bong) for smoking hashish in Ethiopia; and
  • ·         Iron smelting methods in Nigeria that enabled tool shaping.

There are many other such types of early innovations by Africans throughout the continent. Egyptians for example, were the inventors of papyrus, embalming and medicines. During the same time, Africans outside of Egypt (Ehiopia, Sudan), were also making their own advances in paper technology and medicine. Africa was also home to architectural super structures like the Pyramids in Egypt and Sudan, the trading center at Great Zimbabwe, and ancient mosques. In addition, some of the world’s earliest universities were in Mali and were the precursors to contemporary educational institutions. Africa was a center of knowledge in ancient and pre-colonial times and information was regularly traded between ancient Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy and the rest of North Africa. Some of this history has been forgotten or lost due to historical processes like slavery, colonization or war. Many will recall the famous incident where a significant amount of history and knowledge was burned in Egypt by Alexander.

Slavery Museum
Slavery Museum (Photo credit: timbrauhn)
There is evidence that many advancements in Africa occurred in early human history and Africa’s pre-colonial history. Much of this advancement faced challenges as foreign contact with the continent began in earnest. The Indian Ocean (Arab) slave trade and the Trans Atlantic slave trade that began in the early15 century made it challenging for Africans to continue their progression or continue to innovate. The slave trade led to the forced removal of Africa’s talent and labor that would have otherwise been contributing to African advancements in technologies.  This means that many of the continents innovators and knowledge were transferred outside the continent by enslaved Africans. This includes foods, vaccines, and other methods that they brought from the continent. African slaves were not taught to read write and were made to work much of the day. This provided little time for innovation. In the case of the enslaved in the Atlantic, their own struggle for recognition of their contributions and inventions in their new countries began. It was not fashionable or popular to give slaves recognition for being smart because this threatened the slavery system. Some of the few inventions that were made by enslaved Africans were to become credited to their owners or to the new world but not to Africa.

The Trans Atlantic slave and the removal of Africa’s labor and innovators left a void on the continent. This trade continued through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – roughly, a period of 350 years and involved an estimated 12 million enslaved people that made it to the new continents. Many others did not make the journey. Slavery disrupted the way of life for Africa and affected its knowledge base. There was the routine looting of Africa’s artistic treasures, items and artifacts that remain in foreign museums today. Many of the structures, trade routes, villages, and support systems that were responsible for passing on the knowledge were abandoned or destroyed. It meant those left on the continent would need to concentrate on meeting daily needs and on avoiding becoming enslaved themselves. During this time, the remaining young children on the continent had to fill much of this labor void. This situation affected the type and quantity of inventions coming from the continent for nearly 400 years.

The colonial era further placed Africa in a state of arrested development in terms of innovation. For a period ranging from just prior to the 1884 Berlin Conference through the 1960s Independence movements, Africans were under foreign domination.  The colonial system was inefficient for African development. The educational system that was introduced in Africa was largely centered on Biblical knowledge or on domestic sciences. The educational system also only catered to a very small percentage of the African population. In addition, many of the prohibitive taxes under the colonial system meant that Africans were forced to work for little money. There was little time to explore formal education in literature, math, science or philosophy. Much of the knowledge was passed on orally. Many of the innovations that did occur were not given significant international recognition in order to help sustain the colonial system of subjugation. Although there were some innovations that were made during the colonial era, 350 years of slavery followed by nearly 100 years of colonization took a toll on the continent’s ability to invent and be innovative. 

Maker Faire Africa: Buglabs
Maker Faire Africa: Buglabs (Photo credit: whiteafrican)
Although there have been some low-tech and high tech inventions in recent years these are not well known. Africans continue not to receive full recognition or acknowledgment for their innovations. This is a part of its historical legacy. During the post-colonial era, Africa has also been plagued with the brain drain. Many of Africa’s innovators are living in the African Diaspora and contributing to the technological advancement in countries that they have moved to voluntarily. Therefore some of the greatest inventions in contemporary times may be coming from Africans in the Diaspora. Africans on the continent have began to contribute greater numbers of low-tech and high tech-inventions. They are also more likely to receive recognition for their inventions. In recent years there have been attempts to chronicle Africa’s former innovative past and its current contributions. Information about African inventions can be found on sites like Afrigadget , International African Inventors Museum, Kumatoo , and South African Info. There are many innovations that have occurred and continue to occur on the continent. The idea that Africa is a place that has no inventions of its own needs a (re)invention. Africa, like any other continent, has contributed to modern civilization.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Afrobloggers in Action: (Re)branding Africa One Blog at a Time!

108 Glossy Black Comment Bubble Social Media Icons
Social Media provides a space for African bloggers and micro bloggers to write their won stories (Photo credit: webtreats)
The old African proverb “until the lion learns to write, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” exemplifies literary tradition in Africa. It is an adage that encourages African people to take action by writing their stories in order for African stories to be heard from African perspectives. Since the early days, African communities have been passing down their histories, cultures, science, technology and education through the written word.

The long history of oral tradition in Africa and the dominance of colonialism had such a profound effect on the continent that it is often overlooked that Africa has equally had a long tradition of written history. Africans began writing on a progression of materials from rocks, papyrus to paper. African rock “art”, scripts, and hieroglyphics can be found all the way from the Cape in the south, to the northern most parts of the continent in Cairo. It is only natural that with current technological advances, this literary tradition has now entered the computer age through the blogosphere.

African bloggers (Afro-bloggers) play an important role in telling the stories of the continent. They bring African narratives to the foreground in a continent whose narratives are constantly under threat by internal forces (government or interest groups) and external forces (western hegemony and belief systems). They bring the traditional and contemporary topics in to a new medium. Blogging creates a space where Africans can write about the issues that are important to them.

