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.

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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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Jun 27 2014

Food At A Cost: The Threat of Famine in South Sudan

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As South Sudan’s conflict grinds on, Sterling Carter warns of the famine ahead as the rainy season sets in.

The threat of famine in South Sudan is real, and civilians are already risking rape, abduction, and murder in their search for food. Since fighting erupted last December in South Sudan, thousands of people have died and over a million have been displaced in a conflict sparked by long-running political disputes between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar.

Although the two have struck an apparent deal to end the conflict and form a transitional government, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has devastated thousands of lives.

Heavy fighting in Leer early in 2014 resulted in destruction of many of the structures in the South Sudan Town (AP)

Heavy fighting in Leer early in 2014 resulted in destruction of many of the structures in the South Sudan Town (AP)

In Leer, humanitarians are already witnessing the shadows of looming famine. The home of opposition leader Riek Machar, Leer saw heavy fighting in February and government control through mid-April when the opposition retook the city. Over 1500 homes burned, and the once vibrant market, one of the largest in the region, was reduced to a broken husk of rusted iron shacks. Continue reading

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Jun 26 2014

Book Review: The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations by Michael L. Ross

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Countries that are rich in petroleum have less democracy, less economic stability, and more frequent civil wars than countries without oil. What explains this oil curse? And can it be fixed? Michael L. Ross looks at how developing nations are shaped by their mineral wealth–and how they can turn oil from a curse into a blessing. Ramin Nassehi recommends this book to scholars of development or Middle Eastern Studies, and in particular, researchers who share a passion for studying oil.

The paradoxical idea that oil is a curse for economic prosperity has become increasingly influential in the last three decades. Advocates of this idea claim that oil weakens political institutions, harms private sector promotion, increases economic volatility, hinders industrialisation, and fuels civil wars. However, recently, the ‘oil curse’ literature has been undergoing a process of ‘creative destruction’- whereby new ideas are replacing old ones- thanks to the falsification of some theories and emerging methodological criticism. Michael Ross’s recent book The Oil Curse, fits into this revisionist trend.

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Drawing on statistical analysis and qualitative case studies, Ross shows that some of the oil curse theses are incorrect. For instance, in Chapter Six, he finds no evidence for oil acting as a curse for economic growth in the long-term, highlighting the similar long-run growth rates between oil-rich and oil-scarce countries during the past five decades. Although, he emphasises that economic growth has been more volatile in oil-rich countries. The author also challenges the studies that have found a negative relationship between oil and the quality of institutions (rule of law and effectiveness of public administration) on methodological grounds.

Nonetheless, as its name suggests, the book still defends many ideas in the oil curse literature and adds some revisions. The author stresses that the oil curse is a new phenomenon, which came into effect only after the 1970s, the period when oil was increasingly nationalised in the Global South. This period also experienced OPEC’s rise to power and also the breaking down of the Bretton Woods regime. All these changes, according to the author, increased the size and volatility of oil revenues for petro-states from the period of the 1980s, leading to many economic and political impediments. Each chapter deals with one of these impediments. Continue reading

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