Africa is a Country

“How was Africa?”

“Welcome back to civilization,” a family member said, slapping my shoulder. “How was Africa?”

That was the refrain I encountered most frequently upon returning to the United States after conducting a year of fieldwork amongst northern Malian internally displaced persons and refugees. I’d been away for all of 2013. During the first six months I went to the “hearts” of internal displacement in southern Mali, and to refugee camps in Burkina Faso. During the second six months, I went to Timbuktu—where I’d also conducted fieldwork in 2010—to work with displaced individuals and families as they returned home following the French-led military intervention.

This was my third time to the continent. So, I consciously attempted to preempt some of the problematic and ignorant queries that I had received following my first two. I regularly sent updates to my family and close friends. In them, I acknowledged the events surrounding the occupation of northern Mali, the displacement of most of its residents, and the subsequent military intervention, while simultaneously historicizing and complicating them. I insisted that my family and friends consider the widespread ripple effects of colonialism and decolonization, global capitalism, the international “war on terror”, etcetera. Further, I expressed that as the anthropological discipline itself can create distance, we should challenge the self-other binary. So, I told stories of my Timbuktian friends working, hanging out; just living their lives.

I remember one email, for instance, where I described Timbuktu during Ramadan last year. Many fasted by day and prayed at sundown. Everyone—fasters and non—dined together on dishes sent by neighbors and family in the evening. And at night, the youth partied, dancing to American and West African hip-hop and reggae, posting photos on Facebook and calling friends and family outside of Timbuktu with their cell phones.

Nonetheless, “Welcome back to civilization. How was Africa?” Despite attempts to educate through my correspondence, ignorant and exoticizing notions continue to fuel some of my family and friends’ questions and statements relating to the African continent and its peoples:

“What was the craziest thing you ate? Bugs? Monkey brains?”

“What tribes live in Africa?”

“Did you become one of them?”

“Did you ever see any lions? Do they attack people?”

Passing the Time in Timbuktu

“Did you know that for Muslims, a woman’s word means nothing?”

Such questions were disappointing, as I had expected a more sophisticated degree of inquiry. Unfortunately, I have been similarly disappointed in the classroom. One of my courses this past semester was “Africa: Society and Culture.” I taught the same lessons I attempted with my fieldwork correspondence. Only this time, I was able to approach it in a much more structured, much more formal way with an audience that had registered and agreed to listen and learn. We discussed the deep history of the continent, the diversity of its peoples, and the problematic ways in which Africa has been and continues to be represented. Nevertheless, one day in the middle of a discussion of Fanon, a student’s hand shot up, asking me:

“Do you speak African?”

A few classes later, while interrogating recent waves of urbanization and other effects of global capitalism, another student interrupted:

“Why are Africans always fighting?”

In response, I attempted to ask other students what they thought of the question and guide the conversation in a way that would reveal why the proposition was problematic. Nevertheless, yet another student—albeit hesitantly—queried:

“Do you think Africans were better off under colonialism?”

Reflecting on my “welcome home” and some of my students’ continued questions, I wonder where I—and perhaps, where many of us—are falling short in our endeavors to educate about Africa. I wonder what kinds of intellectual and ideological battles we are really engaging. And I wonder what the product of our educational attempts really is. Am I—are we—really changing minds? Or, are we just teaching political correctness? Indeed, on more than one occasion, I have had what I’d thought was a solid chat about Mali. After returning to the room, though, I would overhear one mutter to another, “Oh, Andrew’s back, you can’t say stuff like that anymore.”

I do notice some improvement in my students’ discourse concerning Africa. And, political correctness or not, I suppose that that is a step in the right direction. At least they recognize the problematic ways in which the continent continues to be represented, and perhaps they even recognize their own complicity in reproducing such representations. Further, they recognize that outside of private settings, some of their comments are ignorant and offensive. However, it’s clear that I must go further in my attempts to disrupt some of the entrenched and privileged positions that many of my students maintain and push them to rethink contemporary processes that continue to marginalize much of the continent. In my view, though, my current focus on history, power relations, social construction, and even everyday African lives remains insufficient. Superficially, such instruction disrupts discourse, but seems to fail to undermine years of ideological social distance and apathy. Therefore, to join the chorus of educators of global inequality, in addition to providing information and challenging presumptions, I contend that we must also attempt to teach something considerably more complicated: empathy.

* The images were taken during my time in southern Mali and Burkina Faso.

Trouble in the Village: A Review of Dak’ Art 2014

Dak’ Art 014 is an art exhibition showing over 120 artists of African descent. It opened on 9th May, with a main international showcase at the Village de la Biennale, a television studio along Route de la Rufisque in Dakar’s industrial area. While it is the only art biennale of its scope today with a mandate to include all artists of African descent, a critical tour of the international exhibition at the Village revealed a daunting diversity of artworks, styles and traditions that made one ask questions about what exactly defines contemporary African art, how contemporaneity might be defined amongst artists of African descent at the Dakar biennale, and whether living on or away from the continent of Africa influences the contemporaneity of the art one produces.

While great emphasis was placed on the Village–an ironic title for an international exhibition–where three curators were invited to select artists, respectively, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the diaspora, the biennale had several other “main” events, including an exhibition of guest artists dedicated to cultural diversity at the Musée de l’Ifan, a clearly unfocussed exhibition with selected artworks reflecting no central theme; the African sculpture park. There was also tribute exhibitions to three Senegalese artists: Mamadou Diakhaté, Moustapha Dimé and Mbaye Diop. In addition, an epistemological exhibition titled ‘Green Art’ on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University. These latter exhibitions seemed to have a separate, and specific, focus on the local.

A press release on the biennale website from July 3rd, 2013 summarizes a wish by past and present biennale general-secretaries to achieve autonomy for the art exhibition. During some research on the biennale’s history, I found a report in Nka Journal from 1992 written by Octavia Zaya, revealing that the biennale’s financial woes existed from the very beginning, when artists, after failing to settle differences with the biennale office, threatened to boycott the exhibition. These financial disputes emerge directly from the fact that the biennale is registered under the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. This bondage to a government ministry inevitably creates problems. As the art critic Sylvia Sankale articulated in the July 3rd 2013 press conference, “according to the law of public finances, any money given to a department of the state is automatically transferred to the Ministry of Finance and redistributed as needed.”

Financial woes aside, I was concerned by the curators’ settling on a theme whose aim was to “link politics and aesthetics in a vigorous and engaged way” (this, according to the 014 press release), knowing full well the long historical disparities between Senegal’s politics and the art biennale since its inception in 1992. In addition to this, the curators’ decision to present a curatorial statement that spoke above the heads of journalists and the general public–in a highly academic and theoretical language that quoted Eduard Glissant: “our universe that is ever changing yet remains the same”–made it clear that they were not interested in extending an invitation to a specific kind of local: the kind that did not read Eduard Glissant, nor one that (perhaps naively) still believed in the developmental vision of globalization.

The streets of Dakar, today, abound in a frenzy of infrastructural development: outside of the CBD, the city is a cornrow of half finished buildings. Here, the difference between Wolof and French speakers is a marker of class. Evident here, also, is the difference between contemporary artists shown in galleries and the large scale highway murals of graffiti artists, as well as that between the villages of Ouakam and the new imperialist and seafront La Corniche neighborhoods.

In the spirit of placing contemporary African art within the political discourse of Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness, the outstanding showcase at the Village (international exhibition) was the installation, “72 (Virgins)” in the sun by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, which captured a universality: parading white flags, each standing freely in the courtyard of Le Village welcomed the audience to envision a post-nationalist world which neutralized nation states into one unknown. Each metal flag pole and the attached piece of cloth, placed on a wooden platform (about seven by five meters in diameter) was painted entirely white, bleaching out national colors and effectively deconstructing the national sense of self. However, some of my close friends and colleagues who saw the title of the work and the Algerian nationality of the artist envisioned the fabled (and scripturally not really accurate) 72 virgins that members of Boko Haram or any other so-called “Islamist” terrorist group in Africa claim that they would receive in paradise.

In the courtyard of Le Village, the photography installation “As god wants and devil likes it” (or O.R.G.A.S.M. Symposium) by Kiluanji Kia Henda redesigned the European Union emblem as a circular twelve star arrangement with the African continent in its center. The artist went on to juxtapose his low-resolution self portraits as the crowned Blessed Virgin Mary with photoshopped images of E.U. Heads of State (notably, an afro-sporting Nikolas Sarkozy made an appearance in one of the portraits). Yet for all his punchy humor, Henda stereotyped all African leaders as “traditional”, illiterate, one-dimensional stooges.

Faten Rouissi’s ceramic toilet basins, wooden microphones and toilet paper installation, “Le Fantome de la Liberté” (Ghost of Freedom), exhibited in the Studio B space inside Le Village, was designed like a conference table that evoked a sense of shared commonality by coloring every object mustard yellow. The piece alluded to, and simultaneously obliterated, the memory of Africa’s partition at the 1900 Berlin Conference. However, one close reading of the art work’s description, as a representation of the Tunis parliament, shows that the artist was not alluding to a global Black consciousness, but was, rather, interested in shaming the local political ironies that enabled civil unrest in Tunisia during the Arab Spring of 2011.

In this way, the show reflected the complications that result for those curating in a global framework: by selecting artworks for their radical politics, the artist’s embedded local context is subsumed. However, the exhibition did successfully convey the themes of unification and edification. According to co-curator Smooth, Glissant’s ideas about “rethinking the values of communality and sacrifice devoid of idealism” came through here. The works, in their whole, redefined contemporary artists of African descent: they could no longer be seen as artists who are disinterested in representing the local, or as artists who solely use radical political methodologies that inevitably subsume their own local context.

Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey

By the time you read this, it’s possible that every single person on the planet will know who Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is.

The image above is of Neymar from five days ago.

This is Neymar from one year ago:

neymar cabelo

This is Neymar from three years ago:

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This is Neymar from five years ago:

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This is little Neymar with his family:

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You could come to any number of conclusions from Neymar’s remarkable transformation. For instance, you could conclude that race doesn’t exist in Brazil, which is the favourite line of a specific tribe of Brazilians – impeccable liberals all, who just happen to be upper-class, white and at the top of the heap.

Or you could conclude that everyone in Brazil is indeed mixed – which is, incidentally, the second-favourite line of the selfsame tribe.

Or you could wonder what happened to this boy.

***

It’s too easy to condemn Neymar for pretending to be white: judging by the images, he is partly white. It’s silly to accuse him of denying his mixed-race ancestry, because the simplest search throws up hundreds of images of him as a child, none of which he seems to be ashamed of. There is this: when asked if he had ever been a victim of racism, he said, “Never. Neither inside nor outside the field. Because I’m not black right?”

Actually, the word he used was preto, which is significant, since, in Brazil, when used as a colour ascribed to people – rather than things, like rice or beans – it is the equivalent of the n-word; negro and negra being the acceptable ways of describing someone who is truly black. (And moreno or morena being standard descriptors for someone dark-skinned, as well as, occasionally, euphemisms for blackness). Technically speaking, however, his logic was faultless – and even kind of interestingly honest: the Neymar who made that statement was an unworldly eighteen-year-old who had never lived outside Brazil. And in Brazil, Neymar is not black.

***

In 1976, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics ran a household survey that marked a crucial departure from other census exercises. The Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD) did not ask Brazilians to choose a race category among pre-determined choices; instead, researchers went out and asked people to describe the colour they thought they were.

