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5.31.2003

 
And in the Fictional World...
Norman Rush, author of Mating, has a new book out, also set in Botswana. It's called Mortals, and according to John Updike's review in the New Yorker, Rush doesn't pull off the dense brilliance of its predecessor. Darn. Mating was one of those books I've read several times, and each time it related to my life at the time (including a stint as a volunteer in southern Africa) and resonated deeply with me. Oh well. While we're discussing Western writers using Botswana as a backdrop, let me mention that I've been enjoying the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.


 
Meanwhile, Back in the Real World...
Congo has been getting some belated attention in the American press lately. As the final part of dispatches from the Horn of Africa, the Times' Nicholas Kristof described the killing there (just for reference: 3 million-plus in 5 years) as "the African holocaust". Then, in the latest New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch writes about the failure of the UN and the US to take action to stop the atrocities (a nod to the skeptic for the previously overlooked link). This evokes shades of Rwanda, when the UN withdrew its peacekeepers as the slaughter began and the US refused to term the mass killings "genocide," lest this designation force us to do something about it. As Gourevitch writes, recent events in Ituri were a sad repetition of this pattern of international ineffectiveness:
"We've been sending messages every day to New York that this was going to happen, that we need more troops," the French commander of the U.N. peacekeepers told a reporter. "Nothing was done." This has become a routine scenario: massacres foretold, warnings ignored, slaughter erupting under the noses of U.N. forces with useless mandates.
Kofi Annan is reportedly "haunted" by his failure to react to the warnings from Rwanda in 1994. But his hands are tied unless "governments with capacity" sign off on sending a robust peackeeping or "rapid reaction" force to Congo. That means the US.

So what has our UN-loving president been doing about this? Nothing. But the administration did talk a good game during the bulid up to war on Iraq, citing the Rwandan genocide as an example of UN inaction in the face of evil. Gourevitch, who documented Bill Clinton's miserable non-response to Rwanda in his fantastic book, manages not to let his head explode:
The disingenousness of these [the Bush administration's] remarks lies, of course, in the fact that it was the United States that prevented the Security Council from acting during the Rwandan genocide, even though no American troops were ever involved or required for the U.N. force there.
Which raises the question: as part of their crusade to discredit the UN and all things international, would the Bush leaguers let Congo descend even further into hellishness just so they could say "told ya so"? Or would they keep ignoring it just because they don't care? As Gourevitch wonders, "What if the ultimate horror of the Congo nightmare is that there is no price for ignoring it?"


 
What's Happening?
Whew. I was gone a bit longer than anticipated. Barring any more unexpected happenings, this blog will continue, though probably not at its former breakneck (ha ha) pace.




5.09.2003

 
Watch This Space
Both of my readers have probably noticed that things have been slow for the past couple of days. Unfortunately, urgent family matters will be taking my time for the rest of the week. In the meantime, please visit any of the fine Internet destinations listed on the left.




5.06.2003

 
First One Out Turn Off the Lights
The Economist has an interesting idea: leave Mugabe in the dark.
The [Zimbabwean] state power company, ZESA, has not paid for the power it imports, so suppliers in neighbouring countries are finally cutting off the juice.

The more optimistic Zimbabweans are wondering, however, if the increasingly frequent blackouts might have a silver lining. Zimbabwe imports 35% of its power from Mozambique, Congo and South Africa. The first two countries are much too poor to subsidise Mr Mugabe, and have responded to Zimbabwe's non-payment of its bills by reducing the amount they supply. South Africa, however, is richer, and has a president, Thabo Mbeki, who is anxious to not to precipitate chaos in Zimbabwe. So the South African state electricity firm, which supplies 15% of Zimbabwe's requirements, has so far kept on supplying, despite an unpaid bill of $115m. But what if South Africa were to use electricity as a tool to persuade Mr Mugabe to give up the other sort of power?

Mr Mbeki could probably topple Mr Mugabe with the flick of a switch, but he prefers diplomacy.
Mbeki is not likely to follow this advice, but it hints at an unconventional, noninterventionist way to force change in Zimbabwe. However, when the lights go out everywhere, people tend to do violent, destructive things-- particularly in a country where people are already desperate. But the Economist is onto something here with its suggestion that Mugabe could be crushed by the weight of his own mismanagement.


 
Walter Sisulu, R.I.P.
Xhamela (Walter Sisulu) is no more. May he live forever! [...]

In a sense I feel cheated by Walter. If there be another life beyond this physical world I would have loved to be there first so that I would welcome him.

Life has determined otherwise. I now know that when my time comes, Walter will be there to meet me, and I am almost certain he will hold out an enrolment form to register me into the ANC with that world [...]
From Nelson Mandela's moving tribute to his old friend, comrade, prisonmate and mentor.




