Jul 10 2014

Book Review: Congo by Thomas Turner

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The Democratic Republic of Congo has become one of the world’s bloodiest hot spots, and despite recent peace agreements and democratic elections, the country is still plagued by army and militia violence. Thomas Turner‘s insightful book discusses how the the deep–rooted causes of conflict have not been adequately addressed, and shows how current attempts to rebuild the shattered state and society of DRC are doomed to fail. Joel Krupa recommends this illuminating and important book for its passionately written chapters and rigorous analysis.

The Belgian Congo. Zaire. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). No matter the name currently in place, this country (ranked among Africa’s largest in terms of land mass) has garnered world renown for its sprawling jungles, majestic eastern lowland gorillas, and Muhammed Ali’s famous knockout win over heavyweight champion George Foreman in the capital of Kinshasa. Unfortunately, the DRC is even better known for extreme manifestations of the most unsavoury aspects of human nature: acts of appalling cruelty epitomized in a seemingly endless cycle of horrific sexual violence, persistent kleptocratic tendencies among the political leadership, and foreign-backed militia assaults which perpetuate a war that, to date, has killed well over 20 million people since the end of World War Two.


Within this dark framework begins the austerely titled book Congo by Thomas Turner. A deeply knowledgeable DRC Country specialist for non-government organization Amnesty International USA and author of The Congo Wars, Turner is an able guide with ample background on this nuanced region’s multi-faceted character. His writing is a rich examination of the key components of the Congolese state’s decrepitude: nightmarish patterns of sexual and physical violence, dishearteningly misallocated mineral and hydrocarbon deposits, politicized identity crises, and sour relationships with neighbouring countries (Burundi, Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda being prime foci). Few stones are left unturned as he systematically addresses a wide array of complex issues in an intelligent, readable manner. Continue reading

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Jul 9 2014

Marine Le Pen’s vindictive nationalism and Algerian football

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Football is often used as a tool to unite people, but Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party is using the beautiful game as a “divisive political weapon”, writes Nabila Ramdani.

Marine Le Pen has not said if she was among the millions who watched Algeria’s heroic football team narrowly lose to Germany in the World Cup earlier this week, but the chances are she wasn’t. The leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN) thinks little of the sense of pride, passion and pure happiness which goes with a superb sporting performance by foreigners. She would not care that the Fennecs (‘desert foxes’) now have an army of admirers from around the world, to add to the millions in her own country who come from Algerian backgrounds.

Instead, a few hours before the game, Ms Le Pen continued her family tradition of using football as a divisive political weapon – one that spreads populist hatred. Sounding just like her father, the convicted racist and anti-Semite Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ms Le Pen said immigrants to France should always support the national team and no-one else.

Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi makes a save during the second round match again Germany in the 2014 World Cup (Stefano Rellandini / Reuters)

Algeria’s goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi makes a save during the second round match again Germany in the 2014 World Cup (Stefano Rellandini / Reuters)

Explaining her provocative theory, she told Europe 1 radio station that rowdiness following Algeria football triumphs was caused by ‘the total failure of immigration policies in our country and the refusal of a number of bi-national citizens to assimilate,’ adding: ‘The state must act, it must end dual nationality, it must stop immigration.’

Isolated disturbances involving mainly young, excited men are part and parcel of mass sporting occasions in every country in the world. Bad behaviour ranges from the boorish to the violently anti-social, but in the case of Fennecs supporters Ms Le Pen said those involved ‘must choose: they are Algerian or French… they can’t be both’. Continue reading

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Jul 7 2014

Nigerian tech start-up bridges the gap between government and its citizens

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Francesca Washtell reports on BudgIT, a mobile app and website, which is enhancing the way Nigerians can hold their government to account.

In recent years sub-Saharan Africa has gained praise and international attention for its innovative and expanding technology scene. Much of the praise has so far been directed to Kenya, home of the revolutionary mobile banking app M-Pesa, leading it to be dubbed the ‘Silicon Savannah’. However, there are a number of thriving start-up bases across the continent which are increasingly offering home-grown tech solutions to some of Africa’s biggest social and political challenges.