African bloggers are not limiting themselves to familiar stereotypical themes on the continent that center only on war, poverty, disease, corruption and European narratives. Topics range from clean water, female circumcision, starting a business, professional development, history, their culture or whom they think will triumph in this year’s Big Brother Africa! Those that do comment on traditional or familiar narratives about Africa are “writing back”. They represent a diversity of African voices and allow Africans to write about a variety of issues affecting the continent.

Telling African stories has been problematic on the continent for various reasons including censorship, publishing costs or gender and racial bias. It was not long ago when enslaved Africans in the Diaspora were not permitted to read and write. Then this was replaced with a world view where only one overarching perspective was told – that of the Global North. The act of writing our own stories or blogging is therefore important for a continent. It balances ubiquitous enlightenment period grand narratives that erase the African narrative from world history. It engages both Africans and non-Africans alike in changing the narratives of Africa. When Africans ‘learn how to write’ by writing African stories on the blogosphere, Africans are reclaiming Africa’s place in the world. They are carrying on the long tradition of sharing ideas, technology, science, legends, and myths through literary tradition on the continent. A large source of empowerment on the continent stems from being able to express our “Africaness” in writing.

This includes the ability to tell our collective narratives the way we want them to be told. Our ancestors realized the empowerment that both oral and written tradition can bring. They ironically used oral tradition to pass on this idea. The old African proverb is therefore centuries ahead of its time even though blogging is of our time. Whether Afro-bloggers are telling stories that are extraordinary or mundane, what is important is that the collective tales of the hunt are bringing marginalized narratives to the center.

- The article, "Afrobloggers in Action Writing about Hunters and Lions!"was originally published for Blog Action Day in Oct, 2012 for Africa on the Blog.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Defects in Reporting Olympic Defections

English: Olympic medals revealed in Trafalgar ...
English: Olympic medals revealed in Trafalgar Square, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Since the Cold War, athletes worldwide have been using sports to defect to countries other than their birth countries. During the time of the Cold War, a number of Europeans would use international sporting events to escape the conditions in their home countries.  In the aftermath of the London 2012 Olympic Games, there have been several reports of “African” Athletes disappearing from the Olympic Village. Many of the stories are sensational or stereotypical, laced with the familiar narrative of ‘Africans’, trying to ‘escape’ poverty, war, and disease.  I have found some of this reporting to be sensational and somewhat removed from the contemporary African experience.

In the cases where journalists referred to similar European defections, authors often cited political ideology over economic as the reason for defection. In contrast, the authors writing about African defections seem to be overwhelmingly attributing the defections to poor economic situations. However, we need to look beyond economic factors in making these claims. In the past, as famously enshrined by the Economist, Africa was often depicted as an economically ‘hopeless’ continent. This is no longer the case. Africa’s economies are on the rise and many more Africans have been lifted out of poverty than ever before. The new economic projections place seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world in Africa. Although there are certainly economic woes in African countries, economics is not the only reason these athletes leave. In fact in 2009, an entire Eritrean soccer team ‘vanished’ during a soccer tournament in Kenya. Therefore, the goal is not necessarily to leave the continent for better economic conditions in the Global North.

Additionally, if economic concerns were the over arching reason for athelte’s decisions to defect, than one should expect defections to be srpead out evenly across the continent. The 12 defectors came from countries like Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Guinea, and Congo. The majority of these missing atheletes came from Cameroon. Cameroon is the 5th largest producer of cocoa in the world and has oil reserves. Therefore we need to examine what is going on in Cameroon as an independent nation that has lead to seven of its atheletes leaving. Most likely, the economic prosperty from Cameroons natural resources is not trickling down to its atheltes. In other words, political will by Cameroonian authorities to support sports is key. It is not so much the poverty in these nations that drives them away, rather the economic system. Many athletes are not adequately supported by their government in their profession. The infrastructure, training and even moral support is not always readily available to the athletes. Likewise, some of the other defecting atheltes notably came from oil-rich Guniea and the cocoa-rich Ivory Coast (incidentally also one of the financial capitals of Africa). Except for the Coltrane-rich Congo, arguably, economic conditions in these countries are no worse than in other African countries.

Many of the reports also unfairly refer to the monolithic term “African”, thereby branding the entire continent as one country whose inhabitants are all trying to escape poverty. Less than 5 countries out of a total of 54 African nations have been affected by these defections, yet the whole continent has been branded. When one delves deeper in to the countries of origin, one can begin to make a better analysis of this pattern of defection.

Out of the 60 athletes that Cameroon brought to the Olympic games, five boxers, one swimmer and one footballer were reported missing. Numerically, this is not indicative of the type of reported desperation by African athletes to leave their home countries. The fact that Fifty-three Cameroonian athletes planned on returning also reflects 53 Cameroonian athletes that decided not to defect. In a larger context, the same argument can be made for the total number of African athletes that came to the games versus the number of total African athletes that decided to go home.

Many reports have also exaggerated the number of defecting athletes. So far, the official count of missing athletes is twelve, yet there are reports of ‘dozens’ of ‘Africans’ missing. Providing a grossly exaggerated number is disingenuous to the continent as it is simply not true.
Most articles concentrate on the push factors that lead to defection but fail to cite the pull factors. African athletes being wooed by countries in the Global North in order to contribute to their own medal counts. Much like the brain-drain, Africans are being aggressively wooed for their bodies, in what I refer to as an ‘Olympic body-drain’. They are being offered citizenship, training facilities, and contracts that they find beneficial. African athletes should therefore not only be viewed as running away from economic problems back home but rather, running towards economic prosperity.