This is what was returned:

 

Acastanhada Somewhat chestnut-coloured Agalegada Somewhat like a Galician Alva Snowy white Alva escura Dark snowy white Alvarenta (not in dictionary; poss. dialect) Snowy white Alvarinta Snowy white Alva rosada Pinkish white Alvinha Snowy white Amarela Yellow Amarelada Yellowish Amarela-queimada Burnt yellow Amarelosa Yellowy Amorenada Somewhat dark-skinned Avermelhada Reddish Azul Blue Azul-marinho Sea blue Baiano From Bahia Bem branca Very white Bem clara Very pale Bem morena Very dark-skinned Branca White Branca-avermelhada White going on for red Branca-melada Honey-coloured white Branca-morena White but dark-skinned Branca-pálida Pale white Branca-queimada Burnt white Branca-sardenta Freckled white Branca-suja Off-white Branquiça Whitish Branquinha Very white Bronze Bronze-coloured Bronzeada Sun-tanned Bugrezinha-escura Dark-skinned India Burro-quando-foge Disappearing donkey (i.e. nondescript) humorous Cabocla Copper-coloured ( refers to civilized Indians) Cabo-verde From Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) Café Coffee-coloured Café-com-leite Café au lait Canela Cinnamon Canelada Somewhat like cinnamon Cardão Colour of the cardoon, or thistle (blue-violet) Castanha Chestnut Castanha-clara Light chestnut Castanha-escura Dark chestnut Chocolate Chocolate-coloured Clara Light-coloured, pale Clarinha Light-coloured, pale Cobre Copper-coloured Corada With a high colour Cor-de-café Coffee-coloured Cor-de-canela Cinnamon-coloured Cor-de-cuia Gourd-coloured Cor-de-leite Milk-coloured (i.e. milk-white) Cor-de-ouro Gold-coloured (i.e. golden) Cor-de-rosa Pink Cor-firme Steady-coloured Crioula Creole Encerada Polished Enxofrada Pallid Esbranquecimento Whitening Escura Dark Escurinha Very dark Fogoió Having fiery-coloured hair Galega Galician or Portuguese Galegada Somewhat like a Galician or Portuguese Jambo Light-skinned (the colour of a type of apple) Laranja Orange Lilás Lilac Loira Blonde Loira-clara Light blonde Loura Blonde Lourinha Petite blonde Malaia Malaysian woman Marinheira Sailor-woman Marrom Brown Meio-amarela Half-yellow Meio-branca Half-white Meio-morena Half dark-skinned Meio-preta Half-black Melada Honey-coloured Mestiça Half-caste/mestiza Miscigenação Miscegenation Mista Mixed Morena Dark-skinned, brunette Morena-bem-chegada Very nearly morena Morena-bronzeada Sunburnt morena Morena-canelada Somewhat cinnamon-coloured morena Morena-castanha Chestnut-coloured morena Morena-clara Light-skinned morena Morena-cor-de-canela Cinnamon-coloured morena Morena-jambo Light-skinned morena Morenada Somewhat morena Morena-escura Dark morena Morena-fechada Dark morena Morenão Dark-complexioned man Morena-parda Dark morena Morena-roxa Purplish morena Morena-ruiva Red-headed morena Morena-trigueira Swarthy, dusky morena Moreninha Petite morena Mulata Mulatto girl Mulatinha Little mulatto girl Negra Negress Negrota Young negress Pálida Pale Paraíba From Paraíba Parda Brown Parda-clara Light brown Parda-morena Brown morena Parda-preta Black-brown Polaca Polish woman Pouco-clara Not very light Pouco-morena Not very dark-complexioned Pretinha Black – either young, or small Puxa-para-branco Somewhat towards white Quase-negra Almost negro Queimada Sunburnt Queimada-de-praia Beach sunburnt Queimada-de-sol Sunburnt Regular Regular, normal Retinta Deep-dyed, very dark Rosa Rose-coloured (or the rose itself) Rosada Rosy Rosa-queimada Sunburnt-rosy Roxa Purple Ruiva Redhead Russo Russian Sapecada Singed Sarará Yellow-haired negro Saraúba (poss. dialect) Untranslatable Tostada Toasted Trigo Wheat Trigueira Brunette Turva Murky Verde Green Vermelha Red

 

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, an anthropologist at the University of São Paulo, has a range of astonishing insights around this historic survey; her paper, Not black, not white: just the opposite. Culture, race and national identity in Brazilfrom which the table is reproduced, is a gem. (She also has a book that examines the early history of the subject: The Spectacle of the Races: Scientists, Institutions, and the Race Question in Brazil, 1870-1930).

Schwarcz’s work is filled with thoughtful, original analysis, and is characterised by an unusual fearlessness. (Unusual, that is, for a subject so complicated). Reading her is a revelation; it turns out there is a real place hiding under that avalanche of clichés. If you’ve ever wondered how crushing racism can flourish in a country where, apparently, race itself has been crushed, consider that everything Brazil is defined by – from its “we-are-all-mixed” anthem, to feijoada, capoeira and candomblé, right down to samba and soccer – is the result of an insidious, revisionist, far-sighted political manoeuvre of the 1930s, courtesy the combined skills of popular intellectual Gilberto Freyre and populist dictator Getúlio Vargas. The battered body of slave culture was abducted by national culture in order to renew white culture.

Among the many eye-popping results reported in the PNAD survey, the one I am most drawn to is burro quando foge. You’ll find it up there in the table at No. 34. Google inexplicably translates the phrase as “saddle”, which is awesome, since it means that Lusofonia still keeps some secrets beyond the reach of the behemoth. Burro quando foge is translated by Schwarcz, within the constraints of a column slot, as “the disappearing donkey” and explained as a humorous phrase that denotes a nondescript colour.

Which it is – and then some. The metaphor is unique to Brazil, and signifies a colour. That colour could be nondescript, ill-defined, elusive, or ugly – and, just to make things really clear, also fawn, beige, or a tricky shade of brown. The sentiment conveyed in the phrase is just as interesting. Used between friends, it could pass for a joke. Otherwise, it almost always denotes something unpleasant. It’s usually used an insult, although – oddly enough, given the colours and sentiments – it’s not specifically a racial insult.

Of all the one hundred and thirty six colours of race in Brazil, this is my favourite. It’s flippant and factual and fictional all at once, and as such, suits me perfectly. Race is not a term that has much currency in India, where I live. It is, however, a central feature of Johannesburg and São Paulo, the two cities I occasionally work in, and as much as I’m aware of how privileged I am not to be wholly subject to it, I feel curiously bereft of race in both places. Certainly, I grew up with colour: being a dark-skinned child in a uniformly light-skinned family meant that I had to regularly contend with well-meaning relatives who’d pinch my cheeks and chide me for “losing my colour” – as though my skin tone was something I had brought upon myself in a fit of absent-mindedness. To choose a race then: Indian might work for some people, but it is both my passport and my residence, and that’s quite enough. Brown is too generic, and black, a bit too unbelievable, all things considered. Given that I spent my childhood reading Gerald Durrell and dreaming of donkeys, adopting their colour seems right in so many ways.

***

And where does that leave our boy wonder?  We might start with the Estado Novo, Vargas’ authoritarian reign between 1937 and 1945. Only a few years earlier, Freyre had published the crowning achievement of his career, Casa-Grande e Senzala, (“The Big House and the Slave Quarters”, released in English as The Masters and the Slaves), and the book was catching fire. Freyre’s central theory was something he called Lusotropicalism. It told a soothing story of the past (by casting the Portuguese as a kinder, gentler breed of imperial slaver), offered a handy solution for the present (by turning the mixing of races into a virtue) and held out an appealing conclusion, namely, the idea that Brazil was a racial democracy.

Upon publication, Freyre’s work immediately attracted the ire of the Portuguese nation for suggesting her citizens were prone to miscegenation. At home, however, it became Vargas’ blueprint for the country he had seized – and his strategy for political survival. Three quarters of a century later, Freyre’s big think remains the enduring idea of Brazil, an idea whose appeal grows in leaps and bounds across the globe and, to be sure, often escapes the clutches of its creators to dazzling effect. Still, consider the irony: the country’s sense of itself as a racial democracy was smuggled in to its soul by an autocracy.

The term Estado Novo refers to a few different periods of dictatorship, and it literally translates as “new state”, which is prophetic, since the words also describe a peculiar duty that is incumbent upon at least half the Brazilian population. That duty, of course, is the business of branqueamento – of whitening – of transforming, quite literally, into a new physical state. (For all his pro-miscegenation advocacy, Schwarcz notes in The Spectacle of the Races, Freyre was as keen as his critics on keeping the structure of Brazil intact: as a hierarchy with whiteness on top). In that sense, Neymar is only the latest in a long line of celebrities and Brazilians of lesser value who get it. Who get the fine print on the contract; who understand that national identity rests on racial harmony, which, in turn, rests on a kind of potential access to opportunity. Not the opportunity to be equal, mind you, but the opportunity to be white. We may gawk at him all we like, but in straightening his hair, extending it out and dyeing it blonde, Neymar was fulfilling his patriotic destiny in exactly as much as confounding the Croats and leading his team to victory last week.

***

I’ll venture that the disappearing donkey colour fits Neymar to a T. After all, he is both undoubtedly and elusively brown. Yes, there is the matter of his blonde ambition. Oburro fugiu, we might well ask: has the donkey left the room? I’d really like to think not. For one thing, the boy’s only twenty two. He’s got a whole lifetime to change his mind – and his hair. For another, I’ve got a whole World Cup to watch. Have a heart. I spend hours every week learning Brazilian Portuguese, I’m devoted to the country, and I come from Bangalore, a city in which Pelé is god. I do not mean this metaphorically. In a neighbourhood called Gowthampura, around the corner from where I live, residents have erected a lovely shrine to four local icons – the Buddha, Dr. Ambedkar, Mother Teresa, and the striker from Santos.

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So there you have it: my hands are tied. I’ve got my own patriotic destiny to fulfil, and it involves rooting for Brazil, which means I’m going to need to love Neymar a lot.

I can do it.

Anyway, donkeys are famously stubborn animals. They’re good at waiting.

The Future Scenario for White South Africa

Scenario planning is something of a cottage industry in South Africa and was particularly popular during the negotiations for democracy in the early 1990s. Careers were launched on the back of this industry, and speakers known for gazing into the crystal ball back then still pack halls with (white) middle class people worried about their future in the country today.

Scenario planning served as a kind of parallel process alongside the negotiations, especially in determining the direction of South Africa’s economic policy. While the former apartheid regime exposed ANC leaders to, for example, Derek Keys, a businessman who briefly turned politician during that period, scenario-planning exercises were used to influence the ANC’s thinking with dominant economic dogma.

These attempts to influence the ANC’s policy makers usually happened in opulent settings where the proffered ideas would be imbibed with a glass or two of wine. The most well known example is probably the Mont Fleur-scenarios, conjured up near Stellenbosch, a university town set among wine estates that has been a magnet for the well heeled.

Scenario planning is clearly not so much about “the future” but about the present. It functions as a strategy to normalize dominant assumptions, in that rather than the revelation of possible futures—albeit through a somewhat questionable, quasi-scientific method—participants are inducted into ways of thinking that only really benefit the status quo.

