This week we read Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre.  It is written to examine and give voice to the survivors and victims of the massacre that took place by police against miners striking for wage increases.  The book starts by giving some background information about the mine, workers, working conditions, and situation leading up the event.  Miners were overworked and underpaid and banded together in order to peacefully meet with their employer and request equal compensation for their labour.  Unfortunately, their attempts were met with negatively and with physical violence.  It is interesting to note that the strike by the miners, as told by miners, was very well organized and peaceful.  They elected members from within to act as spokespeople, representatives, negotiators, and peacekeepers.  Their intention was to act in a nonviolent manner and to keep the strike peaceful (unlike other demonstrations which occurred before).  The ensuing massacre on the miners by paramilitary police on August 16, 2012 showed that their employers were more interested in keeping their own profits at the cost of the lives of their employees.  Many had witnessed the murder of their follow workers and it remains a traumatic experience for all those involved, including the families of those who were killed.

This book is written mainly through the voices of survivors and families, through interviews and first-hand accounts of what took place.  It is able to give a platform for these people to tell the world what happened to them which would perhaps otherwise be left on the wayside of African affairs.  By the accounts given by these people, the strikes and protests were initially peaceful in nature.  Protesters would be calm and sing on their way to meet their employer.  It was until they were attacked by security forces and police did the miners arm themselves for reasons of self defense.  Also by the accounts, the employer would not even hear what the demands were and simply told the miners to go back to work.  I find this to be an interesting choice made by the authors to not interview or inquire to the company to find the other side of the story.  I am in no way condoning the actions of the security or police forces.  But it seems strange that the employer is framed as so stereotypically unreasonable and isn’t investigated further.  It falls into the danger of accepting the single-story as truth.  How might this book change if Lonmin had also been interviewed and their side of the story been included?  What makes this situation different than the Chinese mines we had read about earlier in the course?

Josh S


Week 9 – Delusions of Development

This week’s readings were from the book Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development by Allen and Barbara Isaacman.  It focused on the construction of the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River in Mozambique.  On the first two pages of chapter three, we are immediately introduced to the theme of the book, oppression of the local population by colonial powers in the name of modernisation.  “Local African communities were forced to abandon their homes…to make way for the construction of a segregated town for white workers…” (pg 57), “state officials often relied on conscripted labor” (pg 57), and “colonial powers used coercion to silence, repress, and discipline angry workers…”(pg 57-58).  This was all done to construct a dam that was “supposed to improve the lives of African communities in the area” (pg 58).  This becomes an increasingly common theme throughout the book as many other examples of colonial exertion of power and authority over local populations and also racially defined social structures within this development process (“Not even long-term Mozambican dam workers were able to break out of the racially defined unskilled positons to which they had been consigned”pg160).  This project had many obstacles to overcome, including financial crisis, supplying an adequate workforce, and even local and national resistance to the Portuguese colonial powers.  With all of the negatives associated with this project, such as the local displacement, violence, ecological and environmental impacts, it is not entirely surprising to find out that the colonial powers never did succeed in construction.  Instead, the project was taken up by the government of Mozambique who has been faced with their own challenges of building the newly proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam.  This process, which was a national initiative (as opposed to one proposed by an international or colonial power) seemed to operate in a similar fashion to the previous colonial powers under the guise of national unity.  Local were seldom interviewed and/or consulted about the new project.  When meetings took place about the project and local peasants attended, they were “rarely asked questions or challenged the plan in any way. Their silence at the meetings…reflected a top-down culture of governance” (pg 178).  This style of government and approach to development is eerily similar to that of the colonial powers.  Even some of the statistical environmental and ecological data collected to understand more about the impacts construction would have were questionable.  So what has changed? In recent years, there has been increased popularity and movement for local initiatives to take place for development and that international parties do not reflect or fully understand the local perspective, lifestyles, or traditions.  Yet according to this book, development taken on by national government are not much better.  Which is more effective?  This sort of national development? Or perhaps the models shown by Chinese and Indian business models which envelop trade and development?

Josh S

India and Africa

This week’s readings focused on the relationship between the country of India and the continent of Africa.  In the first article India’s Rise in Africa, by Ian Taylor, India is shown to have social, economic, and political ties to Africa.  Much like we saw in the readings last week concerning China and Africa, India is similar in many ways.  However, one of the differences that is pointed out in the article is that, while China’s dealings with Africa have been on a state-to-state basis, India is more involved on commercial/individual level.  One of the most interesting points of the article to me was the discussions surrounding aid.  India is one of the few countries that has transformed from being an aid receiver to an aid giver.  This transformation has given even more political and economic security to India as a result.  This newfound security is then channeled into development projects in Africa, but similarly to US aid, comes with its own political and economic agendas.