Much of the reporting about the athletes provides little insight about the contemporary economic conditions in Africa or non-economic conditions that contribute to the defections. Both the push and pull factors need to be discussed. Lumping all African countries together provides for an unbalanced analysis too since we are dealing with individual nations. The journalistic narrative of the defecting African atheletes at this years games has been problematic at many levels. As an
African I hope to see more journalists stray away from this long travelled path.

*This post was originally published  on August 31st, 2012 on Africa on the Blog.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Africa's Olympic Medal Count: London 2012

London 2012 banner at The Monument.
London 2012 banner at The Monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now that the Olympics are over its time to celebrate Africa's successes at London 2012. This year, we saw 10 African countries achieving medals. Overall, Africa's medal count this year was 34,  a decrease from the 40 medals gained at the last Olympics in 2008. Two countries, Botswana and Gabon, won their first ever medals this year. Africa's medals were disproportionally in the category of  Track and Field. As expected Kenya and Ethiopia, dominated this category both amongst African countries and internationally. They brought a total of 18 medals between the two countries for the continent. Kenya achieved 11 total medals in Track and field (compare this to Jamaica's 12 medals in Track and  Field). Kenyan runner, David Rudisha also managed to break a world record in the 800m dash. Other notable achievements were South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius who made Olympic history this year by being the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics along side able bodied athletes. Zimbabwe was expected to win a medal this year but did not bring home any. Zimbabwean swimmer Kirsty Coventry,  who took the world by storm by winning multiple medals at the Beijing Olympics was one of the few hopeful athletes for that country. African swimmers though were well represented over all but only swimmers from Tunisia and South Africa earned medals in swimming events.  The youngest competitors in the Olympics were from Africa. The youngest being the thirteen-year-old swimmer from Togo, Adzo Kpossi. In the next age group, four out of the the seven fourteen-year-olds were from Africa. This included swimmer Joyce Tafatatha of Malawi, swimmer Nafissatou Moussa Adamou of Niger, swimmer Aurelie Fanchette of the Seychelles and fencing athlete Lea Melissa Moutossamy of Algeria. This is  an affirmation that the young talent coming out of the continent are competing in more diversified sports. In addition to Track and Field African countries won medals in fencing, wrestling, swimming, canoeing, and rowing. The Nigerian basketball team qualified for the Olympics for the first time, having beat international Basketball powerhouses in order to qualify for a chance to compete. There team included Nigeria's Diaspora that play professionally and at college level. Although they did not receive a medal, they won one out of four games at the Olympics. A notable mention also needs to be made for the increasing number of athletes in the voluntary African Diaspora that have citizenship or Dual Citizenship in countries outside of their birth country that won medals for non-African countries. Their contributions to sports are also important for the continent although their efforts would be well appreciated on the continent. In order of the total number of medals, African nations awarded with Olympic medals at London 2012 include:
  1. English: Beijing Olympic Stadium August 15, 20...
    English: Beijing Olympic Stadium August 15, 2008 at 9.54pm PDT Track and field event (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Kenya, 11 medals (2 Gold, 4 Silver, 5 Bronze) - Track and Field.
  2. Ethiopia, 7 medals (3 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze) - Track and Field.
  3. South Africa,  6 medals (3 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze) - Swimming, Rowing, Canoe Sprint, Track and Field.
  4. Tunisia, 3 medals (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze) - Swimming, Track and Field.
  5. Egypt, 2 medals (2 Silver) - Fencing, Wrestling.
  6. Algeria 1 medal (1 Gold) - Track and Field.
  7. Uganda 1 medal (1 Gold) - Track and Field.
  8. Botswana 1 medal (1 Silver) -Track and Field. 
  9. Gabon 1 medal (1 Silver) - Track and Field
  10. Morocco 1 medal (1 Bronze) - Track and Field.

south africa
A South African fan cheers on South Africa (Photo credit: rafiq s)
Overall, according to the medal count of all nations that participated (a count that considers the number of Gold medals first), the rankings were:
  1. South Africa #24
  2. Ethiopia #25
  3. Kenya # 28
  4. Tunisia #45
  5. Algeria #50
  6. Uganda #50
  7. Egypt #58
  8. Botswana #69
  9. Gabon #69
  10. Morocco #79. 
South Africa is the leader within the continent in terms of the number of Gold medals it has received although Kenya has won the most total medals on the continent. In general, we have seen a number of gains in the past few years in Africa's competitiveness at the Olympics. Congratulations to all those that represented Team Africa this year!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Africa's Olympic Body Drain (Part Two): Competitive Advantage and Citizenship

