Week 10: Marikana-Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre

This week’s assigned text made me recall an important time in my Global Studies career when light was shed on an instance of mass human rights violations and the world experienced a déjà vu of South Africa’s apartheid regime. I recall witnessing the news broadcasts of this horrific event that took place in Marikana, and feeling paralyzed by the images of innocent bodies dispersed about and not understanding how this event was possible in 2012 post-apartheid SA. This week’s reading by Alexander, Sinwell, Lekgowa, Mmope, and Xezwi, most of whom are researchers from the University of Johannesburg, proves to be a detailed and critical recount of the Marikana massacre, one that challenges gruesome news stories, and penetrates the international community’s initial apathy towards intra-state conflict in Africa.

I appreciate the integrity of the authors and their attempts at achieving “ethnographic depth” through building relationships and solidarity with the workers and their family members. The researchers mentioned that one of the ways in which they were able to gain the trust and access valuable information from informants was by stating the future restorative/prevention-oriented purpose of their research.

This book defies all new broadcasting that says the police were acting “in defense”, as the authors blatantly express their findings of this massacre, and it being a completely pre-meditated action (by the state and others). In explaining the importance of an alternative perspective (non-mainstream voices) which make-up this text, i.e. through direct interviews with miners, their families and union members, I also beg the question of the importance of alternative perspectives external to South Africa, but separate from the international community. The latter and the media have been more of the central focus of this discussion, however, to rephrase the question, would it be worthwhile to explore the reactions and thoughts of other Africans, especially those who reside in other said democratic nation states? The reason I also ask this is because when I was in Accra, I noticed a fairly general sense/conception that South Africa as conceived as a very dangerous place. Even in the most informal conversations, Ghanaian youth would refer to South Africa as though it was a hopeless and distant country (in relations to Ghana), ridden with daily crimes and corruption. Although this may be a less-informed narrative, it is interesting to consider such alternative perspectives as well.

This week, more than all others, I find myself formulating more questions than opinions/answers in my response:

  1. What are some of the reasons behind why Marikana’s massacre was not declared as a state emergency in South Africa? If the violent group who orchestrated this mass murder were not state police, could/would they be considered terrorists?
  2. If we are to assign blame in order to identify paths to justice after this massacre, most, including the authors, point to these three: Lonmin, the South African police/government, and/or the National Union of Migrant workers. However, would it be sensible to also declare culpability to the parts of the international community that create the high demand for platinum that feeds into the mistreatment of workers in places like Lonmin’s Marikana mine, which is the 3rd largest mine of it’s kind in the world. Or, is this too much of a far-fetched and ambiguous idea to assert when there is evidently so much local corruption that could act as the sole cause of the problems that led to this massacre?
  3. Looking at this issue from a (Afro-/Neo-) Marxist perspective, would you be able to diagnose the outcomes of the massacre and the subsequent rallies as successes or failures of the working-class in South Africa?
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Week 8: India in Africa

The readings for this week operate as valuable supplements to the discussion on “South-South” relations in this course, and particularly the current-day binding effects of globalization specifically between Asia and Africa. It is important to however, not assume that India and China can be grouped together in this discussion, but instead acknowledge that India and China have completely different approaches to their extension of business in Africa and at times, they may view see each other as competitors in this regard.

Taylor mentions the possible motives for India’s rebirth of interest in Africa as repercussions of the Cold War, however I believe there are alternative reasons apart from the ripple-effects of ideological divides from the West. Noting the history of Indian migrations through Africa and the long-standing Indo-East African Diaspora sparked in the 1970’s during Idi Amin’s ‘Africanization’ process, I am curious of the meanings of these new private business investments in Africa by Indians. I also wonder how those who are second- and third-generation Indian-Africans perceive newly arrived Indians to these African states where there have been longer-standing Indian-Africans. Taylor did mention that, “African confusion of African citizens of Indian descent with new arrivals from India complicates perceptions of ‘Indian’ activities” (p. 782).

