Africa is a Country

How the Congo crisis has reshaped international relations

Image via Wikimedia.

In July 1960, within a week of achieving independence from Belgium, the Congo (later renamed Zaire and now known as the DRC) was plunged into a civil conflict that soon turned into a political and constitutional crisis that besieged the country for almost five years. The Congo crisis challenged how the superpowers and the United Nations managed the process of decolonization and fundamentally impacted the relationship between the West and the post-colonial world.

The introduction of a UN peace-keeping force to safeguard the sovereignty of the Congo following the intervention of Belgian troops to protect European lives and interests, immediately had the effect of internationalizing the crisis. Never before had the UN intervened to protect the sovereignty of a country, and certainly not from incursion by a Western power. This action set the stage for a contentious debate about the relationship of Belgium, Britain and the United States with the newly-independent Congo and raised questions about the role of the UN in managing the process of decolonization.

The events also had wider and deeper implications as newly independent countries positioned the Congo crisis as a means to challenge the manifestations of all forms of imperialism and imperialist internationalism across Africa. Policymakers in London and Washington DC were quickly confronted with a conflict that combined the problems of decolonization with mounting Cold War tensions, but also the realization that the UN was increasingly susceptible to African and Asian influence.

When UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld invoked his power under Article 99 of the UN Charter and elected to bring “the Congo question” (as the crisis became known) before the Security Council immediately in July 1960, he established a precedent. The subsequent Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that mandated the UN peacekeeping mission, known as Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) served to create the largest and most complex UN mission ever undertaken up to that point. In many cases, these resolutions were negotiated and tabled by members of the Afro-Asian bloc in the General Assembly.

From the beginning therefore, the UN intervention was innovative in many respects. ONUC was manned primarily by troops from neutral countries, such as Ireland and Sweden, but also relied heavily on contributions from non-aligned, anti-colonial African and Asian states, such as Ghana and India. This meant that as the crisis progressed, African and Asian representatives came to the fore in formulating and executing UN policy and enjoyed a close relationship with Hammarskjöld and his deputies. As the crisis progressed, Britain and the US gradually discovered that the nature of the UN had changed both in terms of the tenor of the environment in New York and through this more activist role of the organization in Africa. Over time, Britain in particular experienced a diminishing influence over the direction of UN Congo policy, as initiatives were spearheaded by the anti-colonial voices of the General Assembly.

The situation in the Congo deteriorated rapidly on July 7 1960 when separatist leader Moise Tshombe declared the secession of the south-eastern province of Katanga. In 1960, almost 70% of the world’s industrial diamond supply and almost 50% of global cobalt was mined in Katanga. The secession threw the central government in the capital Leopoldville (Kinshasa) into chaos, eventually resulting in a constitutional breakdown and the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in January 1961. In view of the escalating conflict, the US increasingly regarded the Congo as a precarious Cold War “hot spot.” While the State Department was simultaneously engaged in the war in Vietnam, policy-makers sought to balance relations with European former colonial powers, especially Britain and Belgium, against the objective of stemming the perceived spread of Soviet influence throughout the country. This was in fact substantially over-estimated by the State Department and research has shown that Soviet influence among Congolese people and politicians was actually quite limited. Violent attacks on Hammarskjöld and the mission in the Congo by the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev served to magnify, in American eyes, the Cold War dimensions of what was viewed by European and African states as a decolonization conflict.

In the British view, the unstable Congo posed a threat to neighboring British colonies in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Tanzania and Uganda. In a similar vein to Belgium, the British approach towards the Congo had at its core, the preservation of European networks of influence, especially private companies such as the Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK). Financed by an umbrella group called Tanganyika Concessions, the UMHK processed the vast resources of Katanga, creating large profits for British shareholders. The central point of contention, which quickly emerged between Britain and the US, was whether or not the UN should use force to end the secession and thereby restore territorial sovereignty to the Congo. Crucially, doing so involved redirecting the revenue of UMHK and other firms from financial groups in Brussels and London to the central government in Leopoldville.

In February 1961, in keeping with the precedent-setting nature of the mission, UN troops were authorized for the first time to use force in self-defense. Peacekeepers had been engaged in a standoff against Katangan mercenaries and had also been involved in skirmishes with the Congolese army, which sought to re-establish the authority of the central government through its own military campaign against the province. The Security Council extended the mandate of the force in 1961 in order to enable the peacekeepers to gradually and peacefully dismantle Tshombe’s regime. However, his well-armed mercenary forces retained the upper hand through the use of aircraft and by destroying key infrastructure, thereby hindering the movements of the peacekeeping force. In response, the US sought to enable the UN to enforce its mandate more effectively and supported a series of military campaigns against Katanga in September 1961, aimed at ending the secession. Britain however, remained resolutely opposed to the use of force and even supplied tacit and indirect assistance to Tshombe. By 1962, the situation was becoming untenable. Clashes between Tshombe’s forces and UN peacekeepers alongside widespread civil unrest led to calls from African and Asian countries to accelerate the military campaign to definitively quash the Katangan regime. Britain continued to play a problematic role by refusing to sanction the use of force against Tshombe in negotiations at the UN while the US, frustrated with British intransigence, granted political and financial support for the operation.

On December 24 1962, Operation UNOKAT was launched and UN troops seized control of the provincial capital Elisabethville (Lubumbashi). Tshombe fled to Northern Rhodesia and the “independent” state of Katanga ceased to exist. For Britain, the UN action was a humiliating revelation of the lack of British influence in restraining the organization, and also directly threatened the maintenance of British economic and political influence in Central Africa. Moreover, the ending of the secession in this way represented a defeat of one of the central features of British imperial internationalism; the quest to maintain a world role, even as a declining imperial power.

For the US, different views of how the Congo operation should proceed pointed to deeper disagreements with Britain about the preservation of colonial networks and interests in post-colonial African states. The quick dissolution of Western unity on the Congo had highlighted to American officials the difficulty of balancing Cold War objectives with support for European policies that were perceived as neocolonial by African and Asian states. The Congo question had also forced the US to confront the challenges of implementing an anti-colonial position at the UN, as for the first time during the crisis the State Department abandoned the policy of automatically abstaining on colonial questions, leading to a public split with Britain and Belgium at several key moments.

At the centre of this divergence of views were also different visions of the UN and its potential and utility in managing the process of decolonization. The ending of the secession by UN forces in 1962 reflected that African and Asian countries could implement anti-colonial policies through the UN, even when this was contrary to the interests of European colonial powers. By destroying Western consensus, highlighting the agency of anti-colonial actors and demolishing the last vestiges of Belgian colonial rule in the Congo, the UN action thereby represented the first important defeat of imperialist internationalism in Central Africa.

South Africa needs a new public debate

Economic and political crises typically encourage new avenues for conceptualizing a reordering of society. This is because they open up spaces in the realm of discourse due to the discrediting of traditional narratives and systems of thought. If that is generally the case, it is interesting to note that one could hear a pin drop in the mainstream forums for discussing South Africa’s political and economic system, in spite of the heightened sense of crisis that pervades since President Jacob Zuma appointed his fourth minister of finance in two years, and ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating to “junk” status. (Basically, “…the financial downgrading is likely to make it more expensive for South Africa to borrow on the international markets, as lending to the country would be seen as riskier.”)

Elsewhere in the world (particularly in advanced countries – the United States, Britain, Greece, France) we see significant reconfiguration of the political landscape with left and right populists leading wave after wave of attack on the political center, given the latter’s complicity in failing to resolve a series of social crises. Some of the most pertinent dimensions of these crises are economic. The crisis has been particularly pronounced for parties to the left of center that have over the course of much of the last three decades fallen prey to the hegemony of neoliberal ideology.

What is interesting about South Africa, in terms of these dynamics, is that unlike the center-left in the aforementioned advanced countries, much of the current noise about neoliberalism is coming from the dominant faction of the center-left party that is trying to hold onto power. In spite of the fact that the Zuma faction has been comfortable with a neoliberal orthodoxy for almost two terms, it now realizes the political value of populist left rhetoric. This might not be such an issue were it not the case that the Zuma faction is basically the only contributor to a discursive critique of neoliberalism at the moment.

It is true that there have been one or two other spaces where such critique has cropped up in recent times. For example, Joel Netshitenzhe, who served as advisor to Zuma’s predecessor Thabo Mbeki, wrote a piece in the country’s leading business daily on the need for a non-financialized black capitalist class. Another was former Deputy Finance Mcebisi Jonas’ recent piece, in Sunday paper City Press, showcasing his awareness of the radical analysis of the “secular stagnation” debate, via reference to financialization (the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies) and underconsumption (the idea of inadequate consumer demand, arising for reasons including high inequality and systematic depressing of wage income, can constrain growth).

Until Zuma fired him last week (along with his Minister Pravin Gordhan), Jonas was the second most senior politician in the Treasury, and yet we have no indication that his analysis fed into Treasury action in a way that is distinct from the decades of orthodoxy that have left South Africa mired precisely in stagnation and decay. (Netshitenzhe also fails to relate his criticism to his time in government). It may or may not be unfair to provide a critical line on Treasury orthodoxy amidst the hostile political situation (from an intellectually and morally bankrupt Zuma regime) and potentially binding global constraints, but at the very least given the state of crisis more could be done to bring about a more vibrant public discourse about the restructuring that is clearly needed.

Moreover, as a point of significance to those who seek to mobilize against the Zuma faction at present (those associated with the Save South Africa campaign, for example), and who seemingly do not have a critique of neoliberalism, the extent to which a technocratic and constitutionalist discourse around preserving state institutions serves as a useful basis for organizing opposition to the Zuma faction seems limited. So far, it seems to have been most successful in mobilizing a smattering of, particularly white, middle and upper class South Africans to public protests. This is clearly a problem that must be seriously engaged with.

Some questions that would be worthwhile engaging on in mainstream publications for progressives aiming to break with the current political moment: Around what program should opposition to the Zuma faction cohere around? Will a program centered around “good governance” and anti-corruption be sufficient to successfully rival the Zuma faction and achieve mass support? What role has the post-apartheid economic program and structure played in leading the country to this current conjuncture? Do we want to center our opposition to the Zuma faction in terms of a defense of a fiscally conservative Treasury? What would a genuine program of “radical economic transformation” (the slogan used by Zuma and his acolytes) currently look like and how can we push for it? In a global and country context where the capitalist class shows diminished interest in investing, what role should they play in our society? What role should a predatory, collusive and parasitic financial sector, that restricts industrial development, play in our society?

I think these are all highly relevant questions for the current moment and it is clear to me that the narrow and cynical harping on about the admittedly bad state of government corruption does little to answer them. All it does is undermine the potential for a vibrant public debate and function as rhetorical cover for efforts at erosion of state intervention as a means of correcting the depravities of the market. Responding to this, it is easy for those in the Zuma faction to make cynical bastardized critiques of the current economic order through shallow reference to “radical economic transformation” and “white monopoly capital.” In other words our public debate around political economy is not a meaningful one – it currently only functions to wage factional battles. If we are to move beyond this, and counter the Zuma faction’s kleptocratic politics, the country desperately needs an open and honest exchange of ideas between a new generation of discussants versed in radical political economy and its older generation. Without this, opponents of Zuma and his cronies give all the rhetorical space to the Zuma faction to make cynical and successful use of radical discourse to maintain power.

“We Are All Many Things” – An Interview with Nadia Davids

“In Cape Town there’s 800,000 plus / A large population we’re starting a nation / … half of the Cape is Arabian,” raps Youngsta CPT (government name: Riyadh Roberts) on his new single, “Arabian Gang$ter.” The rapper is one of a new generation of South African creatives of Muslim background who interact matter-of-factly with their social identity. They don’t foreground or explain what it is like to Muslim in South Africa; it is part of the background of their lives. Like the poet and literary scholar Gabeba Baderoon (who happened to have written a book about Islam’s history in South Africa from the advent of colonialism, through slavery), the poet and writer Rustum Kozain, or the writer Nadia Davids.

For the latter it started with the play “At her feet” (2002), in which one actress portrays multiple roles (mother, teenager, daughter) to make visible the complex lives of Muslim women in Cape Town. As Davids wrote at the time: “When I first began to think about writing a play about Muslim women, the world was reeling from the aftermath of September 11… I began to think very deeply about my place in the world, about the religion that I had been born into, about the country that I called home, and about the major and minor moments that had shaped me as a woman… about growing up in Cape Town, what it means to share one’s stories, and what happens when someone else’s life moves you to rethink your own.” Since that play, Davids completed a PhD. (on memory and forced removals in which her family were victims), moved to New York and then London to teach drama at Queen Mary University of London and has just returned to Cape Town. She also wrote a play about Cissie Gool, a mid-century Cape Town political activist. Now she has written her first novel, “An Imperfect Blessing,” which plot spans the late 1980s through the early 1990s and tells the story of a Cape Town family at the intersection of late Apartheid and South Africa’s political transition. It continues some of the same themes of her earlier work. This interview was conducted over email.

The novel takes place during late Apartheid and in the final period of constitutional negotiations, a period of intense politicization. Why write a novel about this period?

1986 to 1993 felt like a lifetime when I was a child but it was really only a handful of years and during that time we moved from being one kind of country into another. 1986 was a particularly bad year; Apartheid reached the apogee of its ruthlessness: government crackdowns, rolling states of emergency, killing with impunity, and an aggressive insistent denial from officials that any of it was happening. I wanted to write about that time and twin it with the run-up to our first democratic election. Those initial months in 1993 were intense, disorientating, exhilarating and that early nineties combination of hard-earned optimism and fraught compromise is difficult to describe today: people can be quite cynical about it (rightly so, I suppose) but it wasn’t a simple transition at all – it was bloody and dangerous and full of arguments about the right course of action. At the same time there were these moments of euphoria and fierce relief that things were changing. I come from a sort of “in-between” generation in South Africa: young enough when Apartheid ended to have not experienced the full force of its cruelty, but old enough to remember it, to have had intimate contact with it, to have witnessed what it did to the adults in my world, to understand the distortive generational damage it effected on people and communities. I came of age feeling this simultaneous fury at injustice, jubilation that is was “over”, and intense gratitude to everyone who’d gone before. The novel was a way of thinking about that time, holding it in my view, but also about telling a small family story that looked at art and activism and difficult choices, about the flow between those things, a way of asking how ordinary people were affected by that system.

I think of the book as sitting somewhere between memory and imagination, where writing is an act of remembrance, a process of turning over particular memories and then re-crafting those memories through fiction. Most of it was written when I lived away from Cape Town and I think I was trying to understand the city of my birth, its brokenness, its survival, its cruelty, its beauty, its impossible strangeness… Cape Town is an uncanny place, the past and the present are always entangled, the landscape seems to move constantly between the invitation to remember and the demand to forget and that remembering and forgetting has always been racially coded. When I write history, I always find it interesting to ask who is doing the remembering, how they are going about remembering and who would rather forget.

