Jul 17 2014

Book Review: Africa Emerges by Robert I. Rotberg

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Many countries in Sub–Saharan Africa are now enjoying significant economic growth and political progress. The new Africa has begun to banish the miseries of the past, and appears ready to play an important role in world affairs. Africa Emerges draws on a wealth of empirical data to explore the key challenges Africa must overcome in the coming decades, from peacekeeping to health and disease, from energy needs to education. Ainsley Elbra finds that this book is replete with data at all levels and on a wide variety of measures that should be of interest to any reader keen to develop an understanding of recent changes taking place throughout Africa.

Robert I. Rotberg’s latest book, Africa Emerges, provides a valuable update on the progress of one of the world’s most vastly misunderstood regions. Written by a pre-eminent scholar of African affairs, and governance more broadly, the author utilises a raft of quantitative data to outline a more nuanced picture of the continent’s development. Overall, the book reveals trends in a variety of areas of interest to development scholars, such as population demographics, disease, conflict, infrastructure and the role of China in the continent’s progress. Rotberg’s book is well balanced, reflecting on the progress being made (including growth rates exceeding those in other developing regions) as well as the challenges facing the translation of this growth into true development across all groups in society.

Rotberg_AfricaEmergesDespite any misgivings from the title, the author avoids the common mistake of assuming a continent-wide trajectory at the expense of specific local experiences. Rotberg instead provides key statistics detailing progress at the regional, country and sub-national levels. Continue reading

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Jul 16 2014

World Cup fever in Sierra Leone reveals how the beautiful game unites and divides

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LSE’s Jonah Lipton looks at how football serves as a window into a wider world for marginalised youth in Freetown.

I am sitting in Victor’s cinema in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A rumbling generator powers three televisions at the front of a large room built from corrugated iron and wood. A crowd has assembled to watch the World Cup game between Ivory Coast and Greece. This is the final game of the group stage for Ivory Coast’s “golden generation”, many of whom are celebrated members of Europe’s top clubs but have yet to achieve at international level. A victory or draw would offer an historic opportunity to progress to the knock-out stages.

The atmosphere in the cinema is one of pride for fellow West Africans performing on the global stage, but also one of profound and somehow expected disappointment, crystalised by the late penalty awarded to Greece, winning them the game in literally the last minute. One audience member exclaims that “they don’t want African teams to succeed”. Others comment on the determination of the Greeks to score right until the very end versus the Ivorian’s misjudged self-assuredness.


A crowd watching Ivory Coast-Greece at Victor’s cinema in Freetown

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Jul 16 2014

The rise of Afro-Smart cities should be viewed with caution


Smart cities are the latest craze across Africa. But should we be as excited about them as public discourse says we should? LSE’s Jonathan Silver thinks not.

The recent announcement by IBM establishing its twelfth global laboratory in Nairobi has followed a rise in news about Smart cities across urban Africa. These include IBM’s inclusion of Durban and Abuja in its Smarter Cities Challenge, a plethora of summits and conferences, together with planning for a series of new smart urban extensions on the periphery of major conurbations such as Accra and Kinshasa. Together these developments are generating an ever growing clamour concerning the potential of smart urbanism to transform urban Africa through the integration of digital technologies across networked infrastructures, offering resource efficiencies, global competitiveness, safer cities and ultimately much greater control over the built environment and everyday life.

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://www2.schneider-electric.com/sites/corporate/en/solutions/sustainable_solutions/smart-cities.page)

Here is a depiction of the Smart City (Source: http://bit.ly/1qzpK1Z)

Such coverage is often predicated on these techno-futures enabling ways to leapfrog other global regions through next generation infrastructure and technology. The images and narratives of smart futures in cities like Rio, portrayed in endless representations through its control room, and major Northern cities such as London and New York are ubiquitous and firmly entrenched in the imaginary of policymakers and the wider public. Yet the notion of smart in urban Africa has been less visible (at least on a global level) up till now. But as things change, the rise of Afro-Smart cities is going to require much more attention from those interested in rapid urbanisation and associated challenges of poverty and development faced by these diverse cities. For behind the widely circulated images of slum dwellers using mobile technologies to improve daily lives, the dominance of large ICT companies, a splintered urban landscape, land dispossession and the securitisation of urban space reveal a more complicated potential smart urban future. Continue reading

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Jul 14 2014

What Gives? African Union Head of State Immunity

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With African leaders voting to grant themselves and their senior officials immunity from prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity,  LSE’s Mark Kersten analyses how much of a setback this is for international justice on the African continent.

In June 2014, the African Union (AU) voted to grant immunity from prosecution to all African Heads of State and “senior officials” at the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. Predictably, the human rights and international justice world were up in arms. Some called it the “worst possible signal” to perpetrators of atrocities.

Members of the African Union have pushed for head of state immunity since Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was first indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009. Their mission has only gathered steam since Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing trial at the ICC, was elected in March 2013.

Protesters voice their support for the ICC in Nairobi in 2011 (Photo: VOA)

Protesters voice their support for the ICC in Nairobi in 2011 (Photo: VOA)

So what should we make of the AU’s efforts? Here are a few thoughts.

Not Just Ocampo-Justice

It would be easy, but generally wrong, to ascribe the AU’s motion to a bunch of cronies. There are cronies and they are leading the attack on the ICC. But ICC member-states in Africa aren’t exactly lining up to defend the Court. This seems symptomatic of a widening and deepening wave of discontent with international justice. And this frustration may yet grow among the citizenry of African states – ironically in part because the Court has been unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute some African heads of state. Continue reading

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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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