Africa is a Country

Buika is the best

Earlier this week I was at the launch of a friend’s excellent book about music piracy. The book goes into the nitty-gritty of how the MP3 file was first developed, through a painstaking process of figuring out how to compress recorded sound without the smaller file sounding any different. (This, of course, permanently changed the music industry.) Sounds made by instruments like violins, guitars and drums were straightforward to shrink down, but the human voice proved extremely difficult, because its sound is very complex and because our ears expect to hear that complexity.

This was many years ago, and they figured out how to compress the human voice by working on a few bars sung by the backing singers on Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant.” It’s a good thing they didn’t have to work on a track by Maria Concepción Balboa “Concha” Buika, because the scientists would probably have given up and nobody would have gotten all of that great pirated music.

Buika’s voice comes to us laden with centuries of feeling: pain, joy, loss and hope. Everyone should hear her music.

She’s the most famous Equatoguinean performer in the world, though she is Spanish-born and is invariably listed as Spanish. Her late father, Juan Balboa Boneke, was an intellectual and a minister in the government of Teodoro Obiang before his dissent eventually pushed the family into exile, for a second time, in Spain. He published numerous books of prose and poetry, reflecting on the situation in Equatorial Guinea as well as his experience of exile.

Performing at The Town Hall in mid-town Manhattan on Thursday night, in the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Buika had more presence than anyone I’ve ever seen on stage. I often wonder what it must have been like to go see Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald sing live. Maybe it was a bit like this. She inspired undiluted adoration from a packed house, with several heckled offers of marriage (she was wary of these, though gratified, wagging her finger playfully) and a bearded man in the middle of the front row who spent the whole night blowing kisses at her with both hands.

She wore sweeping waist-length braids and a dramatic pink dress. She spoke all the way through the show between songs, mainly about her experience of “living in her contradictions.”

“New York City belongs to the people who love it,” she said. “Like me.”

And later, in a more ribald moment: “I have to tell you, I’m not perfect. I’m not. For example, just now I smoked a lot of marijuana in my dressing room. And it’s strictly forbidden. It is. I know that. It’s not allowed.”

Many people first heard Buika sing in Pedro Almodovar’s film, The Skin I Live In (she was the best thing about the film, her voice saturating and at times overwhelming Almodovar’s shots):

Here’s a performance she did for NPR:

The connection between terrorist Dylann Roof and white-supremacist regimes in Africa runs through the heart of US conservatism

White supremacist terrorists are always constructed as isolated individuals who are not part of a general culture that encourages terrorist acts towards the “other” – be they immigrants, African-Americans, women. Their actions are largely explained as the result of mental-illness, and never carried out as part of a group or collective action. We do not wish to take responsibility for collective actions, and the general culture of white supremacy encouraged by the likes of Sean Hannity on television, Rush Limbaugh on the radio, and countless pastors on their church podiums.

A commonplace explanation why the likes of Dylann Roof shouldn’t be termed “terrorists” is that their violence isn’t political since it isn’t tied to a broader ideological agenda. This is wrong. In Roof’s case, the photograph of him sporting a jacket embroidered with the flags of Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia shows this is especially implausible. Like the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, Roof clearly understood himself to be fighting for a political cause — white supremacism.

But Roof is by no means the first white American to find common cause with racist colonial regimes in Africa. That connection goes back a long way, and runs right from the top of the federal government to key figures in South Carolina politics.

Much is being made in the media of Roof’s interest in white supremacists in Africa. The danger is that this draws our attention away from all the good ol’ white supremacy in his very own state.

The white supremacist emblems on the terrorist’s shirt match the white supremacist emblem flying above the state capital of South Carolina, today as every day. Many people root the rise of the white, republican South Africa to the invention of the Dixiecrat party by South Carolina’s own Strom Thurmond, an arch-segregationist (with the typical secret mixed-race offspring) who ardently defended the apartheid South Africa government from the attacks of godless integrationists through the 1980s.

The Rhodesian and Apartheid South Africa solidarity from the US goes back to the rise of the new right in the late 70s and in particular the rise of Reagan and the onset of the ‘second’ or new Cold War in the 1980s. Apartheid South Africa was portrayed as an outpost of Western values and civilisation against  a sea of communist blacks in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique in particular.

Much money was channelled through libertarian and right-wing thinktanks and groups, by both the American government and the apartheid government, to fund a PR campaign aimed at creating sympathy for whites under siege in South Africa and those left in Rhodesia (soon, it was imagined, to become a communist dictatorship). In particular there was a focus on elevating Jonas Savimbi and Unita into anti-communist freedom fighters, and later the IFP as a moderate pro-capitalist alternative to the communist ANC.

This type of thinking was typical of Jeane Kirkpatrick, a key neo-conservative ‘intellectual’ and America’s UN ambassador from 1981-1985. Kirkpatrick’s infamous distinction was between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘totalitarian’ regimes. ‘Authoritarian’ regimes were anti-communist and pro-capitalist and thus considered an outpost of liberty. This includes the regimes in central america, Pinochet-era Chile and, of course, apartheid South Africa. So-called ‘Totalitarian’ regimes were understood as the tools of the Soviets and had to be crushed at all costs, such as the MPLA in Angola, post-revolutionary Mozambique and of course South Africa’s own ANC.

The coalition behind this policy framework included people on the evangelical right, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who also are implicated in pro-apartheid preaching.

Money was channelled in particular to the Young Republicans and many future big names like Jack Abramoff made their political bones by doing propaganda work for the apartheid state. Many future republican bigwigs like Dick Cheney were very vocal in their support of apartheid as were southern politicians like Jessie Helms.  If one trawls through the archives of such publications as Reason and National Review one does not have to look far for examples of pro-apartheid propaganda. Thomas Frank chronicles a lot of this stuff quite well.

Zimbabwe was viewed as a symptom of post-Vietnam weakness — abandoned to the Communists, because the West didn’t have the balls to take on Communism after Vietnam. The siege mentality in many respects parallels that of the Southern plantation class post-Civil War, which eventually gave rise to the KKK, i.e. our way of life and our womenfolk are under siege by a sea of blacks trying to take our ill-gotten gains.

The Republicans later pretended not to have taken such reactionary stances on apartheid, but the influence of all this propaganda remained, later enhanced by a wave of reactionary expatriates leaving South Africa and Zimbabwe and makes homes in the South. They set up their own websites and genocide-watch bullshit, spreading myths about the Boer genocide, later enhanced by Zanu-PF’s land reform policies. In this they made links to the militia movement, websites like Stormfront and the fringes of the American right, many so-called libertarians and paleo-conservatives as well as Zionist trolls like Pamela Geller.

Trawling the fringes of the internet, you find a lot of stuff connecting South Africa and Zimbabwe to the American experience, seen as examples of what happens when the government betrays whites to blacks who are then said to inflict savage violence on whites and destroy civilization. This stuff is found increasingly on the mainstream right these days, particularly with the rise of the Tea Party — but really they’re only tapping into a long tradition within white American conservatism.

Meditation on Haiti (and Charleston) as a Certain Kind of Black

Yesterday morning I received a text from my uncle that reduced me to tears. It read:

“Hi! Gina I want you to focus on the Dominican Republic and Haiti today. The 17th.”

In case your attention has been elsewhere and you have not heard, on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, the Dominican Republic government began to legally process the looming mass deportation of thousands of migrant workers and their families whose citizenship status have not yet been regularized. This is the result of a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling that stripped Dominican born children with Haitian immigrant parentage of their citizenship.

This move to rid the DR of some of its Haitian population has been rightfully called an ethnic purging. It should be noted that there have always been Haitian elites well integrated in the socio-economy of the DR who remain unscathed by the persecution of their poorer compatriots. As Boston College professor Leigh Patel recently wrote, this is an attack on humanness from which we should not divert our attention. This cleansing, I would add, is a rejection of a certain kind of Black. Blackness that is too African.