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 03:    Zola Budd a...
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 03: Zola Budd and Bruce Fordyce finish together during the 2012 Comrades Marathon on June 03, 2012 in South Africa. The 2012 Comrades Marathon is starting at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg and finishing at the Sahara Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Taking advantage of Dual Citizenship is important for African nations wanting to have a competitive advantage in athletic games. Being competitive at the Olympics in a globalized world is just as much about having an effective athletic management strategy as it is about the athletic ability of the Olympians. For African countries, getting medals is not just a matter of poor training facilities, or lack of financial resources.Its a matter of leveraging all available or potential human resources. Part of an effective global strategy is is inclusive of all of the nations people and thus increases the chance of a country to bring home medals. Therefore, citizenship matters. In the past few years alone, there has been an increase in African athletes competing for non-African teams. There has also been an increase in non-African nations coveting successful African athletes. There are numerous examples of African players that have changed their citizenship in order to compete at the Olympics i.e. South African born runner Zola Budd competed for England; Kenyan born  runner Bernard Lagat competed for the USA; Kenyan born cyclist Chris Froome competed for Great Britain.  Many countries in Africa have realized that lack of Dual Citizenship is costing them players and  decreasing their competitiveness. Many countries have now taken the important step towards leveraging their athletes. Both Kenya and South Africa now offer Dual Citizenship to their nationals.  It is  in the best interest of these countries in Africa to offer Dual Citizenship so that they can increase their competitiveness at international events through policies that encourage the retention of athletes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31:  Tony Skinn #4 of N...
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Tony Skinn #4 of Nigeria shoots in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Lithuania and Nigeria  in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Many countries strategically provide citizenship to African athletes as an incentive for these athletes to immigrate to their country and compete for them in the Olympics. They offer the athletes additional attractions like training facilities or an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in cases where they would not have qualified in their own countries. In the USA alone, fifty athletes migrated to the USA between 1992 and 2008 to compete for their Olympic team that previously competed for another country. At the London 2012 games, over 40 foreign-born citizens ran for the United States. This 'body gain' increases the chance for the USA to earn medals, money, national pride and prestige that comes with winning Olympic events. For the African countries that have lost a potential Olympic medal athlete, this is a tremendous loss.  Many African athletes also strategically maintain the citizenship of their country-of-origin or acquire citizenship of new nations so that they can compete in the Olympics. Nigeria was able to send its first qualifying Basketball team to the Olympics 2012 due to the contributions of Nigerian Dual Citizens in the USA.  Both Nigeria and USA recognize Dual Citizenship. As Dual Citizens with both U.S.A and Nigerian citizenship, these athletes are able to compete for Nigeria or USA. However, basketball is very competitive in the USA and there is a saturation of qualified players therefore it is more difficult to qualify in the USA team. Many of these players therefore opted to try out for the Nigerian Olympic basketball team (D'Tigers) and where able to qualify to compete alongside other Nigerians. A handful of the players were from the NBA professional league, the remainder were from college. Nigeria benefits by having a Basketball team comprised of all of its best athletes and qualifying for the first time in this event. It also benefits by having athletes compete for them at little or no cost to Nigeria. 

Olympics in Barcelona
Olympics in Barcelona (Photo credit: cliff1066™)
Although Nigeria's defeat by the USA's dream team was the focus of many, Nigeria's ascendency to the Basketball arena was commendable.  They managed to establish Nigeria as a Basketball powerhouse.They beat established teams like Lithuania, Greece and the Dominican Republic to qualify for the Olympics. Even though the team did not bring home medals for Nigeria, they won one out of four games. They also  lifted the profile of African Basketball. The world hasn't seen the last of teams like D'Tigers that are made up of all of Africa's human resources.  Addressing issues of citizenship for all their nationals as part of an athletic strategy is important. Dual Citizenship is important for competing at the international level and building a winning country brand.  If African nations want to increase the number of medals that they have, African nations need to leverage their athletic human resources. This will create a situation where both players and the country can benefit. It is a step in countering the 'body drain' of our athletes. It will also create a situation where more Olympic medals can be awarded on the African continent ... and one where more happy Olympic memories can be created for Africa.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Africa's Olympic Body Drain (Part One): Olympic Strategy and Citizenship

Special Olympics
Special Olympics (Photo credit: MikeBlyth)
The Olympics is the biggest global sporting event that offers countries an opportunity to show their talents. It allows nations to brand or promote themselves through sports in a way that expensive advertising cannot – It is what a sport like basketball has done to raise the profile of the USA, or short distance running for Jamaica or long distance for Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively. Winning a medal at an Olympic game is the root of envy from other nations. It is a source of pride from the country's citizens. National glory is important for the people of a nation. It is therefore an arena where questions of citizenship are important and can quickly become contentious. The Olympic Charter requires that an athlete is a national of the country they compete for. However, there are restrictions for athletes that change or switch citizenship whereby an athlete a losses citizenship from one country in order to gain citizenship of another country. There is a three year time frame that needs to pass in order for these athletes to compete for a different country. Exceptions to this rule can be made though by the Olympic governing bodies. Dual Citizens though have no such restrictions and can compete for either country where they hold citizenship. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Richard Banda, Fir...
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Richard Banda is the  First Gentleman of Malawi and a former Olympic athlete for Malawi. He arrived in England for the London 2012 Olympic Games to support the Malawi athletes   (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Malawi is one African country that doesn’t recognize Dual Citizenship. For a country like Malawi that has had Olympic athletes compete but no Olympic medals, lack of Dual Citizenship laws means that Malawi is decreasing its opportunity of becoming a medal bearing country. Athletes that have two Malawian parents but live outside of Malawi are prevented from competing for Malawi at the international level after the age of twenty-one. Football (soccer) players like Tamika Mkandawire, who has one Malawian parent but is a British citizen, is not able to compete for Malawi even though he plays for a professional league in Europe. Although an athlete like Cate Campbell, a Malawian-born Australian Olympic swimming medalist, does not have Malawian parents, she should have the option to compete for Malawi (Even if it is under a special category of Dual Citizenship for those without Malawian parentage but has an exceptional talent). There is little doubt that Campbell must have used some level of Malawian resources in the first nine years of her life whilst physically living in Malawi. Therefore it is in the best interest for Malawi to leverage the use of those resources for the benefit of Malawi. This includes human resources. Lack of Dual Citizenship also means that there is an increasing chance for up and coming Malawian players to be poached by other countries and thereby creating a situation where Malawi trains athletes but their contribution to Malawi can not be maximized. We need to consider that the ‘body' drain is just as real and just as problematic as the ‘brain drain’ on the continent. Malawian Athletes such as swimmers Joyce Tafathata and Charlton Nyirenda or runners Mike Tebulo, and John Kayange are more inclined to switch citizenship in order to advance their careers due to aggressive recruiting by the Global South. Rather than abandoning Malawian citizenship altogether, Dual Citizenship would allow these players to compete for Malawi when needed. Countries like Malawi need to have an Olympic strategy that is beyond the physical aspects of the game. The Olympic games are not just about competing harder, they are about competing smarter. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dual Citizenship in a Post-Federation Era