5.05.2003

 
A Kenyan TRC?
The Kibaki government is talking about setting up a commission to look into the Moi regime's human rights abuses. Though some Kenyan HR groups want to see the torturers brought to trial, this seems like a positive first step. I'd like to see any Kenyan version of a TRC look into the "tribal clashes" of the 1990s, which were in fact government-sponsored pogroms designed to perpetuate the myth that a multiethnic country couldn't handle multiparty democracy. That this proposal is coming so early in the Kibaki administration may be a sign that it's got more plans up its sleeve for dealing with the legacy of the Moi years.


 
NATO Looks South
The Horn of Africa suddenly appeared on the US military's radar screen after September 11. Now it looks like West Africa and as-yet-unnamed "ungoverned areas" are being suggested as possible areas of interest, not just for the US but for NATO:
And discussing NATO reconfiguration earlier this week, NATO Supreme Commander General James Jones, an American four-star general, suggested in barely noticed remarks that the United States plans to boost its troop presence in Africa, where there are "large ungoverned areas... that are clearly the new routes of narco-trafficking, terrorists' training and hotbeds of instability." [...]

[Jones said to] expect Africa to be of greater importance to both NATO and the United States. "The carrier battle groups of the future and the expeditionary strike groups of the future may not spend six months in the Med[iterranean Sea] but I'll bet they'll spend half the time going down the West Coast of Africa."
First of all, I'm wondering what areas of West Africa he's most interested in. I assume Sierra Leone, Liberia, maybe Nigeria. And what about his allegations that terrorists are training in Africa? A few details would be helpful here-- are we talking al Qaeda camps, or just terror-related smuggling operations? I'm also wondering how the US plans to take on these "hotbeds" of narco-trafficking and terrorism. With a carrier group? I don't think so. Cruise missiles and F-16s ain't gonna work against drug dealers and diamond smugglers.




5.04.2003

 
Kenya on $3.93 a Day
The trailer for "Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life" starring Angelina Jolie shows that part of the film is set in Africa, with "tribal"-looking African characters. Turns out part of the movie was shot in Kenya, with Masai men acting as extras. Somehow, I'm doubtful that the latest vehicle for the silicone-lipped UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador will portray the Masai as anything other than cartoon characters or colorful scenery. John Kariuki of the The East African shares my skepticism. He explains that the Masai have always long gotten a raw deal in Western film:
Masai are the Red Indians of today's Hollywood adventure movies, largely faceless, pliable, and with no speaking roles other than occasional chanting. [...]

They are required to appear as symbols to satisfy the filmmakers' ideal of exotic Africa. "We do not see their humanistic value, which is important if one is to really appreciate them as people," says Sultan Somji, an ethnographer who has lived among the Masai for many years.

In the 1996 box office hit Independence Day, they were seen crawling out of a bush to join in the celebration after America saved the world from an invading Martian force. In most films, the Masai are shown in their trademark posture, standing on one leg, or herding cattle and occasionally doing their trademark dance, jumping high in the air. This is what is shown on Tomb Raider 2 and one cannot expect much better from The Mummy 3, expected to have Masai as extras. [...]

In many cases, the Masai are not even paid well for their screen roles. During the filming of her latest production, The Price of a Bride, in Magadi last year, Murago-Munene came across the cast of Tomb Raider 2 and was surprised that although her film was a low-budget, locally funded film, she was paying the Masai extras the same 300 Kenyan shillings (US$3.93) a day they were being paid in the Hollywood production.
And what's up with the "Lion King"-esque "Cradle of Life" stuff? Sounds like a Hollywood attempt to evoke images of primitive spirtual wisdom. Cue the Elton John...


 
Freedom Rock
Time for an overdue musical interlude. I've been meaning to mention this for a while. If you haven't already seen the documentary "Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony", run-- don't walk-- to any theatre within 50 miles showing it. "Amandla" tells the story of how music provided the backbeat (or is it backbone?) of the South African anti-apartheid liberation struggle. That alone would make for a great story regardless of what the music sounds like. But the music happens to be amazing: this was a movement with a musical score composed and performed by Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masakela, not to mention the crowds of brave protesters who took to the streets to protest apartheid with little more than songs. The film changed my understanding of the apartheid years, and it definitely made me realize that sometimes the cliches about the power of music are true. For someone who's part of a culture where people sing reluctantly and rarely for a political purpose, "Amandla" was a real ear-opener. If you can't see the film, check out the soundtrack . (The CD is a nice complement to the soundtrack from another documentary, "Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation.")