At the time of writing the novel there just wasn’t much fiction about that period set in the Cape Muslim community; sometimes you have to write your own history into being. It’s one way to push back against invisibility.

At another level, the novel is about how communities or families existed under Apartheid. At its heart its most vivid descriptions are of the everyday; and probably the most layered scene is that of the wedding. What does looking at regular, everyday life reveal about the dynamics of this time period?

I remember asking an aunt of mine who was in high-school during the 1976 uprising and who lived on the Cape Flats throughout the 1980s about how she coped with the constant army presence, with the incessant state violence, and her response was to shrug and say, “It was terrible, but life went on.” She wasn’t being at all dismissive; it was a very real answer about how people often live in and through conflict, how they negotiate the steady hum of a low-grade civil war, how their understanding of “normal” changes.

It’s a question that goes to the novel’s core: what was the everyday? What was ordinary? What was normal? How was it possible that the everyday functioned within the confines of an abnormal system? Yet it did. Somehow. It was normal to have everyday life infused by state violence, by racism. (For a large number of South Africans, it still is). It was ordinary to go to school and sometimes have that school shut down by the army, to have private relationships take place under the auspices of racially codified unions. But there was also resistance and so much of that resistance was precisely about refusing to normalize that immoral system.

I’m interested in the every-day, in sketching the ordinary against the backdrop of the abnormal: what it was like to ride an Apartheid bus as a child, to walk past your demolished home, to love someone who fell under a different racial classification, to go the beach not only to unwind but as an act of defiance…

You mention the wedding; it takes place when Apartheid’s laws have been dismantled and the atmosphere is celebratory, light-hearted, the focus in on food, fashion, gossip, but Apartheid and its aftermath is imprinted on everything: from the choice of venue, to the conversations people have. That chapter tries to thread together a few ideas; the everyday, the characters’ first brush with feminism, small victories, teenage alliances and rebellions, community pressures, the first conversations about the TRC. But it also tries to find the funny because I’ve always been intrigued by how humor functions under these kinds of circumstance: laughter in a politically untenable situation is a subversive refusal to be cowed, a gloriously self-affirming act.

This novel could not have taken place anywhere other than in Cape Town. Can you talk about the place of Cape Town in South African literature and in South Africa in general?

Cape Town is equal parts fascinating and infuriating: it’s at once incredibly beautiful, historically dense and famously segregated. It’s a city of dark beginnings founded through a combination of the systemized slaughter of indigenous people, a mercantile slave trade and long-term colonialism that eventually morphed into Apartheid. It was also, as a result of all these crimes, one of the most culturally and racially heterogamous places on earth by the 1800s.

It’s the sort of place that invites multiple tellings precisely because its inhabitants experience the city so differently. Capetonians do not have a shared set of fictions about the city; our imaginations reproduce our lived segregations. A rather banal example: a few days ago friend and I were reminiscing about how when we were growing up we would jokingly describe black or coloured neighborhoods through the prism of a white name: back then, Fairways was the “The Coloured Constantia,” Walmer Estate was the “Black Bishopscourt,” so was Malunga Park in Gugs, but if we then named those neighborhoods by their actual names to white South Africans, most wouldn’t know what we were talking about… I don’t know if the same things would happen today, but there is something in that, I think, about the way in which people of color knew this city. There was a deeper knowledge, a stronger sense of its difference, a more acute read of its geography. We knew more of it. We had to.

A more literary example would be this: I remember reading South African writer Stephen Watson’s lament that Cape Town had somehow resisted literary narration or that those who had attempted to narrate it had failed to capture it, to language it, and I was struck at how profoundly differently I had grown up experiencing the city. Because for me, Cape Town had always been a deeply storied place. My family ensured that the city full of inscription and dense with narrative. And those stories were always populated by people and in that telling, a web of community and place and time would be spun. Some of that storytelling-particularly around forced removal was, I think, a kind of gentle pushback at enforced discontinuity and loss, some of it was about establishing a sense of ownership in a hostile environment and some of it was just joyous. Maybe Watson was drawing a line between orality and literature; I suppose that’s possible, but I’m also a theatre person so I don’t really understand those distinctions. I wonder sometimes if theatre is actually in a fundamental way better positioned to tell South African stories… but that’s another discussion altogether.

There were certainly books set in Cape Town that I thought about when I was writing the novel, like Zoe Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, Alex la Guma’s In the Fog of a Season’s End, and, (albeit very obliquely) J.M.Coetzee’s Disgrace. But the literary work that really forms the bedrock of the novel is Rustum Kozain’s poem The Blessing, a poem of and for Cape Town. It’s an incredibly strong evocation of the cityscape, its discontents, its difficulties, its startling beauty and breathtaking cruelty, its betrayals and promises and the novel is an attempt to respond to that poem.

So you’re right: mine is a hyper-local, tight study of Cape Town, focused on a sub-section of the city; the ruins of District Six, Obs house parties, buying gatbys, going to club matinees, cars as social space, mosques and churches, collecting money on Eid.

But it’s only one of many, many versions of Cape Town. I’m incredibly excited about the new spate of novels about the city that have been coming out for the last few years: CA Davids’ The Blacks of Cape Town, Masande Ntshanga’s The Reactive, Henrietta Rose Innes’ Green Lion.

All these works build a new literary imaginary of and around the city. Writing different versions of Cape Town, connecting neighborhoods, suburbs, communities deliberately disconnected by Apartheid, sharing stories that disrupt, comfort, confirm, engage, disorientate would go a little way to re-building what was broken. I’m optimistic that way; I’ve never not believed Michele de Certau’s perfect little aphorism, “What the map cuts up, the story cuts across.”

In a recent interview in the South African Mail & Guardian, Ebrahim Rasool, outgoing South African ambassador to the United States, said: “South Africa has been this wonderful laboratory for Islam, which has found a high point under democracy and freedom – for Muslims to perfect the art of integration without assimilation and isolation; for Muslims to live with the wonderment of many identities and not a single religious identity. I mean, which other country would have Hashim Amla as the captain of their cricket team or Nizaam Carr coming off the reserves bench for the rugby team? These are symbols that are so taken for granted in South Africa… but do you know how it rocks the world of eight million American Muslims and 15 million French Muslims?”  Your novel explores aspects of that history. What do you make of Rasool’s comments?

I think Rasool is right to be optimistic. There are few other countries as alert to Islamophobia or as instinctively and inclusively protective of its Muslim citizens as South Africa. There’s a confidence that Cape Muslim communities have about being simultaneously Muslim and South African, an ease in those identities that comes from a deep sense of belonging and historical entanglement. Which is to say that the historical matrix that allowed for “integration without assimilation and isolation” (Islam, colonialism, slavery and the struggle against Apartheid and in more shameful instances, complicity with oppression, with racism and racist practice) are all intertwined. Gabeba Baderoon’s wonderful book, Regarding Muslims explores exactly this. The novel does speak to some of those histories, but not entirely by design: that’s a by-product of a narrative in which the central characters are Muslim. If anything, I wanted to normalize Islam, normalize Muslim family life, to show that people within one family can have radically different views on love, faith, politics, to suggest that any identity is formed at a nexus of a number of different forces. Perhaps this is what Rassool means by a “laboratory.” We are all many things. How could we not be?

Irregular boundaries

The sahara (cricket) stadium in durban. Image credit Zahir Mirza via Flickr.

Now in Maytime to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.

– A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad

In the early 1970s, almost every summer weekend, I made the journey from the centre of Durban to the Springfield grounds. Springfield is now home to massive business complexes and highways hemming it into the city sprawl, but in the early 1970s, it was very much on the outskirts. Six or seven games of cricket were played, simultaneously, on ancient matting wickets, according to rules first written in the eighteenth century. There were no sightscreens. Irregular boundaries were marked by misshapen whitewashed stones. Clumps of grass and mole-hills hid crevices that tested the most flexible of ankles. In a script that veered between comedy and tragedy, I could not wait to get the call to don my whites and be drawn into the drama of a Springfield middle.

On a Saturday afternoon, you would arrive and drag the mat from a wood and iron shed. The mats were crusty and mouldy and came in all sorts of grotesque shapes. We would lay the mat on the pitch. The holes were huge. If you tried for a quick single, more often than not you would get stuck, so you had to run alongside the pitch. This meant running in the direction of cover and then veering back to the pitch. We were playing cricket but running like baseball players.

It was impossible to play cover drives that stuck to the turf. The ground was too spotted with holes and mounds. To score, one had to loft the ball.

This created its own problems. Once a big-hitter was in, the fielders in the adjacent ground needed eyes in the back of their heads. The fields were on top of each other with no sightscreens, so as the sun descended, one sometimes saw two bowlers coming at you.

What did a fifty mean under these conditions? What did five wickets mean when you managed to hit the hole in the mat and turn the ball sharper than Shane Warne?

Occasionally, my father and I would go to Old Kingsmead, the cathedral of white cricket. Here was a completely different world of wonder; turf wickets, picket fences, sight-screens, a scoreboard that flashed lights while invisible hands moved the score. Everything was so beautifully white, pristine and ordered. My father carved out a space under the clock for us to sit. A small blanket, two paper cups and a bottle of Coo-ee forming our own boundary within the tiny non-white section.

I watched the Springboks (as the national team was then still called) crush the Australians here in 1970. It was my joy also to witness many a provincial innings by the majestic Barry Richards.

During one provincial game against the Transvaal, my father, who was light of hue, snuck into the White area in search of a cup of tea. On his way back, he was man-handled and unceremoniously pushed over the fence, all the while trying to hold onto the cup of tea. People on both sides of the divide clapped and laughed. He took his place on the blanket, this most gentle of men, and without saying a word, picked up the binoculars to follow Mike Proctor’s run-up that started near the sight-screen. In one of my father’s greatest gifts to me, C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, I marked these words: ‘The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind the sordid compromises of everyday life. Yet for us to do that we would have to divest ourselves of our skins.’

We never went back. The incident sparked a sense that, in order to understand the game, one required more than a pair of binoculars. Yet it never killed my passion for the game. How could it, given that its first seeds were planted in a son’s fond memories of trips to the ground with his father and nourished by a whole boyhood’s excitement and play?

In 1990, as Nelson Mandela strode out of prison, Springfield and Kingsmead edged closer. In 1991, the two worlds of cricket united, at the top at least. After years of sports boycotts against South Africa, international recognition beckoned.

When India toured in 1992/93, we went to Old Kingsmead, my father and I. He was like a child; taking in everything, as we perched high up on the Umgeni end. As was his way, avoiding trouble, he insisted on bringing his own flask of tea.

These stories, small as an individual spectator, played themselves out everywhere in South Africa, lost against the dramatic backdrop of apartheid coming to an end, Mandela meeting de Klerk and cricket supremo Ali Bacher meeting the ANC’s sports commissar, Steve Tshwete.

The game ended. My dad spied other men on the stands with whom he had batted through the 1960s and 1970s. They clasped hands. They spent a long time looking down at the empty pitch and then said goodbye. Men who played the game with such dignity, under conditions that mocked them. As I helped him into the car, little did we know that he would never see Kingsmead again, as Parkinson’s enveloped his body and eventually ended his life.

In post-apartheid South Africa, I avidly followed the Proteas as they made their way to the World Cup in Australia and wherever else in the world pitches were laid, boundaries marked out and willow swung. Expectations at home were high that the deep creases of inequality in the game would be steadily ironed out by the rollers of development and transformation, buzzwords that were all the rage at cricket headquarters in Johannesburg.

This book is an account of cricket in post-apartheid South Africa; from the tumultuous Gatting tour in which, ironically, the seeds of cricket unity were sown, to the Hansie Cronje saga and the change of leadership from Ali Bacher to Gerald Majola, and more recently to Haroon Lorgat.

It is a story of a new pitch; a quick start full of hope, followed by a steady erosion of the commitments needed to fulfil the promise of a level playing field. Economic and political compromises contributed to holding back the piercing of the covers of race and class privilege. Alongside this, the hurried hollowing out of the “politics of cricket”, aided by Black administrators assuming the accoutrements of office, saw very little internal challenge to the lack of transformation.

Meanwhile, global realignments in cricket initially gave South Africa some respite. But soon, the big three of Australia, England and India were collaborating to claim the lion’s share of global funding, thus limiting even further the resources necessary for development in the domestic game.

In a sense, we are back to the Springfield-Kingsmead divide. But there will be no posthumous honours, however grudgingly given, to lovers of the game who are keeping it alive in townships or side streets. Those whose innings are defined by lumpy mats and broken gear garner far less sympathy or note. For is cricket not now open to all, just like the Ritz Hotel; a game of money, dazzle, dancing girls and quick results?

* This is an extract from Reverse Sweep (Jacana, 2017).

Weekend Music Break No.104

Weekend Music Break is back to our regularly scheduled programming. Just a playlist of ten great songs and visuals from across Africa and its diaspora!

1) This week we start out with Malian legend Oumou Sangaré’s first release in seven years — and to top it off, she appears with Tony Allen in tow!

2) Then we head to Kenya where Muthoni channels a bit of (UK singer) MIA to call out corrupt politicians in her home country.

3) Up next, MHD and crew head from Paris to Manchester, rocking a Paul Pogba jersey, and showing the Brits the French-African flavor their gonna miss out on as they start the EU exit process this week.

4) But London-based Mazi Chukz shows that the British-Africans can hold their own when it comes to stews.

5) Back to the continent across from London, French rapper of Ivorian origin briefly drops the US-inspired trap beats to join the Coupe Decale resurgence going on in Paris (led by MHD).

6) Let’s head back to our continent now, alongside Wizkid who takes on a journey as he plays stadium shows across the continent.

7) Back home in Nigeria Lil’ Kesh makes an appeal for no fake love!

8) Cassper Nyovest does his best I’m from Atlanta impression with Tito Mboweni.

9) Let’s calm down from that a bit and head to Tidiane Thiam’s and Amadou Binta Konte in Senegal, and enjoy a more stripped down sound: one guitar, a hoddu and a microphone.

10) And let’s close out this week’s playlist with my current home of Brazil, and a who’s who of Afro-Brazilian rappers of many different stripes. Here they’re making an appeal for better and more and equal representation in their own country.

Ghanaians put their arms around New York

Kwame Nkrumah

“New Yorkers Put Arms Around Dr. K. Nkrumah” read the June 1951 New York Amsterdam News report about the future president of Ghana’s stop in the city. Nkrumah’s itinerary took him to his Alma Mater, Lincoln University, where he gave the commencement speech and was conferred an honorary degree. Unlike on his maiden journey to America where his stop in the city was to find shelter on the way to college in Pennsylvania, Nkrumah held audience with Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri in his private quarters at City Hall.