In scenario planning the results – the “scenarios” – depend on the choice of information fed in at the start, which is determined by the ideological position of the planner. The question is therefore not where Frans Cronje, in his book A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years (Tafelberg, 2014), thinks South Africa will be in ten years’ time. The question is, rather, which ideological intervention Cronje regards as most urgent in the present and of which he would like to convince readers.

Apart from Cronje being the head of liberal think tank the South African Institute for Race Relations, another clue for readers appears early in the book when he describes the atmosphere in South Africa 20 years ago at the time of the negotiations for democracy:

Even if the country managed to avoid a civil war, many doubted whether the ANC, a socialist liberation movement long supported by the Soviet Union, could possibly govern South Africa. Board rooms and dinner parties were rife with fears that the new government would wreck the economy by expropriating land and nationalising key industries such as mining, thus destroying the middle classes. Fast forward to the present, and we know that the ANC has not ruined the economy, or turned South Africa into a third-world basket case.

This quote, with its inaccurate cliché about the “socialist ANC”, reveals the point of departure. He uses the words “we” and “our” freely, as in the title, but this is a very specific “we” and “our”. Who this “we” refers to becomes clearer when Cronje says: “contrary to popular opinion, significant progress has been made since 1994”. In the May 2014 elections, the ANC attracted some 11 million votes from people who probably mostly think that the country has made significant progress since 1994, so the “popular opinion” under discussion can’t be theirs. The first quote above shows “we” are the people in “board rooms and at dinner parties” – the “largely white middleclass”, as Cronje calls them later. Thus, the author combines the usual liberal emphasis on property rights as the only economic option with judgments associated with a certain form of whiteness. This is the ideological point of departure of this particular scenario planning.

The author then sketches a picture of a suburban existence of BBQ-ing next to the swimming pool amid the expansion of luxurious shopping centres and coffee shops over the past 20 years. Of course, the ANC government has already disproven apartheid rulers’ propaganda–that it would turn South Africa into “another African basket case”, as the oft-heard saying goes. Cronje also sounds surprised that middle-class life is still intact.

But still, the white middle class can’t sleep peacefully. It’s not their consciences keeping them up at night. The bugbear, Cronje unselfconsciously admits, is rather how the glorious middle class existence can continue undisturbed. Because the “real revolution” has only been averted temporarily. At this point appears the usual reference to the threat of the withdrawal of foreign investment to discipline any wayward reader who might be entertaining the daydream of social justice. There are greater economic powers at work, the author warns, that South Africans have to bow to.

Cronje, as the author of this “scenario”, believes that “the disadvantaged” harbor “growing expectations”. This is described as a “crisis”, a “curse” and a “cruel irony”. Obviously only the middle classes may hold expectations (of swimming and BBQ-ing, of course). In his view, having expectations is something that does not behoove those 25 million people living under the breadline in South Africa. His reasoning reminds one of the old colonial nightmare of the “restless natives”… if only they would accept their lot…

Given the ideological basis of Cronje’s planning exercise, Step One is obviously to ponder whether “the poor” will rise up, whether a “racist government” (apparently referring to a black government) will rule and whether wealthy people will be able to escape if things got out of hand. This elite-driven framing, with its implicit reference to “black racism”, draws on current white-right complaints of “reverse discrimination”. It is blind to the everyday interactions among people of different backgrounds that are not always race-based or about economic interests. Cronje-the-scenario-planner apparently does not wonder about ways to promote equality, or how to end poverty and discrimination or deepen democracy and human dignity.

He warns that change is “dead easy” because the “crisis of growing expectations” is happening in a context of constitutional rights and mechanisms. This confluence of factors makes a “second revolution” unavoidable. Presented in this way, post-apartheid South Africa’s commitment to comprehensive human rights is part of the problem.

The scenarios he then proceeds to paint revolve around the economy. Instead of democracy or democratic mechanisms, Cronje’s scenarios speak of mysterious “feedback mechanisms” that determine “freedom” in all likelihood of the economic kind. This conceptual wooliness strengthens the impression that the liberalism on offer here is specifically concerned with the maintenance of existing economic privilege. Building South Africa’s democracy, with its emphasis on human dignity, is less important.

* An earlier version of this review first appeared in Afrikaans in Rapport newspaper, South Africa. The image is from “Casting Shadows” by Edward West.

The Rules of South African Hip Hop in 2014

South African hip-hop has become too safe. Cutting edge rappers are being sidelined in favour of tried-and-tested mainstays – creating a cycle of regurgitated talent that receives preferential treatment by radio stations, booking agents, and sponsors. Doubtless, the artists in the spotlight have dedicated endless hours to their craft, and the fact that their work is paying off is something to be celebrated.

The problem is that there aren’t any rappers filling the vacuum which results when the mainstream and the underground* become distinct entities. In short, the exciting new shit coming out is still not getting heard by most people.

In South Africa, radio still makes the rules. Talent exists in bundles across different regions of the country, but no one has really stepped up to directly challenge the state of affairs, be it through different approaches to songwriting, or a different strategy to marketing their music.

Commercial radio is partly responsible for the mainstream’s generic song format and its silences when faced with issues affecting South Africa’s working class and unemployed citizens. Corporate culture, which has been gunning for South African hip-hop’s soul over the past five years, has also got a guilty hand in the lack of engagement with real issues. Sponsors have their own agendas, and these agendas oftentimes don’t align with sentiments which may be deemed anti-anything.

I’m not implying that hip-hop’s sole purpose is to raise awareness, or that blue collar workers don’t love or support mainstream South African hip-hop. Neither am I suggesting that mainstream rappers are incapable of composing socially conscious music.

Rap music in the South Africa has surrendered wholly to the embrace of commercial radio song structures, resulting in mostly unimaginative, cookie-cutter songs achieving the most airplay.

In the same breath, the scene is the healthiest it’s ever been. Some rappers are making a living off of their craft, while general interest from the public continues to gain momentum. People who were celebrating when Skwatta Kamp won a SAMA Award under the Best Hip-Hop Album category ten years ago have made the transition into adulthood, and with that passage comes a grander appreciation for the music they grew up listening to. Rap shows have transcended their former status as an exclusively male dominion, while the culture and its accompanying elements – grafitti, deejaying and breakdancing – are afforded greater airtime during peak hours on South African radio and television stations.

Hip-hop landed in the Cape Flats in the early 80s, reared its head during the dying years of apartheid, went through multiple identity crises and then finally settled, albeit shakily, where it is today – as the love child of kwaito music and whatever the flavour of the moment is in the pop world. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you an serialised exposé on the state of Mzansi hip hop in 2014.

Extra

We asked the African Hip-Hop Blog to compile a soundcloud playlist of ten top South African rap songs during the first part of 2014. Dig in and have a jam!

*Underground, in this context, shall be used to refer to any musical outfit with no songs on regular radio rotation.

**An earlier version of this article appeared on Mahala

The legacy of the ‘German Bob Geldof of development aid’

Austrian actor and founder of the NGO ‘Menschen für Menschen’ (People for People), Karlheinz Böhm was buried last Friday in Salzburg, Austria. His remains came to rest in a cemetery in his native country yet earth from Africa was carried to Europe in order to allow him to rest in Ethiopian soil as he had wished to be buried in the country that he reportedly loved so much. In German-speaking Europe, which includes Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Böhm, while he was alive, grew into the Bob Geldof of development aid. The NGO he founded in response to the drought and famine that struck the Horn of Africa in the 1980s raised huge sums of money and channelled development aid to Ethiopia. ‘Menschen für Menschen’ grew into an important development agent. Böhm’s iconic status as the actor who played the last emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire enabled the success of his fundraising and development work.

I grew up in a royalist household and from a young age on, I watched Böhm acting the emperor–my mother adores everything royal and aristocratic, real and imagined. Between 1955 and 1957, alongside the legendary Romy Schneider who played a radiant but tragic empress Sissi, Karl-Heinz Böhm was cast as Franz Joseph, the handsome young emperor of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Here‘s some highlights from the film):

In post-World War II Europe–still reeling from devastation and embracing the cold efficiency and sacrifice of the ’Wiederaufbau’ (reconstruction)–the trilogy of the Sissi movies provided relief in the form of nostalgic warmth, romance, law and order, and the ‘Beschaulichkeit’ (tranquillity) of the conservative Biedermeier 19th century era during which bourgeois life triumphed.

While we were watching the third of the three Sissi movies broadcast on German TV to commemorate Böhm,  my mother remembered how the two actors dealt differently with the legacy of their imperial, apparently life-defining roles: Romy Schneider entirely repudiated the over-idyllic and kitsch movies, a huge success that still endures, in which she mostly bats her eyelids at the handsome emperor. In contrast, Böhm is said to have found a meaningful purpose in the movies in that they made people happy and celebrated romantic love. It seems that this ambition, to make people happy, triggered Böhm’s founding of his own NGO. (He kept acting and starred in some popular English language films, including “Peeping Tom” in 1960, as well as in a range of Disney films)

In a relatively short period of time, his organisation grew into a powerful development actor in Germany and in Ethiopia. His wife, who hails from Ethiopia, runs a successful operation that it can almost no longer be called a NON-governmental organisation: given the political support it receives, in Germany and Ethiopia, it seems to behave as if it was an agent of official German development aid.

Germanophone celebrities line-up to pledge support, corporate sponsors abound. High school pupils are offered ‘packages’ for fundraising activities.

Judging from the material available on the website of  Menschen für Menschen, the focus is on mobilisation and collecting money to support educational and agricultural development projects.

Despite the success, some former sponsors dissent and claim that the NGO is inefficient. Critics point out that they may have received a clean bill from several organisations that rate NGOs yet they refuse to open their books to public scrutiny.

While critics claim that the NGO squanders the money and does not enough to allocate resources to really help people, the real question that one should ask is if this kind of development aid will really change anything in the long run? No doubt, there are Africans whose lives improve directly from this development aid. Is this good enough? With all the money collecting and mobilising young people in German schools, with all the corporate and government involvement, is there still enough space and time for critical reflection on development policy: what is the purpose of development aid? What is and should be the role of private or public actors? How does aid help – in the short and in the long run? What is the effect of development work on the donor countries? What image of Africa and Africans is being cultivated? Is this model sustainable? How does it look like in 50 years – will Germans still be collecting money for agricultural projects in Ethiopia? Or are Ethiopians then growing their own food, enough to feed all?

According to Jean Ziegler, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, almost one billion people out of a world population of some 7 billion, suffer hunger every day. The Declaration of Berne calculated in 2009 that the industrial states paid 8900 billion US$ to save their banks from collapse; the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations FAO estimates that a 44 billion US$ investment would reduce extreme hunger by half.

At Böhm’s memorial, an Austrian politician reminded the audience that we were one world–there was no such thing as a third world or a first world.

Well, if this was truly the case, would western friends of Africa not do more to force their corporate and political elites to do more to combat hunger?

Why is the Wall St Journal trash-talking Ghana already? Go #BlackStars!

It’s World Cup time, bring on the articles full of historical stereotypes and racial codes disguised as insightful sports commentary.

For the past two World Cups, the USA team has been routinely decimated by the Ghanaian squads. As a Ghanaian American, I side with my Blackstars, and try to find the nearest Ghanaian restaurant to cheer the boys on. But every four years, I have to brace myself for the predictable slew of American media reporting about Ghana, which usually run along the lines of, WHAT/WHERE IS GHANA?  WHY DOES THIS POOR ,TINY COUNTRY KEEP BEATING US?

