Why I Support Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)

For all of my critiques of the aid industry- lack of transparency and accountability, paternalism- I’ve yet to offer substantive alternative solutions. (I did provide alternative local organizations in Northern Uganda during the whole Kony2012 thing). However, when Solome Lemma told me about her initiative, Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), I was on-board almost immediately. For all of this trendy talk on “diaspora engagement” beyond the micro scope, Africans in the Diaspora walks the walk.

Today, AiD launches its online platform: http://africansinthediaspora.org/

“Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) envisions a self-reliant, socially and economically just Africa. Through our Funds, Connections, and Voices programs, we unleash the financial, social, and intellectual capital of Africans to advance social and economic change in Africa.”

What’s not to love? An initiative that allows members of the African Diaspora to invest their social, financial and intellectual capital for social and economic change on the continent?

Best of all, if you don’t know where to begin, or you’re a skeptic, there are resources to address your concerns. My concern is always whether African-led initiatives at the community level are being supported. So much of the glamor around large international NGOs and aid agencies puts organizations like Physicians for Social Justice (in rural Northern Nigeria) in shadow.

If you are a Diasporan who wants to give back, Africans in the Diaspora is here to help you. The online platform provides information about local projects and organizations on the continent, and makes it easier to connect with them as a supporter. After all, we do not need to re-invent the wheel- the wheel is already rolling quietly at the community level, in the shadows of bigger international NGOs. Africans are at the forefront of development here, and Africans are the funders, designers, implementers and supporters.
Check it out! I am excited about the future of Diaspora mobilization and engagement on the continent of Africa.

Twitter: twitter.com/aidinnovations
Facebook: Africans in the Diaspora (AiD)
TUMBLR: http://africansinthediaspora.tumblr.com/
Website: africansinthediaspora.org

Indigenous Peoples and Resource Exploitation: A Case Study in Equatorial Guinea

Cross-linked with Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s site

Indigenous peoples and resource exploitation. Who wins, who loses, how is the game played, how should it be played?

Map of Equatorial Guinea
Map of Equatorial Guinea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When one lands in MalaboEquatorial Guinea, it is immediately apparent how resource-rich this country is. The silk cotton trees greeted us with their verdant lushness and the patchwork terrain of high rises and densely-populated residential areas occupied my thoughts as the plane completed its descent.

It’s easy to get caught up in the potential, the unrealized dream of equitable development, but we cannot. Yes, it is true that Equatorial Guinea’s GDP has increased from about 1 million USD in 1968 to 14 billion USD in 2010 (World Bank, 2012). But where does this wealth come from? Equatorial Guinea is heavily dependent on oil. According to the African Economic Outlook report, 78 percent of the nation’s GDP is derived from the exploitation of its oil reserves. The fact remains that Equatorial Guinea has the highest GDP per capita on the continent (about 19,300 USD in 2011, a near 2100% increase from 940 USD in 1998).

However, Equatorial Guinea’s population of just under 700,000 has yet to partake in this wealth. This disparity is seen in terms of healthcare. The population makeup, in terms of age, looks like a bell curve – as “Equatoguineans” aged 0-5 and 65 and up are a small percentage of the population. The United Nations (UN) estimates that about 20 percent of Continue reading

In the Face of a Receding Lake, Water Conflict at the Ethiopia-Kenya Border

Cross-linked with Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s site

Lake Turkana. Credit: Wikimedia.org
Lake Turkana. Credit: Wikimedia.org

In May 2012, the Kenyan government sent 200 additional reserve troops to the Kenya-Ethiopia border in response to Ethiopian militia attacks in the Turkana region. Tensions were high following the killing of a Kenyan police reservist at the hands of Ethiopian militiamen.

This occurs less than a year and a half after Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and former (now-deceased) Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s May 2011 meeting in Uganda, where they decided to end border conflicts amicably. In addition to water conflicts, there is the conflict of claims over the Elemi Triangle, which is the northwestern corner of Lake Turkana, bordering South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

As I previously addressed in an article entitled “Water Scarcity and Conflict at the Ethiopia-Kenya Border,” water shortages have been contributing to tribal clashes between the Kenyan Turkana and the Ethiopian Dassanech, Nyangatom and Mursi tribes.