Despite our somatic plurality and the color gradations we encompass, Haiti and Haitians have always been portrayed and understood as that kind of Black. A Blackness of a particular kind that, truth be re-told, radically changed the world. It was an avant-garde Blackness that not only pulled off a successful slave revolution, which caused the disorder of all things colonial, but also brought the sanctity of whiteness into question. The Haitian Revolution disrupted the notion that Freedom (with a capital F) was the sole domain of whites or those close to whiteness. Indeed, the value ascribed to those Black Lives continue to deteriorate. Moreover, those among us who are visibly marked with that Blackness have had to continually dissuade folks that we are not genetically coded to be their property or the help. This is not limited to Haiti and is symptomatic of a greater Black Diaspora struggle as continuous state sanctioned and market driven violence on black bodies attest here and elsewhere.

Being Black, these days, means living in constant state of siege.  As Policy Director for @MillionHoodies, Pete Haviland-Eduah @TheNotoriousPHE noted on Twitter hours ago  “We can’t swim, we can’t buy skittles, we can’t listen to loud music, we can’t shop, we can’t play, we can’t breathe, we can’t pray.” There are no safe spaces for that Black. Nine people were killed in their place of worship. An act of terrorism that must be named. Their killer sat in a pew for an hour before extinguishing their Black Lives. 

These stateside brutalities are not unrelated to what is happening in the Dominican Republic. We also know that Haiti’s present is full of international snafus, from the Red Cross’ epic fail to the UN’s refusal of accountability for the cholera epidemic, and underreported sexual exploitation of women and girls by UN peacekeepers. One need only look to the past for historical evidence that helps to explain the incessant exploitation and dehumanization, which is unfolding now. There are many, let me point to one.

To be sure, anxieties about this tragedy in the Dominican Republic foster fears precisely given the complex history of these two nations that share an island. In the aftermath of the Trujillo ordered 1937 massacre (that killed well over 20,000 Haitians) reparations were sought by the Haitian President Stenio Vincent and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eventually, money exchanged hands. The initial value ascribed to the collective lives of the dead — $750,000, would later be reduced to $525,000 (U.S. $8,612,673.61 in 2015 dollars). As Eric Paul Roorda revealed in The Dictator Next Door (1998), in actuality the payment received by the Haitian government was a personal draft for $250,000 and $25,000 in palm oil. At the most, that would be under $15 per dead not including the palm oil. As the story goes, due to Haitian corruption, survivors received less than 2 cents. Now we know for certain Haitians do not hold a monopoly on corruption.

Fortunately, not all Dominicans are on board with this legal deportation. Indeed, we also know and share a history of solidarity. In addition to a call to boycott the DR, efforts there and here are mobilizing to increase and keep awareness of the issue. 

Never in my professional life have I had a family member direct me to write. That’s why I cried. This is the same uncle who made me to do my homework everyday after school when I was growing up in Haiti. I would not be who I am today without his active presence in my life. He wanted me to use my voice and say something about what is happening. His nudge reminded me that this moment concerns us all. It is yet another brutal example of the devaluation of Black Lives to be added to a growing landfill of hashtags that spans the globe. We charge genocide again and again and again anywhere that Blackness is denied the right to peacefully live!!!!  Just being should not be the full measure of our lived testimony. Those of us on this side of the water need to contemplate our distances and be particularly weary of geographies of empire that impede our potential unity. 

Come as you are, ain’t no fronting necessary.  We need freedom fighters. There’s a Haitian Kreyòl word that you might want to add to your vocabulary. Rasanblaj. It means to assemble, to regroup, to gather. 

#StayWoke #StopKillingUs 

Is Africa really rising? History and facts suggest it isn’t

In the year 2000, the Economist ran a cover story with the title “Hopeless Africa”. Four years later, Robert Guest, who served as the newspaper’s Africa Editor, published “The Shackled Continent”, a book that pretty much concluded that, absent any miracles, Africa’s future was bleak. The book was widely praised, not least of all by all-round Africa expert Bob Geldof who said “[it] was written with a passion for Africa and Africans”.  Then in 2011, the current era of Afro-euphoria signalled its triumphant entrance with the Economist’s Africa Rising cover story. In contrast to their cover story of just a couple of years back, this one declared that there was hope for the hopeless continent (TIME did exactly the same thing in 2012).

We’ve written about the Africa Rising meme on this site, from culture to politics to music to fashion, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Now for the economics.

To be sure, African economies have begun growing again after contracting for most of the 1980s and 1990s. According to the World Bank, real GDP per capita shrank at a rate of 1% per year over the period 1980 to 2000 for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Since 2000, real GDP per capita has grown at the more respectable rate of 2% per year. And it appears that the incidence of poverty, at least as measured by the World Bank, also declined, although marginally, during the last decade.

Many so-called Africa watchers seem to have caught the “Africa rising” bug. There is now wide expectation, undergirded of course by the likes of the Economist, that growth will continue unabated going forward. Africa’s time is now! So declared a piece in the trendy Harvard Business Review.

The “Africa rising” narrative suggests the continent is now well on its way to self-sustaining growth. The kind of growth that the East Asian “tigers” and the countries known as the West experienced during the times they were rising. The kind of growth that has led to a massive reduction in poverty in China within a generation. Unfortunately here is where reality stands at odds with the euphoria.

Africa’s current growth revival (the continent did grow, and healthily so, from the 1960s to the 1970s) seems to be largely driven by external factors: China’s spectacular growth and along with it an increase in the price of commodities, whose exports Africa relies on to a great extent. So any slowdown in China’s growth, as is likely to happen as its economy matures, is likely to impact greatly on Africa’s performance.

To be sure, there have also been some internal drivers of growth: price distortions have been reduced in agriculture, macroeconomic stability has been restored (inflation rates are low and stable across most of the continent) and political institutions have improved (democracy and elections are now more common on the continent than before). But the prospects of these internal policies to sustain long-run growth are dismal. The Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, in a highly insightful essay titled “An African Growth Miracle?”, points out that the relationship between standard measures of good policies (macroeconomic stability, reduced price distortions, etc…) and economic growth tends to be weak. At best, good policies make economic crises less prevalent but cannot sustain and drive growth on their own. The same is also true of institutions, which following the much publicized work of Daron Acemoglu and friends, has become the be all and end all of development thinking. Rodrik points out that Latin America has experienced positive institutional changes within the last 20 years with a small payoff in growth. On the other hand, impressive growth in South Korea (until the 1990s) and China (today) has occurred alongside rampant cronyism and corruption.     

According to Rodrik, self-sustaining growth begins to occur when an economy undergoes a structural transformation from relying less on agriculture to relying more on industry. That is, self-sustaining growth is underpinned by large-scale industrialization. This is the historical lesson of the East Asian tigers, of China, and of even the West. Unfortunately the facts for Africa point in the opposite direction. Yes, African labour has moved out of agriculture in large numbers, but the beneficiary has not been manufacturing but services. The service sector tends not to be as “productive” as the manufacturing sector. And productivity, which is the ability to produce ever more output from the same amount of inputs, is what drives and sustains growth. The share of manufacturing in the economies of most African countries has declined from about 15% in the 1970s to around 10% today. That is Africa has in fact deindustrialized! And even the 10% of GDP that is manufacturing is mostly made up of small informal firms that are not particularly productive and are unlikely to evolve into big formal firms. Rodrik sums up his prospects for Africa thus:

“To sum up, the African pattern of structural change is very different from the classic pattern that has produced high growth in Asia, and before that, the European industrializers. Labour is moving out of agriculture and rural areas. But formal manufacturing industries are not the main beneficiary. Urban migrants are being absorbed largely into services that are not particularly productive and into informal activities. The pace of industrialization is much too slow to [spurn self-sustaining growth].”   