On a recent Thursday evening, 66 years later and commemorating the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah’s spirit was on display at the City Hall Chambers where the city’s council members meet. Interior decorations of the city’s insignia, a golden frieze as well as figures from the ceiling’s murals looked unto an audience of about 150 people lead by Bronx Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, a contingence from the Ghanaian Permanent Mission to the United Nations as well as community leaders from all the boroughs.

At a podium in front of the New York City, New York State and American flags as well a towering statue of Thomas Jefferson, Mohammed Lamin Ali in a white Kufi and stripped black and white batakari channeled the revolutionary Ghanaian leader. He dramatized and recited his speech at the dawn of independence (“we must realize from now on we are no longer a colonial but free and independent people”) that incited the crowd to cheers.

While at Lincoln University, Nkrumah would often travel down to Harlem. Here, the theology student would most often preach in local churches as he did back in Philadelphia, but perhaps just as importantly, he met thinkers like CLR James and Arturo Schomburg, encountered a thought of Marcus Garvey and was inspired by a pride for Africa that stood in sharp contrast with the colonial situation back in the Gold Coast.

Today, according to the Bronx Council Member Vanessa L Gibson, 30,000 of the 235,000 Ghanaian immigrants to the US call New York City home. “We are all Africans through our culture and it is not about the birth certificate” said the councilwoman overseeing the 16th District, which has one of the highest concentration of Ghanaians in the city. She cited Nkrumah’s famous declaration that “I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me” to drive the point home.

The Councilwoman issued Proclamations from the City recognizing Professor Yaw Nyarko of NYU and H.E Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee for their “incredible contributions to the city.” Dr Nyarko a professor of Economics at NYU is Co-Director of the Development Research Institute as well as the founding director of NYU’s Africa House. H.E Martha Pobee, a 30 year veteran of Ghana’s foreign service and currently Ghana’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, dedicated her recognition to “Ghanaian women everywhere.”

“My presence here” she added, “is a testament to what women can do if they apply themselves and if they are given the support by their country and people.” Emphasizing her amazement to be “honored by a people with whom we were linked centuries ago” she mentioned the spiritual connection she feels to African Americans today and joked about confusing Black Americans on the street often for old friends from Kumasi.

Also citing Nkrumah’s 6th of March speech that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa” Mr. Victor Essien, a law professor from Fordham University who was also honored on the night instructed the audience in his keynote to keep in mind “as we Ghanaians accept this honor, to think that this recognition is meaningless unless it it is linked with the recognition of all immigrants, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew;  Africans, Europeans or Asians.” He cited the examples of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Victor Lawrence, Thomas Mensah and other Ghanaian immigrants to the US who had achieved global acclaim to convey that the “success of Ghanaian immigrant population is a part of long story of immigrants in America.” The 30,000 Ghanaians might not be of Nkrumah’s star power, but like other immigrants crucial to the economy of this city and the country as a whole, they are the ones putting their arms around New Yorkers.

Brave new world

Image via End Deportations website.

In Pakistani writer Moshin Hamid’s prescient new novel, Exit West, two young lovers confront a world being torn apart by conflict and inequality and re-made through migration. Part of the book is set in a future London very much like today’s London, where people who’ve arrived from other countries wait to see if the violence of “the nativists” will force them out. Standing between them and possible physical confrontation, as well as the iron gates of detention centers, are the activists.

In the pre-Brexit and Trump world, activists from a variety of  movements (environmental, migration, and so on) across the West were often much maligned, dismissed in liberal and even Leftist circles as impractical and too idealistic, their movements rarely covered in the mainstream press. But in this new world we find ourselves in — where cruelty towards people on the move is now US and UK government policy  — direct action emerges as the necessary response.

On Tuesday night, 17 activists in Essex outside London evaded airport security and ran onto a runway at Stansted Airport, throwing their bodies on the tarmac and chaining themselves to a plane to prevent a government charter flight of approximately 50 Nigerian and Ghanaians — along with an estimated 100 guards, two per person — from departing. The UK government’s detention of people it deems irregular migrants or failed asylum-seekers is unique in Europe — with a sprawling system where people can be detained for indefinite periods of time. People in detention centers are often given no warning before receiving an order to report that same day for a flight out of the country. They don’t have time to say goodbye to family members or contact a lawyer. People on Tuesday’s flight included a man who had lived in the UK for 18 years, a lesbian woman who says her abusive ex-husband is waiting to kill her, and Lovelyn Edobor, a 49-year old woman who uses a wheelchair. The Guardian reported that when Lovelyn asked to use the airport bathroom, she was forced into a waist restraint belt and dragged along on a chain “like a goat.”

According to Emily Hall, a spokesperson for End Deportations, one of the group’s involved in Tuesday’s protest, temporarily halting a forced return may buy someone enough time to find the legal aid needed to challenge the deportation order. “It’s a last resort tactic,” said Hall. “But buying someone even 24 hours can help.” The activists could only purchase this time through putting their bodies on the line; they were subsequently all arrested.

Although elements of the UK’s program are unique, the UK is not alone in Europe in trying to get rid of people it deems unworthy of residence. Germany has signed numerous agreements with other countries to facilitate deportations of failed asylum seekers and migrants, and in early 2017 has sent asylum-seekers back to Afghanistan. A draft law presented last week to the German parliament would enforce even stricter deportation rules. Meanwhile, Austria wants to stop providing food and water to people whose asylum claims are rejected, and is debating requiring unemployed refugees to work unpaid at jobs the government deems “of public utility.” Otherwise known as slave labor.

When the state fails to treat people humanely, only individuals and civil society can step in. Will we witness the swelling and expansion of the anti-border movements in Europe and elsewhere as alternatives to governments ordering the stricter policing of non-native bodies?

In Germany, churches have increasingly begun protecting failed asylum-seekers with sanctuary, and the state has so far declined to physically remove people in the church’s care. As of January 2017, German churches were providing this protection for 547 people. Tuesday’s UK airport protest is another promising sign that people are willing to risk arrest to fight policies that tear families apart and endanger lives. “When you have insecure immigration status, you don’t have life,” said one of the men who was being deported on Tuesday’s blocked flight. “Your life is not considered important. It should not be like this. Human life is more important than immigration status.”

Is South African trade unionism at a turning point?

A strike is a “social phenomenon of enormous complexity which, in its totality, is never susceptible to complete description, let alone complete explanation.” The complexity of the meaning and implications of strikes often comes to the fore when offensive strikes – strikes where workers demand more than what they have in terms of wages and working conditions – force the attention of the state, capitalists and civil society. They lead to a varied interpretation not only of how events unfolded but also the impact they have made.

Strikes are a key manifestation of the class struggle over the distribution of national income and reform of the labor relations system. Offensive strikes can generate an extraordinary amount of pressure on the social system, which often leads to structural changes such as the reconfiguring of the industrial relations system, the economy or the political system. Such events are referred to here as a turning point.

In the immediate post-Apartheid period, the trend was for strikes to increase in frequency, with the highest number of strikes in South African history – 1,324 – taking place in 1998. From 2000 and 2009, however, strikes averaged 71 per annum, which was even lower than the 1960s, and these strikes were largely defensive in character.

Despite the low frequency of strike action, the year 2007 marked the beginning of a new militancy in pursuit of higher wages and benefits. The level of 2007 strikes was largely owing to the huge support for the offensive public service strike involving some 700,000 workers, which was closely followed by a more successful wave of 26 offensive strikes, mainly led by workers’ committees at FIFA 2010 World Cup construction sites.

While centralized bargaining and sectoral minimum-wage determinations continued to act as counterweights against strikes, the numbers of days lost due to industrial action accelerated from then. The 9.5 million days lost in 2007 more than doubled to 20.6 million by 2010. Most of the days lost in 2010 were, again, in the public sector, where some 1.3 million came out on another militant strike. What was significant about this strike was that the ANC (African National Congress), for the first time, could not control the affiliates of its major labor alliance partner, COSATU (the Congress of South African Trade Unions). Further, there was an unprecedented increase in the proportion of unprotected, mainly wildcat strikes from 44% in 2012 to 52% in 2013, 48% in 2014 and 55% in 2015. The increase in the number of days lost and the increase in the share of unprotected strikes are important indicators of a change in the mood of the working class.

The offensive wildcat strikes of December 2011 to April 2012 were heralded by post office workers’ committees against labor broking, which at the same time exposed the union’s lack of will to take up the struggle of non-standard workers. These workers ended the system of labor broking in the post office, ensured permanent employment of 5,000 workers and doubled the salaries of workers to R4,000 (about USD300). The post office strikers became the first group of workers in South African history to reverse labor broking in full and win a 100% wage increase.

Both the Lonmin strike and the Western Cape farmworkers’ strike started in August 2012. Rock drillers initiated a wildcat strike at Lonmin platinum mine in pursuit of wages of R12,500 a month. The strike was led by an independent strike committee and the recognized union, the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers), actively opposed the strike, siding with Lonmin management. On August 16, a peaceful assembly of workers was forcefully broken up by a special paramilitary task team who killed 34 mineworkers in what became known as the Marikana Massacre. This strike secured only a partial victory, with a 14% increase in wages.

The Western Cape farmworkers’ strike lasted from August 27, 2012 to January 22, 2013. The strike and the associated community uprising spread to 25 rural towns and was led largely by seasonal workers, coordinated by locally based vanguard groups. The farm workers’ strike was historic because it was the first strike-wave in the post-Apartheid period to deliberately unite workers and communities, and this forced the hand of government which announced a 52% increase in the daily minimum wage in the sector. In general, figures about the agricultural sector indicate a trend to stabilize employment along with a significant shift from casual and seasonal to permanent employment, marking the beginning of changes in the labor process brought about through the agency of farmworkers against capital.

A year after the farmworkers’ strike, on January 22, the longest and most expensive strike in South African history broke out in the platinum industry. The 70,000 strong, five-month long platinum strike hit 40% of global production. The stoppage dragged the economy into contraction in the first quarter of 2014 and cost the three companies affected almost R24 billion in lost revenue. The final agreement between AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) and the three platinum producers included a R1,000 per month wage increase, or 20% increase for lower earners.

On July 1, just more than a week after the platinum strike, 220,000 metal workers from NUMSA (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) downed tools, demanding a salary increase of 12%. The protected strike lasted for one month without pay and concluded with a 4% real wage increase. While labor brokers will not be banned as NUMSA had demanded, it was agreed that a number of regulatory instruments would be introduced, including the appointment of compliance officers to act on complaints of alleged abuse and noncompliance.

The Marikana strike-wave changed the political landscape and gave impetus to the nationwide 2015 Fees Must Fall protests at higher education institutions, later expanded by the Outsourcing Must Fall campaign. In the absence of leadership from NEHAWU (the National Health Education Allied Workers’ Union), workers were mainly led by workers committees calling for for insourcing at higher education institutions nationally. The combined actions by students, workers and academics ensured that almost all universities across South Africa agreed to end outsourcing on campuses and to employ workers with the same conditions as full-time workers, resulting in wage increases between 66% and 163%. This event was an expression of a new level of consciousness and unity, with significant implications for the power relations at tertiary institutions. It constitutes the third instance of a reversal of labor process restructuring in the current period.

Does the gradual increase in the number of strikes – starting in 2007, followed by the Marikana Massacre and the farmworkers’ revolt of 2012, the five-month platinum strike and the one-month metalworkers’ strike in 2014 – indicate that a new wave of offensive strikes has begun? Or is it just a short-lived revival among a depressing long wave of defensive strikes? Has South Africa reached a turning point?

Several structural dimensions are affected. On the economic side, we have seen direct challenges and changes to the labor process, and huge costs to the economy associated with strikes. At the industrial relations level, there is pressure from business and the formal opposition party, the DA (Democratic Alliance), to change the law to undermine the right to strike. On the other hand, in January 2015, the Labour Relations Amendment Act (No.6 of 2014) took effect to ensure that vulnerable groups of employees, especially those employed through labor brokers, get adequate protection. On the political level, a new opposition to the ANC, the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters), was formed in 2013, and the militant NUMSA was expelled from COSATU in 2015, setting the stage for the launch of an alternative, politically independent federation. Finally, in the 2016 municipal elections, the support for the ANC as the manager of neoliberalism in South Africa fell, indicating a decline of hegemony.

While some have argued that the Marikana strike wave was not a turning point, they have limited their analysis to a formalistic view of the events as a specific labor dispute gone wrong, and cite the fact that the labor relations system remains intact. Other mainstream economists instead focus on the irrationality of the actions in terms of losses of incomes to workers. Does the fact that Marikana workers lost 12% of their annual wages, that R10 billion in wages were lost in the 2014 platinum strike, or that NUMSA workers only gained 4% in their one-month strike, relegate the strike waves to defensive incidents?

By focusing on the formalism of industrial relations and on economistic views, these perspectives fail to comprehend the complexity of strike dynamics and the historical process of class struggle that is being unleashed. As Karl Marx said in 1853 regarding the dynamic of strikes: “In order to rightly appreciate the value of strikes and combinations, we must not allow ourselves to be blinded by the apparent insignificance of their economical results, but hold, above all things, in view their moral and political consequences.”

* This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on the website of Global Labour University. It is republished here with the permission of the editors.


“Too deep for mere outrage” – on corruption in Nigeria

On May 27, 2015, on the eve of the inauguration of the current presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, Transparency International published a press statement meant to keep the incoming president engaged with the fight against corruption. Of the several figures published in that statement, perhaps the most staggering was that “more than US $157 billion in the past decade left [Nigeria] illicitly.” Persons or companies allied to the former president Goodluck Jonathan or his wife are currently under investigation or on trial for corruption enrichment. Earlier in March, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was denied confirmation by the Senate, whose president, Bukola Saraki, is on trial before the Code of Conduct Bureau for alleged false declaration of assets. The following is an edited version of emailed questions and answers between Chuma Nwokolo, and myself reflecting on the pervasive nature of official corruption in Nigeria. The author of several books, most recently How To Spell Naija in 100 Letters, and the forthcoming The Extinction of Menai, Nwokolo is the founder of the anti-corruption initiative, Bribecode. He lives in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria, the same state to which the convicted former governor James Ibori recently returned after serving time in a British jail on charges of money laundering.

Akin Adesokan (AA): Even before I saw your Facebook post “A Cashew Dies” on Friday, February 10, 2017, I had had this feeling, of a cruel, debilitating irony, that James Ibori should return to Asaba, the city where you live. An irony because of the particular sense of the comic absurdity in your fiction as I know it. So, this convicted felon returns to your city, which is also his city, as if fate wants to try your poetic patience, or gift you with an irresistible but also confounding tale. And it should happen that youre connected to BribeCode, the anti-corruption activist initiative. Tell me that the short post has no connection in the way I’m thinking.