In the past these types of articles came out after the USA fell to Ghana. This year WSJ decided to one up the ante and publish one even before the first match between the two teams even started. In an article titled, “Who is Ghana, And Why Can’t the US Beat Them?”  writer Matthew Futterman makes an unoriginal attempt to try to explain Ghana’s past successes over America to the U.S. crowd.  What does he come up with? Because,  BIG BLACK STRONG MEN.

When you can’t go for reason, reach for stereotype.  According to Team USA, Ghana is “athletic and frightening” and “physical”. Futterman writes of the “haunting image” of Ghana’s  Asamoah Gyan “emasculating” the U.S defender Carlos Bocanegra. The writer seems both in awe of and frightened by Gyan’s “burly chest” and “rock hard shoulders”.  Michael Essien is a “beast” when healthy. We’ve all heard this before.

Of course, the reason why USA keeps falling to Ghana isn’t because of USA’s lack of strong players. It’s not because of strategy or tactical superiority on the part of the Black Stars and their coaching. The rhetoric lazily relies on the stereotype of scary,  beast-like Africans who, in the absence of a formal economy and state of the art training facilities, just rely on sheer athleticism.

Then usually come the articles that obsess over how poor Ghana is. Like this one about how Ghana is rationing electricity in order to allow its citizens to watch tonight’s match.

I’m no soccer expert, but maybe if the U.S.A. sports media  spent more time studying the styles and strategies of their Ghanaian opponents rather than focusing on how big and scary their muscles are or how poor their home country is, we’d know why the USA keeps falling to them.

For the record, Go Blackstars!

For an intro to the rich history of the Black Stars, check this superb essay by Kieran Dodds, featuring Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Amilcar Cabral and Stanley Matthews.

For the Tiki-Taka Brigade

The annihilation of Spain by the Netherlands last Friday (5-1) shocked and delighted football fans, pundits and creatives all at once, so much so that European pundits have something else to talk about, like total football, rather than moan, for the umpteeth time, about playing conditions. It will also inspire a million memes, videos, flipbooks and animations (there’s some already) for a while. And everyone will forward it to you on social media. Unlike cats or the latest petition over Blue Ivy’s hair (why?), you should click through. Here’s four exhibits. First, you can relive all five goals courtesy of Dutch TV Jack van Gelden’s commentary:

Then the animator Richard Swarbrick got creative:

There’s also a flipbook of Van Persie’s goal set to Brazilian TV commentary:

But back to the football. Here’s professor Arsene Wenger of Emirates University:

@Chiefboima World Cup Diary Day 4 – Copa pra Quem?

One of the popular phrases that came out of the protests in the run up to the Cup was, “Copa pra quem”? On the third and fourth days of the Cup, I’ve been darting around to different neighborhoods in Rio during the matches — from favelas to wealthy beach front neighborhoods, and from street corner botecos to corporate events — trying to get a sense of the answer to that question.

What I’ve observed is that tourists are out in full force, waking the city out of a sort of mid-winter slumber that we had been experiencing. I visited Lapa Friday night and it was at Carnival levels of busy. The city’s newly arrived visitors are friendly, but definitely in vacation mode, and that means they come with all the strange behavior which that entails. This includes plenty of small groups of men stalking around the now full beaches, a common occurence no doubt, however in an event where several people have already remarked to me about the disproportionate number of male visitors, this can become quite disconcerting. In the four days since the cup started I’ve heard the word brothel mentioned more often than in all of the four months I’ve lived here.

Talking with cab drivers has been informative. Almost every time a cab driver hears I speak English they’ll try to get in as much practice as they can during the ride. One guy said, “I don’t speak English, but I do speak money!” I asked him if he had met a lot of English speakers and he said Argentinians seem to be the most frequent customers and that they like to haggle prices. And it’s true, Argentinians are everywhere here. Fittingly so, as their team is playing against Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracanã this evening.

Colombian fans also are making their presence known in its trans-amazonic neighbor. If you watched their match in Belo Horizonte against Greece on TV, you saw that almost the entire stadium was yellow with Colombia jerseys. I went down to the fan fest in Rio to watch the match with some Colombian friends, and their countryfolk were out in full force there as well. Since this match wasn’t as packed as the Brazil-Croatia opener, we were able to get into the official FIFA-sponsored screening venue without a problem. The crowd was joyful as Colombia dominated the match, but I actually enjoyed the experience at the overflow screen just outside the official FIFA venue more. There, informal vendors hawked cold local beers and Capirinha variations, while locals mixed with visitors in an open-beach atmosphere. Inside the highly securitized fan fest there were over the top multimedia displays, corporate sponsored booths, foreign ‘official-sponsor’ beverage companies, live music acts, an hype-man MC, video cameras galore, and carnival ride distractions. I personally preferred the experience of just a screen and the people.

I was also able to visit some Brazilian friends who are against the Cup this weekend, and was able to discuss a little their feelings about the tournament now that it’s kicked off. I asked one friend if he in his heart was cheering for Brazil when they hit the field, even after all the problems with the hosting. He said no, that he was cheering for Brazil to lose. He actually felt that Thursday’s win was cheap, that the ref had unfairly helped the Brazilian side with a couple of blown calls — including the penalty kick that put them ahead. I told him that when you spend $11 Billion dollars to host the World Cup, the home team is gonna get a few calls thrown their way. And my friend’s sentiment isn’t uncommon amongst Brazilians. The New York Times published a survey before the tournament asking people in various countries what their cheering preferences were. Brazil, the U.S., and Russia all had a significant percentage saying they were cheering against their own national squads. In the U.S., I chalk it up to the large immigrant population, as I am one of those who often roots for other sides according to a complex web of multi-national allegiances. In Brazil it is definitely related to people feeling defeated about their government’s acquiescence to global capital and FIFA (a feeling that Jon Oliver explains so well.)

I get the sense that there’s a general feeling of fatigue amongst those who participated in the protests, disillusioned by the lack of response to their demands by their government. What’s more, the police response to the protests last year was extremely harsh, and many people who are more moderate in their direct action techniques have been coerced into staying off the streets. This time, on top of the normal riot police, the Army is involved, and private firms like Blackwater have been flown in. More than one person has told me that while they were involved in the protests last year, they’d be quietly opposing the cup in the safety of their homes during the tournament. Cheering against the Seleçao is an appropriate, and probably cathartic form of personal protest.

So, in light of all this, I asked my friend who he’d been cheering for, and we both agreed that any African team playing would be our choice. I like to expand that include the African diaspora, and for many reasons was very excited when Costa Rica dominated Uruguay yesterday. It actually brought me back to that infamous Uruguay-Ghana quarter final during the last World Cup, giving me a bit of redemption for that painful Ghana loss. Incidentally, I had watched that match four years ago while in Bolivia, alongside a group of Brazilians living there. When I found out one of them was cheering for Ghana, I asked why he would cheer for an African team, and not his southern neighbor. He looked at me and said, “look at my skin, this is in my blood.”

As far as for me, yesterday my day was capped with an agonizingly delayed triumph by my team Cote d’Ivoire! I celebrated enthusiastically, in a friend’s apartment, and perhaps a few thousand Brazilians did in their own homes as well.

@Chiefboima World Cup Diary Day 2 – Protests and Fan Fests

I haven’t been on social media yet, and I’m sure everyone’s already talking about this, but how fitting is it that the first goal of the tournament is an own goal by Brazil? I mean four goals scored by Brazil, one for the other team, perfectly illustrates Brazilian feelings about the build up to this tournament. It also perhaps sums up day one of the tournament in Rio.

Scorecard on the streets – the protests in Rio, Sao Paulo, and Natal pretty much dominated the first half. Riot police responded with tear gas and concussion grenades. The national news station Globo TV fittingly switched back between shots of the street violence and people in the fan fests, offering a perfect picture of the two Brazils we’ll see during the cup (however two Brazils is a constant theme here — even without the cup.) It seemed like the protesters had been able to make their point just when the entire world was watching.

During the morning, I had heard that traffic and supermarkets in Zona Sul were at apocalyptic slowdown levels, so I living in Zona Oeste, was worried about being able to make it to a place to watch the game in time. However by the time 3pm rolled around the streets seemed empty, and my wife and I hit the omnibus to see how far inside the city we could get. Already the city was like a ghost town, and besides one short traffic stop at São Conrado the streets were clearer than your average Monday evening. We breezed through the city, and all I could think about was how easily everything was working. It seemed that Brazil was managing this situation – without a match in the city and on a public holiday – pretty well.

To be completely honest, I couldn’t help thinking how the chaos that everyone predicted with “imagina na copa” was no where to be seen. The usually bustling entrances to Rocinha and Vidigal were empty, Leblon and Ipanema were clear, and besides a few surfers on the beach, it seemed like everyone had gone home to watch the match. Carnival was much more chaotic than this, and that happens every year. I started to think that questions of Brazil’s ability to host the cup were completely unfounded. Was this routine any different than a normal Seleçao game day? Were the Brazilian people own goaling in their fear of the country’s ability to host such a mega event?

We had gotten to Copacabana so easily that when we passed the fan fest we decided to brave it and join the throng. We got off the bus at the front gate of the official fan fest, which was also the place we had heard a protest was forming. There were plenty of riot police and helicopters, which again gave the whole scene an apocalyptic feel. It was a strange dissonance against the already inebriated fans on the beach. Porta potty lines were long, but generally people were in a festive mood.

By the time we had gotten to the fan fest the gates were closed so we opted for the overflow screen down the beach, which was also already packed out. That’s when the anti-FIFA protests rolled through, and we ended up in the middle between the fans and the protesters, with riot police lined up on the other side of the protesters. I was worried a little that the riot police were going to do something crazy, but the protest was peaceful and passed by in a calm manner. Maybe the police didn’t want to have teargas around the tourists?

You all watched the match so you already know the score on the pitch, but some interesting moments to take note. 1) When the first goal happened, Marcelo’s own goal, I was actually worried that if Brazil didn’t win, as an unexpected consequence of the over blown security, the riot police were going to turn on the fans. This added plenty of motivation for my own cheers when Neymar came through to save the day. 2) The moon rising over Copacabana beach as Brazil settled into the lead, and the crowd settled into a contented hum, was a beautiful moment. It was probably the first time I felt a part of Brazil since moving here. 3) I was amazed when a trio of older Brazilian women of different races settled in behind me and kept expressing their motherly concern over the fatigue of the players on the field. 4) Are all English fans annoying? At least the group I was standing next to was self-aware enough to repeat over and over “we’re American” and “we loooove soccer” really loud. To their credit they were probably the most diverse single crowd at the beach, simultaneously repping Jamaica, Iran, and I would assume a few other places while sporting English jerseys. 5) At the same time, in a post-9/11 world, U.S. Americans abroad have seemed to become used to hiding in plain sight. Ninety-percent of the time I would hear English in an American accent, I would look up and see a Brazilian jersey or colors (I was no exception). I get the sense that this is never something an Argentinian would do.

