Aug 28 2014

Book Review: Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance by Marc Epprecht

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The persecution of people in Africa on the basis of their homosexual orientation has recently received considerable coverage in the media. However, much of the analysis thus far has been highly critical of African leadership and culture without considering local nuances, historical factors and external influences that are contributing to the problem. In this book, based on pioneering research on the history of homosexualities and engagement with current LGBTI activism, Marc Epprecht aims to provide a sympathetic overview of the issues at play. Clearly written and richly annotated, the book will prove to be a useful guide for academics, social workers, and activists, writes Jia Hui Lee.

Marc Epprecht’s Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa arrives at a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities are confronting a growingly violent wave of homophobia in the continent. Just last July, Eric Lembembe, a prominent Cameroonian gay activist was tortured and murdered. In May, the House of Representatives of Nigeria passed a bill that would extend punishment for those involved in same-sex relationships to 14 years in prison.


While Epprecht, a historian and professor of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University, acknowledges the struggles faced by LGBTI Africans, he is optimistic about the quest for justice for LGBTI communities. Comprehensive and accessible, Epprecht’s book places sexuality and homophobia within African contexts. It provides both a historical understanding as well as provides strategies for future activists to forge greater acceptance for sexual minorities on the continent. Continue reading

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Aug 27 2014

Photo blog: The Transformation of Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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 LSE’s Janna Miletzki  discovers the ever-changing landscape of Kigamboni, a suburb of Dar es Salaam.


Dar_Vignettes1A rural idyll? Palm trees and abandoned houses are as much part of the cityscape of Dar es Salaam as high-rise houses and never-ending traffic jams.

In the middle of this picture, one can see an advertisement painted by hand for the virtual social network website Facebook – a Western phenomenon. Facebook, it says, is “sugar for beautiful people” (sukari ya warembo) – it is a platform where beautiful people can show themselves to the virtual public. Continue reading

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Aug 26 2014

#GreatWarInAfrica: Honour motivated some Cameroonian soldiers who fought for Germany during the First World War

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George Njung looks at the role honour played in the decision of Cameroonians to fight for European belligerents in the First World War in Cameroon. 

Until recently, historians of WWI in Africa have paid scant attention to the relationship between the question of honour and Africans’ military actions. The motivations of African colonial soldiers have been lumped into the political economy of colonialism. These soldiers, scholars argue, were either responding to the monetary benefits of fighting for the colonial state, they were paying blood tax, or they were being coerced into military service by the colonial apparatus that must keep up with the capitalist rational of colonialism (Parsons 1999; Echenberg 1995). A challenge to the social-labour frame has been posed by what Jay Winter (1992:88) calls “a new cultural history of the Great War.” The social history frame tends to present African soldiers as a tabula rasa[i] for European military training. Yet, there was little or no military training in Cameroon for the thousands of local soldiers deployed on the battlefield by both European belligerents. Nor was there enough material motivation to cause Africans to kill both Europeans and themselves on the battle front. Although war must rate as one of the central shaping experiences of humanity, the exclusive social history frame has failed to draw (African) military history fully into the body of kirk (Purseigle and Macleod 2004).


Cameroonian unit on parade during World War One

The basic question is how do we account for the excitement of Cameroonian soldiers in the Cameroon campaign of WWI? When Britain and France ignored Germany’s appeals to limit confrontations to Europe and chose to invade German Cameroon in September 1914, the Germans only had about 1500 Cameroonians in the schutztruppe[ii]. But in no time, they raised a local army of over 10,000 men. Preliminary research shows that many of these soldiers were coerced and conscripted into the German military apparatus. But research shows also that many more might have been responding to “the honour of men” enshrined in militarism: that the honour of man lay in his willingness and ability to take up arms, fight, kill and/or be killed. It is estimated that about 20,000 Cameroonians enlisted for military services in the Allied camp to fight the Germans in Cameroon. And again, these soldiers received little or no material motivation to fight. It must have been the issue of military honour that motivated them. Continue reading

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Aug 26 2014

La Grande Guerre en Afrique : La notion d’honneur, s’est révélée être un facteur de motivation pour certains soldats camerounais, ayant combattu pour l’Allemagne lors de la Première Guerre mondiale.

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George Njung examine le rôle que l’honneur a joué dans la décision qui a poussé les camerounais à se battre pour l’Allemagne lors de la Première Guerre mondiale.

La relation existant entre l’honneur et les actions militaires des Africains n’a été jusqu’à présent que très peu étudiée, par les historiens de la Première Guerre mondiale en Afrique. Les motivations des soldats coloniaux africains ont été amalgamées dans la catégorie politique économique du colonialisme. Ces soldats, soutiennent certains universitaires, répondaient soit aux avantages financiers procurés par leur engagement dans le combat pour l’état colonial, ils paient l’impôt du sang, soit ou ils étaient contraints à devenir soldats par le régime colonial qui devait suivre le modèle capitaliste du colonialisme (Parsons 1999; Echenberg 1995). Un défi pour le cadre social et du travail a été posé par ce que Jay Winter (1992:88) appelle ‘une nouvelle histoire culturelle de la Grande Guerre.’ Selon le cadre historique social les soldats africains n’avaient aucune formation militaire européenne. Malgré cela, les centaines de soldats locaux déployés sur le champ de bataille par les deux belligérants européens, n’ont reçu, au Cameroun, qu’une formation militaire rudimentaire ou nulle. Il n’y avait pas non plus assez de motivations matérielles qui incitaient les Africains non seulement à se tuer eux-mêmes mais aussi à tuer les Européens sur le front de bataille. Même si la guerre est sans aucun doute l’une des expériences centrales à avoir façonné l’humanité, le cadre historique social ne présente pas l’histoire militaire (Africaine) dans son intégralité (Purseigle et Macleod 2004).