In comparing China and India’s involvement with Africa, it is interesting to note Taylor’s discussion of India’s commitment to constructing capacity-building institutions in Africa. This supports the argument that recent Indian involvement in Africa is justifiable because of the developmental benefits it produces in comparison to China’s strict imposition in major extractive industries in the continent. However, there are many aspects of India’s activities in this regard which go “under-the-radar” and by which India is not being held accountable. This then begs the question of not only the practice of democracy in India, but also the potency of Western concepts, such as human rights, in newly emerging South-South partnerships.

I find it difficult to find answers to questions surrounding the motives and future of India and China’s presence in Africa when speaking about Africa as a though, continentally, it is a uniform beneficiary of these outside forces. This is why I appreciate the chapters by Modi and Patey, because they hone in on particular effects of Indian business endeavors as they relate to specific African countries. From this, it is easier to think critically about the future of offshore healthcare as well as the potential for domestic Indian-managed healthcare systems in Kenya and Tanzania as Modi discusses. Additionally, looking at the specific case study Patey provides, it is easier to interrogate the realities of India’s daring oil investments in Sudan and what this means in terms of security for foreign investments and the international gaze of human rights and ethical business in East Africa.

Question:

Considering the history of East Indian presence in Africa, as mentioned in the beginning of Taylor’s article, what are some of the social and cultural implications of the recent Indo-African relations being discussed?

Week 7 Response: China in Africa/Africa in China

With regards to the social impacts of African-Chinese migrations and relations, xenophobia does exist and it is a social ill of which both groups of people are guilty. The short film by Films Media Group touched on the racial misunderstandings of some Chinese through one of the African women’s testimonies where she described that her skin colour was a scornful spectacle in the Guangzhou area. On the other hand, in my personal experience, I noticed within my first few hours of being at Kotoka Airport in Ghana that security personnel at the airport were interrogating Chinese immigrants very harshly and it was apparent to all witnesses that not only was this being done because of sheer discrimination, but also factoring in the language barriers that exist between some Chinese and African people. That being said, it is important to note however that there are many stories of triumph over these barriers of ignorance i.e. willful Chinese-African marriages, families, collaborations etc. Also, after watching this film I am curious as to the deliberateness behind the easier accessibility of a VISA to China than to parts of Europe or North America for Africans. I believe this accessibility gives much way to the increased African Diaspora in Asian countries. I was initially looking forward to this week’s readings as I am guilty of only viewing China-Africa relations as the critiques would by seeing it as a form of neo-colonialism whereby Africans are completely exploited by an un-entitled outside entity that deems itself superior. Whilst holding this view, I was also turning a blind eye to all economic and structural benefits of these relations and so I appreciate Zeleza’s arguments.

While many still disagree on the most accurate categorization of China as either a developed or developing nation, most would still classify China as, technically, a part of the Global South and so it is almost refreshing to be able to have a discussion on this topic as it nourishes the idea of South-South global relationships, all whilst diverging from the typical comparison of the South to the North.

Video: This short documentary sheds light on the illegality and overall negative effects of Chinese gold mining in Ghana.

“The price of gold: Chinese mining in Ghana documentary | Guardian Investigations”

Questions:

Is it the growing possibilities of mutual benefits mentioned in Bodomo and Ma’s article and in the short film by Films Media Group that are framing China’s involvement in Africa as less severe/harmful relative to the West’s imposition on African countries? Has this and other benefits for African states, such as improved infrastructure and boosted markets, allowed observers of this relation to overlook the illegality of some Chinese presence in African states as well as the human rights and environmental abuses that are perpetuated by industries like the mining industry?

If African states are able to come up with the most durable responses to Chinese imposition in the next decade, in terms of developmental and accountability policies for this relationship, what does this say about the future of Africa and about the single narrative that has existed concerning African’s [lack of] self-sustainability and independence?

Week 5: Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

The materials for this week allowed for a slight change in the tone of the discourse of contemporary Africa in this course thus far, in my opinion, because the readings and the podcast focused on a perceived area of African development that is not as frequently complicated as others. In other words, for instance, the Zeleza chapter “The Media in Social Development in Contemporary Africa”, was centred on the connection between media an developmental paradigms in Africa. It assumed the perspectives of media as a vehicle, a form of discursive communication, as sign-interpretations and as processes of social identity. By the end of this highly pragmatic and statistically-supported text, rather than a more anticipated conclusion that would problematize the effects of media on African development, Zeleza simply concluded that all forms of media is integral to Africa’s social development. I noticed however, that some of the statistical data from this text was drawn from the World Bank, which I found interesting as the data was highlighting the growing popularity of certain media outlets in Africa over the last few decades as if they were as indicative as economic measures of development. This allows for an alternative set of questions for readers in terms of the significance and meaning of a robust media and technology sector/industry in developing African countries today.