By the time the second wave of protests passed by the overflow screen (besides the military helicopter circling, I’m sure those inside the highly secured fan fest didn’t even notice their presence), it seemed that the protesters voices had fallen off into another moment of time. FIFA, with the help of the Seleçao, had come thru and won in the second half. However when I thought back to the empty streets, and the relatively low impact the match made on the actual functioning of the city, all the money spent on this event went into stark relief. If the action in Rio couldn’t hold a candle to the madness of Carnival, or even an average work day, why all the money and stadiums just to fill some ridiculous FIFA standard? At the end of the day the question of whether or not Brazil could handle the cup to me was answered with a resounding yes. The question of whether or not they should still remains.

For the perfect soundtrack, all the way from Rio de Janeiro, check out @ChiefBoima with AfricasaCountry Radio, Episode 3. You can listen to all the episodes here.

Save The Children Tries Models and Sex Appeal

Is your NGO looking for innovative tactics to reach new Northern donors? Here’s one for the books. Last week, Save the Children released a video in which they dupe models into advocating for children’s rights. The video opens with a bunch of models on a set, prepping themselves for business as usual. The directors instruct them to sell whatever will appear on the cue cards by being sexy as they can. While the models put their art of seduction to work, the script suddenly changes from “lust is my mistress” to statistics about children’s poverty and death tolls. An obvious turnoff, but the models have to keep it hot. After some initial awkwardness and wonderment (“ehh…are you attracted to me right now?”) the self-rubbing becomes more hesitant (except for one guy, whose arousal—hands down—is the most authentic element of the whole clip), and the spectacle culminates in the models’ heartfelt conclusion that “we can’t make this issue sexy, but it deserves your attention”.

The campaign, apparently, was built on Save the Children’s heightened frustration about the missing link between children’s suffering and sex appeal. As one of their communications people put it, “If only we can get people to hear these issues, but it is hard to make it sexy”. In other words, one of the world’s top independent charities for children thought that it would be a good idea to link trying-too-hard Euro-eroticism and raising money to save poor Third World children. Any discordance between the two was supposed to be eliminated by sentiment alone.

The result: in only 2 minutes and 18 seconds, development advocacy hit a new low. The problem with the video is not that the use of sex antics to save poor children’s lives is out of place. This tactic—arousing donors’ libidos in order to touch their hearts—is hardly revolutionary in the development world. It gained popularity after NGOs came under fire for their reliance on what was dubbed poverty porn: the practice of pathologising hapless and starving children, and using images of this extreme otherness to draw in donors. Critics (mainly those from the South) of poverty porn complained that such images planted a highly essentialized and reductionist image of ‘the unfortunate Third World other’ in the minds of northern public. Another problem with targeting the North through emotional and moral appeals was that the cash flows that pictures of fly-covered babies generated were too unreliable. While these images produced the intended effect for a short time, the ‘difference’ between donor and victim, on which the strategy relied and capitalized, soon lead to donors’ compassion fatigue. The UN’s utterly dry development vocab (sustainability, anyone?) didn’t offer much gusto to get the masses fired up, (and paying up) either.

One solution to the problem was to get celebs on board; you know, the sexy entertainment type. Bono, the ever-shaded rockstar and self-declared poverty authority had of course loudly and proudly claimed a position at these frontlines ages ago. In 2007, having grown quite comfortable with the global prestige and credibility that the development frontlines tend to bestow on elite occupants, he felt comfortable enough to claim that what the world needed was the globalization of the revolutionary mix that he believed he embodied: adding some sex appeal to the business of saving lives. As Bono’s ill-advised logic and depoliticized focus on symptoms rather than causes of poverty were echoed both far and wide, we became accustomed to to watching sexy models and celebs speak on behalf of the poor—whom we learned to refer to as the ‘voiceless’. The problem with the celebrity-as-spokesperson, however, is that celebrities’ loud presences also come with silences and absences. With every shoot, every show and every spectacle of seduction, those crucial absences and silences become less noticeable.

The alternative of offering the children—for whom all this celebrity and sex appeal is being poured out—a platform to be their own spokespersons no longer makes sense to us. The Save the Children video tells their young beneficiaries: “you are simply not hot enough, and your stories are either too shocking or too boring. We have come to accept our inability to represent you, so this time we are not taking any risks. This time we are leaving you, your agency, and your ability to speak and define your own story out of it altogether. It’s for your own good”.

The NGO’s perception of future donors isn’t flattering either. Not even pretending to view them as people who can be educated, moved or mobilized, the NGO appeals to their lust, paternalistic benevolence and their eagerness to share sexy poverty videos on Facebook to quench their own moral thirst. It’s like they are saying: “We know what you want. Now pay like the shallow buffoon you are”.

What the new Sexy Development Discourse doesn’t seem to get is that the problem with the low appeal of terms like sustainability and other dry development talk is due to the fact that they are vague, impersonal and detached. Having unaware models fake sincerity to ‘interpret’ the lives of those who are reduced to one giant statistic is not going to bridge that divide.

(And) It’s not like there are no alternatives. Especially when it comes to children, who are generally perceived as innocent and savable, there are ways to move those who have access to money and power to action. Not by manufacturing and widening the difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’, but—surprise!—by showing that we are not, in fact, all that different. It’s the responsibility and the duty of NGOs like Save the Children to educate potential Western donors on both the causes of poverty and the humanity of their beneficiaries. Is there a place for celebrities at all? Sure. When they’re willing to tone down the egos and their volumes, and are prepared to swallow any misguided slogans, they can do great work. As we have written before, Colin Greenwood is a great example of a rock star who knows how to pull this one off. Let people like him be an example, rather than Bono.

And yeah. We beg you to leave the writhing models out of it, too.

Do White South Africans constitute a tribe and if so, are they guilty of tribalism?

In a recent article published by Africa is a Country, The Story of a South African “Tribe”, Jared Sacks argues that tribalism is alive and well.  Drawing on Thabo Mbeki’s comments on tribalism in October 2013, he suggests that those really guilty of tribalism are Afrikaaners and the English who practice a sophisticated incognito kind of tribalism. They do this in two fragmented camps when voting for either DA or the Freedom Front Plus, but do it all the same with harrowing consequences. Therefore, Sacks’ suggests, it is white people who are the real tribalists and it is their “homeboyism” which poses the biggest challenge to change in this country.

The article seems to me an attempt at uncovering ‘our’ racial and categorical prejudices as well as challenging how we understand tribalism. Sacks seems to be trying his hand at what some have called discursive rupture. He eggs us towards an epistemic break with ideas we have come to accept as matters of fact or historical taxonomies. [Tribes are black people or other uncivilized people. There are different kinds of tribes. These blacks, smeared in animal fat, fought each other with sticks and stones until the arrival of the white man rescued them from oblivion and destined savagery – or so, I imagine, the trope goes].

We are presented with a supposed deconstruction of naturalized anti-black racism – how we think and label black people – whilst the issue of white supremacy is highlighted. But I wonder, is this really a benign white radical anti-racist proposition?

While I also fell for the literary trick by assuming he is referring to the two largest black groups in the country, when he criticizes tribalism, I think this seemingly anti-racist discursive turn is actually a slight-of-hand move that should be read as subterfuge.  I think Jared’s move here, like those of many fair-minded social activists, actually rearticulates white supremacy and necessarily arrives at a problematic conclusion. The problematic claim being: we can lump together prejudice, bigotry, tribalism and white supremacy. The aim is clear. White solidarity and white supremacy is just another form of tribalism equal to and – by his definition – necessarily similar to the irksome tribalism addressed by Mbeki: differing from ‘black tribalism’ only in qualitative terms. This of course does little in the way of conceptual fidelity and has troublesome consequences. 

The juxtaposition of ‘black tribalism’ with ‘white tribalism’ allows for the fallacious claim of parity between oppressors and oppressed. That is to say, black people are guilty tribalism and so are white people. Both are engaged in debilitating and nefarious practices and each for their own narrow agendas.  Sacks subsumes the problem of white supremacy and white solidarity under the notion of tribalism. This unduly stretches the explanatory scope and power of tribalism, even if we allow for poetic license to prove a point about how we think about such concepts. I argue, this re-calibration of tribalism actually obfuscates where the term comes from and masks who did what to whom, in the truest ‘historical’ sense.

It is a willful negligence of how tribalism has come to be understood. Tribalism has been understood as a settler colonialist project nurtured in the bosom of anthropology at pains to disaggregate and atomize the indigenous population as well as continued black resistance incipient in the eighteenth century. It is a mind-set and practice engendered by the conflicts extant between various groups of people, which were ultimately fine-tuned and enhanced by white settler colonialism for the distinct purpose of subjugation. Divide and rule. Therefore, white supremacy and white solidarity whether practiced in dichotomies [DA and FF+] or not, do not equate to tribalism or a form of tribalism. Tribalism is a product of white domination and white supremacy. 

I am not arguing Sacks’ proposition because I don’t have a problem with anti-black epistemes or white solidarity. I do. Rather, my problem is with the lack of conceptual fidelity giving rise to malapropos notions that are irreconcilable with history or the status quo.  

I maintain that that the ‘white tribe’ is not just another group of actors who by and large happen to hold the monopoly on power and wealth. My point is, white society – if you like – invented tribalism to subordinate and subjugate black people. To suggest anything else is toying with sophistry and must be read as such.

What about Sacks’ comments on recalcitrant ‘white tribalism’ viz-a-viz the need to redistribute land and economic power? He says, “Are white South Africans going to change their “homeboyism” anytime soon?…Without redistribution of land, economic power and the complete desegregation of our society on a democratic and socialist basis, tribalism among Afrikaans and English South Africans will continue to prevent the achievement of a truly nonracial and inclusive society [emphasis added]. Does he not recoup himself here?  

No, not at all. I think the approach is altogether wrong and informed by a worldview that still negates the obvious solution that is black power. Such an approach privileges white actors as the master race with the power to free black people economically. While it is true that anti-black racist politics have shaped power relations in this country, the stumbling block or what “prevents the achievement of a truly non-racial and inclusive society” is not a benevolent ‘white tribe’. Nowhere in history do we see a even moderately self-interested and powerful group voluntarily liberating – in the truest sense of the word – a group they oppress/exploit. 

The answer clearly must lie with a demonstrably popular pro-black, socialist and revolutionary political project that will form the antitheses to a white supremacist, liberal democratic, economic system being managed by the ANC and the DA. This of course only rings true if we take seriously a dictum that says “liberation can never be granted or acceded to and must necessarily be fought for and taken, always”. 

This is an edited version of the article,which first appeared in the Conmag. 

@ChiefBoima’s World Cup Diary Day 1: A Tale of Two Copas

World Cup Day 1 — The sun is out in Rio for the first time in days. It’s a national holiday. Anticipation in the air. I’m woken up to the sound of horns.

My first Brazilian national home game of significance is today… but perhaps this one is bigger than many. This is because there are two fields of action. One is on the pitch and the other is on the streets. This is Brazil’s chance to prove itself in many different ways. As a country that’s arrived on the global stage, as a fully developed democracy. It seems like proving themselves on the pitch was the last thing that was on many Brazilians minds in the run up today. ‘Imagina na Copa’ has rung in my ears since I’ve arrived. Well the cup is here and today I’m woken up to horns.

This morning I’m going to be trying to follow the action on the streets, this afternoon I’ll be looking at the pitch. I’ve been following activist groups online for months in the preparation. It seems like one prominent activists’ house was raided by police last night. Sao Paulo is already seen some protest action. Airport workers in Rio went on strike this morning for 24 hours. How else are Brazilian activists and workers going to show their cards today?