So what can be done? Rodrik suggests that industrialization can be helped along by improving the “business climate” in Africa. But the problem with the business climate argument, apart from being vague, is that it does not confront the fact that Africa was more industrialized in the 1970s, at a time when the business climate was likely no different from what it is today. In my opinion, the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) that were administered beginning in the early 1980s are largely responsible for halting the pace of industrialization on the continent. With SAPs, Africans were told by their betters to stop supporting industry because doing so was “wasteful”. Subsidies to industry were reduced. Protective trade barriers were removed. Planning for industry was done away with. All this advice was dispensed in spite of the fact that today’s developed countries industrialized behind a veil of considerable state support. For instance, the historian Sven Beckert points out that Britain’s cloth manufacturing industry, which was largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution, was shielded from competition from India for most of the 18th Century. The Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang has called this phenomenon of rich countries forcing policies on poor countries that they themselves did not implement during their time of take-off as “kicking away the ladder”.   

Africa needs to industrialize for it to really rise. Unfortunately the rhetoric around “Africa rising” is giving us a false sense of comfort and distracting us from the real work that needs to happen.

Remembered Futures

Yesterday South Africa celebrated Youth Day in commemoration of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, a massive student protest against the apartheid government which ended in the killing of hundreds and after the Sharpeville massacre, globally cemented apartheid South Africa as a morally indefensible pariah state.

In the spirit of youth and resistance, writers Tseliso Monaheng, Andrew Miller and Kagiso Mnisi have put together a documentary project called Remembered Futures, which explores ideas around freedom, youth and remembrance in contemporary South Africa. It uses Freedom Day, the commemoration of South Africa’s first democratic elections, as a starting reference.

The film kicks off with the story of the defiant Chief Langalibalele of the amaHlubi. Via the country’s premier hip hop gathering, Back To The City Festival, the film looks at what freedom means to South African youth today. It ends off by exploring the current socio-political climate, using the recent xenophobic attacks and the student-led Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town as vantage points.

Featured are historians Prof. Jon Wright and Dr. Nomalanga Mkhize; Back To The City festival’s co-founder Osmic Menoe; and artist Quaz Roodt. The documentary aired on Soweto TV on 27th April, Freedom Day in South Africa.

How history has been distorted to justify the Dominican deportations

Over the past two years, a legal nightmare has grown in the Dominican Republic. Taking aim at Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling in September 2013, made retroactive more than eighty years, stripping citizenship from anyone who cannot prove “regular” residency for at least one parent. Legislation passed in May 2014 allows for a limited and incomplete path to naturalization for some; it amounts to “citizenship by fiat.” The rulings mark a drastic setback for as many as several hundred thousand residents of the Dominican Republic, threatening them with expulsion, statelessness, detention, and abuse. Individuals have already suffered the impact of the new laws. With the rulings, larger-scale detentions might begin tomorrow, overseen by the Dominican armed forces and the U.N., among other groups.

In analyses of the crisis over the past two years, English-language press and Dominican right-wing nationalists have often been in simplistic consensus: they argue that the two countries have been in constant conflict. Scholars, activists, and other voices have made repeated admonitions to amplify and complicate this “fatal-conflict model,” as well as to eschew sensationalism in favor of concrete language. Nevertheless, one so-called truism emerges again and again in the U.S. press: that Dominican “animosity and racial hatred of Haitians dates back to at least 1822,” when Haitian rule extended over the whole island. Dominican supporters of the 2013 ruling, also, invoke the nineteenth century freely in a very similar manner. Commentators often talk of a supposed “pacific invasion” of Dominican soil at present, repeating the one that allegedly took place in January 1822. Images of Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the authors of separation of the two countries two decades later, populate demonstrations in support of the current rulings.

The nineteenth-century narrative is an abject falsehood, repeated often. Unification between the two countries came at the invitation of numerous Dominican towns. It brought the end of slavery. All of the citizens of the island enjoyed and defended their independence for decades and decades, long after the countries formally split, as their nearby neighbors remained colonized (and hundreds of thousands, still enslaved). They did so, precisely, together. These facts were as immediately obvious to elite commentators seeking separation as they were to the great majority of the island’s residents, who manifested profound and dynamic interconnection. Decades after unification ended, Dominican-Haitian collaborators helped to win Dominican independence, for a second time, in 1865. The Dominican constitution changed that same year to jus soli citizenship; a handful of reformers called for dual citizenship across the island. Without much documentation, however, the popular foundation of these struggles was muted even as it unfolded. The island’s residents continued to defend their independence, but xenophobic, racist, and hostile voices on and off the island continued to marginalize them. With the U.S. occupations, outside hostility became even more concrete.

Even more casual outside observers tend to know about the massive anti-Haitian intellectual production of the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961). Perhaps the ten concurring Tribunal members were purposely trying to sidestep its shadow when they chose, against all precedent, to extend their ruling to the year before he took power. Fewer outsiders know of Dominican resistance to these narratives during Trujillo’s regime, or of later efforts to reimagine the history of the nineteenth century completely. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were siblings in a struggle for freedom in these new accounts. Colonial powers, old and new, were the common enemy. Juan Bosch was one such politician-historian. He managed seven months in office before a coup overthrew him. Trujillo’s one-time aide, also a prolific history writer, replaced him. The contest for nineteenth-century narratives began all over again.

Thousands and thousands of the so-called “repatriations” or “deportations” that loom are really expulsions. The state language of law and order, more generally, is a violent and capricious fiction. Organizations like MUDHA, Solidaridad Fronteriza,, and others recognize this essential and obvious fact. The current crisis is not, however, the product of timeless, essential, or isolated conflicts. Haiti and the Dominican Republic face a common international economic and political context (and policies). Nor is the Dominican state’s aspiration for marginalization and control of a whole population by creating a legal breach is particularly unique. As statelessness, deportation, and violence threatens, those organizing in opposition to the Sentencia have an expansive view of the task at hand. As MUDHA describes their mission, they are organizing against sexism, racism, and anti-Haitianism and in support of civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and human rights simultaneously. Relentlessly facile and misleading narratives about the past are not useful as they and their allies hope, with great urgency, to reinvent the immediate future.

Hey, Donald Trump, Here Are Some Things You Might Not Know About the U.S. and Latin America

Good news for comedians everywhere: Donald Trump—the guy famous for his tacky reality TV shows, his opulent towers and his obscene fortune—just announced today that he will be joining the small set of 1,045-odd hopeful conservative politicians as he will be the newest addition to the group of Republican candidates for the presidency of the United States. Bad news everyone: Donald Trump, again, wants to be president of the United States.

His chances are, thankfully, slim, and in a pool of 27 (!) Republican candidates it is very unlikely he gets his party nomination for the U.S. elections next year. Like his previous attempts at the presidency of the United States (in 1988, 2000, 2004 and 2012), this time he might also retire before the elections. And like those other attempts, this one might also not be more than a publicity stunt, something suitable for a man who has made great deal of his fortune by working the media attention to his divisive opinions in his favor.

But he is already using this supposedly political platform to spew hatred and misconceptions. He probably knows his audience very wells and knows what do they want to hear. In a speech he gave today outside of his Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, he appealed to the fear that many of his followers have of difference, of otherness (immigrants, Muslims, the usual targets), and he appealed to the sense that American exceptionalism is vanishing and needs to be restored.

In his speech he said:

When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time. (…) When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.

When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.


Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. 

It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably — probably — from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.

After repeating how Mexico is “stealing” American business and describing the North American nation along with China and ISIS as the U.S.’s biggest enemies, he went on:

I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

Let’s not delve too deeply on his obviously xenophobic comments and ignorance in the history of human migration. Let’s not stay too much on how Trump’s ludicrous assertion that Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants to the United States are all rapists until proven innocent (or “good people,” I assume). Let’s not think what the world would like with a man like this as the head of the United States.

Instead, let’s focus on giving Trump some reading material on what the United States brings to Latin America. He could, for example, read about how the U.S.-funded war on drugs has devastated Colombia and Mexico, killing thousands, displacing millions and empowering drug cartels. He could find out more about how the United States government has fueled gang violence in El Salvador. He could also look at the U.S. bloody history of “political” intervention in Central America that has left many Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans with no better choice than to try to make the deadly way north. Or he could read about the “sketchiest” (to put it lightly) things the DEA has done in Latin America and beyond.