Chuma Nwokolo (CN): My ancestral town is Ahaba, renamed Asaba by colonists. I like to think that the real Ahaba is dead and the new city represents part of a strange alien country still coming into being. James Ibori is indeed back home to Delta State. Although the rapturous reception reported in the news took place in his own hometown in Oghara, I have no doubt that he has popular support in the Delta State capital, Asaba, as well.

AA: So, you werent thinking of this strange, alien turn of things when you wrote the blog post? Im trying hard not to put you on the spot, but Im more taken with the challenge that the news of rapturous return and celebration ought to pose to anyone who is concerned about the scale of corruption in Nigeria, and is dedicated to addressing it, as you are. In short, do you wish to comment on Bribecodes outlook in relation to the confounding level of corruption? Not only Ibori, but others as well?

CN: I certainly do. In discussing corruption in Nigeria, we must appreciate that we have do not merely have endemic corruption, we have a pandemic on our hands. This is why a corruption conviction triggers no opprobrium from church pulpit to street corner. In tackling corruption, indignation serves us poorly. Like 17th century Euro-America embracing and defending the abomination of slavery, our public has embraced an anomaly which they perceive as essential to their survival.

The public has “normalized” corruption because government and the apparatus of state is still largely perceived as a colonial institution. We can process the legal fact of independence, but our heart ownership of state and country is still an emotional fiction. So state brigandage and the bilking of billions from a national budget does not hit the streets with the emotional punch of the theft of a loaf of bread from a trader. So we lynch the bread thief, and hail the budget brigand, “chief,” especially if he throws loaves at us as he cruises past in a stolen limousine.

This is to say that the most successful politicians operate a Robin Hood model with two defining characteristics: First, they never steal alone – they recruit a merry band to whom they bequeath power, such that, in or out of office, they control the treasury and operate a charismatic godfather network whose loyalty is cultic in intensity. In this way, the so-called developmental process of institutionalization is checkmated by the reactionary process of institution-capture. Second, they never “chop” alone, either – they are famously generous with loot and the sundry spoils of office, such that citizens who feel no sense of loss at the theft of a billion Naira (the Nigerian currency) from their public treasury feel doubly grateful at the “gift” of a thousand Naira.

Bribecode’s outlook is to take a systemic approach to this problem of a “post autocratic stress syndrome” that makes citizens to deify their politicians and public servants despite the constitutional sovereignty of the citizen state. Recognizing that our most egregious corruption offenders actually occupy statehouses across the land, the Bribecode introduces mechanisms that allow ruinous penalties to be enforced against them and their partners-in-crime. Without successfully instituting this mechanism, the anti-corruption campaigner is the would-be rescuer of a drowning man who is also drowned by the public he is trying to help.

AA: I get the analogy about saving a drowning man, but would you consider the proposition that the anti-corruption campaigner isnt necessarily helping the public, but is trying to fulfill his or her personal duty? One chooses not to be a thief or a robber because its not in ones nature. I wonder if this level of abstraction might be a counter to the extreme cynicism which fuels corruption in our country.

CN: Not really. In a society with endemic or pandemic corruption, an anti-corruption campaigner must act systemically or accept that his interventions are merely a lifestyle choice. An honest second class lower degree has little countervailing value in an employment marketplace awash with hundreds of first class degrees traded for sex. To stop sex for grades, you don’t merely offer your personal example of an honest degree, you act systemically in concert with others to change the system.

Another analogy is cannibalism: imagine that one were stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue. If the only food available were human flesh, whether on day five or day fifty, most people will eventually become cannibals. Again, the solution is not the personal example of suicide before cannibalism. It is providing an alternative source of food.

Now, imagine a principled father with a daughter at death’s door, required to pay a bribe to secure a critical blood transfusion. It is the rare father that will stand on principle. Corruption is normalized at this existential crux when the request for a bribe crosses over into extortion. Imagine further, that the principled anti-corruption crusader of your example works in what is essentially a den of civil service thieves and he refuses to take his share of the bribes that are regularly divided. Clearly he constitutes a security risk to his corrupt colleagues and has inadvertently put his life on the line. The quiet, honest path is not always the safest.

Corrupt politicians and senior civil servants do not rely on their official salaries to meet their living expenses. They therefore have no incentive to ensure that national wages are living wages. Lower down the employment ladder, millions are forced to rely on their wages, which are sometimes unpaid for 12 months at a stretch. They are thus compelled into a lifestyle of petty corruption, or “executive begging.” You might find millions of Nigerians in this category, people who are certainly not corrupt by nature, corrupted by an immoral system.

We therefore take the view that the anti-corruption crusader who is merely doing his duty in an epidemically corrupt society is doomed to failure, if his goal is to achieve any kind of change. He would be similar to “ethical” companies who pay no bribes, but are happy to hire customs clearing agents who build bribes into their professional fees. We must act systemically to change the climate that fosters corruption, or concede that we are part of the superstructure of corruption, the valve that sustains the system.

AA: Maybe I phrased it too elegantly to give it the force I thought it required. It’s not merely just doing one’s duty, staying away from excreta but feeding on the maggots, like Chichidodo, the metaphoric bird in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The idea is that striving for transparency in all matters is an objectivity requirement that cannot be imagined outside of the force of example, personal or cultural. To cite an example that you might recall, of the men jostling for nomination for the presidential ticket in the People’s Democratic Party in 2006/07, the late president Umaru Yar’Adua was preferred because he was not corrupt. The system is corrupt, but there are individuals whose example might provide the basis for the kind of systemic confrontation you envision?

CN: I am afraid that “honest” leaders of corrupt systems are in fact chichidodos: they may wear their honesty as an electoral asset, but their blindness to the corruption of their staff, political party and political system is also a self-serving enablement of partisan slush funds to purchase elections, perpetuate their regimes and aggrandize corrupt friends and relatives whose loyalty can be monetized in the future when our “honest” leader has need for it.

Perhaps there are such individuals whose personal example can provide the basis for the systemic confrontation I envision but unless they act in concert to bring about that systemic change, all their honest, personal, examples will have zero impact on an endemically corrupt system. And I cannot phrase this more strongly. The personal example of a honest man that retires to a life of relative penury is not as persuasive to the young as that of a thieving retiree with billions of dollars of loot. It will be different, of course, if the thief were guaranteed jail time and ruin – as would likely be the case, when the Bribecode becomes law. Even if we conceded the personal probity of a Yar’Adua, what impact did that have on systemic corruption, even during his reign? The chief rationale of the Bribecode project is that all the money saved by an honest president in eight years of conscientious rule can be stolen in eight weeks of a dishonest president. In our context of course, we do not even have to wait for an honest president to retire. The corrupt superstructure of ministers, SAs, SSGs and DGs can steal whatever a president fails to steal. Our goal must therefore be to focus on creating good systems rather than merely throwing up the occasional good leader.

AA: What do you regard as the main strength of Bribecode? In other words, how do you envision it to operate as an activist initiative?

CN: Our current anti-corruption system is paternalistic. All the reins of anti-corruption enforcement and good governance are in the hands of the government. Victim-citizens sit back and wait on the current occupants of statehouse to enforce the law, even when they and their partners-in-crime are the principal offenders. The main strength of the Bribecode is that it changes the system by giving the citizen a strong role, while leveraging the engines of privatization, competition and self-regulation in the service of anti-corruption enforcement. The Bribecode has three main pillars:

First, it changes the penalty of serious corruption. After it comes into effect, serious corruption involving a million Naira and above will attract a penalty of liquidation for the companies involved (this penalty is modified for public companies). Convicted individuals who collaborate with companies will suffer Total Assets Forfeiture. This ruinous penalty regime will introduce self-regulation into anti-corruption enforcement.

Secondly, the Bribecode not only protects, but rewards whistleblowers who bring information leading to the conviction and recovery of assets with a percentage of the recoveries from their information. This puts the vigilant citizen in the driving seat of anti-corruption enforcement, and by allowing companies to earn this recovery commission, introduces the energy of privatization into the mix and assures every corruptocrat that ruin lies at the end of the road.

Thirdly, the Bribecode permits any of Nigeria’s 37 attorneys general to prosecute serious corruption and liquidate companies under the act. This means that – contrary to what has obtained from the inception of Nigeria till date – no single godfather, clique or senior politician or political party can protect any company in Nigeria. The fact that the recoveries from such litigations will form part of the prosecuting state’s internally generated revenue creates the incentive of competition in Nigeria’s anti-corruption enforcement.

Working together, these three principal strategies of the Bribecode will ensure the transformation of Nigerian society as we know it.

AA: Have you had any support from any level of government? 

CN: Our current focus is on advocacy to secure public awareness and signatures to our petition here. Yet, to become law, the Bribecode must be passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President. Early in the life of this government, we submitted the Bribecode to their attention and while they are yet to embrace it fully, they have recently submitted a whistleblowers law to the National Assembly, which incorporates the second pillar of the Bribecode relating to the compensation of whistleblowers. There are critical differences between the Bribecode’s recommendation and the provisions of the government’s proposed whistleblowers system, but beyond those differences, it is important to note that unless the entire Bribecode is enacted as a system, piecemeal laws that shadow it will simply join the rest of the otherwise excellent laws in our statute books, which are only enforced against scapegoats, dissidents and members of the opposition. That is why there is always a floodgate-level migration to the successful parties after an election: they operate like mafia protection systems. However draconian the anti-corruption laws, a party membership and generous campaign donations will not only insulate the most rampant thief from prosecution, it might actually bag him a cabinet position or an appointment as a principal legislative officer.

For instance, the prosecution of the Haliburton cases under the American Foreign Corrupt Practices Act yielded a treasure trove of probative information against Nigerian officials and politicians. This is the sort of probative information that a Whistleblowers Act that paid rewards to informants could be expected to yield. Yet, years after the Haliburton information entered the public sphere and the American government earned some US$579 million in record-breaking fines, not a single prosecution against individuals has been triggered in Nigeria. It is confirmation that the government’s proposed whistleblower’s law will be useless against the politically connected. The beauty of the Bribecode is that once in force, political connections would be irrelevant.

AA: I still want us dwell further on the Ibori case. You don’t seem to feel any kind of personal affront about any of this?  Or do you think it’s too huge for metaphor? We had Tafa Balogun, Alamiyeseigha, Bode George all of whom were convicted and did time. There were several others whose cases have been stalled. This pandemic, as you rightly characterize it, this can’t just be because no one wants to feel responsible for Nigeria?

CN: There is a sense in which our funk is too deep for mere outrage, and an emotional response to our crises has to yield to a clinical and systemic response. Our airports and public buildings are named for war criminals. We have the faces of genocide perpetrators on the Naira. Our highest national awards are granted to men who have bilked our treasury of trillions, all this in a society that jails and lynches petty thieves. Add to this, a climate of sycophancy that converts our most brilliant degree holders into mere holders of meal tickets, who rise to the defense of the odious status quo for the mere aroma of a wage.

In this climate, personal outrage is actually counter-productive. Like an ejaculation, it yields only temporary relief, while the siren continues to shrill relentlessly. The effective activist is a foot soldier slugging though the killing fields of a genocide, who cannot afford the luxury of burying individual victims, not when there is a stuttering machine gun to overwhelm. The police and anti-corruption agencies must do their work, but the work of the Bribecode is to envision a future. Every convicted Ibori is a place holder for a thousand who are burrowing their way through a treasury right now, and who will never get their day in court. Those must be the focus of those who feel any responsibility for Nigeria. We are not called to the post-mortem of a dead nation, but as architects of a renascent one.

AA: To approach this problem from another angle of abstraction, how do we account for the claim that all of this indicates the slow birth of a strange society? 

CN: The birth has been a long time coming, and it is a global phenomenon, certainly not merely a Nigerian thing. Another way of viewing our world today is to plot all countries on the spectrum between commodified countries and countries where the interests of citizens cannot be bought at any price. I wrote about this at some length in my article for the Massachusetts Review, “The Extended Family & the Trojan Horse.”

In 1600, the East India Company ran India’s statehouse for about a century. Some North American state houses were run by governments of the company by the company for the company long before president Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in 1863 where he spoke of a government of the people by the people and for the people. Before the creation of Canada, the Hudson Bay Company “owned” 12% of the Earth’s land mass. Similarly, to the south, the staff of companies like the Massachusetts Bay Company and the Virginia Company predated politicians in America’s state houses and some modern American states started their voyage into the American federation as mere real estate assets on a corporate balance sheet. In Africa, charter companies like the Imperial British East Africa Company, German East Africa Company and the British South Africa Company traded in countries. From their “capital” in Ahaba, my village (as she then was), Taubman Goldie’s Royal Niger Company politically governed – and commercially exploited – the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria until the turn of the century.

Today, the position is different – at least on paper. Constitutions up and down the world confirm that countries belong to citizens, not to corporations. Electoral laws establish that citizens have the vote, not corporations. But brush aside the paper tigers of our constitutions and what emerges is the fact that the interests of the corporations still drive the history of the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than with corruption. President Thabo Mbeki’s High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows in Africa established that political corruption accounted for less than 10% of the illicit US$50 billion that leaves Africa every year, while at least 60% (US$30 billion) of those illicit outflows were traceable to large commercial companies. In the US the funding phenomena of SuperPACS gives corporations the right to invest unlimited sums to secure the election of candidates who align with their agenda. It is instructive that one of the first actions of the Trump regime was the revocation of the anti-corruption Resolution H.J. 41, which compelled oil companies to publish their payments to foreign companies.

Lord Lugard, the first governor-general of a united Nigeria was an ex-employee of the Royal Niger Company, which “owned” Nigeria. There is a parallel with the business team in the Trump White House that leads America into her brave new world. We watch with interest, while trying to establish our bulwark of the Corporate Corruption Act (a.k.a. Bribecode).

Weekend Special, 26 March 2017

(1) Identity politics is neoliberalism, as Adolph Reed once said. And it delivers like clockwork. The hip hop producer Sean Diddy Combs (he produced Biggie Smalls) opened a for profit charter school in Harlem where he was born. Because–as he said–he would rather do “something about” education than just complain about it. (And he chose to “do it” with a for-profit school that has “Capital” in its name. BTW, Diddy isn’t the only celebrity that’s in on the charter school movement. Even people like John Legend. Once you stopped chuckling, this sort of thing is further along in African countries (and elsewhere) than you think. In Liberia (they convinced the government; rapper Akon is kneedeep in this project), Uganda (where they’ve had some pushback), Kenya, and on a smaller scale in South Africa (the Spark Schools; most of the funding is private, but these initiatives are getting open support from the Democratic Alliance governed Western Cape province). Behind it are groups like Teach for All. The African outpost of the charter school movement get a lot of soft pedal coverage in publications like (obviously) The Economist. For a broad overview, we’d suggest revisiting Maria Hengeveld‘s interview with activists.