My next challenge today is to attempt to become mobile in Rio… I’m dreading the traffic.

For the perfect soundtrack, all the way from Rio de Janeiro, check out @ChiefBoima with AfricasaCountry Radio, Episode 3. You can listen to all the episodes here.

James Baldwin at 90, Part 4: The Brilliance of Children, The Duty of Citizens

At the outset of the essay, I asked “What changes, what constants and what chimeras made the United States the place that elects a black President?” And, “What does black president actually mean?” (You can find the first three parts of this essay here.)

Consider a statement made off hand and in jest by President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner on May 1, 2010. In his remarks, President Obama recognized the presence of the pop group Jonas Brothers. He went on to state the following, “Sascha and Malia are huge fans, but boys don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: Predator Drones. You’ll never see it coming.”

I can see Jimmy Baldwin slipping on his shades. He saw this coming. Everyone knows the President is a persona, highly crafted. It’s interesting to see President Obama, here, consciously playing upon the protective father role. And, he’s twisted the irony of his father/President persona precisely to enlist the deadly military force of the state to his shotgun-at-the-door-on-prom-night purposes as a father. He’s playing with changes and constants. Or, is he working? A father’s love of daughters? Constant! But, do we hear the smack of numb patriarchy, even an echo of the fathers of the white South’s fear for their daughter’s chastity? Change? A black man is Commander and Chief? Change! But, where and against whom are Predator Drones actually mobilized when they’re not metaphorically menacing teen idol pop groups? Constant? 

The threat and use of state violence against “insurgent” forces is nothing new. All American militant groups and many that weren’t militant experienced levels of state terror as well as state apathy in the face of social terror in the 20th century. Baldwin knew such state terror first hand. Baldwin was conscious of state as well as vigilante threats against his life and livelihood. In Istanbul, for instance, he noted the proximity of his house to consulates not aligned with the United States in case he should need emergency political asylum. His family opened his mail, intercepted the death threats and more than once attempted to dissuade him from returning to the U.S. for fear he’d be shot. In his biography, James Weatherby quotes Baldwin from an interview with Italian press soon after the murder of Malcolm X: “He said his own mail had got ‘so horrible’ he had turned it over to the FBI. ‘Maybe they were writing some of it’” (264). These were not unreasonable fears and precautions. The family knew their phones were tapped. Baldwin suspected that his mail was being opened. References to surveillance and tactics and codes for eluding it appear in his correspondence.

Cases prosecuting American terrorists who as employees of and / or with the sanction of local governments menaced and murdered American citizens are currently on-going or recently concluded in Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Chicago and elsewhere. The blogosphere was full of commentary about the international politics of President Obama’s joke before the first correct fork was lifted amid all the comic incorrectness at the Correspondents’ Dinner. Frequent mistaken or collateral killings of Afgani, Pakistani, Somali, and Yemeni civilians and numerous intended murders of “suspects” by Predator Drones immediately struck many as bizarre territory for a joke about a father protecting his daughters. It doesn’t take much to mark the offense.

But, the change/constant structure of Baldwin’s work takes it further. The fact that vast numbers of bloggers stop at marking ironies with outrage—and vice versa—opens and limits our discourse. The fact that the mainstream media often do less than that (ask Helen Thomas why) intensifies our need for clearer, deeper perspectives such as James Baldwin’s work offers. If jokes are often funny because they flout convention, they’re revealing for exactly the same reason. About involuntary confessions hidden in humor, in No Name in the Street, Baldwin wrote: “one’s merely got to listen . . .to what they think is funny, which is also what they think is real” (Collected 469). If I hold a mirror between us at arm’s length, my one-year old son sees my face at the end of my arm, but he doesn’t laugh until he looks back at where my face actually is. Such is the brilliance of children. Such is also, exactly, the duty of citizenship. How about a quick look back at where it’s at? Baldwin can see this coming even from the grave.

Possibly, a small glimpse of what’s change and what’s constant in President Barack Obama’s America appears in this joke. And, more interestingly, the relationship appears between what’s constant, what changes and the dangerous chimeras of confusion between them. Short of two weeks after the Jonas Brothers gag, on May 13, Scott Shane’s story entitled, “US Approval of Killing Cleric Causes Unease,” in The New York Times began like this: “The Obama administration’s decision to authorize the killing by the Central Intelligence Agency of a terrorism suspect who is an American citizen has set off a debate over the legal and political limits of drone missile strikes, a mainstay of the campaign against terrorism.”

Moving the President’s joke closer to home, by May 13th it was clear that the “suspects” targeted for killing by Predator Drones could also be American citizens. In fact, the American-born cleric / “suspect” in question, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan, an American-born editor of the English-language, militant web magazine, Inspire, were intentionally killed in a CIA-led U.S. drone strike while driving in Yemen on Friday, September 30, 2011.

Leading up to the 2012 election, discussions of Nobel Peace Laureate, President Obama’s foreign policy credentials begin with his presiding over the murder of Osama bin Laden. In the vaunted post-racial age that bears his name, “the Obama era,” it’s difficult for me to distinguish this credential from the old-fashioned, time-honored horror of the American political spectacle: the tough man waving his trophy scalp. 

Echoing as it does real time state terror on Earth, President/father Obama’s joke links the human constant of fatherly love with the capricious nature and terror of political power. Fathers and politicians are dangers in their own ways. That’s constant; we can work with it. But, by this kind of gesture, illusory permanence, state power, borrows the universal permanence of a basic fact of life, fatherhood. And, the fact of life, fatherhood, adopts the (to me, a father, destructive) straight-backed, macho force of technologically abstracted military violence. Exactly as Baldwin’s work diagrams, such chimerical traffic between changes and constants is dangerous to democracy and family life. And that’s no joke. Ask a Kennedy. Ask any President/father. Ask any dissident/daughter. 

Historically speaking, this is not “post-racial” territory; and neither is it now. Cloaked in the constants of family, state terror becomes familiar, natural, to people while its ideological, unlawful and error-prone deployment is obscured. This impairs the mirror-and-back vision of citizens and makes the nation more dangerous to the world, and vice versa,  than it has to be. And, dressed in the gleam and ferocity of abstract killing force, the role of fatherhood becomes further dehumanized and abstracted from the lives of actual men and daughters attempting—however over-matched—to live as people. This obscures the privately panic-stricken vacuum of our errors as fathers. And, that makes our houses and neighborhoods more dangerous than they already are. In 1964, in “Uses of the Blues,” Baldwin revealed the hidden transactions that prop up the structure of this chimerical American theater. He wrote: “People who don’t know who they are privately, accept as we have accepted for nearly fifteen years, the fantastic disaster of American foreign policy, and the incoherence of the one is an exact reflection of the incoherence of the other. Now, the only way to change all this is to begin to ask ourselves very difficult questions” (Baldwin Cross 66). Here Baldwin connects the private panic in the American head and home to the forces global terror played out on behalf of so-called American interests in the world. In case this is sounding rhetorical, consider the following image:unnamed

Ask, for instance, the driver of this SUV in Georgia for his views on drone strikes, gun laws, neighborhood watch programs and related social issues. You ask, that is; I’m afraid to. All of this, at each level, driven by private questions the language for which—to say nothing of any answers—is obscured by the whole pageant of guns, jokes, and (by whatever name) drones.

This paradigm is directly applicable, for example, in the relation between the neighborhood watch mentality with its reliance on pro-gun legislation pervasive in much of the contemporary U.S. and the popular support, indeed demand, for preemptive strikes in the American “war on terror.” In this sense, the “war on terror” appears, in fact, to be a kind of “natural” (meaning veiled ideological) extension of the nexus of pro-gun legislation and gated community / neighborhood watch mentality. Bush’s war on terror / homeland security policies positioned constitutionally by John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales and kept basically intact or extended by Eric Holder in the Obama administration, in Baldwin’s lens, operate precisely as a global neighborhood watch program. The system of connections at work here is toxic to lives in ways few are conscious of and, in fact, in ways few want to know anything about. In this, then, as it was in 1964, Baldwin recommends that the place to start may not be located in Somalia or Afghanistan, not even in Washington, but with the lyrical resuscitation of a strangled blues self beginning with difficult questions in the hallway mirrors and across the dinner tables of American private life. And, the proportion of panic in the stricken vacuums produced by these reckonings, I’d bet on Baldwinian logic, will decrease in direct proportion to the level of privileged bankruptcy which have afflicted the persons in the mirrors.

Now. We know some of what the black President has in the bank. And, it’s not because he’s black and it’s not not because he’s black either. We know because he wrote it down, which is exactly the same reason so few of us know it. Which scarcity itself, it appears, is a crucial political (if not survival) tactic. I read Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father while flying to Kenya when the author was a newly elected U.S. Senator. I read parts of the book in shock and disbelief. The author of these paragraphs is a U.S. Senator? My amputation: I’d have never thought it possible. For one thing, we know for certain that Barack Obama understands what Baldwin wrote about gangrene and amputation. Consider the following two passages from Dreams From My Father where Obama riffs on Du Bois and describes what he imagines about a Kenyan waiter in a restaurant frequented by Westerners : 

If he’s ambitious he will do his best to learn the white man’s language and use the white man’s machines, trying to make ends meet the same way the computer repairman in Newark or the bus driver back in Chicago does, with alternating spurts of enthusiasm or frustration but mostly with resignation. And if you say to him that he’s serving the interests of neocolonialism or some other such thing, he will reply that yes, he will serve if that is what is required. It is the lucky ones who serve; the unlucky ones drift into the murky tide of hustles and odd jobs; many will drown. (314)

That’s gangrene. And, amputation? Obama writes : 

Then again, maybe that’s not all that the waiter is feeling. Maybe part of him still clings to the stories of Mau-Mau [essentially, revolutionary amputations of these complexities], the same part of him that remembers the hush of a village night or the sound of his mother grinding corn under a stone pallet. Something in him still says that the white man’s ways are not his ways, that the objects he may use every day are not of his making. He remembers a time, a way of imagining himself, that he leaves only at his peril. He can’t escape the grip of his memories. And so he straddles two worlds, uncertain in each, always off balance, playing whichever game staves off the bottomless poverty, careful to let his anger vent itself only on those in the same condition. 

A voice says to him yes, changes have come, the old ways lie broken, and you must find a way as fast as you can to feed your belly and stop the white man from laughing at you. 

A voice says no, you will sooner burn the earth to the ground. (314)

The President of the United States wrote those paragraphs. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. If it gets around, he’s finished. And, in his first term in office, Barack Obama’s Department of Justice successfully prosecuted long-time Chicago Police Commander John Burge (notorious for his decades-long campaign of torture and false imprisonment).

But, don’t tell anyone that! News such as that could give his “pro-American” opponents fuel; in American history, and from a perspective, albeit hideous, that Baldwin’s line of sight forces us to acknowledge, such news could endanger the President’s life. At the same time, he jokes about the often mistaken and always extra-legal use of Predator Drones in killings across the globe which turns amputations—in this case the militant urges for revolutionary freedom such as the Mau-Mau—into assassinations. Who now is in dangerous rhetorical territory close to the Kennedys’? Well, this is beautiful, the President has these paragraphs and the sensibility they profile in the bank. And, it’s terrible. He must radically dissemble that sensibility to govern at all if not simply to survive. And, that’s the nature of the view Baldwinian light gives up when we hold our eyes there long enough that they start to adjust. Who can afford such visions? Whose style can, “in a way. . . must,” accommodate them? And, here we are. Truth is, there’s no need for such perceptions to be secreted because the vast majority of Americans’ (life)styles simply can’t accommodate what all this spells out. That’s the trap, that’s the vacuumed panic ca. 2014.  