 
In Whose Interest?
On a day of tireless blogging, AfricaPundit expanded on the question of South Africans' response to the war on Iraq. He blames Mbeki of making South Africa's foreign policy increasingly irrelevant. I do agree that Mbeki is on the wrong side of the Zimbabwe crisis, but find his objections (and the objections of what seems like a majority of South Africans) to the war in Iraq understandable and justified. I don't think that South Africa should have jumped on the pro-war bandwagon just because it would have earned it the favor of the Bush administration. Some lost causes are worth losing. And opposition to the war should not be equated with Saddam-coddling. That's not to justify Mbeki's failure to propose a better way of dealing with Saddam (he certainly wasn't alone on that), but to say that we shouldn't fault South Africa for following a foreign policy that reflects its values and interests. Basically, South Africa has the right not to support a war it didn't want. A closer US-South Africa relationship definitely would be in SA's best interests. But who has made this nearly impossible by stubbornly sticking to a narrow foreign policy agenda? Mbeki? Bush? Both?

In general, my post on South Africa and the war was more concerned with ordinary South Africans' stance on the war than Mbeki's. But AfricaPundit does raise a good point about Mbeki's myopic approach to foreign policy. I think he has squandered an opportunity to make South Africa a hub of serious democratization, trade and peacekeeping efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, his support for Mugabe has made SA look like just another African government willing to turn a blind eye to despotism in the name of stability, solidarity, etc.




5.02.2003

 
Africa Bloggers Unite!
Belated thanks to The Head Heeb for the link and shoutout. Check out his site for smart and incredibly thorough posts on a wide range of subjects, from Ethiopian Jews to the Kenyan legal system. And that's in addition to his many writings about the Middle East and Judaism. Don't know how he keeps up with it all.

Note to both of this site's readers: if you know any other bloggers out there who write about Africa, lemme know.


 
Gag Reflex
It's become predictable: whenever Bush comes out in support of some worthy cause, he's actually working to undermine it. While he's talked up education, health care and the environment, he's actually been slashing funding, regulation and benefits behind the scenes. So, when he announced the other day that the "global gag rule" would not apply to his proposed $15 billion AIDS package, you had to wonder, What's the catch? Joan Ryan, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, explains:
With this bill, Bush is extending the gag rule, not lifting it.

The gag rule has never applied to AIDS funds. So Bush is lifting a restriction that never existed. Instead, he is adding some. Under this bill, groups that provide AIDS prevention as well as abortion services now must keep their abortion and family-planning programs financially and physically separate from its AIDS prevention work.

In other words, they can take the money, but they can't do AIDS work and family planning in the same facility.

If this legislation passes through Congress unchanged, poor and rural communities that have only one clinic would have to build a new one in order to separate their AIDS work from their family-planning work -- an unlikely development, given the depressed economies in the targeted African and Caribbean countries. Or they would have to shut down their family-planning clinic altogether in order to qualify for the AIDS money.
Planned Parenthood calls it "disingenuous." I call it another typical example of Bush giving the finger to the world.


 
Mugabe Death Watch Continues
ZANU insiders are reportedly talking behind Mugabe's back about a change of leadership. Yet, even if Mugabe is booted by his own associates, that still would leave an unpopular and discredited party in power. Regime change in Zimbabwe should involve significant consultation and participation from the MDC. Otherwise, what's really changed?


 
The Black and White World
From a provocative piece in a recent issue of the Mail & Guardian on how South Africa's "two nations" responded to the war in Iraq:
"I hate George Bush.” Johannesburg domestic Christina Cele’s four-word philippic appears to sum up the black South African view of this war.

There have been no formal soundings here, as in many countries. But in the past six weeks one has not heard a single black person endorse the United States invasion of Iraq, or seen one black letter of support in the media. Anti-war protests, including a march by 6 000 people in Pretoria, have overwhelmingly drawn Africans and South African Indians.[...]

[White South Africans'] instinct is to back whites against blacks, right against left, north against south, strong against weak, rich against poor. Theirs is a settler-colonial perspective, where the primary bond is with metropolitan power rather than their black fellow-citizens. Keeping alive South Africa’s former colonial connection, they identify particularly strongly with the English-speaking world order. [...]

For the other South Africans, the war recalls a centuries-long tutelage and subordination at the hands of white Westerners, and the forcing of Western economic, political and social forms down unwilling throats. The fact that the US brushed aside the complaints of the UN, Non-Aligned Movement and African Union underscores their impotence and rekindles their humiliated sense that they are still children and pawns on the world stage.
This strikes me as a discouraging, though fairly accurate, assessment of the competing world views that separate white and black South Africans. Though this split cleaves along race lines, it should be seen as a cultural divison, not just a question of skin color. And as the author, Drew Forrest, notes, this doesn't seem to be a class issue: upwardly mobile blacks did not support the war.

But I think that the lack of black support for the war goes beyond some notion of Third World solidarity. Black South Africans, living in a country with more pressing issues than the war on terrorism, had no self-interest at stake here. Yet that necessarily means white South Africans had nothing at stake here, either. So why did they react positively to the calls for war? Were they acting out of First World solidarity, as Forrest suggests? Why did Bush and Blair's appeal to fear work on them?