Défilé de l’unité camerounaise

Défilé de l’unité camerounaise

La question fondamentale est de savoir comment justifier la réaction enthousiaste des soldats camerounais lors de la campagne camerounaise de la Première Guerre mondiale ? Lorsque l’Allemagne a demandé à la Grande-Bretagne et à la France de limiter les affrontements à l’Europe, ceux-ci l’ont ignorée et ont choisi d’envahir le Cameroun allemand en septembre 1914. Lorsque l’expédition franco-britannique a envahi le pays, les Allemands n’avaient qu’environ 1500 Camerounais dans la schutztruppe[i]. Une armée locale de plus de 10,000 hommes a cependant été très vite levée. Selon des recherches préliminaires, beaucoup de ces hommes avaient été enrôlés de forcedans l’armée allemande. Mais la recherche démontre également qu’un nombre supérieur répondait à l’une des valeurs du militarisme : ‘l’honneur des hommes’, c’est à dire que l’honneur d’un homme repose sur sa volonté et capacité à prendre les armes, se battre, tuer et/ou se faire tuer. On estime qu’environ 20,000 Camerounais se sont enrôlés pour le service militaire dans le camp allié pour combattre les Allemands débarqués au Cameroun. Pourtant, ces soldats n’ont reçu que peu ou pas de motivation matérielle les incitant à se battre. L’honneur militaire a sans doute été l’élément qui a facilité leur choix. Continue reading

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Aug 22 2014

Book Review: In the name of the people: Angola’s forgotten Massacre by Lara Pawson


Rochelle Burgess praises Lara Pawson’s In the Name of the People: Angola’s forgotten Massacre for embracing a “multiplicity of truths”.

Angola’s post-colonial history is marked by a particular brand of suffering. It has housed one of the world’s longest civil wars, responsible for the death of more than 300,000 people and one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. Angola’s struggles have not waned since the end of the civil war, as it remains of the most unequal countries in the world where a minority of people benefit from its oil-related wealth, and the rest struggle with day-to-day survival.

Long before independence the country was already torn apart by warring revolutionary parties divided on racial and ideological lines. The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of the People) was a Marxist-Socialist party supported by Russian and Cuban powers. UNITA (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) was by contrast supported by the CIA and South Africa’s apartheid government. Finally, the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) backed by both the CIA and Zaire (modern day DR Congo). The battle was underpinned by race and cold war politics , making the “Angolan question” one that was often more concerned with Western – or American – imperialism and wider fears of the rise in communist ideals than about the freedom of Angolans from Portugese rule.

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Aug 21 2014

Ebola: failures, flashpoints and focus

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Annie Wilkinson tackles some of the issues with which health workers dealing with an Ebola outbreak have to contend.

As the worst Ebola epidemic on record shows no signs of abating in West Africa, fear and ignorance are increasingly said to be playing a role in its continued spread. Meanwhile, local practices such as the consumption of bushmeat and deforestation are the go-to explanations for the epidemic’s underlying causes. However, decades of anthropological research in the region by STEPS Centre and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) researchers, indicates not only that this picture is an over-simplification, but that disease control policies based on these ideas may be unhelpful.


Men dressed in protective gear bury a corpse infected with the Ebola virus

The latest news from West Africa is troubling: outreach and surveillance officers have been attacked, rumours circulate that the disease does not exist, that medical staff are harvesting organs and anyone going to hospital will not come out alive. Tear gas was reportedly used to disperse a crowd at Sierra Leone’s Kenema Government Hospital who were demanding the release of family members admitted to the Ebola treatment centre there. As many as 57 patients are reported “missing” in the country, either fleeing treatment centres or avoiding them altogether. This seriously hinders contact tracing and infection control efforts.

Both the Sierra Leonean and Liberian presidents have said anyone obstructing suspected Ebola patients from receiving official treatment will be punished. But these announcements are unlikely to have much effect, being disengaged from the reasons behind the community suspicion and the complexities of the socio-cultural context. Continue reading

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Aug 21 2014

Book Review: Reporting Disasters: Famine, Politics and The Media by Suzanne Franks

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The media reporting of the Ethiopian Famine in 1984-5 was an iconic news event. It is widely believed to have had an unprecedented impact, challenging perceptions of Africa and mobilising public opinion and philanthropic action in a dramatic new way. The contemporary international configuration of aid, media pressure, and official policy is still directly affected and sometimes distorted by what was – as this narrative aims to show – also an inaccurate and misleading story. Fiona Chesterton finds Suzanne Franks’ work to be a rich and worthwhile read.

Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plain outside Korem, it lights up a biblical famine, now in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on Earth.’

So began a BBC television news report broadcast nearly 30 years ago, and which begat millions of pounds in donations, the era of celebrity-fronted campaigning, a transformational growth of aid organisations, and much else besides. But it did not change – or feed – the world or have the impact on policy-makers as appeared at the time. That is the thrust of Reporting Disasters, a hard-headed analysis of this famous report by Michael Buerk from Ethiopia, and its consequences. The author, Suzanne Franks, Professor of Journalism at City University, is a former BBC Current affairs Producer and has published widely on international news coverage.


The book is certainly timely – as Britain’s spending on international aid is again very much a live issue – and its analysis is rather more sophisticated than some current political discourse -who would have thought that anyone could talk about “Bongo Bongo Land” in the summer of 2013? Continue reading

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