African students outside of IBM Headquarters
African students outside of IBM Headquarters (Photo credit: citizenIBM)
Africans have been migrating to neighboring countries and overseas in greater numbers than before. They have been taking up citizenship in countries other than the country of their birth. This new African Diasporas are now increasingly calling for Dual Citizenship. Dual Citizenship is a situation where an individual can be a citizen of two countries. The call for Dual Citizenship has been growing in Africa from the African voluntary Diaspora over the past few years. The unprecedented voluntary movement of African people within the continent and outside the continent is being facilitated by increased access to mass transportation due to globalization. The African Diasporas voices have not fallen on deaf ears. Currently, nearly half of the African nations offer Dual Citizenship for their Diasporas. The African Union has  now also  officially recognized the economic and social benefits of engaging the African Diasporas. The AU has gone as far as to recognize that the involuntary African Diaspora that left Africa in bondage (i.e. African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbeans etc) is the sixth region of the African Union’s organizational structure.  In the spirit of Pan Africanism, countries like Ghana have extended citizenship rights to the involuntary African that wish to repatriate to Ghana. In Southern Africa, the call for Dual Citizenship can be heard in the countries that formally comprised the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, namely, Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

English: Map of the Federation of Rhodesia and...
English: Map of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the 1960s Malawi was at the forefront of dissolving the colonial Federation that brought modern day Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi as one nation under British colonial rule. Whilst the hatred for this federation existed in all three countries, the resistance to the federation was heard the loudest in Malawi. Malawi was not a settler colony so Malawians feared white settlers moving in to its borders. Malawians were also being used as a source of labor for Zimbabwe and Zambia and this led to the underdevelopment of Malawi. Most of the farms and industries in the federation were being formed outside of Malawi’s borders. Therefore Malawians were very opposed to the federation. It was little Malawi, a country one third the size of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, that was persistent  and instrumental in successfully ending the forced federation by 1964. It is therefore very ironic that years later, due to globalization, the people of the same countries are all calling for Dual Citizenship - a distinct step towards becoming more unified. Migration between the three countries has been profound and large settlements of migrants from the other two countries can be found in each country. In Zambia, Dual Citizenship has already been tabled in parliament and the first draft of their constitution includes a provision for Dual Citizenship. In Zimbabwe, a constitutional overhaul was also supposed to usher in Dual Citizenship as an unalienable right. It appears that the provision has left aspects of Dual Citizenship open to subjectivity in the final draft of new constitution.  The draft constitution recognizes that Zimbabweans cannot lose citizenship by acquiring foreign citizenship but adds that  Dual Citizenship would be regulated by Acts of parliament. For the majority of Zimbabweans, it means that they can have Dual Citizenship. For Zimbabweans born outside of Zimbabwe though, it may be an area of concern depending on future acts of parliament.  Lastly, in Malawi, the call for Dual Citizenship is still in its exploratory phase for the government. No formal bill or constitutional amendment has been tabled to parliament although various organizations and individuals have promoted it in the past. The current call for Dual Citizenship there is being pushed forward by non-governmental advocacy groups. This includes the Campaign for Dual Citizenship, a transnational advocacy group based in the U.K. that has an online petition form and is also petitioning the government for Dual Citizenship. Half way across the globe, the Malawi Washington Association is also advocating for Dual Citizenship through the Movement for Dual Citizenship initiative.  The Malawian Diaspora hopes to have a  bill considered in parliament like in the case of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Dual Citizenship however is being promoted in all three nations, largely due to the persistence of their respective growing Diasporas.

English: Flag of the Federation of Rhodesia an...
English: Flag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The concepts of citizenship and Dual Citizenship in particular, have become problematic for African nations under the nation-state system. Traditional African cultures in the region allowed for Dual Citizenship. During the pre-colonial era of kingdoms and chiefdoms traditional leaders had accepted Dual Citizenship. Belonging to a particular political unit was not as rigid as it was under the nation-state system that was introduced in the colonial era. As an example, if one was a Chewa through one parent, one would also be recognized as a Bemba through the Kingdom or Chiefdom of another parent. This means that multiple citizenship across groups were possible. The modern day movements toward Dual Citizenship for this region are therefore also rooted in pre-colonial African tradition. Relaxing of rigid citizenship laws for Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe is therefore a step towards addressing the malaise of the colonial borders in the region. Although the idea of the federation itself was not bad with respects to promoting unification of nation-states, the federation itself was intended to serve the particular interests of the colonial government. It was also forced the new political units in Africa that consisted of disparate people to in to yet another forced political unit. Dual Citizenship however, will serve the interests of the governments and citizens of the three countries respectively. It will also bring together Africans in a voluntary manner. Dual Citizenship can therefore be considered as a viable alternative to persistent calls to redraw Africa’s borders altogether. It will help strengthen the region’s economic viability. For the modern day nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, fighting against unification is no longer relevant in a globalized world where regional blocs are being formed. Taking steps toward Dual Citizenship is in the region is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Way Forward for Africa? East or West

The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John ...
The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With China banging on Africa’s doors, the debate on whether Africa should lean towards the East or the West continues in many African nations. This is however a long standing debate that is not new to the continent. Africa has always been forced to decide between two seemingly opposing philosophies. Through historical events like colonialism, the Cold War, and now, neo-colonialism, African countries have time and time again been faced with the dilemma of choosing allies in a world where those allies are first and foremost looking after their own interests. This means that Africa has been reactive rather then proactive in deciding its future and alliance. Being caught between a rock and a hard place has meant that Africa has not benefited significantly from making these alliances and should not expect to in the future unless it chooses to lean towards Africa. The great philosopher and Pan Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah summed up the direction for Africa in a single statement: “We face neither East nor West; we face Forward”. Through these words, Nkrumah verbalizes where Africa’s focus should be – in Africa.In this new globalized world, it is ever more important that African countries look out for their own interest and that of their immediate neighbors. 

