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

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

The Greater WE: Military Interventions in a Globalized World

Cross-linked at Bertelsmann Stiftung- Future Challenges’ blog

Global governance and the movement toward a Greater WE means a protection of global public goods, supranational structures and the harmonization of laws and procedures regarding human rights, trade and security. The Greater WE is about the common good of all, not the profit of a few.

“With this in mind, where do undeclared proxy wars over resources fit into this framework of global governance?”

These military interventions have become a peculiar form of aid that destroys infrastructure, creates dependence and vulnerability. Furthermore, in the case of nations like Somalia, wars and military interventions undermine regional food security, contributing to famine. Considering these factors, it is apparent that security within a global governance framework needs to be reconfigured to address and prevent the resultant destabilization wrought by military interventions.

The overlap of global governance and military might is easily seen when one looks at the United States’ foreign policy. Undeclared wars, interventions and military aid are hallmarks of the Washington’s strategies. For example, the United States is increasing its military presence on the African continent- most pointedly in resource-rich nations like Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda.

What are the implications of President Obama’s decision to send military advisers to Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Can we learn from the United States armed forces’ forays into Africa? Can we look at the First (1993) and Second (2006Battles of Mogadishu (Somalia) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008) and learn from the resultant civilian casualties, displacement and heightened risk of hunger and famine? Continue reading

The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading

NGOs and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government

[Cross-linked at Future Challenges Organization - Bertelsmann Stiftung 's blog]

The backdrop to the famine in Somalia is a history of civil war and the collapse of the central functioning government in 1991. What many news outlets fail to mention is that with the civil war came devastation, displacement and the destruction of productive farm land and essential infrastructure. Factor in the absence of a strong, central government and the proliferation of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and we see a lack of long-term solutions for improving and adapting agricultural practices, water use and safeguarding the land against drought in what has historically been a breadbasket. The sad fact is that despite good rainfall between April and June 2010, in the lower Shabelle region locally-grown cereals only supplied about 40 percent of the nation’s needs.

In an article published in Pambazuka News, Kenyan journalist Rasna Warah writes that Somalia is “being controlled by aid agencies” in the absence of strong central government. Basically, non-governmental organizations have taken on roles and responsibilities traditionally held by government without any of the accompanying accountability to civil society. Many of these NGOs are rather beholden to the interests of their donors and are further limited by turnover rates among aid workers, high administrative costs and limited rapport with the communities they serve.

“In effect, Somalia is being managed and controlled by aid agencies — the government is there in name only.” Continue reading

African Governments, NGOs & Civil Society: A Crisis of Legitimacy?

[Crosslinked with Bertelsmann Stiftung - Future Challenges Organization's Blog]

In April, the Columbia Journalism Review raised the question of whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa benefit from particular representations of the continent as conflict and poverty-ridden.

„Yet US journalism continues to portray a continent of unending horrors. Last June, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked woman from Sierra Leone dying in childbirth… Reinforcing the sense of economic misery, between May and September 2010 the ten most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 245 articles mentioning poverty in Africa, but only five mentioning gross domestic product growth.“

The recent coverage of the famine in East Africa, while warranted, is profitable to NGOs. The influx of aid monies and resources allows NGOs to proliferate in the region. In Ethiopiain 1984, the outpouring of food aid in Ethiopia was not generally accompanied by concrete efforts to bolster local food security or conserve local water sources. Neither the government nor the private sector made substantive action to stop drought and desertification. The government, entrenched in civil war, instead diverted resources toward the military, rather than toward the threat of famine. For this reason, the United States chose to give less aid to the Ethiopian government, Continue reading

Abolitionism Alone Won’t End Slavery & Human Trafficking

So I saw this tweet and it set off a series of tweets about the fallacy of using the failure of police forces to enforce anti-trafficking laws to dispute the prevalence or significance of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a crime that is hard to quantify on a global & national scale b/c of the sheer lack of awareness/sensitivity.

Let’s say that City X is a known hub for human trafficking- specifically labor trafficking or the trafficking of minors into the sex trade. In a year, the police force only makes 637 arrests pertaining to trafficking.  What went wrong here? Local police forces are likely not equipped to identify and address the crime of trafficking. This can be attributed to a lack of political will, which hinders the enforcement of the anti-trafficking laws. That fact is, the number of arrests (or even the number of convictions or the severity of the punishments) does NOT correlate to the prevalence of the crime. Continue reading

Beyond Abolition: Ending Slavery in Mauritania

[Crossposted at Future Challenges Organization]

Slavery is forced labor or exploitation with little to no pay (beyond subsistence) as a result of force, fraud or manipulation. Human trafficking (often called modern-day slavery) usually involves the added elements of recruitment, transportation and receipt of trafficking victims with the intent of exploitation. Slavery does not necessarily involve the trafficking of a person, but it does involve exploitation, forced labor, exploitation, abuse and slavery-like conditions. A person is a victim of trafficking if he or she has been moved within a country or to another country as a result of force, fraud or manipulation and is exploited or made to work as a slave. It is estimated that there are over 27 million slaves today worldwide and they are exploited in many forms including: forced labor, forced begging, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and the sale of body parts.