Maybe afterwards he’ll understand why so many Latin Americans are forced to flee their countries. But maybe he already knows about all of this, and he only cares about getting enough rating to keep making his millions. Who knows? I don’t. But in any case I would strongly advice him to use his building skills to build a wall around himself.

Hillbrow invasion with @YoungstaCPT

Cape Town-based wordsmith Youngsta’s been in Johannesburg for a few weeks, here on a mission to build bridges and shake a few industry players’ hands, all the while invading the city with his brand of Kaapse rap. It’s been roughly five years of steady hustle and grind for the emcee whose claim to fame is having released 24 mixtapes in a period of eighteen months. Youngsta’s gone on to perform music with DJ Ready D, release albums with well-renowned DJs such as Hamma (who used to rap in Braase Vannie Kaap way back when), and form Deurie Naai Alliance with Arsenic, one of the Cape’s most consistent producers.

He’s also built a movement called Y?Generation, an “army of street soldiers” by his definition. The idea to build a community-centered movement  was inspired by the sense of stillness and helplessness anyone who grew up in the hood has felt or experienced at different points in their life. Things didn’t pan out as envisioned. Instead of loosing momentum, Youngsta thought he’d stiek uit and reach out to people in different areas whose life outlook and focus were as sharp. “[Knowing] we all had common goals in music & social developments, we joined up,” says the affable and engaging rhyme-spitter when talking about Y? Generation via e-mail..

Youngsta invited me along on a mini-tour of the gully and gutter streets of Hillbrow the other day. The goal was to go from one end to walk the length of its streets while taking the odd picture. It turned out to be a session filled with interactions only possible in Jozi — a spaza shop owner who could recite Nas’ ’94 album Illmatic line-for-line; a walking 90s rap cliche (Fubu gear, Timbs, durag) who looked well into his forties and had a stall which resembled his personal wardrobe; and a homie who tried to charge us money in order to have a picture taken, while trying to sell us crusty weed at the same damn time!

All in all, it was an incredible day! More pictures are on Youngsta’s facebook page.

What’s the word? Sister/woman have you heard from Manenberg?

To honor the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising, aka Youth Day, the Rock Girls are on a five-day road trip, from Manenberg to Port Elizabeth. These girls embody all that is powerful and hopeful about Youth Day. They live the injunction of organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”

Based in Manenberg, Rock Girls was begun in 2010 by human rights lawyer and activist Michelle India Baird, who has worked for decades for women’s and children’s rights in the United States and in South Africa.

In 2010, Baird was volunteering at the Red River School in Manenberg, on the Cape Flats. Established in the mid 1960s as a Colored `enclave’, Manenberg has increasingly become identified with gang violence, which means among other things with intensifying gender-based violence. It’s a hard place for adolescent women to negotiate gender and personhood … but they do, every day, and that’s where Rock Girls comes in, making change in Manenberg.

In 2010, Baird saw, in her words, that “girls were not participating in the after-school running programme because they did not feel safe on the sports field. [We] began documenting the conditions around and at school, and created a plan to make their environment safer, starting with a safe place to sit at school when the older boys and gangsters harassed them.” So, Grade 6 girls designed a bench, painted murals, planted a garden, and organized like hell to make their school a safer place. They put the bench near the tuck shop on the school grounds, and declared the space a Safe Space. There are now eight benches around Cape Town, with another five pending.

The girls started meeting regularly, and organizing, at the Manenberg People’s Centre Library. Last year, when they heard about the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, they said, “Let’s go find them.” That began a conversation about pan-African women’s and girls’ rights and situations, especially as regards everyday safety for women and girls. Meanwhile, the meetings became more difficult, due to increased gunfire nearby.

Undeterred, the girls decided to hit the road, to see South Africa, to meet girls in communities like their own, and to organize like hell. This week, it’s a five-day trip. The girls have studied reporting with the Children’s Radio Foundation and photography with Iliso Labantu photographers. According to Baird, this is a test drive. The next trip, they hope to drive north … to Rwanda. Stay tuned.

Soweto Youths of 1976 deserve better than Badvertising

South African ad agencies continue to prove intolerable. This time it’s Cape Town agency Black River FC, which decided it was a good idea ahead of the 39th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16 to re-imagine a Sam Nzima photograph taken on the day. The iconic photo is of a distraught 17-year-old Antoinette Pieterson running alongside 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubu, who was carrying the lifeless body of Antoinette’s 13-year-old brother Hector.

Hector was just a baby, but that did not stop the apartheid regime’s police force from shooting him and at least 175 others dead for having the temerity to reject an education system designed to teach them little else than to say “yes, baas” to the commands of white people.

So how did Black River FC on behalf of its client, 24-hour pay-TV music station Channel O, decide to reimagine this awe-inspiring history?

Easy. They replaced Hector’s body with a graduation gown and parchment, turned Antoinette’s frown upside-down, and transformed the look of terror on Mbuyisa’s face to one of jubilation. That’s how it works, right? South Africa is free and today’s youth should “live the dream of the youth of ‘76 died for” by going to school and graduating. Oh, and watching Channel O, of course.


The ad is a dime-a-dozen stay-in-school public service announcement that, to conceal its vacuity, appropriates gratuitously and superficially iconography from the country’s revolutionary history. It is lazy. But it’s worst crime is that the message does not accord with the reality faced by the majority of young South Africans.

Because, 80% of the country’s public schools schools are dysfunctional. Only a third of high school graduates in any one year attain grades that will allow them to enter university, should they so wish, and far fewer of those admitted actually end up graduating. Further-education-and-training colleges are in a state of disarray and subject to both real and perceived quality problems – both by students and the market place. That’s without even considering the cost of higher education, which is prohibitively set for many young people.

And it’s also without considering what is taught at schools, universities and colleges – which #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch and other student-led movements have shown still centres Western and phallocentric knowledge, histories and paradigms as the norm and any attempts to usher in plurality are met with resistance.

Is it unsurprising then that 41% of young women and 31.6% of young men are neither employed nor enrolled at an education institution – and black kids in particular have limited economic mobility.

That we have not had another June 16 – a time when young people were aware of the raw deal they were being dealt and stood up against it – is probably thanks to people like the bright sparks behind this ad. They perverted history to sell young people false dreams and avert their eyes from the real. They’re also probably part of the group of people behind the truly astonishing number of South African ads that suggest black folk will dance for anything.

Oh, and four decades later we still don’t know where Mbuyisa is. Papering over a person whose whereabouts are still unknown, whose family is still clinging to the hope he might still be alive, is an appalling way to remember the past and live the present ethically.

I wonder what Mbuyisa’s family will say to yet another abuse of his image.

Should South Africa have arrested President Bashir?

Twitter lit up on Sunday and #Bashir was trending worldwide.  As the African Union summit convened in South Africa, the fate of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir seemed to hang on a pending decision from a South African judge and the question was: Will South Africa arrest President Bashir and hand him over to the International Criminal Court?

Six years ago, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur. He has so far avoided arrest by carefully selecting the dozen countries that he has visited since he became an “ICC fugitive.” Human rights organizations have followed scrupulously Bashir’s travel schedule and each time, have campaigned vigorously for his arrest.

Credited with having one of the most independent judicial systems on the continent, South Africa was poised to be the stage for a dramatic – if not theatrical — legal showcase. As soon as Bashir landed, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre introduced before the Pretoria’s High Court a request to issue a warrant for the arrest of Bashir on Sunday. The court issued an interim order that Bashir must not be allowed to leave the country until a final decision be made on the application on Monday morning. After 24 hours of conflicting reports regarding Bashir’s whereabouts, it is now clear that he has left South Africa, pre-empting the Pretoria High Court ruling.

This in itself is a huge development and will have many political implications. But to be sure, even if the court had decided that the South African security forces must arrest Bashir, putting handcuffs on the Sudan’s president may have only been wishful thinking. For one, Bashir could take refuge in Sudan’s embassy in Pretoria, and South Africa would not be able to go in and arrest him. Such an instance would have resulted in the Assange scenario, and it is not sure whether the Zuma administration wants that.