(3)  Staying with identity politics in #othercountries: “Hillary is Queen, Bae, Beyoncé—you get it. Chelsea is the prodigy—2.0, if you will.” I can’t anymore.

(4) In South Africa, a Nigerian migrant is suing the South African immigrant authorities and the police (South Africans, on balance, are notoriously xenophobic to other Africans). He was shot in the leg after they accused him of having weed on him. He was only charged 18 months later. The victim, Justin Ejimkonye, claimed he was shot because he did not want to pay a bribe.  It is well past time someone did. But as Alison Tilley, a rights activist reminded me, this is not the first time someone sued the South Africans.

(5) By now everyone knows about Helen Zille’s defense of colonialism. Whites in South Africans say racist things on social media on the daily. Zille matters because she is the Premier (the equivalent of a governor of a state) of the Western Cape, one of South Africa’s nine provinces. You can read Vito Laterza’s analysis of Zille’s remarks, including how she is emblematic of a global trend by rightwingers to say feel emboldened to say aloud what they’ve been feeling all along.  Some of have come to Zille’s defense, including the usual “explanation” and “on the other hand”-ery of liberals. The most prominent, though, was Ferial Haffajee, one of the first black editors of a major South African newspaper (and now at Huffington Post South Africa), who defended Zille’s “right” to be racist and offensive. The best response to Haffajee has been UCT law professor Pierre De Vos‘s response. It is important as it challenges “liberals” and their free speech absolutism. It may come across as a bit lawyerly and long. That’s necessary. Read it.

(6) More consequential than Zille’s odious tweets about colonialism, has been how she and her party governs the Western Cape and Cape Town. Last week, the provincial government nixed a plan to build affordable housing on the edge of the city center for mostly domestic workers and gardeners serving their mostly white employers and for people being displaced by gentrification. The Cape Town City Council, run by Zille’s party (the mayor blocked me on Twitter; surprise) is no better. On Human Rights Day, March 21, it sent in “the Red Ants” (an infamous council unit) to demolish shacks rebuilt after a fire in a squatter settlement outside Hout Bay, that place recently described by Omar of the Wire (Michael K Williams when doubles as a reporter for VICE) as what happens when “Malibu and the Hamptons had a baby.” All this–I am from Cape Town–made me wonder whether this could be impetus for new solidarities in Western Cape between Africans and coloured working classes / lumpens as counter to divide-and-rule of the Democratic Alliance and the rank incompetence of the ANC as opposition? Nothing wrong with dreaming.

(7) Near Johannesburg, South Africa, a white man bullied, threatened and abused a black woman over the actions of their children in a playpen at a popular restaurant chain.  By now, you’re mumbling “next” as this sort of thing is widespread in South Africa. In any case, this all happened at the Spur, a South African restaurant chain pretending to draw on Native American motifs.  Not everyone was surprised it happened there, given what that restaurant chain represents. As Busisiwe Deyi pointed out on this site in 2015: “Nothing about SPUR is Native North American except for its use of a Native American chief-like figure on its logo and Native American-esque names and themes. In truth, rather than Native American experience or culture, the imagery used by SPUR is that of the frontier US West and Southwest.” It is worth rereading that post.

(8) (This (in the London Review of Books) by Adam Shatz on the “debate” around  Dana Schultz’s painting “Open Casket” painting. On whether acts of “radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.” Also see Kara Walker’s statement on Instagram. But it seems like we’ve been here before. Finally, it is worth remembering what Walter Benn Michaels argued a while back: “the point of the critique of capitalism is to get rid of poor people, not to make sure that they’re properly represented among the elite.”

(9) More #othercountries. This is an excellent take on the recent history of trade unions in the United States through the transformation of the Service Employees Industrial Union. I’d love to see an analysis like this on say unions in South Africa, Nigeria or Egypt.

(10) Yes, this happened: “An annual African trade summit in California [in the United States; President: Donald Trump] had no African attendees this year after at least 60 people were denied visas.”

(11) VICE went and investigated extrajudicial killing in Kenya that are part and parcel of wildlife conservation. It is particularly good on knocking off Richard Leakey’s halo (from how he is perceived/covered by elites/media in the west). Worth a read.

(12) Then there are these clips of Paul Robeson and Eslanda Robeson from the film “Borderline” (1930), filmed in Switzerland. Just going to leave this here. (How did I get here?

(12) Finally, since I am a shameless self-promoter: Go and get this new book about boycott politics that I contributed to.

What’s in an apology?

In a recent interview on a private Algerian TV news station, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron called France’s colonial history an act of barbarism and a crime against humanity; if elected head of state, he would issue an official apology to all victims of colonialism. With this condemnation and promise, coming already more than half a century after the independence movements that marked the end of the old colonial project, Macron, the leader and founder of the progressive En Marche! party and current front-runner in what has proven a turbulent race, has rekindled a divisive debate in France ahead of the first round of voting on April 23.

Polling suggests that the country is almost evenly split in its opinion of colonialism (those who agree with Macron have a very slight edge over those who disagree). From across the political spectrum his comments have elicited strong reactions, although, predictably, the sharpest criticism has come from the right.

Marine Le Pen — Macron’s main competitor and candidate for the right-wing Front National and for whom colonialism rather perversely represents the positive sharing of French values — responded by accusing him of disloyalty to France. Le Pen’s response is in keeping with the nationalist rhetoric that she has used to great effect throughout her political career and especially during this presidential race, which has come in the wake of a series of extremist attacks in the country. Indeed, her reaction reveals a disturbing tendency in France: because of the history of atrocities committed by the French government and its citizens, the strong tradition of French Republican pride, which rests on equality and universal human rights, requires a second, twin tradition of amnesia and revisionism in order for it to appear unsullied. One might recall that former president François Mitterrand maintained that he would “not apologize in the name of France” for Vichy’s complicity with the Nazi government. It was Jacques Chirac who issued a full apology in 1995, half a century after the Holocaust.

In Algeria, Macron’s condemnation of colonial violence was met with approval by several public figures and political leaders. Algerian politicians, for whom such a statement is long overdue, are largely bitter about the issue of an apology for colonialism: for the French government to choose not to recognize the torture, rape, killing, seizure of property, and assault on dignity suffered by Algerians at its hands amounts to arrogance and callousness. Admitting that these atrocities were committed under colonialism and during the Algerian struggle for independence, would bring necessary closure.

Despite the two clear, opposed stances on colonialism that Macron’s comments appear to have dusted off and presented anew, the relationship between Algeria and France is both antagonistic and intimate, the site of quite a few knots and gray areas. For instance, although France began its nuclear tests at the time of the Algerian War of Independence in the colony’s desert south, it was the Algerian independence movement and current ruling party, the Front de Libération Nationale, that later allowed the bulk of French nuclear testing to continue after independence by granting the French government access to the Sahara during the annexes secrètes of the Evian Accords — hence the FLN government’s silence regarding the thousands that suffer from the released radiation to this day.

A history of cooperation between the governments of both countries makes the potential consequences of Macron’s would-be apology difficult to disentangle. Already, without an apology, the two countries have a strong symbiotic trade relationship — though China has come to surpass France as Algeria’s primary trading partner. And as Macron mentions in the interview, as it is, both countries cooperate heavily on counterterrorism efforts.

Of course, this is not to discount the symbolism of an apology. To be sure, France is not the only country to glaze over its brutal colonial past; if Macron were to be elected and issue an official apology to France’s former colonies, it could set a precedent for other European states and pave the way for reparations. Such an apology might also serve to humble those who are quick to promote the French self-image of liberté, égalité, fraternité, doubtless a noble credo, but one that is often mobilized along the fault lines of the old colonial imagination to distinguish a just France from its corrupt and unstable former colonies. However, in an already divisive political climate exacerbated by Islamophobia, in light of the recent attacks in France, such an apology could also lead to further entrenchment into progressive and nationalist camps. Nevertheless, for French citizens of Algerian or other African descent, an admission of the destructive nature of colonialism would amount to an initial recognition by the French state of the phenomenon that underpins the structural racism they encounter in their daily lives.

However, Macron’s comments also invite former French colonies to consider their own national memories. In Algeria especially, there is a certain paradox in the fact that national identity has been so strongly constructed in opposition to the colonial power that delineated it as a coherent territory. In some sense, Algeria, the “country of a million martyrs,” has depended on the image of a colonial France in order to create a unified national memory across its vast geographic and cultural expanse; this is especially true of the FLN, whose legitimacy is bound up in the struggle for independence against the French. Of course, an apology would be welcomed by the Algerian government, but an unresolved debate with France on the effects of French colonialism has been able to serve as an end in itself.


The unfinished business between Cameroon and France

In January this year, Cameroonian President Paul Biya (in office since 1982), cut off the southwest and northwest regions of the country’s access to the internet to punish anglophone Cameroonians for protesting their linguistic, political and economic marginalization. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, called the move a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences issued a statement about the situation in Cameroon and to support the UN Special Rapporteurs’ calls on the government to “investigate the deployment of violence against protestors and to exercise greater restraint in policing.”

For those familiar with Cameroonian decolonization, the internet suppression reminded of an earlier time: symptomatic of a violent method of administration forged during Cameroon’s transition to “independence,” by France and “moderate” local elites.

A new book that tells that story of decolonization and its legacy for present-day Cameroon is La Guerre du Cameroun: L’Invention de la Françafrique. It is written by French journalists Thomas Deltombe and Manuel Domergue, along with Jacob Tatsitsa, a doctoral student in history at the University of Ottawa. Achille Mbembe wrote the foreward. La Guerre du Cameroun reveals the façade of a sovereign Cameroonian state behind which France negotiated, with the Cameroonian leaders of its choice, its post-independence strategic and economic hold on the Cameroonian government against a backdrop of counterrevolutionary and psychological warfare. Between 60,000 and 120,000 civilians out of a population of just over three million were killed between the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. At least 440,000 Cameroonians were resettled in “regroupment” villages, forever changing the rural landscape of affected zones.

The French administered French Cameroon for the United Nations. It implemented policies of isolation akin to those Biya has put in place for Anglophone Cameroon today. French administrators prevented members and sympathizers of the most popular pro-independence party, the Union of the Populations of Cameroon (UPC), from communicating with the rest of the world: Administrators intercepted mail and telegraph services, and established a cordon sanitaire around the UN Visiting Missions of 1955 and 1958 to keep them away from nationalist demonstrators. In violation of the UN trusteeship agreement requiring France to prepare the territory for self-government, the French administration banned the UPC and its affiliated women’s party, youth party and confederated trade unions. With all avenues to political action closed off, the UPC leadership resorted to violence, implanting maquis (guerrillas) severely lacking in arms and resources throughout the southern regions of the territories. While the world looked the other way, the French unleashed an asymmetrical counterinsurgency, uprooting the maquis and brutally punishing the civilian populations in their vicinity. Interrogation, detention without trial, torture, and extrajudicial killings became features of daily life under a Franco-Cameroonian hybrid state even before the UN Trusteeship was lifted with independence on the January 1, 1960.

The violence increased after independence. French “technical assistants” Paul Audat and Jacques Rousseau authored Cameroon’s constitution in the months that followed. Its key feature was Article 20 which allowed the national assembly to grant full presidential powers to new President Ahmadou Ahidjo—whom the French recruited to the ranks of the postal service in 1947 and enabled to become Prime Minister in February 1958. After independence and freed from UN inquiries, France remained in command of the Cameroonian national army and police until 1965 making the war more lethal. It was after independence that the French army operationalized its forced resettlement policies, recruited tens of thousands of civilians to auxiliary militia forces, unleashed a campaign of aerial bombardment, and systematized torture as a mode of interrogation.

Deltombe, Domergue and Tatsitsa have spent the past decade delving into the partially declassified archives of France and the scattered and disappearing archives of Cameroon, and collecting firsthand testimonies of the war. In 2011 they published a meticulously referenced and nearly eight hundred page account of the war: Kamerun: Une guerre cachée aux origines de la Françafrique, 1948-1971 (La Découverte, 2011). Conversations around the book among historians, statesmen, journalists, writers, activists and students of African history and French colonial history eventually provoked responses from French officials about the war they would prefer forgotten.

On an official visit to Cameroon in July 2015, French President François Hollande, referring to the “painful memory” of Franco-Cameroonian relations, remarked: “There have been tragic episodes,” and declared his wish that all the archives be “opened for the historians.” It was the first reference a French head of state has ever made to the history of Cameroon’s decolonization.

Hollande’s words expressed the ambiguities that characterize the Cameroonian and French governments’ reticence in acknowledging the past (even as it ignored the responsibility for the roles each have played in shaping the present). In excavating the foundation of extreme violence upon which Cameroonian sovereignty was mortgaged, La Guerre du Cameroun: L’Invention de la Françafrique suffers from no such ambiguity. The authors’ earlier book served to document. This one serves to bring the past—of France, of Cameroon—into the present and open it to public debate. Whether it will succeed in holding France accountable depends upon its public reception in France, in Cameroon, and beyond. With history unsettled, the present is on shaky ground, and a different future cannot be envisioned.

Much of Cameroon’s present trips over the political detritus of unsettled memories of the past, referred to by those who survived it as simply “the troubles.” President Paul Biya himself embodies the 1960s-era Franco-Cameroonian pact forged in those violent years. He completed his secondary school education in Paris in the late 1950s, and took university and postgraduate diplomas in political science and public law in prestigious institutions of higher learning Paris in the early 1960s. Not even thirty in 1962 when he entered the executive branch of Cameroon’s government as Chargé de Mission to the President, Biya’s age and longevity—as the third oldest and fourth longest reigning African head of state—are millstones of the past weighing down an otherwise youthful Cameroon.

Neither the French nor the Cameroonian state has ever facilitated historical inquiry—in fact the opposite is true. Yet curious moves are afoot. In an interview at the book’s launch in Yaoundé in late December 2016, Philippe Larrieu, First Counsellor to the French Ambassador of Cameroon, announced that the French embassy was planning, in collaboration with a Cameroonian cultural association, a memorial colloquium in 2017. Larrieu explained that the colloquium, based on the contributions of researchers, experts, historians and political scientists, would break the silence about “the dark period in the history of Cameroon and Franco-Cameroonian relations.”

In mid-February, I received an invitation to an International Colloquium “History and Memory in Cameroon: Legacies and Practices” from Kalliopi Ango Ela. Who is Mrs. Ango Ela? She is a French expatriate who has resided in Yaoundé since 1987 where she teaches at the French school Fustel de Coulanges. She served from 2009 to 2015 as elected Counsellor and then Senator to the Assembly of French expatriates. She is also the director of the Paul Ango Ela Foundation of Central African Geopolitics, named after her late husband, a Cameroonian intellectual.