Similar to the podcast, this reading discussed media as a service sector or “market” in accordance with economic angles of development. Folu Ogundimu was broad in his mentioning of a long list of African countries who are yet to have stable media sectors. It was interesting to note the implied connections he made between political stability or a lack of conflict with the development of the freedom of press across African countries. I was hoping for a more in depth analysis of this relation, however the first step is to identify patterns and I am sure there have been more conclusions on this linkage since 2008.

With regards to the last reading entitled, “Twittering the Boko Haram Uprising in Nigeria: Investigating Pragmatic Acts in the Social Media“, the more expected controversial kind of discourse arose in discussing new developments in Africa. As it is known, the simplified meaning of the name “Boko Haram” translates to “Western education is forbidden” and this speaks quite clearly to the contradictory nature of this organization since its’ terrorization often thrives through Western-invented vehicles of communication i.e. Twitter, and the greatest irony, I find, is the fact that it is inevitable that Boko Haram is a topic of study in Western educational settings like our class. Nonetheless, I think that the development of mass media in African countries is allowing for greater positive outcomes, such as a culture of technological entrepreneurship among African youth, more than it is feeding in to negative, extremist avenues of thought. The latter does exist as we have seen in this article for example, however some things are inevitable but are worth investing in when the large scale benefits outweigh the isolated detriments.

One of the most interesting Vice documentaries I have watched to date is about the history of internet scamming or “Sakawa” in Western Africa and the health and environmental repercussions of international technological waste disposal in Ghana. Video: Internet Scamming in Ghana

Week 4 Response – Neoliberalism Revisited

The Thomas article is particularly complex because of its’ exposure of the social hierarchies that exist as a result of the South African apartheid regime and its’ ability to give way to overtly capitalist opportunities such at the skin-lightening cream industry founded by the Jewish-immigrant Krok brothers. In addition to Black Consciousness leaders in South Africa, this industry was indeed met by harsh backlash for its’ the racist wounds it opened up in country led by extremely racially-divisive policies. The South African “Centimillionaire” Abraham Krok passed away in 2013 and so at least, it would be interesting to explore what Rebekah Lee might say about his funeral and the supposed irony of one of South Africa’s most famous capitalists and the potential necessity of an elaborate South African ceremony for this one controversial figure.

It is important to note, and the article emphasizes this, that with Gugulethu square there are many forms of “authentic” African daily life found in the functioning of the space, proving the “plasticity of neoliberalism:” i.e. African arts and poetry under the Shoprite signs, HIV testing stations, local vendors etc. And so, it may be too premature of a judgment to dismiss this as a non-“authentic” African space that is too far-fetched to even be beneficial for South Africans. A quote from the article stating: “It is no wonder that the people of Gugulethu are profoundly suspicious of the wealthy, no matter what their skin colour”, resonated with my ideas and forced me to think beyond the colonial power dynamics of white vs. black which is usually the initial case when discussing inequalities in South Africa. I found that this was a clear connection to the disparities that exist in actuality in the African context today as there are multiple reasons for which class divides are becoming increasingly apparent, much like those mentioned in Dolan and Roll’s article. Their work centered on the idea, counter to ineffective development aid to Africa in last decade, of “eradicating poverty through profits” and the concept of “inclusive capitalism” rooted in the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) model. This focus on “inclusive global development” allowed for a refreshing alternative point of discussion in terms of the potential poverty eradication in the African context and I appreciated the acknowledgement of the emergence of enterprise and entrepreneurship as a key platform for economic growth. I have noticed a kind of spirit of entrepreneurship among African youth today and while this seems to be like a possibly problematic effect of neoliberalism, I want to first as the question of choice and whether or not these youth are feeling absolutely compelled to lead such unique ambitious lifestyles in order to define themselves as financially successful in a part of the world where poverty can be a threatening thought. Similarly, if one should assume the article is written by two women, it is less of a surprise that there is a special focus on women who identify as entrepreneurs in the article but nonetheless, this is an important area of focus as many development strategies are realizing the real qualitative benefits of targeting women in developing countries as key vehicles for change. Moreover, I appreciated the mention of what I would rather refer to as the myth of corporate social responsibility in this article and they ways in which African companies are now adopting these capitalist strategies. Overall, this week’s articles allowed for much needed alternative discussions on current realities in (globalized) African cities and a necessary re-examination of neoliberalism and its’ translation into facets of present-day African life.