Every nation in the world looks out for its own interests - so does every continent. African countries should also be looking out for their own interests and that of their people. In the political economy, African nations have become perpetual pawns in foreign diplomacy. They have been forced to choose a side at times when they don’t want to and don't need to. During the Cold War African nations were under pressure to lean towards Russia or the global North In contemporary times, Russia has been replaced with China. This has made it seem like there are only two choices.  African countries should no longer have to make these tough decisions that don’t benefit them in the long run. They should band together so that they can speak with one united voice and so strengthen their bargaining power. There is always an alternative - a third choice when the options in laid out in front of us aren't good enough. There is no reason why Africa has to choose a side. Therefore African countries should consider not choosing at all! They can take a similar position as Switzerland and remain “neutral” in the current global world order if they want to improve their situation- but they can only do this together. African nations should create alliances with both the global North and the Global South and take a position of neutrality. We should embrace the relationships with China and embrace the relationships with the West. The West keeps pointing fingers at China and warning African countries about China, however, there was no one there to warn us against the West when it was scrambling for China. Essentially, we are swamping one sphere of influence for another. With regards to Africa, the decision to lean West or East does not make a significant difference if we are not looking out for Africa's interest.

China has done a lot for the continent, and we should not be forced to abandon this relationship. However, every African nation should be diligent about negotiating contracts with China so that it is a win-win situation. Similarly, with our long standing allies in the West, African nations should likewise be diligent in the forms of contracts it negotiates with them as well. We would be naive to think that our interests are best served by leaving the terms of the relationship up to others.

This approach however means that African nations will need to take an introspective look at their own nations and decide where they want to be in the future. They can then decide what nature of relationship they want with the East and the West. Then they can work towards achieving their visions when they sit at the bargaining table. It is up to the leaders and people of Africa to decide who their allies will be and what type of alliances they want to create. This begins by first mending alliances with their immediate neighbors so that they can cooperate on matters of common interest. Africa should not have to decide on whether to lean East or West – this is not the only option.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is Africa Ready for Female Leadership?

CAPE TOWN/SOUTH AFRICA, 4JUN08 - FLTR: Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi, Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of Malawi, Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, John Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana, and Raila Amolo Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, captured during  the World Economic Forum on Africa 2008 . Image: Eric Miller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As Joyce Banda, Malawi’s First Female President and Head of State, was sworn in this month, many Malawians were ecstatic. During the spectacle that occurred after late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s cardiac arrest which resulted in his death, foreign journalists debated whether Malawi was “ready” for a female president. Some Malawians asked the same question, speculating that a constitutional coup would occur that would prevent her from assuming this role. Forgotten was the role that women such as former Official Hostess (First Lady), Cecilia Kadzamira played in the nation. She was the most powerful woman in Malawi for three decades. Towards the end of Kamuzu Banda’s presidency, she essentially run the country and was the de facto president. Therefore in recent history, Malawi has had a precedence of a strong female leader. However, what was also forgotten was a long tradition of female leadership in Malawi and Africa as a whole that came before her. As Africans, I think that it’s important for us to have a common, accurate and collective memory with regards to historical events on the continent, including societal issues. As Malawi ushered in the First Female Head of State in SADC, the media and public were mis-educating each other about the real progress of female leadership in Africa in various ways.

Joueur d'Uruncungo (Player of Uruncungo)
Joueur d'Uruncungo (Player of Uruncungo) Women played an active role in business and trade in the markets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I will start with the terminology. In order to have a head of state, there needs to be a state. Prior to the Berlin Conference of 1884, where African states originated, there were no states in Africa.  However, there were other forms of political units that had leadership like Kingdoms, Empires, Chieftaincies, clans, or ‘tribes’. Many of these political arrangements in Africa were matrilineal (traced ancestral descent through the maternal line), matrilocal (husband goes to live with the wife’s community), or matriarchal societies (A woman who rules a family, clan, or tribe). These arrangements lead to a long list in history of African leaders like Cleopatra of Egypt, Queen Nzinga M’Bandi of Angola, Princess Grace Matamba of Congo, Queen Nana Yita of Nsuta (Ghana), Queen Nana Aberewa Ampen of Juaben (Ghana), Sultan Fatimah of North Zanzibar (Tanzania), Ret Abudok nya Bwoc of Shilluk (Sudan). Over the years this history of female leadership in Africa, has continued in many rural areas. Therefore, if we are to only look at our history, we may conclude that Africa has always been ready.

In fact, prior to colonialism Africa’s real traditional culture, was more gender progressive then the hybrid system that was introduced during the colonial era. Traditional African culture has always been more gender neutral then the cultures of the global north where patriarchy and capitalism have created inequalities that have challenged for female leadership. Gender roles in African culture have traditionally more fluid. Africans women were serving as spiritual leaders (contemporary day pastors, priests), healers or sangomas, (midwives, nurses, doctors), herbalists (pharmacists), traders (business women) and other prominent positions. Women were also able to own property and had political participation.  During this same era, western women were not able to play these roles in their own societies. Therefore when colonialism was introduced state sponsored patriarchy, African women legally lost their social and political positions. African countries became states during the colonial era where Africans were not in charge of their own states. This made the ascension of African women difficult because both African men and women could not be heads of state. They could not practice their traditional leadership roles that included women under this new system. This means that women’s leadership in Africa has been more about reclaiming rights we lost under colonialism rather than achieving them for the first time. In contemporary times, challenged with regaining female leadership on the continent under new political formations, the modern state, African countries have made considerable gains. I compiled a descriptive list of contemporary women Heads of State in Africa that have been head of state that we can draw on to begin to pull our collective memories together:

1. Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry (Liberia) – Appointed, First Female Head of State in Africa, First Female Head of State in West Africa.
2. Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (Liberia) – Elected, Second Female Head of State in Africa, First Elected Female Head of State in Africa, Second Female Head of State in West Africa.
3. Joyce Hilda Mtila Banda (Malawi) – Appointed, Third Female Head of State In Africa, Second Appointed Female Head of State in Africa, First Female Head of State in Malawi, First Female Head of State in Southern Africa.