The timing appeared odd. Is this the memorial colloquium to which the French embassy’s First Counsellor referred in December 2016? But there is no explicit link to French embassy in the call for papers, the program committee or the invitation. This made scholars wonder: Is France funding and directing this memorial colloquium from the shadows? France certainly has a role to play in reconciling official history with unsettled memories of the past. But it appears that once again, and rather predictably, France would rather play puppeteer than transparently acknowledge its role in first shaping—and now underhandedly curating—its colonial past. A good faith gesture by the French organizers would have been to invite the authors of La Guerre du Cameroun to this conference.

The Dutch disease

Coming ahead of the French presidential elections in April and the German national election in September, last Wednesday’s election in the Netherlands (won handily by the center-right VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte) was seen as a test of populist right-wing sentiment in Europe. More importantly, it was also a referendum about left politics in the Netherlands; how we talk about race and class.

In the end, Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV, only won 20 out of a possible 150 seats, leaving the VVD with 31 seats, to form a new coalition government. More significantly, the traditional left Labour Party (PvdA) lost over 29 seats, suggesting that many voters who may have supported leftist parties before, switched allegiance to the right.

International media celebrations aside, Rutte’s win does not signal a victory over the populist, right-wing Islamophobia represented by the odious Wilders. Far from it, the fact that Wilders — against earlier predictions — did not become the largest party is directly related to Rutte adopting similar rhetoric as the PVV.

The election was animated by three linked “problems”: Islam, immigration and the economy. They are not new, however, and each have a much longer historical presence than is admitted in much of the analysis. Take the so-called “emergence of Islamophobia” in the Netherlands. What happens when we label something an emergence? What happens when the Netherlands is understood as “decent” and that this decency is now lost, categorized as having “departed” from its liberal, tolerant, reasonable past?

The reality is that citizenship rules and regulations, categories of belonging, media, educational and everyday semantics – all of the structures that organize daily life are thoroughly racialized. Take the Dutch categories of allochtoon and autochtoon which rely on colonial understandings of who was part of the Dutch empire and who was not, by designating who is “ethnic Dutch” and who are immigrants. This basically breaks down as white Dutch versus its brown and black citizens. Similarly, so are debates about who has integrated well (Indonesian colonial subjects) and who failed to integrate (Surinamese, Antilleans, Moroccans) are also based on clear colonial legacies. The violence Indonesians faced when they came to the Netherlands is erased and the racism and lack of support Surinamese, Antilleans and Moroccans were met with when they arrived, is conveniently forgotten.

When we begin tracing these historical legacies, we notice that modern nation and state building in the Netherlands was a racial project from the very beginning. When migrants began to arrive from North Africa and Southern Europe in the late 1960s, much of the discourse surrounding “problems” with the white working class was extended to these new migrant groups, specifically the notion that they needed to be civilized into Dutch culture. Surinamese men were discursively portrayed as violent and aggressive in the 1980s. Yet in the 1990s this portrayal extended to and became focused on Moroccan men.

The identity of the rational, white bourgeois Dutchman is constituted in a dialectical relationship with numerous “Others” — thus making the discursive formation necessary to Dutch identity. This draws our attention to the continuing need in Dutch society to create “Others” in order to both construct the identity of the civilized Dutchman.

When Southern European and North African immigrants arrived in the Netherlands in the 1960s, their constructed racial otherness was understood through cultural differences. Culture became the vessel through which racial difference was understood and class the vessel for understanding the racial difference of the Dutch working classes leading up to the 1960s. In both instances, racial constructions were hidden under the label of either class or cultural difference.

And yet, despite this, there is a tendency in the Netherlands to locate racism in individuals, as isolated incidents. As sociologist Melissa Weiner, who has written extensively about Dutch racism, points out:

Ask a White Dutch person about racism in their society and most will quickly respond that, except for maybe a few right-wing politicians and individual racist incidents each year, racism does not exist. Indeed, it cannot. Because, according to many, ‘race’ does not exist in The Netherlands.

As Weiner shows, this process of othering is the construction of the Dutch self-image as tolerant and thus of Dutch society as excluding racism, homophobia, sexism, and so on. Attempts to argue that this election shows how the Netherlands has “changed” and lost its tolerance/liberalism/decency are problematic and plainly incorrect precisely because building the nation was a racialized project from the very start. Islamophobia is only the most recent expression of this project, but it is not new, nor a departure.

The emergence of the Dutch welfare state is key to contextualizing this project. In an excellent post, the cultural critic Egbert Alejandro Martina shows how the emergence of the Dutch welfare state represented an attempt to make the white working class “fit for (bourgeois) society” which was seen as preferable to improving conditions of the working class by raising the standard of living. The welfare state was envisioned as a disciplinary force that would deflect attention away from structural inequalities and instead discipline the working class through biopolitics, absorbing and neutralizing any threat it posed. This later transformed as a means of disciplining bodies seen as racially and/or culturally different.

What is new, however, is today’s material context: the crisis of neoliberal capitalism and the dismantling of the welfare state. It is not a failure of integration that forces politicians to discuss Muslims; rather it has been an extremely successful tactic that has deflected attention away from the state’s role in dismantling the social services Dutch citizens have had since the 1950s. These cuts to the welfare state have led to economic inequalities that have resulted in antagonism towards anyone seen as a “foreigner.” This is not, however, a natural response to economic crisis. It is a concrete result of historical processes of class and race intersecting to produce the Dutch state and Dutch nationalism.

The tendency to ignore the Dutch colonial past – social forgetting as Weiner calls it – is important here in understanding why there is so little resistance to the extreme racism rampant in the Netherlands today. This Dutch colonial history is not something to be navigated or worked through, and indeed can be presented positively or, at least, as a relic of a time that was not necessarily “wrong.” The denial surrounding both its status as a colonial empire, and the fact that the Netherlands controlled territories until 2010 and its neutral moral position on colonialism allows the Netherlands to construct a national imaginary based on tolerance.

Similarly, Gloria Wekker’s excellent book White Innocence, points to “a central paradox of Dutch culture”: “the passionate denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence coexisting alongside aggressive racism and xenophobia.” This includes how black people are portrayed in Dutch media, deliberate ignorance about race in universities, contemporary conservative politics (including gay politicians embracing anti-immigrant rhetoric) and blackface.

It is this archive that is important to remember. White innocence, along with social forgetting, have functioned to hide the central role of race in Dutch nation building. The Dutch self is a racialized self. This is not new, but as old as the Netherlands itself.

This is why I believe the newly established political party “Artikel 1” is an important intervention in contemporary Dutch politics. Because it is based on anti-racism and not just class politics, it breaks the silence surrounding a wilful silence about Dutch history and provides what the Dutch left has long failed to provide: a politics that is about race and class and gender and sexuality – not just about class in a reductionist sense. There is still a long way to go, but speaking about race and racism is a necessary step.

* This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Salem’s blog, Postcolonialism and its Discontents.

The Algerian Revolution 55 years later

Still from ‘Battle of Algiers’ (1966).

The Algerian revolution against French settler colonialism, which marks its 55th anniversary today, March 19th, stands as one of the most iconic victories for Third World liberation. In the furnace of the brutal, seven-year-long struggle, Franz Fanon forged The Wretched of the Earth. The Front de Libération Nationale’s (FLN), victory was remarkable not only because of the brutality of the French settler colonial project but because, although splits within the FLN certainly existed, there was a general consensus that political independence was not the end of the revolutionary process. The next stage was to transform Algerian society and reverse what the FLN understood as the economic and social backwardness caused by colonial exploitation, through a sweeping project of nationalization, centralization, and planning. The experience of Algeria’s revolution then, serves as a powerful example of both the achievements and failures of a revolutionary program put into practice with state power and massive natural resource wealth.

The FLN was made up of a wide range of ideological tendencies unified by the common desire for independence from the French. However, the left wing of the party rose to prominence after the victory in the war of independence. Ahmed Ben Bella, the first president of Algeria, represented the Marxist tendency of the left wing of the FLN, which was split between his camp and that of Houari Boumediène, who espoused an ideology similar to Nasserism in its rejection of Marxian materialism and embrace of Arab nationalism. One of Ben Bella‘s first economic policies was to nationalize industrial property and codify a system of worker self-direction.

In 1971 the regime nationalized 51 percent of the main French petroleum company operating in its territory and 100 percent of French natural gas concessions. Firmly in control of its petroleum resource revenue, the FLN set about implementing an ambitious development plan; to use petroleum revenue to develop an industrial economy that would be the basis for a total transformation of society. The FLN‘s state-led development was remarkably successful in achieving economic growth and raising living standards through huge investment in education and healthcare systems, which were non-existent before independence. Gross fixed capital formation was higher than the East Asian states on average during the 1970s and manufacturing-value added was growing faster than the overall economy by the mid-1980s.

By that time however, low oil prices exposed the contradictions of this petroleum-financed, state-led model. The manufacturing investment which the government made in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo windfall could not buffer the economy from the decline in the price of oil.  In response, the regime embarked on a process of neoliberal economic restructuring. The reforms were similar to those which were being imposed onto heavily indebted countries as a condition for receiving loans from the International Monetary Fund elsewhere in the world in the 1980s. Influenced by the neoliberal ideology; “industrial policies” were out and the market mechanism became the solution to nearly every economic problem.

The sizable Algerian industrial workforce had other ideas, and led a wave of strikes culminating in the general strike of 1988, in which 98 percent of workers participated. With strikes and social unrest crippling the economy, the FLN announced that multiparty elections would be held for the first time.

What follows is well known; Islamists were able to capitalize on disillusionment with the FLN’s faltering program. That the regime had no response to declining oil prices but to cut back the gains of the previous decades through drastic austerity, leaving it vulnerable to critique from the left and the right. However, the discourse of the victorious Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) did not center on a critique of state socialism from a market rationality perspective, but the Eurocentrism of the regime’s understanding of what constitutes modernity itself.

For the FIS, the concepts of socialism and secularism were foreign, specifically French, imports, grafted onto Algerian society by a leadership that had internalized the contempt and hatred of the colonial masters, and opposed to an “authentic” identity centered on Islam.

An internalized Eurocentrism was not peculiar to the FLN, it was very much hegemonic throughout the 20th century, underpinning the competing socialist and capitalist teleologies of the time. One of the most enduring legacies of colonialism is after all, the idea that it is impossible to contemplate a future in which the rest of the world does not resemble Europe. The process of “development” was then and still is understood by most as “the diffusion of the superior [i.e. European] model,” in the words of Egyptian economist, Samir Amin.

This is a discourse which resonated because it was articulated against the backdrop of a broader shift, as the international economic and political order dominated by the binary of Euro-American Keynesianism and its Soviet state socialist challenger crumbled, taking their respective ideologies and their high modernist, teleological belief in progress through reason along with them into oblivion.

The eight year civil war that resulted from the nullification of the election results left Algeria at an impasse that characterizes the Arab world to this day. The secular modernization regime, stripped of its raison d’être, can only define itself in opposition to the Islamist threat. Devoid of the real content of the social and foreign commitments constituted its mandate, regimes like the FLN, the Baath in Syria, the Egyptian military hobbled along through the neoliberal period as empty shells. Just as financialization, deregulation, and cheap labor propped up the neoliberal order in First World, debt, geopolitical rents, and the record high oil prices have done in the Third World.

Within the constraints of neoliberalism, escaping the cycle of oil dependence is not only inadvisable, it is impossible; states should chase Ricardian advantage, diversification is distortionary, the heavy state intervention that industries require to become sustainable is infeasible, even if there is political will to attempt such an endeavor.

55 years after the victory against France, in the absence of the sweeping project that animated the revolution in its early days, Algeria has withered into another rentier security state, albeit with a secular veneer. 95 percent of the annual budget comes from petroleum. Its geriatric leadership responded to the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 by increasing subsidies, doling out a bigger share of the petroleum revenue, and crushing dissent with its infamously efficient security apparatus, just as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies did. “Oil dollars may make the world go round, but they have kept Algeria still.” Six years later, discontent lingers, and sporadic protests and riots are common.

In 2017, however, as in 1981, the oil bonanza has come to an end, and the hundreds of billions of dollars the generals amassed in the last decade are rapidly dwindling. The recently passed annual budget is a typical austerity budget, replete with key subsidy cuts and tax hikes.

The praxis of neoliberalism has created the conditions of its own ideological collapse, which are manifest in the First World in the form of the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump’s victory. In the Arab world, these conditions opened the way for the Arab Spring uprisings. Though the Algerian regime, like the Jordanian monarchy, was able to survive the initial wave of protests unscathed, a deteriorating economic outlook in the region combined with depressed oil prices pose a huge challenge in 2017. The Algerian revolution did not die with the rightward shift of the FLN in the 1980s, it lives on in opposition.

We are all Helen Zille. Or, why the West thinks that colonialism was not all bad.

In a series of tweets circulated earlier today, Helen Zille, who is Premier of the Western Cape (one of South Africa’s nine provinces) and the former leader of the country’s second largest political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), asserted there are many positive aspects to colonialism.

Zille, who is white, governs the Western Cape, which has a violent history of slavery (her core base includes many descendants of slaves) and is scarred by migrant labor, an integral part of capitalism in South Africa.

It all started with Zille wondering aloud why Singapore, a country “colonised as long as SA [South Africa], and under brutal occupation in WW2 [World War Two]”, was so successful and what lessons can be drawn for South African democracy. She first listed a series of neoliberal platitudes such as “meritocracy, multiculturalism, work ethic, openness to globalism, English and future orientation” – all thinly disguised colonial tropes. But unlike most of her liberal peers in similar conversations, she went further and openly endorsed the virtues of colonialism:

This reply made her defense of colonialism stand out even more:

A Twitterstorm (mostly by young black South Africans) against Zille’s words, eventually forced her to apologize. But she did not retract her claims and, at the time of writing, the controversial tweets have not been taken down. This is certainly not the first time that she airs bigoted views.

This time however the DA leadership has been more decisive in condemning the former leader. The DA is trying hard to expand support from its traditional white voter base into black communities, and Zille’s comments are a major setback. The party leader Mmusi Maimane and spokesperson Phumzile van Damme — both black — promptly rejected Zille’s views. Maimane said that the Western Cape premier will face a disciplinary process. But one wonders whether the DA leadership really means business when it comes to fighting discrimination. Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba, also from the DA, was never called to account for his xenophobic remarks which helped fuel recent violence against foreigners in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Amidst the national outcry against Zille, many white liberals were quick to express outrage. The public outpour on social media, however, does not quite match the fact that Zille’s views are widely shared among white South Africans.