Week 3: “Oxford Street, Accra” Response

There is much to say about this week’s assigned text as it serves as one of few books written so extensively and expertly on an area as specific as Oxford Street, Accra, Ghana.

Having had a brief living experience in Accra this past summer, which fueled a sense of passionate fandom in me towards the country of Ghana, this book allowed for an enjoyable experience of reminiscing and reflection. However, there are some areas of Dr. Quayson’s work which I find porous. I first find myself asking the question of what kind of audience Dr. Quayson envisioned for the creation of his book. I say this because I assume that those who have not had lived experienced in Oxford Street, Accra, may find it hard to reconcile all of the specific examples given with the core themes of Dr. Quayson’s grand analysis. On the other hand, I also find it challenging to imagine inhabitants and dwellers of Oxford Street themselves wanting to indulge in this book given its descriptive breakdown of the city as though directed at a foreigner. This also could be a very poor assumption on my part. Nonetheless, I found that having had spent some time on Oxford Street myself, and being a student of African Studies,  I was well-equipped to appreciate all of Dr. Quayson’s work in this book. I also would like to ask the question of why Dr. Quayson may have chosen to focus on the specific social relations in which he did throughout the book, especially in the Introduction. Ghanaian people are known for their hospitality and comradery and so, I thought that highlighting mostly minor quarrels in the streets of Accra could potentially distort outsider perspectives of the most common kinds of social relations that exist in this part of Ghana. At the same time, as we have established in the outset of this course, any single-story is no story worth telling and so Dr. Quayson’s choice of examples could be trusted for it’s multi-dimensionality, not to mention its’ genuineness, him being a Ghanaian native.

Something I noticed with regard to Dr. Quayson’s approach to sharing these seemingly objective ideas about this space, was his choice of words when describing certain aspects of Accra. For instance, without ever directly mentioning the concept of capitalism, I found that much of Dr. Quayson’s examples both of Phil Cohen’s two-part concept of material infrastructure and abstract meanings of space could also serve as meaningful indications of growing capitalism in Accra.  Dr. Quayson’s mentions of the significance of price tags and lack-thereof (formal and informal transactions), the commercialization of salsa, systematic international economic interventions (i.e. IMF & SAP’s) and the growth of the mobile phone industry are a few examples of the capitalist repercussions of globalization in Ghana which, I believe, are worth mentioning as such. However, as I can infer from Dr. Quayson’s acknowledgement of the city of Accra as his own, he was deliberate in his efforts to share a  raw phenomenon with the world, whilst steering clear of the unnecessary yet highly-demanded critical breakdowns of such a special, unique place.

Referencing the urban planning of Moscow, Dr. Quayson explains how walking down Oxford Street on any given day never entails a linear stroll, but rather a zigzagged route mainly as a result of the commercial diversity found on the nearly non-existent pedestrian paths. In some ways, this idea can be paralleled with Dr. Quayson’s approach for his book “Oxford Street, Accra”. This is because his choice of topics and concepts discussed across chapters are far from ordinary, and thus takes the reader on a kind of divergent journey from one characteristic of Accra to the next i.e. post-colonial ethnicities to cellphone advertising. That being said, I did appreciate the uniqueness of his book, and his approaches to introducing readers to new ways of thinking i.e. analyzing the constituents of free time/leisure in order to draw conclusions about socio-economic class and spatial relations instead of the typical examination of people’s occupations in a society. Focusing primarily on historical, cultural, and social aspects of Oxford Street was a refreshing way to enter a first-hand academic stroll down this vibrant West African cosmopolis.