In Nigeria, one of the most successful examples of technology combining with social change can be found in the form of a mobile app and website called BudgIT. Established in March 2011 by Nigeria’s Co-Creation Hub (a non-profit incubator for creative, socially-minded tech ventures), it launched in September of the same year with the simple yet profound aim to make Nigerian government budgets more accessible, understandable and transparent.

An example of an infographic used by BudgIT to explain the government budget to citizens

An example of an infographic used by BudgIT to explain the government budget to citizens

Although at present the Nigerian budget is published annually, it usually only emerges in non-readable PDF formats that have little hope of trickling down and informing ordinary citizens about government spending. With the big data the budget generated frequently being lost through poor presentation, and the majority of Nigerians losing out on holding the government to account and tracking its spending, the need arose for a more inclusive way to publish the data and enhance citizen participation. Continue reading

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Jul 3 2014

Book Review: Apartheid Vertigo: The Rise in Discrimination Against Africans in South Africa by David M. Matsinhe

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For centuries, the colour-code shaped state and national ideals, created social and emotional distances between social groups, permeated public and private spheres, and dehumanized Africans of all nationalities in South Africa. Two decades after the demise of official apartheid – and despite four successive black governments – apartheid vertigo still distorts South Africa’s post-colonial reality. Lindsay Harris believes that those who enjoy the works of Zygmunt Bauman and Hannah Arendt will find this an interesting, if somewhat frustrating, read.

In Apartheid Vertigo, David Matsinhe argues that the increasing violence by black South Africans towards African foreigners is the perpetuation of a form of apartheid or a part of the legacy thereof. The colonial dichotomy between the oppressor and the oppressed has become, according to Matsinhe, the insider versus the outsider. The author argues that “citizens hold strong anti-immigrant attitudes and sentiments through the construction and mobilization of the image of makwerekwere (translation: foreigner), the bogeyman who stains the nation with his excessive blackness” (p. 133). This idea of a “makwerekwere” is used in a similar manner to the way “kaffir boy” was used under the apartheid regime – as a means to undermine the humanity of the subject thus enabling “citizens to engage in aggressive and violent behaviour without feelings of guilt” (p 152). Anyone who enjoys Zygmunt Bauman, Hannah Arendt and the like will find this an interesting, if somewhat frustrating, read.

ApartheidVertigoThe early chapters of the book present the theoretical principles behind “makwerekwere” and the transference of violence in South Africa as a result of the country’s history. It is likely for this reason that he discusses the challenges of social welfare, education, healthcare, even corruption in the civil service and government, with a bluntness I found refreshingly frank. My concern throughout the comparison is the exclusivity with which Matsinhe discusses these issues as solely affecting foreigners.

In Chapter 9, Matsinhe quotes a Congolese national who says the following; “The police, the community itself, they are almost the same” (p. 144). Later in the chapter, Matsinhe elaborates by saying; “An enduring belief exists among foreign nationals that the police and criminals operate in collaboration” (p. 151). Believable though this may be, the negative effects of institutional failure and corruption in government and civil society are not limited to foreign nationals. South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world – 127.6 per 100,000 people in the country. Of those raped, the majority can be assumed to be local. This statistic speaks volumes indicating that the victims of violence in South Africa should be seen as all encompassing – both foreign and local nationals. While I am not denying that South Africa is struggling with xenophobia and associated violence and social tensions, many other countries without a recent oppressor-oppressed narrative such as France, Belgium and Spain are also struggling with severe anti-immigration sentiment and related violence. Continue reading

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Jul 2 2014

A Boko Haram defeat is necessary for Nigeria to fulfil its potential

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J Boima Rogers looks at the root causes of the Boko Haram phenomenon in Nigeria and what future leaders will have to do to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram and ensure that no copycat groups appear in the future.

More than two months after 200-plus school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants, the local and international outcry has not slowed down their activity. In fact, each week brings new tales of bombings, kidnappings and massacres. This is a real concern, given the potential Nigeria has to become a global player if it gets its economy right. Not only has the West African country overtaken South Africa as the largest economy on the continent, but it also accounts for nearly one-fifth of Africa’s population as well as being the largest oil producer on the continent. Therefore, Boko Haram is of national, regional and global concern.