This is not a class or education issue. It goes beyond the crude beliefs of Afrikaner groups like AfriForum, and runs all the way to the top of the white establishment. White scholars rarely condemn colonial conquest in its totality. Their views of a non-racial society are shaped by a certain brand of colonial liberalism that was opposed to apartheid, but saw the idea of European civilization spreading to Africa as a fundamentally good thing, and certainly a better outcome than letting Africans rule their own countries according to their own traditions and aspirations. For them, a non-racial world is one where some fictitious “European values” have spread to all racial groups, thus ensuring that the primacy of the West is maintained.

But white South African scholars are not alone in this belief. They are not academic “deplorables” in an otherwise respectable world, an unfortunate accident of Western liberalism. They are an integral part of the Western propaganda machinery that continues to uphold the same worldview. That colonialism was not all bad is the default position of most Western social science. What has changed over time is the degree of sophistication that we use to mask these views under acceptable politically correct language.

The end of colonialism, apartheid and Jim Crow have marked the global rise of liberal racism – what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “racism without racists”. Even when we do not openly endorse colonialism like Zille does, our works are filled with strategic silences, omissions and erasures that continue to sustain ideas of Western superiority.

Some scholars hint at the superiority of the political institutions of Western democracy. Others mention the “inevitable” rise of capitalism, seen always as a quintessentially Western achievement. Others still talk about the “advanced” cultural practices of “European modernity.” Even critical Western scholarship opposed to the neoliberal paradigm rarely acknowledges the persistence of whiteness and racial inequalities, often developing criticisms of the world of finance, the banks or the multinationals that underplay the role of race in these institutions. These coded forms of racism have contributed to consolidate white supremacy in the last few decades of neoliberal hegemony.

That edifice is now crumbling. The Zilles of the world are tired of beating around the bush. They want to speak openly about white superiority and do not want to feel uncomfortable for their views.

They believe that postcolonial countries have been given a chance but failed to assert their worth, denying the fact that neocolonial structures are just as sturdy as colonial ones. They are tired of “diversity talk,” it is all a sham in their opinion. They see a return to the “good old days” of fascism, colonialism, Jim Crow and apartheid as the way forward.

The shift from liberal racism to explicit white supremacy says more about the current political moment in Europe and the US, than the obsession with the ills of the “liberal establishment.” The latter is often evoked by white middle and working classes to highlight their loss of privilege — and only theirs — as unacceptable. Their discourse is now converging with the reactionary colonial conservatism common among white South Africans, as it did in the early days of colonial conquest.

Signaling the virtues of colonialism has a clear political purpose. In a world of increasingly scarce resources, and with Western economies in decline, the fascist frenzy of the UK and US governments can only be served by stepping up the ongoing massive exploitation of natural resources in the global South.

The aspiring guardians of “Western civilization” follow in the footsteps of their liberal predecessors. With the failures of the free market fully exposed, they once again need an overt colonial ideology to justify the pillage.

In Africa, southern African whites operate as a conveyor belt for Western interests, working closely with the army of Western migrants that occupy key positions of the economy and development industry across the continent. The tiny African elites they have co-opted are rapidly losing legitimacy, and are increasingly alienated from the vast majority of citizens. Helen Zille is one of the many hired guns offering their services to the likes of Donald Trump and Theresa May to help them strike favorable trade deals and wage wars to protect Western interests.

How do Germans continue to ignore the Namibian genocide?

In July 2015, the German government acknowledged, in an as yet informal way, the genocide perpetrated by German colonial troops in present day Namibia during 1904-1908. Negotiations between the two governments commenced in November of that year. Today this process is at an impasse for a number of related reasons: the German side refuses to consider any material transfers a legal obligation following from the genocide, while in Namibia, there is consensus that an apology as well as reparations are a prerequisite to reconciliation. At the same time, both the German and the Namibian governments insist on bilateral state-level negotiations, while affected communities vociferously demand to be included in a “round table.” By now, the negotiations are also implicated in the movement for ancestral land that has gained new momentum in Namibia since late 2016. It appears that all these issues need to be addressed for a settlement to enjoy acceptance and legitimacy.

In Namibia, the negotiation process is in the public limelight. The German public and mainstream media hardly notice it. This vast difference is hard to accept or even to imagine particularly for Namibian activists, and consequently is often understood as an active refusal to acknowledge historical facts. While this has doubtlessly been the case in the past and remains to a considerable extent, another reason for what I consider as postcolonial asymmetry seems to be both more effective and intractable.

Let us rehearse basic figures: Namibia’s population of 2.3 million contrasts Germany’s 82 million; its Gross Domestic Product of US$ 11.49 billion is dwarfed by Germany’s US$ 3879 billion; in foreign trade volume, Namibia ranks as Germany’s partner No.116. By mere numbers, Namibia has very little leverage on Germany. Most Germans can easily afford to ignore their country’s colonial past including the genocide. They do not feel any impacts if they are not alerted or look out for them. Very many are not even aware that Germany once was a colonial power. Concern for some 15,000 German speakers in Namibia is not evident in the German public.

For people from Central and Southern Namibia, the opposite is the case. Vestiges of German colonialism are ubiquitous, in an array of colonial buildings and monuments, now used as tourist attractions; in the presence of an economically highly privileged and powerful, closely-knit community of German speakers; and in particular, in a persistent pattern of land distribution that is a direct consequence of the genocide. In continuation of the genocide, all affected African communities were stripped of their land. This was turned into crown land and opened for white settlement, first from Germany, after 1915 from South Africa. The landscape was thoroughly rationalized according to the needs of commercial agriculture. This remains evident in wide road corridors, fenced-in farms and spaces devoid of people and animals.

Affected communities in Namibia have kept the memory of anti-colonial resistance and of the genocide alive. Shortly after independence in 1990, a movement set in to claim apology and reparations from Germany. By now, they have coalesced into a strong voice and the government has taken up the demand, although serious controversy remains about the modalities of the negotiation process. Nevertheless, the genocide is a public issue in Namibia, and this has also been evident from big turn-outs to mark important events such as the crowd of 4,000 that stormed Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek in 2011 to welcome the return of a first batch of human remains that had been deported to Germany during colonial times.

Awareness raising for the genocide remains an uphill affair in Germany, mostly taken up by small postcolonial initiatives in league with sections of the Afro-German community. These initiatives have managed to generate some attention in national and international media at special turning points, but their impact remains limited, as is the pressure such civil society moves or any opposition party can hope to bring to bear on government policy.

So far, the German government is sticking to its guns: apology as an outcome of negotiations, no reparations, limiting the negotiation process to the two governments. The last two points form the substance of the Class Action Complaint brought by Ovaherero and Nama and to be given an initial hearing by a New York judge on March 16. The need to resort to legal action is yet another consequence of postcolonial asymmetry and the stubborn recalcitrance on the part of those who seemingly can afford such a stance precisely on account of such asymmetry. And so the globally peripheral take their case to the “center” in hope that a court in a country with its own history of genocide against indigenous peoples might honor the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Germany’s Marshall Plan for Africa 

Angela Merkel and Mahamadou Issoufou in Niger. Image via German Government website, credit Steins.

On January 18th, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development unveiled its new Africa policy framework “Marshall Plan with Africa”. The idea was first put forward by global interest groups The Club of Rome and “Senat der Wirtschaft,” who emphasized that in the context of Africa’s demographic trend, Germany will have to mobilize more aid and private investment. The idea was also floated by Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit to Niger in October 2016. Issoufou called for a US$1 billion package to create jobs, prevent conflict, and reduce migration. Merkel was hesitant to endorse Issoufou’s proposal (it’s unclear why), yet just four months later Germany unveiled its Africa policy using that same title.

There is a long and misleading legacy of Marshall-Plans being called for in different parts of the world across a range of different contexts. In development advocacy, the term has often been instrumentalized by “big-push” theorists such as economist Jeffrey Sachs. These theorists are convinced that a large increase in development assistance will deliver low-income countries from poverty traps. However, the context in which Germany benefitted from the original Marshall Plan right after World War II was very specific to that moment and place. At that time, Germany had a large pre-existing industrial capacity, while the Marshall Plan’s transfers to European partner countries such as France, Italy, and the United Kingdom increased demand for German exports.

Before scrutinizing the plan in detail, it is useful to think about which political dynamics may have led to the adoption of this ambitious framework. With upcoming federal elections, Merkel has come under growing domestic pressure over her “open” refugee and migrant policy. Reports suggest Merkel has recently been in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to discuss the migrant crisis with aim of managing the flow of migrants. It is her second Africa trip in six months after having not visited the continent in five years. Germany’s minister for international development, Gerd Müller, will likely not retain his portfolio following this year’s federal election, and aspired to leave a legacy with the Marshall Plan. He is also a member of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party CSU, which has criticized her migrant policy almost as passionately as the right-radical AFD. Similar to his British Tory counterpart Priti Patel, Müller and other German politicians have communicated and legitimized Germany’s aid budget by promising fewer migrants.

Leaving aside the moral argument about instrumentalizing international aid, and normalizing anti-migrant sentiments, evidence suggests that aid might actually increase migration. As the Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens has pointed out, migration from low-income countries increases over the course of a “mobility transition”, (at least) until countries reach upper-middle income status. Instead of promoting fairytales to an increasingly anti-migrant electorate, policymakers are shying away from taking the courage to put things into perspective, while acknowledging the hard truths about global migration:

One, migration will not decrease from its current levels anytime soon and money invested specifically for migrant-deterrence aid is money wasted.

Two, repressive migration regimes actually force people to stay in Europe and disrupt potentially virtuous circular migration patterns. West African immigrants to France frequently moved between France and their country of origin. After the French migration regime was tightened, many feared that they would not be able to comeback, and felt forced to stay.

Three, poorer countries such as Kenya, Lebanon, and Uganda are hosting more migrants and refugees per capita, without comparable levels of xenophobia and exclusion.

Four, in the future, NATO should consider the long-term consequences of military interventions.

Another underlying political dynamic is Germany’s reluctant embrace of global leadership. Germany has historically approached international development assistance with the rhetoric of altruism. But increasingly, it has become more explicit in linking national and sometimes European interests to its international development policy. Contrary to the trend in other Western countries, Germany’s official development assistance (ODA) has increased by 26 percent in 2015, with the country spending $17.8 billion. According to Devex, German development aid is expected to increase by more than $8.9 billion more than initially planned between 2016 and 2019.

Though the increase in aid is substantial for Germany, it hardly qualifies as a Marshall Plan capable of delivering the infamous big-push for all African countries. Carlos Lopes, former Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, joked that it is roughly equivalent to the budget of a medium city in Europe.

But rather than solely providing a material increase in aid, the plan was to provide a blueprint for future international development policy. The plan consists of three pillars: Economic Growth, Jobs and Trade; Peace, Security, and Stability; and Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights. Countries that pursue anti-corruption, women’s empowerment, and good governance are to receive a 20% increase in development assistance, while it is unclear how this will be judged. From a governance perspective, the plan is short on fresh proposals, but rather reiterates the uninspiring “good governance” and “rule of law” rhetoric, which has been criticized by scholars such as Mushtaq Khan. African researchers have also pointed out that the plan bypasses existing continental development frameworks, ironic since policymakers made sure to call it the Marshall Plan with Africa.

With regards to financing in the context of Africa’s large infrastructure gap, the plan also attempts to find ways with which to incentivize private, and institutional investors such as pension funds to invest in African infrastructure. Under its current G20 presidency, Germany has committed to boost current multilateral development guarantees, and aims to create a currency exchange fund against local currency risks. Helmut Reisen, formerly head of research of the OECD Development Centre, has pointed out, that this was already envisioned under the “G20/OECD High-Level Principles of Long-Term Investment Financing by Institutional Investors”, but did not succeed in significantly raising investment levels. He points out that development finance institutions such as the IFC have used innovative instruments such as a Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program, or a First Loss guarantee to draw in long-term investors such as Allianz AG, but he remains skeptical about their potential for African countries. More emphasis should rather be placed on domestic resource mobilization and the fight against illicit financial flows, which are higher than overall development assistance according to some estimates.

While the plan calls for increased market access for African exports, it does not address the frequent disconnect of European development-and trade policy. Since the Lomé Convention in 1975, the EU has granted non-reciprocal trade preferences to African countries, but under the Cotonou Agreement, this system was replaced by the negotiation of economic partnership agreements (EPAs). EPAs are negotiated with different African regional trading blocs. Cameroon has angered other partners in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) because of its unilateral decision to ratify the EPA. The East African Community (EAC) is divided with Kenya, and Rwanda in strong support of the EPA, and Tanzania, and Uganda calling for a renegotiation of the agreement. Germany’s stated goal is to promote job creation and increase value added exports.  For this to be genuine, EPA’s have to uphold the integrity of regional blocks, leave policy space for industrial policies, and refrain from dumping subsidized agricultural products into African markets.

Finally, in light of Germany’s recent acknowledgement of the Herero, and Nama genocide, which we discussed here, Germany has yet to address its guilt as a colonial empire, and genuinely respond to calls for reparations. Traditional traditional authorities of the Herero and Nama have filed a class action lawsuit  against Germany seeking reparations. The pre-trial conference of the case Rukoro et al. v. Germany is held on March 16 in the New York Southern District Court.

The roots of the current crisis in South Africa

Over the last few weeks it has come to light that South Africa’s Social Security Agency (SASSA) has no idea how it will pay 17 million social (welfare) grants to around 17 million South Africans on April 1. This has understandably caused some concern, with the media, civil society organizations and trade unions accusing the department and the minister, Bathabile Dlamini, of deliberately endangering the welfare of the poorest South Africans. Social grants are direct cash transfers provided to South African citizens who meet specific criteria. The vast majority of grants are child grants, which in 2016 amounted to R350 per child per month (approximately US$26). Social grants are one of the few redistributive policies pursued by the state in the post-apartheid period, and they had a marked impact on chronic poverty rates and, research suggests, led to improvements in child health and school attendance.

The roots of the current crisis can be traced back to 2012 when the department shifted from a model in which provinces were charged with distributing funds to a single national model. The company that was chosen for this public-private-partnership was Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) which is a subsidiary of Net 1 UEPS Technologies Inc. In 2014 the country’s constitutional court declared the contract with Net 1 to be invalid due to extensive accusations of fraud and bribery and suggested the department open up the tender process and find other methods of grant distribution. They didn’t. What has unfolded in the first few months of 2017 is a testament not only to bureaucratic incompetence, but the ways in which state elite and the private sector have found ways to swindle the poor.