For further reference and contextual aid:

Article: “Why a Ride in a Tro-Tro Made Me Think of Uber” explains the Trotro industry in a way that it’s efficiency should be further acknowledged by the West. http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/trotro-ghana-ride-sharing-trends-uber

Video: “Land of Promise” – Damian Marley & Nas, lyrically painting Africa’s cities as contrary to popular belief.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjoCnCaynCM

Video: “Pizza & Burger” – Sarkodie & Jayso rap about Western influences (i.e. youth food choices) in Accra, Ghana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5rneIo4jbk

Week 2 – Jan. 13 – The Political Economy of Disease in Africa: From AIDS to Ebola

I appreciate that the opening discussion for a course entitled Africa in A Changing World, begins with a topic that is commonly misinterpreted as characteristic of and mundane in the continent of Africa, and that happens to be of pressing global status in recent months. The pandemics of HIV/AIDS and the Ebola virus, both supposedly originating in parts of Africa, were the subjects of the readings this week, however the presentation of these topics of Sub-Saharan African disease was appreciatively far from typical.

After watching the film “Ebola War: Nurses of Gulu” and baring cinematographic witness to the death of health care workers and mysterious proliferation of Ebola in Gulu, Uganda, one can argue that all of Abramowitz, Saéz, Kelly, and Brown’s arguments are difficult to contest. This is because had the theories of these authors, who are anthropologists, been put to the test in Gulu in 2000, it is likely that the right kind of anthropological aid could have halted the spread of Ebola throughout the hospital of Gulu and appropriately corrected the community members’ misconceptions about the nature and origins of the disease, ultimately reducing panic and fine-tuning accurate diagnosis’ for example, making the response to the disease more effective. Conversely, I found it quite ironic that an American anthropologist such as Abramowitz was so adamant about the capacity of foreign anthropologists to effectively help in the fight against Ebola, disregarding the past, current and potential efforts of local African anthropologists to do the same work. Her list of tens things did seem a little stretched at certain points, but her and the other authors’ arguments for the need of the presence of a diversity of professionals to combat a pandemic such as Ebola, was valid overall.

The social science perspective used in Burchardt, Patterson, and Rasmussen analysis of HIV/AIDS in Africa was elementary in its’ generalization of the entire continent and its’ remarks that social movement discourse is likely too Western of a concept to be applied to African contexts. While it is true that clearly defining collective identities in some religiously-charged African states may be challenging, it is historically-ignorant to assume that social mobilization is too advanced an idea to be examined in neo-colonial African states. What was a related, compelling sub-argument however, was that the professionalism which results from political and social mobilization can infiltrate and jeopardize the religious foundations of certain localized AIDS-relief initiatives. Yes, most African countries do suffer from political drawbacks like neo-patrimonial systems, other forms of corruption, and “extraversion” in the words of Bayart (1993), as do most post-colonial developing countries in the Global South, and I regret to once again have to make this critique of academic journal article on African studies, but this is not a problem that is uniform and salient throughout the entire continent. This can be taken as naïve, but it was mentioned in the Burchardt, Patterson, and Rasmussen article: perhaps instead of dwelling on never-ending questions of the perfect methodological ingredients, the answer to Polletta and Jasper (2001)’s question of collective (religious and non-religious) identity lies in affected Africans prioritizing “compassion and shared humanity” as motivations for mobilizations to combat the spread of disease in Africa.

Further discussion:

  1. At what point does combating “the simple narratives that blame the epidemic on local people” become equally or almost as urgent as combating the epidemic itself?
  2. What can be said about the future of anthropology in the field of global health if in modern times, professionals like Abramowitz, Saéz, Kelly, and Brown are forced to publish articles on their intended plans to aid in the fight against an African epidemic, instead of on the actual execution of these plans?

More food-for-thought regarding the necessity for the presence of anthropologists on the scene. One of the discovering doctors of the Ebola virus admits to faults/delays in realizing facts that ethnographic work could certainly have concluded in a more timely manner:

“How Ebola Was Discovered”

https://screen.yahoo.com/news/ebola-discovered-144402383.html