Moreover, it may well be that South Africa’s domestic laws provide for the arrest of Bashir, but it is still not clear whether South Africa is obligated by international law to arrest Bashir. As crazy as it may sound, Bashir may still have head of state immunity. There are certainly opposing sides on this debate among international law scholars.

Because the ICC prosecutes “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”, the Rome Statute, which is its founding treaty, doesn’t allow for immunity. It means that by ratifying the Satute and joining the Court, states signs away the immunity of their officials. But Sudan hasn’t done so. The ICC gained jurisdiction over the Darfur crisis through a UN Security Council resolution. The question becomes then whether a mere UNSC resolution can strip a head of state from his/her immunity? Those who argue that the UNSC resolution overrides Sudan’s non-party to the ICC status often invoke the case of Charles Taylor to make their point. But Dov Jacobs here and here argues that nothing under international law obligates South Africa to arrest Bashir.

To be sure, anything related to the ICC is as much about law as it is about politics, despite the denegation of the purists. Why else would the UNSC have the power to refer situations to the ICC, including in states that have opted not joined the Court? Is there any international body more political than the UNSC?

Why then should we fault South Africa for taking into consideration political calculations in deciding whether to arrest Bashir or let him sneak out of the country? Had South Africa arrested Bashir, that would have sent shockwaves throughout the African Union that may well have been fatal to the organization’s survival. As South Africa is one of the powerhouses of the organization (and keeping in mind the African Union’s official position is that its member states should not cooperate with the ICC to arrest Bashir,) one may also wonder what could South Africa gain from arresting Bashir?

This may well be Bashir’s last trip outside of Sudan, as it’s getting hot out there for an ICC fugitive. For the ICC, this dramatic showdown is certainly a positive outcome that points to its increased legitimacy and relevance. The question remains to be seen whether the African Union will still stand behind Bashir, or quietly withdraw its support.

Weekend Music Break No.77

Weekend Music Break, your weekly round up of hot tunes and music news from around the African Continent and its diaspora, is here!

This weekend we have Belgium based Congolese artists Badi and Fredy Massamba’s team up “Belgicain”; Show Dem Camp puts out an Afro-House song featuring Iye on the hook; still in the house zone, but in Angola, Maya Zuda and Bebucho Que Cuia present “Dois a Dois”; French-Senegalese rapper Booba heads to South America once again to shoot the video for his song “Tony Sosa”; Nigerian Davido sets his sights across the Atlantic by teaming up with Philadelphia gangsta rapper Meek Mill; Another cross-Atlantic collaboration sees a pair of Americans and a pair of Brits trading verses over a ominous R&B-trap beat; In preparation for the launch of his new album, Sarkodie also launches a trans-Atlantic gangsta-rap collabo this week, here he goes to dancehall territory with Stonebwoy and Jupiter; The Havana Cultura project recently shared “Madres” by Daymé Arocena, a live performance dedicated to the Orixa Yemaya (Yemoja, Iemanjá); Seattle-based Chimurenga Renaissance heads to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for their track “Pop Killer”; and finally, F’Victeam, a Congolese dance squad, shoots a martial arts themed Ndomobolo/Decale video (embedding disabled so watch it here). Enjoy!

Refugees vow to ‘return home’ after meeting with ‘appalling’ British holidaymakers

This piece is a response to a recent article in the Daily Mail.

Among the Syrian and Afghan refugees landed on the Greek island of Kos there has been talk of returning to their home-countries after their stay has been disturbed by the ‘awkward’ behavior of British holidaymakers.

“It is truly appalling,” one grandmother of seven complains, “They are ruining our entire running-away-from-war-torn-states-in-search-of-a-better life experience. They have turned our whole desperate-flight-to-freedom into a nightmare, and we will certainly think twice about returning to Kos next year.”

With over 1,200 migrants arriving in Kos over a very short period of time, Kos has become a popular destination amongst those fleeing for their lives. But, with the nuisance of conceited discourses and rampaging prejudice, will it remain so?

“As we landed, we were accosted by a primitive tribe here who call themselves “holiday-makers”” says a young father, while ladling broth into his malnourished daughters mouth; “We were disgusted by their overfed, sweaty appearance! The men wear white tennis socks in sandals, and the women are crimson and sometimes hit us with rolled up copies of The Sun,”.

The migrants have labeled the holidaymakers ‘charter people’, referring to organized package charter trips being the holidaymakers main form of transportation. There have been reports of how the charter people cause unease by sitting around in restaurants being hobby-racists and blustering about their deluded and mall-placed outrage. Some have even described how holidaymakers sometimes watch as people do everyday things like hanging laundry, cooking on woodstoves, or crying over brutally murdered family members.

“We came to Europe in search of a better life for our children.” Says a widowed mother of four, “We have heard stories of Europe as a place where basic human decency and compassion are respected. So far, thanks to the holidaymakers, we have been disappointed. Perhaps living in a conflict-zone is better than living in a society where people are so utterly self-centered and disconnected.  ”

A group of refugees are already attempting to construct a return boat out of fish and chips wrappers and broken prossecco bottles. However, others profess a desire to befriend the charter people. One man even came to the aid of a young holidaymaker.

“She was badly injured, all we could ascertain was that she worked a journalist for the Daily Mail” says a former Syrian doctor, who rushed to the woman’s aid. “At first it seemed a simple case of rectal cranium immersion. However, by the time I got there it was too late. The woman had already lost all sense of perspective.”

For some more insight on the European migrant situation, check out what we’ve written about African migrants to Europe here and here. And, listen to our discussion on the wretched European immigration policies and the complex geo-politics behind passage across the Mediterranean on our podcast.

Hipsters Don’t Dance Top World Carnival Tunes for May 2015

Apologies for the late arrival. Hipsters Don’t Dance is back with their May chart of World Carnival tunes. Enjoy this roundup, and remember to visit the HDD blog for all their great up-to-the-time-ness out of London!

Burna Boy x Soke

After a few swings with some sub-par sounding singles, Burna is back with this contemplative effort. As well as signing to a major US label (Universal), Burna also teased a collaboration with the one and only Heavy K. We can’t wait for that one to drop.

Henry Knight Ft. Yemi Alade, Di’ja & Joe el x Olopa

Sometimes all you need for an upgrade is to add Yemi Alade to the remix and we are there. Olopa has been a staple in our DJ sets for a year now due its unrelenting pace. Sadly not all the MCs keep up with its speed but it’s a fun listen.

Coptic – Keep Shining ft M.anifest

As you can probably tell we are big fans of M.anifest and this collaboration with fellow Ghanian, Coptic, is a call to arms to other MCs. Coptic produced for the likes of P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg and now he can add M.anifest to that list.

Project Kamutupu x Kamutupu

Something a little smoother now, and it’s Lusophone house from Project Kumutupu, which is now our favourite thing to say. The video itself is beautiful as well.

Goon Club Allstars x Rudeboyz EP

We were privy to this release back in November when we first met Moleskin from GCA. He told us at the Future Sounds of Mzansi premiere in London about his plans for this EP. He wanted to release raw pure club music with no hype apart from the music itself. No exoticism, no promos, just the music. The club world is embracing this EP which is amazing to see and anything that highlights Africa in a positive manner we are happy to share.

Do our passports continue to be punished for being African?

Late last week, I was informed that I would not be able to travel to Dubai for an important meeting scheduled months ago. Like other countries across the globe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) halted travel for those with Guinean, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean passports during the height of the Ebola outbreak. It has not lifted these restrictions.

The miniature red suitcase I had packed lay abandoned on my wooden floor. I caressed my dark green Liberian passport as if to reassure this inanimate marker of identity that my citizenship was not on trial here. The specter of Ebola had simply triumphed over reason.