Rice (left) and Laura Bush (second from the ri...
Rice (left) and Laura Bush (second from the right) meet Liberian President-Elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (center), the world's first black female president, before Sirleaf's inauguration in Monrovia on January 16, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In addition, there have been African women that have acted as head of state like President Rose Francine Rogombé of Gabon who served as interim head of state and Sylvie Kinigi of Burundi, and Carmen Pereira, of Guinea Bissau. Perhaps, the difficulty in including them on the list is can be explained by terminology. The titles ‘Interim’, ‘Acting’, and ‘Appointed’ Heads of State may suggests a short term, temporary arrangement. It can also imply that the person is not the ‘real’ head of state. What is also problematic is confusion that arises over who is the head of state in political units. African countries have mixture of heads of state that have the title of President or Prime Minister – some countries others have both positions. However there is evidence that there is room to extend this list in the African context. Therefore, as journalists frantically try to meet deadlines in the corporate media houses, there is little time for them to take an accurate survey or analysis of female leadership. In addition, many journalists in the global North already have a limited knowledge of Africa. They seldom take the time to do their own research on the history of the continent outside of highlighting data centered on societal factors like the level of poverty, disease and women’s oppression. Therefore, this often leads to the misrepresentations and distortion about the dynamics of topics like gender and leadership on the continent. Many have never heard of Ruth Perry, the first African Head of State in Africa (1996-1997) who was succeeded by Charles Taylor in Liberia. She is sometimes not regarded as Head of State, however, many do differentiate Sirleaf-Johnson by noting that Sirleaf-Johnson is the first elected head of state. However we must decide how we want Perry to be remembered because she is in danger of being forgotten in our collective memories in spite of this achievement. In addition, because of the global practice of sourcing news from a few media outlets like Reuters or the Associated Press, at times, African journalists often source their material from these media outlets and end up unintentionally doing the same. This is why Africans need to have a collective memory about their history in terms of female leadership.

Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Po...
Queen Nzinga in peace negotiations with the Portuguese governor in Luanda, 1657. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is important to note that there have been a countless number of women that have been serving as Prime Ministers, Presidents (that may not necessarily be head of state) or vice-president in Africa in recent history. However, there needs to be recognition that these women, including Sirleaf, Perry and Banda, are following in the footsteps and tradition of Africa’s long record of female leadership. In order to answer burning questions about our countries’ “readiness” for female leadership, we need to understand our own histories outside of the ‘popular imagination’ of what Africa is. This question is based on assumptions on the level of gender equality in Africa. The assumption is that African men and African societies are sexist due to gender inequalities inherent or rooted in African traditional societies. This is simply untrue. African women in traditional societies have been leaders, healers, priestesses, and property owners. These rights that were increasingly denied to them under colonial patriarchy, and this then carried on beyond colonialism. African Women largely lost their rights and never regained them. There are several accounts of women’s participating in the political process by signing treaties as well as accounts of colonialist refusing to negotiate treaties with African women. These attitudes reflected gender relationship inequalities in western societies. These attitudes also continue to affect western women in countries that are highly capitalist and therefore, highly patriarchal. Therefore, our challenge today is to reclaim and regain traditional role as leaders for African women. Our challenge is also to see African tradition as progressive in terms of gender equality. However, we must have a collective memory with regards to our histories and herstories. This means learning about African history and recognizing the achievements of all our women.

*A version of this article appeared on the blog Africa on the Blog.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

African Madness: Marching towards the NCAA

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 12:  Peyton Siva #3 ...
LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 12: Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball while defended by Baye Moussa Keita #12 of the Syracuse Orange during the Big East Conference game against at the KFC Yum! Center on February 12, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
As I was watching the American NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball tournament, dubbed  "March Madness", I noticed that the team I was supporting, Syracuse University, had a player with the same last name as great African musician, Salif Keita. I knew instantly that this player was a son of the continent.Typically, I am used to seeing several African players in sports like soccer (what the rest of the world’s calls football), rugby, and of course, track. As the tournament went on, I noticed a number of names that stood out as possibly being of African origin. I started to wonder how many players were of African descent in the tournament. There seems to be a noticeable growth of the number of Africans playing in the NCAA (see full list of African players in division one of the NCAA). In looking at the compiled list of Africans in this year’s NCAA tournament (see below), it looks like players from West Africa make up the majority of this category - with Nigeria taking the clear lead. Other players from Senegal and Cameroon are also represented in strong numbers. There is a noticeable absence from players from Southern Africa (Countries like Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Zambia) There is only one player from this region represented who is from South Africa. In part, it seems to be representative of breakdown in numbers of the wider African immigrant population in the U.S.  The  list of African players in this year’s NCAA consists of  54 African student-athletes. When considering the numbers of Africans in the U.S., this is a significant proportion. This includes African-born immigrants and non-immigrants as well as first generation Africans in America. It is going to be interesting to watch how many of these players  will march towards the professional league, the NBA. 