GoodLuck Jonathan in France with the French leader Francois Hollande and the Cameroon President Paul Biya

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan flew to France to take part in a Boko Haram summit, but has still not managed to visit Borno State, where more than 200 girls were kidnapped two months ago

Nigerians must be at the forefront of any solution to Boko Haram’s militancy. So far, the current administration’s record has not been good. In fact, President Goodluck Jonathan was only forced to make it a priority after the recent kidnapping of the school girls from Chibok triggered a campaign by relatives and an accompanying global indignation. The army has so far been ineffective and, even as I write this paper, President Jonathan has still not visited Borno state since the girls were kidnapped. He recently visited Kano, another northern state on party business but failed to make a detour to Borno state in the north-east. He even found time to fly all the way to France to talk about the problem. In avoiding visiting the north-east, President Jonathan is failing to empathise and build a bond with the people in the state, crucial factors if he is to win the war against Boko Haram. In making the trip to France he is abrogating the country’s role as the regional power, instead taking the position of a client state. Continue reading

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Jun 30 2014

LSE-UCT July School – an opportunity to marry theory with the realities of Africa

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The second LSE-UCT July School starts today in Cape Town, South Africa. LSE’s Mairi Tejani is attending the July School and in this post, she describes her anticipation of a fortnight in a special African city.

Over the next two weeks, I will be on the slopes of Devil’s Peak at the University of Cape Town attending the second LSE-UCT July School. Part of the LSE African Initiative, this school brings together 100+ students, professionals and graduates from 44 countries across the globe. Having just completed my BSc in Economics at LSE, I am looking forward to engaging with the heavyweight combination of Professors Mark Alleyne, Anthony Black (both UCT) and Leonce Ndikumana (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) in my chosen course, Economic Challenges for African Development.

The UCT campus is on the slopes of the Devil's Peak

The UCT campus is on the slopes of the Devil’s Peak mountain

With classes starting at 9am and finishing at 4:30pm everyday plus a 2000-word essay due at the end of the first week, the July School is set to be intense. Nevertheless, I do intend to make sure that my studies go beyond the classroom. Being in South Africa provides the perfect forum to marry theory with the realities of what is happening on the ground in Africa. Granted, the South African economy is an exception. As the second largest economy on Africa, an “upper-middle income economy” (as termed by the World Bank) and home to 11 official languages – my experiences South Africa cannot be a true representative of the 54 nations in the continent. Nonetheless, being in Africa always brings me a sense of calm. A sense of belonging. An air of optimism. I cannot think of a better location for the LSE-UCT July School. Continue reading

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Jun 27 2014

Book Review: Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century

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Clive Gabay says that this book updates a number of ideas about resistance in Africa, and confounds Afro-pessimists by showing that the continent is very much a part of the world, even if not in the ways that Afro-optimists would recognise.

Civic Agency in Africa: Arts of Resistance in the 21st Century makes a timely interjection into debates around African agency and the supposed rise of the continent. This collected volume is edited by Ebenezer Obadare, a prolific scholar of a broad range of African social movements, including Pentecostal movements, as well as a sharp analyst of the Nigerian state, and Wendy Willems, Assistant Professor in LSE’s Department of  Media and Communications. Documenting the various ways in which resistance and contestation manifest themselves in a variety of contexts across the continent, and the obstacles such resistance faces, the contributors to this volume paint a complex picture of hope and fear which poses important questions for how Africa is ‘rising’, and for whom. If there is a bias among the contributions to Euro-American and South African-based scholars, this spread is still distinctly broader than other edited volumes on African politics and society.


The volume’s major strength is its multidisciplinarity, as it is this which brings into view the informal nature of much contemporary resistance in Africa. There is a long lineage of scholarship which makes this point, but it often feels as if these arguments are taken-as-read in much scholarship. It is therefore satisfying to see the work of Achille Mbembe, or the late Patrick Chabal (who wrote the foreword), applied in such a contemporary and diverse range of contexts. Chapters on how resistance manifests itself in comedy, musical lyrics, art (and its reception), and the local and the global marketplace all illustrate the multi-faceted nature of contemporary resistance in Africa. Such a broad range of subject matters would have been impossible without a collection of authors with backgrounds in social anthropology, political economy, communications studies, linguistics and human geography. Continue reading

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