Yet, the irony of this episode hasn’t escaped me. Dubai is a hub for cross continental travel. In 2013 alone, the UAE boasted the fifth largest international migrant pool in the world—hosting 7.8 million foreign residents out of a total population of 9.2 million. Furthermore, foreign labor migrants account for 90 percent of the country’s private workforce, mostly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Unlike the US and UK, where anti-immigrant sentiments have reached fever pitch, the UAE seems more pliant to international travelers. So, naturally, I thought it was odd when I attempted to complete the online visa form and Liberia was not listed as an option for ‘present nationality’. Nor were Guinea and Sierra Leone.

This was punishment for simply being born in Africa with a particular African passport. Even the organizers of the meeting were shocked, disbelief sprinkled in their conciliatory e-mails and phone calls. All diplomatic channels had proved futile. The verdict was irreversible. I would not be getting on that plush Emirates flight.

Never mind that Liberia was declared Ebola-free on May 9, exactly one month ago.

Never mind that I have not been to my homeland in over 10 months. Nor was I asked about recent travel there.

Never mind that my country and its people are slowly trying to recover from an invisible foe that killed nearly 5,000 and infected about 11,000.

In the past year, I’ve seen my passport scrutinized more intently than ever before, but the UAE blanket bias felt like adding salt to a fresh wound. At first, I experienced blinding rage with a touch of indignation. The kind that gurgles in the pit of your gut, and then explodes. Then I was amused by the absurdity of it all. If I were traveling directly from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone and had a passport from a country on UAE’s list of exemptions, I would have gotten a visa on arrival with ease. No questions asked.

Mild acceptance slowly seeped in, reminding me that we maintain immigration hierarchies as a form of erasure and silencing. In our obsession with citizenship tiers, West is best. North trumps South. And white is inevitably right.

Never mind black/brown solidarity. Or does that even exist?

I have shied away from returning home fearing the kind of immobility that sees people not as complex beings but as nameless, faceless ‘threats’ to national security. A sedentarist kind of metaphysic that keeps certain people in their place. People like me.

Truth be told, the natural human compulsion for mobility is currently under threat because of irrational immigration bans such as the UAE’s. For all the rhetoric about globalization’s free flow of ideas, capital and technology, the world remains obsessed with restricting the movement of people who don’t fit into our neat boxes of what is tolerable or even desirable. The UAE saga is a microcosm of a larger debate about the need for immigration reforms worldwide.

The scapegoating of migrants across the globe deflects attention from the fact that most countries have failed to improve the quality of life of their domestic citizens. Afro-fobic attacks in South Africa, Australia’s Pacific Solution, and the plight of Rohingya Muslims off the coast of Indonesia are extreme examples. Immigration is framed as a zero sum game, with finite rights and resources available to a select few.

I watch migrants who look like me risk their lives on sardine-packed, rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean, and know intuitively that they wouldn’t flee if they had a choice. With each desperate attempt to cross over, what they are effectively saying is that Europe must make amends for waging unjustifiable wars and supporting authoritarian regimes in some of their countries of origin.

Centuries ago, Africans were so eager to escape lives of bondage, some dove to sudden death in the Atlantic. They were the first forced migrants I can recall. Now, many of us travel across these same waters for short-, medium- and long-term trips. Not because of some deep, abiding love for life abroad, but because it gives us a measure of flexibility. It keeps us physically connected to the rest of the world.

And for someone like me with chronic wanderlust, the ability to travel unencumbered is almost as necessary as oxygen itself. Although a self-professed transnational, I used to be suspicious of Liberians who changed their nationality out of convenience. But after interviewing more than 200 of us across five urban centers in West Africa, North America and Europe for my doctoral thesis on citizenship construction and practice, I have become more empathetic. Many of us make the switch because of the access so easily denied me by the UAE.

But we shouldn’t have to.

I can’t say I would ever consider exchanging my passport for another, especially since Liberia prohibits dual citizenship. Yet, the UAE debacle has shaken me to the core. It’s made me acutely aware that citizenship is both personal and political.

Peace deployed as a weapon in Angola

On April 16th, Angolan security forces, including a heavily armed rapid intervention police unit, raided a religious encampment under the leadership of self-proclaimed prophet José Julino Kalupeteka with the aim of arresting him. Kalupeteka’s controversial religious sect, dubbed “A Luz do Mundo” (Light of the World), was known to shun certain state-sponsored activities such as vaccination campaigns, the national census and public schooling. About 3,000 people were living peacefully in the hilly encampment when the police struck.

Much has been written about the Mount Sumi event both in English and Portuguese by several reputable sources: Aslak Orre writing for the CMI, Rede Angola’s Luísa Rogério and Maka Angola’s Rafael Marques. But almost two months after the tragic events in Huambo and even an official statement from the UN Human Rights Office (promptly slammed by the Angolan government), we’re nowhere closer to knowing what exactly happened in Mount Sumi, Huambo, why it happened, and how many people perished. The Angolan government speaks of “only 13 dead”, while others, including prominent civil society activists and opposition parties, speak of a massacre of more than a thousand civilians.

What is clearer, however, is the government and its security forces’ violent relationship with its citizenry. Ironically, it deploys the discourse of peace as a weapon.

The raid was a failure. Several policemen were killed by sect members armed with machetes, for reasons as of yet unclear, and an unknown number of civilians died. The first reports by state media here in Angola mentioned only the fallen policemen; it was only days later that we learned that civilians had been killed as well. It’s here that reports begin to significantly diverge. Immediately after the massacre, the government cordoned off the area to any and all civilians and declared it a military zone. It took a full two weeks for the first visitors, parliamentarians from UNITA, the main opposition party, to be granted access, closely followed by the leader of the country’s third largest party (CASA-CE) and then Rede Angola’s journalists. All three say that something macabre took place.

Ampe Rogerio. Rede Angola. Accampamento_Sume_Huambo_AR-233-580x361

That such an event can take place 13 years after the ruling MPLA signed its landmark peace accord with UNITA, effectively ending Angola’s 27-year civil war, is cause for great concern. It underscores the regime’s deep, systemic unease with sectors of the public that it doesn’t control, including certain religious groups, human rights activists, opposition parties, and protesting youth, and their willingness to use disproportionate violence against these groups.

While the state acts violently, it speaks of peace. The government goes to great pains to highlight the country’s thirteen years of peace as an act entirely of its own making and less that of the Angolan people. State media refer repeatedly to President José Eduardo dos Santos as the Architect of Peace, adding another brick in the wall of his cult of personality. Peace has allowed for our national reconstruction. Peace has allowed for our economic boom. Peace has allowed for the creation of our billionaires, our Marginal, our Miss Angola pageant, our takeover of Lisbon’s expensive Avenida da Liberdade and half their banks to boot. It’s a discourse that removes the Angolan people from the equation and casts them not as willing participants of peace and an essential part of its maintenance, but as beneficiaries who owe something to the state.

Thus, peace is brandished as a weapon. Speaking ill of the government or complaining about it means that you don’t want the peace it’s so generously given you. Protesting against the gross mismanagement of public funds means you are a nuisance and not invested in peace. Asking too many questions means you don’t like peace. Protesting about it in the streets means you actively want a return to war. The government’s official mouthpieces — the national newspaper and the national television channel (the only ones with national reach) — use this line of thinking to devastating effect.

For example, the regime has actively promoted violence against peaceful, law-abiding demonstrators as a way to “keep the peace.” One of the most notorious examples of this was when an unidentified man, using a pseudonym, was broadcast live during the nightly news program physically threatening demonstrators with violence if they did not stop their (tiny) public protests. He was doing so, he said, in order to maintain peace.

It’s important to note that this use of peace as a weapon to silence criticism and stifle civic conscience isn’t just limited to rhetoric. During the wave of (tiny) anti-government protests in Luanda (in 2011, 2012, and 2013), state-sponsored militias carried out brutal attacks against unarmed youth demonstrators both during and before the protests. But the sheer economic reality of this mindset is even more revealing. As Tom Burgis writes in his book, The Looting Machine,

Angola’s 2013 budget allocated 18 percent of public spending to defense and public order, 5 percent to health, and 8 percent to education. That means the government spent 1.4 times as much on defense as it did on health and schools combined. By comparison, the UK spent four times as much on health and education as on defense. Angola spends a greater share of its budget on the military than South Africa’s apartheid government did during the 1980s, when it was seeking to crushing mounting resistance at home and was fomenting conflict in its neighbors.