It seems that there is corresponding large boom in the popularity of basketball in Africa, particularly and the (voluntary) African diaspora.
Day 4 Basketball (18 August 2010)
Day 4 Basketball (18 August 2010) (Photo credit: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Game
Although there has been a tradition of basketball on the It seems that there is corresponding large boom in the popularity of basketball in Africa. continent for a long time, basketball in Africa has marched forward. Basketball however has not reached the same frenzy and madness centered around soccer, but is making its mark. Basketball is probably slower to penetrate in Africa because it requires equipment (the hoop) that cant be easily improvised. In  soccer  one can use two bottles, sticks ... etc.. (there are endless possibilities ) to create goals. Basketball is also largely dominated by America and the NBA. An African basketball tournament that has also been taking place in Africa since 1961 officiated by the International Basketball Federation or Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) - Africa. Many African teams also participate in basketball in the Olympics. However, the NBA arguably remains the most prominent of the basketball tournaments. Therefore penetration to the NBA is no easy feat. Similarly, playing for the NCAA is very competitive. It will be useful to keep track on this recent surge of players and how they will influence basketball on the continent. It is worth considering though if it is the growing popularity of the game that’s influencing the number of players that are choosing to play the game. Whether it’s African players influencing the popularity of the game or the popularity of the game influencing a rise in players, basketball is having an impact on Africans.  It will be useful to also keep track of how many of these player play in the NBA in the future.
Dikembe Mutombo playing with the Houston Rockets
Dikembe Mutombo playing with the Houston Rockets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was able to locate one list of African basketball players in the NBA compiled in 2008 (See I’m an African in New York). I was not able to find an updated list therefore some of the players on the list may not be playing in the NBA any longer. However, this list includes the players like: Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls  (Sudan), Desagana Diop, Dallas Mavericks – (Senegal), Ike Diogu, Indiana Pacers  (Nigeria), Kelenna Azubuike, GS Warriors  (Nigeria), Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats  (Nigeria), Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago Bulls (South Africa), Dikembe Mutombo, Houston Rockets (DR Congo), Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Dallas Mavericks (Ghana), Michael Olowokandi, Boston Celtics (Nigeria), Mouhamed Sene, Seattle Supersonics (Senegal), Pape Sow, Toronto Raptors – Senegal, Ime Udoka, Portland Trailblazers (Nigeria) and Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, Dallas Mavericks (DR Congo).  In the next four years there should be more players that will join this list of Africans in the NBA. Below is a list of the African players in this year’s tournament and the countries they represent (the names in bold are rising stars likely to make the draft:

West Region (U.S.)
  1. Teeng Akol Western Kentucky (Sudan)
  2. O'Karo Akamune (Nigeria)
  3. Kene Ayigbo Western Kentucky (Nigeria)
  4. Melvin Ejim Iowa State (Nigeria)
  5. Alex Oriakhi Uconn (Nigeria)
  6. Ehimen Orukpe Wichita State (Nigeria)
  7. Osamuede Egharevba Wichita State (Nigeria)
  8. Teddy Okereafor VCU (Nigeria)
  9. Victor Oladipo Indiana (Nigeria)
  10. Christian Kabongo New Mexico State (Congo)
  11. Bandja Sy New Mexico State (Mali)
  12. Tshilidzi Nephawe New Mexico State (South Africa)  
  13. Brice Massamba UNLV (Congo)
  14. Deuce Bello Baylor (Nigeria)  
  15. Michael Gbinije Duke (Nigeria)
East Region (U.S.)
  1. Baye Moussa Keita Syracuse (Senegal)
  2. Chudier Pal North Carolina Asheville (Sudan)
  3. John Nwannunu North Carolina Asheville (Nigeria)
  4. Victor Ojeleye Kansas State (Nigeria)
  5. Festus Ezeli Vanderbilt (Nigeria)
  6. Steve Tchiengang Vanderbilt (Cameroon)
  7. James Siakam Vanderbilt (Cameroon)
  8. Steve Moundou-Missi Harvard (Cameroon)
  9. Ugo Okam Harvard (Nigeria)
  10. Cheikh Mbodj Cincinnati (Senegal)
  11. Alexis Wangmene Texas (Cameroon)
  12.  Myck Kabongo Texas (Congo)
  13. Okaro White Florida State (Nigeria)
  14. Youssou Ndoye St. Bonaventure (Senegal)
  15. Guy Landry Edi Gonzaga (Cote d’Ivoire)
  16. Mathis Keita Gonzaga (Mali)
  17. Chido Onyiuke Loyola MD (Nigeria)
Midwest Region (U.S.)
  1. Osas Ebomwonyi Lamar (Nigeria)
  2. Mogboluwaga Oginni Creighton (Nigeria)
  3. Moussa Gueye Alabama (Senegal)
  4. Retin Ojomoh Alabama (Nigeria)
  5. Michael Eric Temple (Nigeria)
  6. Bak Bak California (Sudan)
  7. Jordan Omogbehin South Florida (Nigeria)
  8. Eso Akunne Michigan (Nigeria)
  9. Moses Ayegba – Georgetown (Nigeria)
West Region (U.S.)
  1. Jamal Olasewere Long Island (Nigeria)
  2. Kenny Onyechi (Nigeria)
  3. Robinson Odoch Opong Long Island (Kenya)
  4. Hippolyte Tsafack Memphis (Cameroon)
  5. Gatete Djuma Long Beach State (Rwanda)
  6. Gorgui Dieng Louisville (Senegal)
  7. Youssef Mejri Davidson (Tunisia)
  8. Frank Ben-Eze Davidson (Nigeria)
  9. Chris Otule Marquette (Nigeria)
  10. Charles Abouo BYU (Cote d’Ivoire)
  11. Nyandigisi Moikubo Iona (Kenya)
  12. Will Yeguete Florida (Cote d’Ivoire)
  13. Assane Sene Virginia (Senegal)