Comments like Obama’s joke, echoing as they do comments by Baldwin and Kennedy and many others, make me wonder again if this is the country that would elect a black president or not? And, to quote Miles’ sardonic stylized-lyricizing, “So what?”

Do we aspire to clarify and further our shared, blues condition or intensify our chimerical and bankrupt states of mind? Then, I wonder about it, again, vote by vote, person by person, mirror by mirror. What’s changed? What’s constant? And, what would that mean? To whom? And in what way? James Baldwin’s musical attention to this dynamic riding the dynamics of amputation and gangrene offers quite precise and useful guides to these massive and imprecise questions and to much that lurks, in our mirrors, within and behind them. His work also exposes some of why the answers and evidence has been so confusing and suggests some of how the confusion is still so dangerous. It also offers eyes to see, possibly, much more than we’d like to see and places us close enough to touch the living turbulence of political, social and private life. The living turbulence is painful and dangerous but, as Baldwin told Studs Terkel in 1961, the alternative is a treadmill pursuit of a chemirical happiness amid a joyless chaos. The contemporary choice Baldwin clarifies, written backward in the mirror, is clearly between the “Uses of the Blues” and the Bankruptcy of Privilege. There’s no predesigned script. Baldwin offers chord changes and constants. Who’s marked the tonic? And, indeed, at those prices, who can afford to improvise? Baldwin’s ready answer: those who must. 

India’s ‘Africa’ policy

In a speech last October, Narendra Modi argued, “I believe a strong economy is the driver of an effective foreign policy…we have to put our own house in order so that the world is attracted to us.” The need for a robust economy is paramount for Modi’s India. The economy will drive Modi’s government in domestic and foreign agenda, and New Delhi’s ambitions in the African continent reflects this. India’s interests are likely to be bound up more and more with the growth of African economies. It is likely that the language of a ‘Rejuvenated India’ will become enmeshed with the grand and convenient narrative of a ‘Rising Africa’.

India’s engagement in Africa since Independence has been chaotic and incoherent, with a multitude of actors and sectors engaging in Africa continent. The official Indian rhetoric, however, has treated Africa as a monolith, discounting a continent with heterogeneous political economies and varying levels of economic and social development. While India made had long historical linkages with the continent, trade in the postcolonial era lagged behind. Till the year 2000, the volume of trade was a meagre $3 billion. In the last decade, however, there was a dramatic increase in trade between India and Africa, leaving it at $70 billion currently; trade is projected to reach $90 billion by 2015. Despite the multifold increase, India is still playing catch up to the $200 billion volume of China-Africa trade. The reason for this disparity? While Chinese inroads in Africa are state driven, Indian in roads are private sector driven.

All of that is set to change. Modi’s Election manifesto states, “BJP realizes the need to focus on generation and distribution of power as a national security issue, so that the growth is not negatively impacted due to supply issues in the energy sector”, squarely placing energy security under national security. If Modi is to achieve his goal of development, then energy security becomes of paramount importance. And where commerce heads, the military will follow.

In the past decade, India’s strategic presence in the continent has increased; under Modi’s reign these trends will solidify. In 2006, Raja C. Mohan argued that India should “reclaim its standing in the near abroad in parts of Africa”. The Indian Navy has cautiously and steadily extended its presence to cover most of the island states off the eastern coast of Africa since a 2003 bilateral defence assistance accord first authorized it to patrol the exclusive economic zone of Mauritius. This was done under the Prime Ministership of BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Subsequent deals have led to patrols of the territorial waters of the Seychelles and regular presence off the coast of Mozambique. In 2007, India established its first listening post in northern Madagascar, setting up a surveillance station to track shipping in the western Indian Ocean. Attacks on several Indian merchant ships by Somali pirates in 2008 gave an added impetus to keep at least one Indian Navy warship on station in the Gulf of Aden at all times since October 2008.

India’s Economic and Energy Policy will make it imperative to secure the African coast, just as China secures its interest through the “String of Pearls” strategy. Alioune Ndiaye, in “L’Afrique dans la politique étrangère indienne: Les nouvelles ambitions africaines de New Delhi”, calls this geographic regional strategy the “Varuna Triangle”. Here, India will have to contain China through long term strategic investment in African countries located along the Indian Ocean from the Horn of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope, including African island states of Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar. Through naval diplomacy, and the opening of listening posts, India is already aiming at securing its external trade and countering the presence of China in the region. Under Modi, Africa will not just be a continent where India endeavors to expand its economic footprint, but one where it will seek to build, protect and project its power.

Dutch Logic and the New Bruin Pete: Making Something Less Racist by Making it More Racist

As most AIAC readers know by now, the Dutch are having a very hard time letting go of their precious blackface tradition. Well sadly, but not surprisingly, Zwarte Piet (in English: Black Pete) is still amongst us. Obviously there are so many rational and convincing arguments to keep him; the kids would be terribly upset, he’s a symbol of black power, he actually got black because he came down the chimney, and our all time favourite: he’s good for moral reasons…because he demonstrates that black people work too. Asking the Dutch public to get rid of their national blackface hero is just too much to ask in 2014.

But (enter cheers), not all is lost because the Nederlands Centrum voor Volkscultuur en Immaterieel Erfgoed (Dutch folk and heritage centre) decided to talk to about 20 Dutch people, do research and what not, all to figure out what a new Black Pete should look like. Hooray. Their ideas were presented on Dutch public television TV show Knevel & Van den Brink. I’m sure they thought real long and hard about it because Black Pete is now, wait for it, no longer black but brown! His Afro is replaced by black straight hair and the big red lips and the earrings have disappeared. People, let’s all get down on our knees and give praise!unnamed

This seems to be a very emotional loss for many white Dutch folk; we’ve all heard so much about all their thoughts and feelings on the matter, ranging from why black straight hair is clearly less racist to in to why people of colour have too much say nowadays and should be shipped back. But really, in what universe did people think settling for a ‘new’ Black Pete, would be better? People: never seek to find a compromise on racist imagery because it will really only get worse. Replacing blackface by brownface is a move that clearly demonstrates that the Dutch really do not understand how ingrained and pervasive their racism actually is. Let’s face it, only the Netherlands will try making something less racist by making it more racist.

Can an African team reach the World Cup semi-finals?

No European nation has won the World Cup when it has been held in South America, and the potential for teams such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to pose a major challenge should be taken seriously. Although the marketing campaigns of major multinationals sell the event as a stage for brilliant individual players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney, the last few tournaments have seen excellent team performances consistently overshadow outstanding individuals. Less-fancied teams such as Uruguay in 2010, South Korea in 2002 and Croatia in 1998 have all made it to the semi-final stage through discipline, drive and collective effort. This year, perhaps, an African team can make that step too.

On paper it is the Super Eagles, the champions of Africa, who go into the tournament with the best chance of making a big impression out of all the African sides. Nigeria have a strong squad of powerful and skillful players to call on, and have shown no sign in recent years of the kinds of internal divisions which plagued past campaigns. Their secret weapon is undoubtedly their indefatigable head coach Stephen Keshi, the man known affectionately as “Big Boss”. A no-nonsense centre-half as a player, Keshi won the African Cup of Nations as the captain of the Super Eagles in 1994, and after spells in charge of Togo and Mali he took over as manager of the Nigerian national team in 2011, with the team in disarray following its disastrous showing at the 2010 World Cup. A man possessed of great natural authority and charisma, Keshi has set about comprehensively rebuilding Nigeria into an attacking force that can once again pose a threat on the continental and global scene.

“My vision is to bring back our style of play, which is attacking football, with speed, power and technique, which I think has been lacking for so many years,” Keshi said in a recent interview. “It’s not going to take one day or six months to get that done. It will take time.”

With Keshi at the helm, many established players — the likes of Obafemi Martins, Taye Taiwo and Yakubu — have given way to fresh blood, with young, dynamic talents such as Lazio’s all-action midfielder Ogenyi Onazi and pacey winger Ahmed Musa bursting on to the scene. Vincent Enyeama, one of the top-performing goalkeepers in Europe this season, remains a bulwark of stability between the posts, while Chelsea’s vastly experienced John Obi Mikel is the lynchpin of the side, deployed in a more advanced, creative role than the holding midfield position he fills at club level.

The good news for Nigeria is that by the time they face the skilful Argentineans in Group F, they may already have qualified, if they can secure good results against Iran in their opening tie, and tournament debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina. A second-place finish in their group would see them drawn against the first-placed team in a weak Group E, likely to be France.

If Nigeria have the best coach of the African teams, Ghana’s strength lies in the depth of their very gifted squad and in the experience built up through good performances at the last two tournaments. Though the Black Stars have stumbled in recent Nations Cups, they have nonetheless looked by far the best equipped African team to challenge on the world stage over the past decade. Juventus star Kwadwo Asamoah is a key player, though given the range of midfield options available to coach Kwesi “Silent Killer” Appiah, his single most important squad member remains forward Asamoah Gyan, who is in line to become only the fourth African to score in three different World Cup tournaments.

A winner-takes-all tie against the Portugal of Cristiano Ronaldo looks likely, but if Ghana can rediscover the form that saw them blast six goals past Egypt in qualifying, the slick-haired Real Madrid superstar may be in for a shock.

Perhaps the African side whose performance is hardest to predict are Ivory Coast. Blessed with CAF African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure, who goes into the tournament as the world’s finest midfielder on current form, coach Sabri Lamouchi’s task is to find a system which allows the creative talents of Toure and the effervescent winger Gervinho to unlock defences. The inexperienced Lamouchi faces a major selection dilemma in the striker’s position. Didier Drogba is team captain and retains huge respect within the Ivorian game. But Wilfried Bony, a similar type of forward to Drogba, finished the English Premier League season as the outstanding form striker in the country and looks far more of a goal threat than his aging rival. The ideal solution might be to start Bony and use Drogba as a high-impact substitute — provided the legendary forward can be persuaded to put the team’s interests above his personal pride.Nigerian Rashidi Yekini screams 21 June

For all their high-calibre players, Ivory Coast have been hugely disappointing in recent competitions. This time the draw has been kind to the Elephants, who should have too much for both Japan and Greece. Their second game, against Colombia, should be a superb encounter and is likely to decide the group winner.

Algeria have never made it beyond the group stage, and will face three tough games against Russia, South Korea and much-fancied Belgium. Fans of the Fennecs can take heart from the recent emergence of the elegant midfielder Nabil Bentaleb and the good form of rugged centre-forward Islam Slimani. Their key player is Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli.

Cameroon, who always seem to qualify for the World Cup despite weak performances at continental level, face difficult games against Mexico, Croatia and hosts Brazil. Although their biggest goal threat is likely to be 22-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, all the focus, as ever, will be on Samuel Eto’o as he competes in his fourth World Cup tournament (btw don’t miss Ntone Edjabe’s brilliant piece on Cameroon for the FT). The four-time African player of the year recently dismissed Jose Mourinho’s suggestion that he is in fact older than 33, and promised to emulate his boyhood hero Roger Milla and keep playing until he is 41.