That a post-conflict nation is spending so much of its budget on defense when its population is woefully undereducated and its health system oversees one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world is frankly maddening. Angola has wasted a decade of double-digit economic growth and the highest oil prices in its history on guns. During peacetime.

As Kalupeteka’s sect can attest, the country’s heavily-armed security force doesn’t need much provocation to “enforce peace.” Even if it means combating its own population.

Swaziland’s Bushfire is Spreading: A music festival review

‘Yoh, Swaziland is hot’ says The Soil’s Buhle Mda as she melts onto the main stage at MTN Bushfire festival. And it was. 25,000 people were gathered in Swaziland last weekend for the kingdom’s international music festival – not too shabby for a nation of under 1.5 million people. This is a festival which carries the overarching aim of ‘igniting a collective response for social change’. Black African music, cultures and languages are foregrounded. The voices singing in Zulu to The Soil on that Sunday (‘it was a Sunday, ubuhle bakhe took my breath away’) far overpowered those joining in with The Parlotones and their default rock during the set before. A large portion of the line up consisted of Swazi musicians, and from the remainder, the appreciation shown for Swaziland and its people was overwhelming. Ntsika Ngxanga from The Soil echoed the sentiments of other South African artists when he stressed how important the refuge and solidarity from Swaziland was during Apartheid; comments which add weight when we consider the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.   

It came as a great surprise, then, when the SA Times Live tossed out this piece on the exclusion of Swazi people from the festival. The writer appears to have confused Bushfire with some other festival, probably in Switzerland. According to them, ‘Swaziland’s citizens stood sadly outside of the festival they hosted’. (Swazis going about their business on the road to Malkerns are transformed into Ntsika’s refugees, exiled from their motherland). The police and musicians were the only locals to receive free tickets to the festival. And the amount of Swazis on the line up was pitiful.

Meanwhile, in Sw-azi-land, tickets sales within the kingdom far outnumbered those from other countries, and international ticket sales closed long before national ones in order to ensure that the bulk of tickets were sold locally. Educators, artists and entrepreneurs were amongst a multitude of locals who came to Bushfire free of charge. The kombis around Mbabane, eZulwini and Manzini have been abuzz with ‘Bushfyaah’ for weeks. Most importantly a third of the international line up is from the host-country, despite the fact that its music industry is extremely meager compared to the other countries that were represented. Bushfire is just as much about promoting Swaziland’s artists to an international audience as it is about showcasing international artists in Swaziland.

The fact is that we would have a hard time to find a festival that bridges the gap between the global and the local as well as Bushfire does. It is all too easy for major festivals to simply superimpose themselves onto their location, with hardly a glance to the people who occupy that space for the entire year. Yes, it’s impossible to avoid this completely –- even with the relatively low ticket prices, many Swazis cannot afford to dish out E600. But Bushfire does its best to compensate for this, with a series of outreach programmes that puts your average NGO to shame. There is the annual Arts Round Table discussion which sees 50 local artists and creative industry workers coming together to ‘increase knowledge sharing within the artistic community and equip individuals and organisations with skills to succeed as professionals within the creative sector’. This year there was a free performance at the nearby Mahlanya market by Tonik and Friends the day before the festival commenced. Since 2010, Bushfire Festival has been prefaced by the Schools Festival – an entire 3 days of creative workshops for 1000 Swazi high school students and their teachers by international facilitators such as Gcina Mhlope. The key goal of the Schools Festival is to expose Swazi students, who have no formal arts and culture curriculum in their public schools, to the arts. It is an invaluable event for Swaziland, one that recognizes art as a vital form of expression in the face of an education system which denies this. It ensures that there is a pool of educators and young people who are invested in the growth and spread of the arts in their kingdom. Ultimately, it wants to see a formal arts curriculum implemented in schools.


Image via the author

Then there is the creation of the Firefest Route, the archipelago of allied festivals across Southern Africa, which allows musicians to receive exposure in multiple countries, and facilitates pan-African collaborations. For 2015, the offspring of this festival circuit include Swaziland’s Afro-soul singer Floewe’s performance at Azgo festival in Mozambique, and Bholoja’s collaboration with Bongeziwe Mabandla on Bushfire’s Main stage. Bushfire is first and foremost a platform for African musicians to gather from and share with each other. It comes as no coincidence that Swaziland, with the renowned warmth and peacefulness of its people, is the country to host this beacon of inclusivity and diversity.

Yebo, eSwatini kuya shisa. Yes, Swaziland is hot. And Bushfire spreads.

Rhodes Must Fall at Oxford (too)

Last month the Oxford Union (a student debating club) advertised a drink named ‘The Colonial Comeback!’ as its featured cocktail for a debate on whether Britain owes reparations to her former colonies. The drink was a strange mix – exotic, if you will – and the flyer was complete with a photograph of chained black hands.

Perhaps the blatant allusions to slavery and the formerly conquered continent were comical for the flyer’s designers. Maybe they even felt a touch of nostalgia, a sense of longing for the good old days.

Oxford Union flyer

To be honest, it’s not surprising. We in the West are fed a tainted version of history that depicts one part of the world as the beacon of hope and intelligence, the other as primitive and helpless. This narrative is fueled by western media and educational institutions that carefully select images and stories portraying the Other (Africa in particular) as an undifferentiated mass wrought with disease, war, malnutrition, and so on.

If you don’t critically examine those images and question their validity, you fall into a trap. You see Africa as ‘the hopeless continent.’ You deny an entire continent its dignity. You also deny the fact that Europe benefitted immeasurably by pillaging the land and dehumanizing the people of the colonies. This history has material, economic and social consequences today. It does not sit discreetly in the past.

We have been at Oxford for a year as master’s students in the African Studies Centre. We – who are from Africa and the West – have realised that too many people are still blinded by a worldview inherited from the colonial era. We are all a product of our lived realities and of our education, and it appears many of Oxford’s students arrive here with a highly backward, jaded perspective of the world. What does that say about our collective future?

This is Oxford. Its students are supposed to be the best and the brightest, the future leaders of this world. But true intelligence requires intellectual courage, and intellectual courage requires the capacity to identify and challenge your own assumptions and those of your society. The fact that a slave’s hands can be used to make a joke at an institution founded on critical debate is proof that we need to reinvigorate this practice.

We have to stop ignoring the blatant prejudices that persist in our ‘modern’ and ‘transformed’ society. Spectacular, physical violence is enabled by symbolic violence — the violence of words and images. Therein lies the problem. If we are blind to symbolic violence, then we open the door for real, tangible violence — whether it is bloody and physical, subtle and misogynist, or economic and deeply entrenched.

Frantz Fanon described colonialism as fundamentally about an unequal arrangement of spatial relations. In 2015, at the University of Cape Town, Achille Mbembe insists decolonization requires the deprivatization of what should be public spaces. This means our universities should not be dominated by a chauvinistic epistemological order that is blind to what it owes to orders of knowledge it considers “other.” They should be spaces of transformation where ideas are contested by students and academics alike.

But instead our most important intellectual spaces remain privatized by the same privileged few who benefited most from our colonial past.

Two weeks ago, South African writer Margie Orford addressed Oxford’s African Studies Centre about the violence that haunts South Africa. Speaking about Cape Town, a city still divided along the racial lines drawn by colonialism and apartheid, she described slavery as “a rock hidden in the depths of the past that continues to move the surface of the present.”

Slavery was based on the systematic dehumanization of people. It corrupted the master and it eviscerated the slave. Those who think they are removed from its legacy, clean of it, are not only its historical benefactors, but are complicit in its central lie: that one person can decide the humanity of another. Colonialism was built on the same principle, recast as the ‘civilizing’ mission and perceived to be re-humanization on ‘enlightened’ terms.