The Mauritanian government, under President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has recently announced measures to regulate the working conditions of domestic servants and workers within the country‘s borders. However, approximately 20 percent (well over half a million) of Mauritania‘s population remains enslaved particularly in the domestic and agricultural sectors. Mauritania has failed to fully abolish slavery within its borders, in spite of repeated passages of laws abolishing the slave trade in the years 1905, 1981 and 2007. Continue reading

The Feminization of Migration and the Fight Against HIV


[crossposted at Future Challenges Organization's blog]

Is there a direct relationship between the feminization of migration and HIV prevalence on the African continent? The answer is more complicated than it appears. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the aftershocks of regional conflict have had disproportionate impacts on African women, the assumption that HIV/AIDS and conflict/displacement are somehow related is spurious. Yes, migration in its myriad forms- primarily labor migration and forced migration- does add risk factors that contribute to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot say that it is a direct relationship. Women who migrate for work face vulnerabilities (risk factors including separation from partners, family, loss of support base) that increase their chances of being infected with HIV.

Areas where there are disruptions in the social order tend to have higher HIV rates. This includes war zones, impoverished and disenfranchised outer-city slums. There are various forms of migration: examples include forced migration due to regional conflict or land grabs or labor migration in response to high regional unemployment. It is important to note that in the last fifteen years, we have seen the feminization of migration on a global scale. A majority of refugees and internally displaced people are women and their children, and an increasing percentage of migrant laborers are women. A growing number of rural-to-urban migrantsare women in both Asia and Africa. Globally, women represent about 50 percent of the migrants.

Areas with low levels of education, high unemployment tend to have high rates of circular labor migration. In South Africa, gendered migration patterns were largely due to the several factors. First, a decline in patriarchal control, plus the end of Apartheid afforded women greater mobility. Prior to the fall of the Apartheid government, Influx Control Acts specifically granted economically-productive (Black) African men the right to migrate for work, while limiting their female counterparts‘ mobility.

In 1995, 38% of South African women ages 15-65 were actively looking for work. In 1999, that figure was 95%. This trend South African women entering the migrant labor force occured in the context of decreasing marital rates and income insecurity. Taking all of these factors into account, there is a trend of women increasingly constituting temporary, migrant labor populations. Migration is essential to economic well-being- especially for women.

In West Africa, migration patterns have been a mainstay of the regional economic bloc, dating back to the trans-Saharan trade of the 8th century. This includes North-South migration within Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria and the longer distance migration between the northern Sahelian countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and the coastal countries to the south. Historically, migrant populations have been mostly male, but recently, women have comprised significant number.

High HIV Prevalence Among Migrant Women:

There is a circular relationship between HIV and population mobility.  Migrants face separation from their partners and families, also separation from the social mores that might govern their behavior- particularly when they face loneliness and isolation in communities that are not theirs. Additionally, migrants‘ vulnerability to exploitation is exacerbated by a loss of localized social support systems, linguistic differences and power imbalances between job seeker and employer. For migrant women, especially refugees and internally displaced persons, sexual violence is a risk factor. For all migrants, lack of access to healthcare is a major factor in heightened prevalences of HIV among migrant populations.

Labor Migration

In South Africa and Northern Tanzania, migrant women have higher prevalences of HIV than their non-migrant counterparts. This is due, in part, to the fact that the sex trade serves as a complementary work sector to local mining industries. In the mining sector, workers often live away from their spouses, living in company-owned housing. For this reason, among others, there is a demand for a localized sex industry. Within the sex trade, young girls often recruit their peers, citing opportunity and income. However, for the less-fortunate, sex trafficking is their entry into sex work. I discuss the overlap between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS in Africa in this article.

Forced Migration

A 2007 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCRreport questions the commonly-held belief that there is  direct relationship between conflict, forced migration and wartime rape and increased HIV prevalence among internally-displaced persons and refugees. The data, culled from seven countries/regions affected by conflict [Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone] revealed that there was no increase in prevalence of HIV infection during periods of conflict. However, it is important to note that the sample population was primarily refugee and IDP women and children who sought and received antenatal care.

There is no substantive evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities. With the exception of the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Most refugees on the African continent are fleeing rural areas- which typically have lower HIV prevalence- affected by conflict. This may explain why refugees generally have a lower HIV prevalence than that of their host communities. In Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, HIV prevalence in urban areas  affected by conflict had similar rates to urban areas unaffected by conflict. In the rural areas of these countries, the prevalence of HIV infections remained relatively low and stable. Furthermore, there is no evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities.

One of the challenges here is to broaden the sample population beyond the minority of refugees who had access to medical care. While the regions of origin for most refugees and IDPs are rural areas are typically characterized by low HIV prevalence, we cannot assume the same for future conflicts. Unchallenged assumptions about trends in migration, pandemics and regional conflict will only endanger the most vulnerable among us.