Asked about the challenge of taking on the hosts, “le petit Milla” insists he is undaunted. “We beat the Brazilians at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney,” he recalled. “There was a certain Ronaldinho in the team and many others. Eto’o is not scared. Cameroon is not scared.”

Think you know football? Test your skills against AIAC bloggers, top African football journalists and other fans by joining our World Cup fantasy league. Register, pick your team and join our league, “AIAC Superleague” — then invite all your friends to join too. But hurry! The tournament kicks off tomorrow.

We will be tweeting throughout the tournament — for all our football-related coverage follow our dedicated football handle @FutbolsaCountry.

This is an edited excerpt from a preview written for The Africapitalist magazine, and is republished with permission.

Africa is a Country Radio: Episode 3

Episode 3 of Africa is a Country Radio is live on Groovalizacion and the AIAC Mixcloud page. This month is a music only episode because I had been touring the U.S., and only just arrived back to Rio to record the show.

However, there is a still a bit of a theme. Brazil being on much of the world’s minds these days I had to open the show with a dedication to the World Cup host country. A special post-show big up to the Brazilian people — who stay challenging the status quo of global mega events!

Africa is a Country Radio: Episode #3 by Africasacountry on Mixcloud

Interview: On two important exhibitions devoted to African diasporas during the slave trades (Part II)

In this, the second, in a two-part interview with Dr. Sylviane Diouf and Dr. Joaneath Spicer, respectively the curators of two important exhibitions of African diasporas–Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europeand Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers ­—Jean-Philippe Dedieu and Noémie Ndiaye began by asking Sylviane Diouf about the juxtaposition of East African slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers.

East African slavery and the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed in your exhibition. It allows you to explore the question of the African diaspora on a global level. What is at play here?
Sylviane Diouf: Our exhibition doesn’t talk at all about the Atlantic slave trade. What we show, tacitly, is the difference between the Atlantic slave trade and the East African slave trade, whether it be Arab or Indian. We point out the differences. And one of the fundamental differences is Islam. How does Islam define slavery? How does it treat slaves? Slavery in India was more flexible than in Europe, but solely in its Muslim version. For example, slavery carried out by the Portuguese in Goa was the same as Atlantic slavery. With Islam, we see an enormous difference, and it is that which interests and surprises people. The fact that slaves could become prime minister, found dynasties, and achieve important positions, was impossible in the European system, but was possible in the Muslim system. In the European system, the children of an enslaved woman were born as slaves; in the Muslim system it was the opposite, the children inherited the father’s status. When the father was free — which was often the case with owners — the children were born free. Emancipation of slaves in the Muslim system was very easy — it was a means of earning God’s favour. There was no need to complete a large amount of paperwork. With regards to the recruitment of slaves — and they came from Africa as well as Europe, Turkey, and Asia, another difference with the Atlantic world –, there was no requirement for them to work the soil in India because there were already plenty of people available to do so. The people who were taken there – since it was a more complicated and expensive procedure — were generally, in the case of the men, soldiers, which allowed them to rise up through the ranks. Many of the women were domestic servants in the royal courts (in which there were thousands of people working), concubines, nurses, cooks… The concubines had a very prestigious status — well removed from the western view of them –, their children were born free, and the women themselves were generally freed, either at the birth of the children, or the death of the owner. The children were integrated into the family, which was completely different from the Atlantic system. It is one of the aspects, once again, which are of interest in this exhibition: to show people that the western model is not the only one, and that it could have been different.

The case of the African arriving as a slave in India and who, due to the flexibility of the Muslim system, managed to rise through the ranks – this was surely an exceptional case?
Sylviane Diouf: As regards the highest positions — prime minister, nawab, finance minister — the options are limited. But we must think in terms of the culture of those countries. To be a eunuch was very important — not as much as in Turkey, but important all the same. Army general, captain, religious leader or concubine: these were also important positions. Even in the 20th century, the domestic servants of the court who took care of the elephants and the horses were considered to hold significant positions. One of the first well-known Africans was in charge of the sultana’s stables in Delhi, and it is even rumoured that they were lovers. The position of stable master was a very high honour, an important position from a non-western viewpoint.

Is there a specific way to paint and portray an African person in Indian art?

Sylviane Diouf: In Indian art, we find real people, depicted with their true characteristics, shown as they really were. The impression that I have, after having viewed many items, is that Indian art is very realistic and treats Africans in the same way as others.

The Walters Art Museum insists that this exhibition constitutes an attempt to “create an increased sense of a shared heritage” with the African-American community of Baltimore, and to serve a more “diverse audience”. Do you feel that the attempt was successful in this respect?

Joaneath Spicer: Yes, I do. People care about other people, and people care also about their sense of their own role in history. There is a reason that traditionally African-Americans have not come so much to art museums to my mind. We should not be astonished by this. There is a feeling underneath that they are looking back at history. One of the reasons that there is a tendency to look towards more contemporary art or modern art in African-American culture is that the past is not necessarily a comfortable place, and people would rather look forward. African art is not necessarily appreciated more. Not everybody, just because they are of African ancestry, is going to care about African art. There is no necessary relationship there at all. So that leaves you a little bit in a vacuum. What I really want to share is: “I know you were there, I want you to know that you were there, so that we can just go on. Of course I’m expecting you, because this is your heritage too.” Not only does this seem to me absolutely true, but from a museum perspective I also think it is critical for us. One of the reasons that I kept pushing and pushing for this show is that I personally think that it is absolutely critical for how we operate as institutions. There are all kinds of layers here in which something operates, and I will certainly say that we sold apparently a record number of memberships during that show.

According to both of you, what are the contemporary stakes of the representation of the African Diaspora?

Sylviane Diouf: Here at the Schomburg Center, there has been a realisation that, when they are presented with their history, people are absolutely enthralled, sometimes completely incredulous: “We had no idea that this existed! We didn’t even know that there were black people there!” The academic research has been carried out and continues to grow; there is now a need to pass it on, to successfully repackage it, and present it to the public at large. That is what we are doing here, and we have noticed a great interest in the subject. It’s not only a discovery but there is also a feeling of connection to a much larger African Diaspora. And even though the experiences were  different, of shared history.

Joaneath Spicer: I think the stakes are actually considerable. If you are thinking about the Renaissance, just imagine yourself in an upland meadow. There are all these little streams running through it, and it’s all very interesting, it’s beautiful, it’s very lush, many sorts of possibilities here, and they’re all interesting in themselves, but you don’t know which ones, from just focusing on that, are going to be important 200 years later. After all, as a point that I kept having to make, we are not saying that this is a central issue of the Renaissance, this is one small thread within the Renaissance, because the African presence, numerically, was not so great. To my mind, one of the most compelling aspects of this subject, besides just the natural fascination of the untold story, is that I have the advantage of standing downstream. And I can look upstream. And I can see where that stream came from. And what was a little stream is now a river. And, in some degree, it waters our world.

* Image: Portrait of the seventh ruler of Sachin, Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan, 1930. The Kenneth and Joyce Robbins Collection.

Modi’s New India

In what has been called a historic general election, India elected Narendra Damodardas Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the highest echelons of power — the Office of the Prime Minister.  Modi was elected by a nation of “aspirational Indians”. His victory is theirs. As he took oath as the country’s fifteenth Prime Minister, men rejoiced on the streets and women cried before their 24/7 news channels. Under Modi, India thinks only of the dreams of the future, not the history of its past.

But, as you may know, PM Modi is a polarising figure. He has been called a strongman by some and saviour by others. Many in India’s intellectual class have repeatedly drawn comparisons to Modi’s emergence and statesmanship to fascism. India’s liberal left-leaning intellectual class—which rightly rallied against him for the atrocities committed in Godhra and the muscular Hindutva propagated by the RSS and its nexus to the ruling BJP Government—has never been able to carry out a dispassionate analysis of Modi and his style of governance. In my opinion, while Modi’s brand of politics is not quite fascism, it definitely shares the same structure that fascism does. It closely resembles what Stuart Hall described as “authoritarian populism”, rather than European fascism of 30s and 40s. Gramsci evokes Machiavelli’s famous metaphor of a centaur from the Prince—half man, half beast—to illustrate the concept of power as a combination of coercion and consent. Modi is like the centaur that both Machiavelli and Gramsci describe: “half man half beast, a necessary combination of consent and coercion.”

The rise of Modi and the mood in India today is not unprecedented or historically unique. History is full of men who have ridden the populist mood, of people who wanted to be saved by an all-encompassing charismatic leader who could get the work done. One only need to look at India’s recent past, when Indira Gandhi was the ‘Empress of India’, to note a parallel moment of projected desire. With her slogan “Garibi Hatao” (Abolish Poverty) she won the 1971 elections with a popular mandate and landslide victory. One of her cronies declared ‘Indira is India, India is Indira’: one that isn’t that far from the slogan that accompanied Modi’s rise to power—”Ab ki baar Modi sarkaar“, which, crudely translated, reads, “This time, Modi’s government” (“sarkar means “The Government” and colloquially refers to a “political overlord”). To borrow from Twain, history might not repeat itself, but can certainly rhyme.

While the event of Modi being elected to the highest office in India not unprecedented, men with the magnitude of power that Modi possesses today will shape and influence the India in an unprecedented manner. What does all of this mean to the country, its foreign policy and its engagement with the outside world ? Predictably, there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing and disagreement about what Modi will mean to India. One camp feels that Modi is no revolutionary figure, and business will go as usual. The other camp feels the rumble of a colossal shift in economic policy. Prof. Manjeri Chatterji, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, stated that Indian foreign policy has been broadly consistent and any changes had little to do with the Prime minister’s political ideology. “Predictability,” she argues, this “also applies to foreign policy.” Prof. Akeel Bilgrami has argued that BJP’s election campaign based on “change” is mere “rhetoric and pretence” and states that “… what it (Modi’s government) proposes as change and novelty is entirely continuous with policies that Manmohan Singh and his economic advisers have put into place.” Prof. Ashutosh Varshney has argued the opposite, that Modi will “reshape the entire political universe of India” and economist Arvind Subramanian stated that “Modi could be India’s Deng Xiaoping”.

Oddly, there are some salvageable truths in all these pronouncements. While India’s foreign policy has stuck to a certain predictable course over the last few years, it is also known for having a powerful Prime Minister who left an undeniable mark on the country’s foreign policy. In the words of Nehru’s (India’s first Prime Minister) biographer, “In no other state does one man dominate foreign policy as does Nehru in India. Indeed, so overwhelming is his influence that India’s policy has come to mean in the minds of people everywhere as the policy of Pandit Nehru… Nehru is the philosopher, the architect and the engineer and the voice of his own country… that foreign policy may be properly termed as his own monopoly…”. If he aspires to mimic Nehru’s levels of global influence, it is likely that people everywhere will begin to see India’s foreign policy as the policy of Narendra Modi.

Modi ran a Presidential campaign in a parliamentary democracy and won. Siddharth Varadarajan, former Editor at The Hindu points outs, “his means of governance might also be Presidential.” For the first time in 25 years, India will be governed by a single party with no real opposition. Prof. Varshney is partially right: Modi with this overwhelming political capital and power, might reshape and expand the powers of the Prime Ministers Office, if not the entire political universe.

Domestically, however, much will remain the same in India, because political change seldom leads to or guarantees social change. Even the greatest of social revolutions and political revolutions hold on to more continuities than usher in immediate change.

 

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