That the Oxford Union is able to make colonialism into a joke is a sign of just how narrow and self-justificatory its worldview is, how archaic, how reactionary. That is a failing of its institutional culture. But transformative potential is there, too, sitting in its benches, staring it in the face. Oxford, and even the Union, is a place full of people from all over the world who know what it is to be the descendants of the enslaved, of the colonized. All these “other” people are here, too.

But the Other is a fallacy. That dichotomy never actually existed: it had to be invented, and then asserted by the imperial and colonial powers. Those who trivialize it fail imaginatively and morally. They demonstrate that they are not free of the colonial mindset.

So where do we go from here? We’ll defer to the Rhodes Must Fall movement, begun by students in Cape Town and now active here at Oxford:

“It must be emphasised that this movement is about more than Rhodes. Rhodes, as an agent of empire, signifies a perspective that is the product of a seemingly innocuous approach to education. He is the product of an institutional culture and a colonization of the mind that reaches far more deeply than the figure of one individual.

So for Rhodes to truly fall Rhodes must first stand.

Rhodes must be made to stand, revealed for what he really represents: the mutually productive culture of violence, racism, patriarchy and colonialism that to this day remains alive, aided and abetted by the University of Oxford, which continues to stand as an uncritical beneficiary of empire.”

The flyer was not an honest mistake. It was a signal that symbolic violence and racism are alive and well. If the Oxford Union is serious about addressing these issues, then it should join the Rhodes Must Fall at Oxford movement.

For this is the beginning of the movement, not an isolated incident that ends with an apology. We — and people everywhere — have had enough of the apologetics of empire, of weak justifications for racism and misogyny.

The Rhodes Must Fall movement is starting a much-needed conversation about the institutional roots of these issues at Oxford. Hopefully that conversation will lead to solutions.

In the words of The Coup: “I got faith in the people and they power to fight / We gon’ make the struggle blossom like a flower to light.”

We are aware of the irony of writing about this from our position within an extremely privileged space. It is problematic that we, as students from African countries or students interested in African countries, are doing this part of our work all the way over here. This distance is one of the legacies of the problems we discuss. We also believe in the absolute necessity of criticism from within. These institutions were built on the principles of free thought and intellectual rigor, and so they need to listen to those they teach.

“Lots of Little Kenyas” — a conversation with Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The novelist Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was kind enough to stop by Africa is a Country HQ while she was in New York for the PEN festival. Over tea and hibiscus-flavoured doughnuts, we talked about all sorts of things: from reimagining the Indian Ocean, to the mini-bus ride she took with Binyavanga Wainaina during post-electoral violence, to the new generation of creative talent coming up in Nairobi right now

Thanks to Yvonne for the many rich insights she shared. I hope you enjoy.

Here’s what Julianne Okot Bitek had to say about “Dust” as she put it forward for our Book Recommendations of 2014:

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor wrote Dust for me. For once, I’m a perfect reader; both my creative and academic curiosities are satisfied. Dust tackles some big questions inside the story of a family tragedy — a man is killed right at the beginning of the novel and his sister wants to know why. What does Kenya mean? How do English, Swahili, Silence and Memory serve as national languages? Ah, but the beauty of the novel lies in Owuor’s excellent ear. She uses Luo, Kikuyu, Swahili, Turkana among other Kenyan languages liberally and nails local accents so beautifully it makes me want to cry. Msee, and I can hear it. Mzee, and I know that it’s someone else and where he or she is from. If Kenya is a colonial construct, it’s also a collection of myths. “You can’t live in the songs of people who do not know your name,” is a cynical refrain, but perhaps, some day we can. For those who need verbs to temper the lyrical prose, be assured that I found three: see, feel, hear. It’s a very good novel. Read it.

We’ve been mainly text-based up to now on AIAC, but we’re going more and more multimedia: check out our regular podcast (a mixture of talk and music MC’d by our very own Chief Boima) and also Africa is a Country TV. Look out for more original audio interviews on literature, politics, arts, and music — right here!

Why would you only watch Canada at Canada’s World Cup?

In some ways all women are the same.  We bleed every moon until you hit a certain age and then we all get hot flashes. We like sex even though we are told we should not like sex. We have sex. We have babies. White women, brown women, yellow women, black. We are all the same. But, that’s where the similarities end.

When the whole country roars for Canada once every four years or at an Olympics when a group of women kick a ball around, I rarely join in. It’s just like any old hockey game to me. I have little in common with those who play except that we menstruate and can have babies. I am talking about football, what they call soccer in Canada. I will still call it football.

Canada is not a football country. Try all you want. It is the world’s game and that football world does not include Canada you see. Except amongst a small minority that live in discrete pockets around the country; mostly in Toronto, the football world was never embraced by Canada. It does not know how. I don’t understand why Canada bid for these games when we could not even provide a proper grass surface. But most of Canadian mainstream media went nuts going on about the wonderful Canadian women’s team; even the coach got on board writing a column about the team every day in a sports section. Some articles talked about the revolution and evolution of the women’s game but only through Canadian eyes seeing Canadian women in a country that couldn’t give a bollocks about football. Despite best intentions, they seemed hollow and dishonest to me. And worse, unwelcoming to the women of the world. Media choreographed to draw as many Canadian eyes to the TV screen. Mostly white eyes in a mostly white country. 

I daresay Toronto being the most multicultural and least white city in Canada, if not the world, is where football is most celebrated in all of North America. Not one single game in this women’s world cup is being played in Toronto.  In my case it’s not necessarily that I want to watch Canada but the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, even Japan, Korea, Brazil.

Here’s the thing. This world cup is not about Canada. Canada who will forever carry the shame of having made the women of the world play on plastic matting that has green weird stuff on it.  Plastic stuff that heats up like a stove top and make your feet so hot that it’s nasty uncomfortable. Canada has no business tooting its own horn when it did not even have the decency to give the world a watered field of grass.

World Cups are called World Cups because they are about the world. There was something weird about eyeballing the Canadian team over and over because it reinforced that the media was out of touch with the international nature of football, choosing jingoism instead.

The coverage, as much as the grounds, just seems super artificial.  And the weekend’s opening games didn’t help.  The big European teams thrashed newcomers from poorer countries with tiny football budgets.  Except for New Zealand which was beaten 1-0 by Netherlands the others were non-European or non-Western. Ivory Coast, China, Thailand. Joke is it was a last minute soft penalty shot which will remain controversial that won Canada that game against China which would’ve ended drawn. Cathal Kelly wrote a fine piece on that and in the comments section and on twitter he got beat up by the “see Canada do Canada” league.     

But despite my worst fears that the games would die an early death, I’d been dreaming of African football as I always do when I hear of a World Cup and football.  You see it’s an old tradition.  Every world cup I thrill at the Africans who come to the party and always give so much joy. Old habits die hard and I’ve been counting on the Africans.  I was not looking to Canada or Germany for that. It was Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon. I needed my fix. But looking at my twitter feed or indeed the local papers it felt like I was the only person in Canada who had turned their mind towards African teams.  Next to nothing was written about them in the media. Oshoala and Sunday are in town but no one interviews them or their coach. But the Canadian coach writes daily in the papers over and over about the same team? Will they profile Gaelle Enganamouit after she became the first African player to score a hat-trick at a senior World Cup?

After the thrashing that Ivory Coast took at hands of Germany I worried that economics had a hand in this. That the low budgets and dearth of facilities of poorer countries would scuttle their progress. But I need not have worried.  Because the Africans always deliver. Monday was opening day of the Women’s World Cup.  It was not Saturday and not on Sunday. But when Sunday came to play on Monday. Nigeria. Cameroon. The party started on Monday. Budget or no budget, the Africans always bring an unbeatable spirit to the games that you don’t see in any of the other teams. And that changes everything.

It is indeed the Football World Cup and Nigeria and Cameroon are in the house. Rejoice. Football always wins in the end.  And here’s to the women of the World.