What has been forgotten in the grants crisis, however, is the extent to which those who received grants have long been in a state of crisis. Since CPS took over the payment of grants in 2012 recipients have been plagued by illegal deductions from their grants. In another article, I wrote about the ways in which CPS has colluded with banks to sell grant beneficiaries dubious cell phone and insurance deals that are next to impossible to cancel. While these deductions were declared illegal by SASSA in 2016, this has meant little as they have continued apace. Erin Torkelson’s recent article in the Cape Town news site GroundUp reveals the extent of this horror: A mother in tears after receiving only 26c of her child grant from a CPS paypoint. There has been no study on the extent of these deductions since May 2016, but by all accounts (including extensive documentation by Black Sash) they are occurring at an alarming rate. All of which seems to confirm the political scientist and newspaper columnist Steven Friedman’s point that CPS effectively took over SASSA in 2012 compromising its autonomy and control over the grants process. That’s the first crisis.

The second crisis is the fact that social grants are wholly insufficient to actually support poor households and that their value has been declining as the cost of food has sky-rocketed. This is particularly acute in rural areas where the rate of unemployment is even higher than in urban townships. This is not only about corruption in the payment of grants, but the fact that many of those people receiving grants are well below the poverty line. The average inflation rate (CPI) in 2015 was 4.51% and in 2016 it was 6.59%. Between the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 budget year old age grants increased by 4.4%. Over the same period child support grants increased by 4.7% and disability grants increased by 3.6%. What this means is that the poor can buy less with their grants each year, and this is being made worse through illegal deductions. This is being forgotten in a crisis that is being cast as a spat between politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople.

In 2016 Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima, of the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG), and I conducted research on social grants, illegal deductions and the ways in which grants are used in poor and working class communities. We found numerous cases of social grants being used beyond the household, as an effective subsidy to inadequate public services. Community health care workers used their own grants to purchase medical supplies to treat people with HIV-AIDS living in their neighbourhoods. Waste pickers used their grants to purchase the equipment they need to clean up their communities and, as a result, make a living. Parents used social grants so their children could get to university when student loan funding was inadequate or late. Social grants are, in many senses, the glue holding families and communities together. Disruptions in payment would be catastrophic and would drive many into the arms of formal and informal moneylenders—although this is already happening as Net 1 provides microloans to grant recipients through Easy Pay and Moneyline.

The third feature currently being overlooked is the extent to which the chaos generated by this crisis presents an opportunity for the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Politicians using social grants to further their own ends is nothing new. The ANC has essentially worked to position the party rather than government as the main benefactor in this system. During the recent local government elections, for example, the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe reminded unemployed fathers that it was the ANC who ‘raised’ their children through child grants. In a recent press conference, the minister of social development, Minister Dlamini was lavished with praise by community and religious leaders for ‘uplifting’ the poor. Dlamini is also president of the ANC’s women’s league and staunch supporter of president Jacob Zuma.

While the confusion created by the current scandal certainly casts Dlamini and other ANC bigwigs in a bad light, it also presents a rather terrifying opportunity in which the party could begin to use social grants to further their own interest—more so than at present. It is common knowledge that, in almost every township in the country, having political connections, which most often means through an ANC councillor, is a sure way to receive tenders and access to various forms of employment. In one township that I’ve conducted research getting a public works job usually involves going to local party meetings and donning a party t-shirt. Is it so unthinkable that access to social grants could similarly be used as a form of political patronage in the future?

Finally, there’s the already well-documented fact that the CPS contract has been enormously beneficial to a range of characters within or close-to the ruling party. The fact that SASSA had no real contingency plan for who would take over grant payments after the contract was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court in 2014, or claimed that the renewed tender bid was unsuccessful, speaks to the extent to which they are willing to go to preserve networks of graft and influence. The recent revelation that President Zuma’s lawyer Michael Hulley was involved in negotiations to keep the CPS contract only confirms the extent to which this contract is bound up in shady business and political deals.

The country’s constitutional court has repeatedly asked SASSA to explain why it had no contingency plan for the payment of social grants when the current contract expires at the end of March. It should be clear by now that Dlamini has no interest in seeing SASSA insource grant payments. She has effectively positioned CPS as the only body that is capable of distributing grants nationally. And this may very well be true, but this is only because officials at SASSA have ensured that this is the case. Whatever system of payment emerges in the future it will almost certainly involve CPS and Net 1, and because of this money will continue to flow to their bank accounts and their majority shareholders, Allan Gray, who recently described illegal deductions from social grants as part of a process of ‘financial inclusion’ for the poor. Who benefits from this will speak volumes about the nature of the current crisis and the extent to which a few politicians and business people are willing to risk the livelihoods of millions to line their pockets.

Was Mohandas Gandhi a racist?

In April 2015, the statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in Gandhi Square, Johannesburg was almost covered with white paint by a young protestor before he was arrested. The previous months had seen a sustained agitation at the University of Cape Town for the taking down of the statue of Sir Cecil Rhodes – the imperialist and racist benefactor of the University.

The statue came to stand in for a colonialism yet to end. In this attack on pigeon perches all over South Africa, a statue of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa in Durban was covered in red paint; perhaps only because he was white, and not as an indictment of his poetry. There was some irony to the fact that the statue of Gandhi was almost whitewashed, considering the better part of his life was spent in fighting white imperialism.

This month, professors at the University of Ghana called for the removal of the statue of Gandhi that had been unveiled by the President of India in June. All of these instances are reflective of a rethinking happening in Africa of the role of colonialism, anticolonialism and the idea of African identity.

The politics of statuary represents a deeper crisis located in questions of belonging, entitlement and exclusion in postcolonial Africa.

In 1986, the Kenyan writer and intellectual Ngugi wa Thiong’o (formerly James Ngugi) wrote his manifesto Decolonising the Mind, arguing for linguistic decolonization and combating the continuing influence of English as a language and European thought in politically decolonized, but intellectually still-colonized Africa. Thirty years down the line, the same issues have resurfaced; Ngugi, Frantz Fanon, and the South African thinker of black consciousness, Steve Biko are back on the agenda as South Africans and Africans, more generally, ask themselves, what has not changed.

African universities have been ravaged by the attack of neo-liberal thinking and privatization that have made universities into factories and leeched them off politics. In South Africa, a battle has just been joined. The Feesmustfall movement that commenced in late 2015 challenged both high fees and the exclusion of youth from universities.

The movement also protests against a syllabus that is nothing more than a version of courses taught in Euro-American campuses. The universities in Africa are haughtily monolingual in a multilingual landscape and the issue of African knowledge systems is not even considered. We gave up this battle, if it was ever fought, in Indian universities fairly early on, producing generations of academics to service the Euro-American knowledge economy, much as we produced clerks for the British colonial service.

Now, what does all of this have to do with Gandhi and statues of him?

For this, we need another diversion into the histories of Indians in Africa. For over half a millennium, Indian mercantile groups, particularly Gujaratis, have been trading with Africa, preceding the coming of European colonialism. They came to control trade over much of East Africa and this led to tensions with a largely agrarian African populace. As money lenders, petty shopkeepers, and as oceanic traders, the ubiquitous Indian became a metaphor for commerce.

VS Naipaul’s novel A Bend in the River (1979) was an early exploration of the simmering animosity between Indians and Africans, and the protagonist Salim, has to leave the African country where he lives and trades in the face of a rising tide of black nationalism. In South Africa, while the first generation of Indians largely came as indentured labor, many merchants came as passengers on the ships and set up businesses, arousing the ire and racism of local white Europeans.

Under apartheid, Indians built up their own institutions of education and networks of trade, drawing upon historical connections as much as skills derived from hardship. They also participated in anti-apartheid politics producing leaders, such as Monty Naicker, Amina Cachalia, Yusuf Dadoo and Ahmed Kathrada. Gandhi and his idea of non-violence were an organising principle for the African National Congress, and it allowed for a politics of affinity between black African and Indian. When apartheid ended, a significant majority of Indians were well placed to take up new opportunities, economic and political, aided by affirmative action for those historically disadvantaged under the white Afrikaner rule.

For the majority of black people who have been disadvantaged first under apartheid and then under post-apartheid politics, several factors, such as an economy not in their control, a kleptocracy in power, and institutions weighted against the entry of the poor as well as the perceived success of the Indian community feed into the discourse of Africanness and the outsider. Uganda witnessed the most extreme form of this in 1975 when the dictator Idi Amin expelled Indians from the country.

Gandhi has become an icon of Indian identity and its metaphor all over Africa. Gandhi was invited to come to South Africa in 1893, from his career as a briefless barrister in India, by a wealthy Gujarati merchant to resolve a familial dispute. Once in South Africa, he realized he had landed in the middle of a politics of race that was about making legislative and legal distinctions between Whites and the rest.

Gandhi fought a rearguard action against a slew of legislations that brought together racial discourses of disease and hygiene along with the fear of Asiatic migration into South Africa aimed at the Indian laborers in particular. Gandhi’s strategy was to disaggregate the threat: separating the Indian merchant from the Indian laborer; the Indian from the African; the rich and middle-classes from the poor and indigent; the clean from the dirty; and the civilized from the barbarian.

Gandhi resented the attempts “to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir” and degeneration that would follow. He said:


“By persistent ill-treatment they cannot but degenerate, so much so that from their civilized habits they would be degraded to the habits of the aboriginal Natives, and a generation hence, between the progeny of the Indians thus in course of degeneration and the Natives, there will be very little difference in habits, and customs, and thought…a large portion of Her Majesty’s subjects instead of being raised in the scale of civilisation, will be actually lowered.”


Gandhi presented the effort of the Indians in South Africa, as a manly “struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

When university professors ask for the removal of Gandhi’s statue, they draw upon these multiple histories. Gandhi is a metaphor for the Indian presence in Africa and histories of both Indian racism as well as commercial wealth. The idea that decolonization as yet has not been achieved targets both questions of western knowledge as much as perceived Indian economic success. It also represents an elite discourse that deflects the ills of the nation-state and postcolonial corruption on to the “outsider” and “foreigner”. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, xenophobia is the last refuge of the postcolonial scoundrel.

Gandhi in South Africa certainly played the politics of race but his life was one of an unremitting engagement with the meanings of inclusion and exclusion. The irony is that, while Gandhi becomes increasingly sidelined in the maelstrom of Indian politics, in Africa he has come to stand in for the Indian presence.

* This post was previously published on It is republished with the permission of the author.

Where is Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a country with lot of land, few people, and a little physical infrastructure, located within a cluster of states with a history of prolonged conflicts: Chad, Sudan South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  CAR has become shorthand for “failed postcolonial African state,” basically the prototype of a country in permanent crisis.

But as Yale anthropologist Louisa Lombard argues in her new book, State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic, the CAR never failed in a spectacular fashion, like Somalia for instance; it rather became durably “fragile.”  And problematically, restoring the state to a Weberian model has been the goal of everyone in CAR, especially the international community’s interveners who “hold tightly to that state ideal, like an element of religious dogma.”

Although the state is still important, and has become an object of immense hope in its ideal form, Lombard argues that “[its] yearning… is in fact an obstacle to one’s flourishing.” Aid and international development programs are still channeled through the state. But the rigidity of state ideals as a basis for policy makes it impossible to build upon initiatives that could lead to a better functioning polity in CAR. Central Africans’ nostalgia about the state evokes a time when it distributed status, in the form of jobs and salaries.  Lombard calls for a need to take seriously the challenges of dignity and status in one of the poorest places on earth, because ultimately, that is what the state delivered when it was functional.  That is what Central Africans yearn for in a state, as “[their] conceptions of work [is] a matter of earning a salary more than of producing something or laboring,” Lombard claims.

As the Central African state is not a territory in the political sense, in CAR, mobility is power. The state being non-territorialized and privatized, power becomes very strongly linked with mobility – who can move and who cannot. Therefore, “[i]f one’s goal is to understand the country’s politics, one must not assume that mastering that territory and the people in it is the primary objective of any actor, state or otherwise.”   While fixity is important in state building, being able to move is far more important in CAR, where many of the elites have two passports, and build second homes in Cotonou, Douala, Dakar, or Paris. Mobility within CAR is also impeded by one’s identity, in the sense that, thanks to its colonial history, religion is a marker of nationality, wherein the official states codes are Southern/Christian, while Islam and the North translate to foreign, dangerous, and imperialist. Even some Muslims in the northeast changed their names to Christian ones to make it easier to move around, convinced that in the eyes of many southerners, a Muslim can never be a real Central African.

In CAR, the state of permanent crisis was heralded by army mutinies that broke out in mid-1990s, followed by coups attempts and rebellions.  Two of those coups and rebellions were successful: François Bozizé, a former army officer and career politician, claimed power in March 2003, later ousted by Michel Djotodia and the Seleka rebels in 2013.  For Lombard, “the ever present but always changing role of violence in CAR politics has had a lot to do with the state form itself.”  The state’s aim has never been to assert authority over the territory. Lombard also debunks the idea of conflict in CAR are being fueled by resources extraction/exploitation.   Despite the claims of the cottage industry around research on war-time natural resource economics, Lombard contends that in CAR, diamonds, timber, or ivory are not the main drivers of the conflict. It is because “[t]he CAR state has always been privatized, and the higher one goes up, the state organizational hierarchy, the greater the opportunities for personal enrichment.” Therefore, capturing the state becomes what drives the conflict, above all else.

One recurrent theme in the conflicts in CAR is the degree to which violence is meted out by the factions. Lombard argues that it is pointless to describe wars in terms of degrees of ‘barbarism’, as if the West’s interest in long-distance killing is more evolved than face to face killing. CAR shows that violence has always had a role in shaping the state.  The paradigmatic form of wartime violence in CAR is lynching, which brings into the concept of war as violence of the pack. Though, “even widespread participation in popular punishment tends to be an attempt to decrease future violence.  It is a spectacle meant to dissuade others from engaging in it,” as she points out.

One of the strengths of this book is its accessibility to a wide audience.  Yet, one wonders who is Lombard’s audience?  The book opens with the question “Where is Central African Republic?” followed by the sentence: “If you asked that question in picking up this book, you are not alone: it is one of the questions I am most frequently asked. (Hint: the country’s name includes a clue.)” One can probably applaud the author’s attempt to write for a wide readership, but at the price of such platitude?  In many subjects such as violence and its associated cannibalistic trope, the book is very engaging and draws on sophisticated anthropological discussion, but in other instances, the author engages in very superficial narratives.

Beyond the CAR situation, the author’s goal is to argue that “understanding conflict in Africa today requires looking at the relationships among all of the people present and how those relationships structure what people do.”  Moreover, Lombard asserts that “A central concern of this book is to recognize how difficult it is for people to just act as they wish, or as they see best, in any given situation.”  Overall, Lombard does an excellent job at showing the complexity and interconnectedness of state fragility, political and mob violence, and international intervention’s attempt at (re)building an ideal form of state that may just be that, an idea.