In the Horn of Africa, where regional temperatures have risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960, and are projected to increase an additional 2-5 degrees by 2060, climate change is particularly salient. The effects of this climate change: increasing variability of rainfall,deforestation and land degradation are all occurring within the context of rapid population growth and limited land and water resources.

An estimated eight million semi-nomadic people in Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya depend on the waters of Lake Turkana for their livelihoods. Lake Turkana gets 90 percent of its water from the Omo River, but in recent years, the lake has been receding into Kenya.

The conflict is further exacerbated by the diversion of the Omo River’s flow to Ethiopia’s upstream dams (including Gilgel Gibe III), considered the largest hydro-power project south of the Sahara. While providing electricity to Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Yemen, the dams threaten the livelihoods of nearly a million nomadic, pastoral tribesmen.

The question at this point is, “are we going to see a repeat of previous events?” In the first week of May 2011, fighting at the Kenyan-Ethiopian border claimed 34 lives. This, in addition to what Steven Watson alluded to in his lead article “Liquid Asset”- the disincentivizing effect of food aid and the perceived price of water, makes it clear that the price of water is high. However, our attitudes toward water use often do not reflect this:

“The moment international agencies give out food, there’s no incentive for the local population to help themselves,” he says. “I worked for some time in the Turkana desert in Kenya where that was very evident. As long as somebody else gives out food there’s no reason to try and provide your own food. It’s a lot of work. Why should you work when you can get it for free? Or take for example the price of water; if water is expensive for you then you will try to use it as efficiently as you can and minimize losses. However if you get the water free as is the case in a very large number of developing countries then there’s no real incentive to use it efficiently.”

Furthermore, in the late 1970s, the Kenyan government’s policy of arming the Turkana was followed within a decade by the Ethiopian government’s arming of Dassanech tribesmen with Continue reading

The Great Land Grab: The Discovery of a New Aquifer in Namibia

Cross-linked with Future Challenges’ site

Namib Desert, photographed by Scott A. ChristyNamib Desert, photographed by Scott A. Christy

The arid nation of Namibia has a newly discovered aquifer called Ohangwena II, that spans its northeast region, which flows under the boundary between Angola and Namibia. The country is considered one of the driest in Sub-Sahara Africa, as it is largely covered by the Namib Desert. This is especially significant because the nation faces further desertification in the face of climate change.

The 800,000 people who live in the area currently depend on a 40-year-old canal that crosses the Namibia-Angola border for their drinking water. The new aquifer could supply water to the residents of Northern Namibia (who comprise 40 percent of the population) for an estimated 400 years. Historically, the scarcity of drinking water sources in the area has limited the scope of development. The discovery of the aquifer Ohangwena II means new opportunities and new challenges.

In response to this discovery, Namibia’s Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry announced on July 11, 2012 that his ministry will host a water investment conference in September to bring together the major players in the water sector. This includes the private sector, as financiers and equipment manufacturers would be essential to attracting private investment. Notably absent from the list of attendees are local residents of Northern Namibia.

The opportunity here is ripe. Public-private partnerships can ensure that all Namibians have access to safe water sources. However, the challenge of balancing profit with sustainability looms overhead. GRAIN’s report entitled, “Squeezing Africa Dry: Behind Every Land Grab is a Water Grab” warns of the dangers of privatizing water resources in the context of increasing water scarcity and increased propensity for water conflicts. These dangers are already seen at the Ethiopia-Kenya border and near Ethiopia’s Alwero River in the Gambella region, where deadly conflict brewed over Saudi Star Development Company Continue reading

Why Invisible Child’s #Kony2012 Campaign Gets No Applause From Me

In short: #Kony2012 #StopKony misrepresents N. Uganda, spreads misinformation abt Kony/the LRA, denies Africans’ agency and is imperialist. It raises the perennial question of “Who represents Africa?”

For example: This tweet (one of many prime examples) succinctly exemplifies all that I critique in this piece:

In fact, it reminded me of my post-colonial readings of Karl Marx. Reading this quote from his “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden” spurred me deeper into my anti-colonialist, post-colonialist fervor. Literally translated from German, “Those who cannot represent themselves must themselves be represented,” the quote revealed to me just how insidious the narrative of “saving” and “speaking for” the subaltern is.

HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 CAMPAIGN?

If “awareness” is the payoff for paternalistic, imperialist, “white man’s burden” NGO campaigns, I don’t want it. (Just the name “Invisible Children” denies and co-opts the agency of Ugandans- many of whom have organized to protect child soldiers…). I stand by this: if you’re more comfortable talking about Africans than you are talking to an African person, you really should not be in the business of representing Africa. Furthermore, if you cannot find an African nation on a map, let alone acknowledge Africans’ agency, you should not be providing “solutions” or “aid. Certainly, if you think that Uganda is in Central Africa, you should not be disseminating (mis)information that could have implications on policy.

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

[Also, I suggest a little light research into Invisible Children's spending practices.] Continue reading

Youth Unemployment in Africa and its Political Implications

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges’ site

Africa is a young continent, with 65 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 24, with over 40 percent of the total population below the age of 16, and about 25 percent between the ages 15 and 24. Contrast the population makeup with the leadership of African nations- in Zimbabwe, where the life expectancy is 45, Robert Mugabe is 87. In 2009,  Niger’s then-President Mamadou Tandja (age 73), rewrote the nation’s constitution to extend his term as President, only to be ousted in a military coup. Egypt’s recently-ousted leader Hosni Mubarak was 82. Cameroon’s Paul Biya is 78. Tunisia’s ousted leaderZine al-Abidine Ben Ali is 74. Libya’s now-deceased embattled leader, Moamar Gaddhafi,  was estimated to be 68 years old, as is Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville is thought to be 67, a year older than Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, believed to be 66.

All in all, the average age of the African leader is just over 72, compared to about 51 for European and North American leaders. The bitter truth is that many of these African heads of state are former leaders of the anti-colonial movement of the mid-twentieth century. Having attained the prestige and material trappings of being heads of state, many have neglected to be leaders.  It’s one thing to have a title, and another entirely to be accountable to those under your leadership.

In Angola, student protests are challenging the authority of Angola’s President Eduardo dos Santos Continue reading

Forcible Resettlement and Land Grabs in Ethiopia

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization’s Blog

Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest aid recipient, and one of Africa’s most food-insecure nations. Simultaneously, Ethiopia is one of most militarized nations on the continent, with a history of both internal and external uses of force.

More recently, the forcible resettlement of semi-nomadic groups in the western Gambella region has troubling implications for a nation with high rates of malnutrition and food insecurity, whose citizens overwhelmingly rely upon small-scale farming.

In Ethiopia, the average cost in USD for leasing a hectare for year ranged from $1.25 to $10 before 2009, increasing to $26-$42. While urbanization is changing the population makeup, land deals are still salient for the 83 percent of Ethiopians who are rural dwellers. The increased use of Ethiopian land for biofuel diverts land from food production which is especially important for a country that has consistently been Africa‘s biggest recipient of food aid.

As more Ethiopians become dependent upon the global food market, they also become more vulnerable to fluctuations in prices. Food prices in Ethiopia have recently shot up 50 percent, while the Ethiopian Birr has been devalued in light of the nation’s import-oriented economy. This is in addition to the fact that when food prices spiked in 2008, 6.4 million Ethiopians became dependent upon emergency food aid (this number had dropped to 4.9 million by 2009). Taken together, these factors pose a grave threat to the food security of a nation already dependent upon food aid.

While 10% or Ethiopia’s mostly-rural population (or 7.8 million) is dependent upon food aid, the government has forcibly resettled 70,000 semi-nomadic people (many of whom belong to the Nuer and Anuak tribal groups, the latter of which has faced a history of violence and discrimination in their ancestral homeland) in the western Gambella region as part of a “villagization” program, threatening assault and arrest to all who resisted.

The Ethiopian government currently plans to relocate 45,000 households in Gambella by 2013. The Human Rights Watch (HRWalleges that this resettlement program is part of a plan to relocate 1.5 million people in Ethiopia in order to lease 3.5 hectares to foreign investors. In the last two years, the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture has rented out more than 350,000 hectares to 24 investors for large-scale commercial agricultural operations. Continue reading