The second reading Offshore Healthcare Management: Medical Tourism between Kenya, Tanzania and India, by Renu Modi, discusses the increased amounts of Africans from Kenya and Tanzania traveling to India for medical treatment or procedures.  The reason for this “medical tourism” is because the infrastructure and facilities in these African countries can be inadequate for the treatment required.  After discussing the historical and structural issues involved in creating the medical issues in Kenya and Tanzania, Modi explains why India is the preferred destination for these African citizens for medical treatment.  It was interesting to note that not only do these Africans seek medical attention in India because of reputation or recommendations, but also because many Indian hospitals actively recruit patients and advertise their hospitals in Kenya and Tanzania.

The final reading Fragile Fortunes: India’s Oil Venture into War-Torn Sudan, by Luke Patey, explains the difficulties of India-based oil company OVL in securing oil from post-conflict Sudan, such as political challenges and Chinese competition.  By securing oil contracts in Sudan, India padded the agreement with development support and troops for the UN peacekeeping within the country.  Despite their apparent success, OVL faced much confrontation within Sudan, with local militias and rebels threatening them after not seeing benefits of the oil company after it was established.  Yet it continues to operate within war-torn Sudan and learn the realities of what is entailed.

Questions:  What are the ethics behind India’s involvement in Africa?  What are your thoughts on India’s profiteering of medical services through recruitment and advertising?  Could India use its current situation in Sudan to help rebuild and develop North and South Sudan and create a viable economy similar to the Chinese mining development model?

Josh S

Week 7: Emerging Powers: China in Africa/Africa in China

This week’s reading discussed the relationship between China and Africa.  The first article The Africa-China Relationship: Challenges and Opportunities examines how African economies have changed with Chinese influence.  While many people criticize this method of interaction, this system seems to be mutually beneficial.  Instead of adopting a “Western” style approach of aid and development, the Chinese/African relationship has been able to help both sides.  This article is generally positive in nature, looking at the historical origins of this relationship and with a sense of hope that the Africa-China relationship will continue positively.

The second article, History and Identity in the Construction of China’s Africa Policy, discusses the historical similarities between Africa and China, in that they were both colonized and developing.  This has shaped Chinese policy making towards Africa as they feel solidarity with them.  According to the authors, this allows China to be a more reliable form for development in Africa.

The last article, From Guangzhou to Yiwu: Emerging Facets of the African Diaspora in China, changes the dialogue and looks at Africans who live and work in China.  Due to the growing economy and business opportunities, many Africans find it beneficial to migrate to China in order to improve their socio-economic status.  Yet there remains a need for improved laws and regulations between China and Africa in order to further improve these types of relations and migrations.

All of these articles describe the China-Africa relationship as being positive for both sides.  China has a bond with Africa through historical similarities, cyclical migration between both areas is mutually beneficial, and so on.  However, in many other examples of international cooperation or aid, one side generally has the upper-hand.  Last week, we looked at how the US helps African nations but only if those nations are willing to accept the terms and conditions that the United States requires.  Do you think that there might be a similar process happening between China and Africa? Or is this relationship really as mutually beneficial as it is said to be in these articles?

– Joshua

Week 5: Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

This week’s topic was very interesting as it discussed the impact of social media, such as Twitter, within Africa.  In particular the article entitled Twittering the Boko Harem Uprising in Nigeria, by Innocent Chiluwa and Adetunji Adegoke, examines how Twitter was able to connect Nigerians to each other and to the global population.  The authors describe how Twitter was used as a global platform for discussion on the actions taken by Boko Harem.

Social media is a difficult subject to contend with.  There are various arguments that can be made for or against Twitter or Facebook that all have some form of validity.  However, based on my own experiences with users of these services, discussions revolving around politics or social action are usually met with ridicule, scorn, and general ignorance of the subject at hand.  However, this is not to say in any way that there are not individuals who are clearly versed in what they say in their comments.  And in some cases, thankfully these people are actually able to have a decent discussion using social media.

That being said, I immediately drew comparison of this article and the tweets in Nigeria to the social movements taken in the Egyptian Revolution which was part of the Arab Spring.  In these cases, Twitter was used to organize like-minded people in order to successfully push for change within their own country.

I can see the benefit of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets in cases similar to the Arab Spring.  I believe that social media gives ordinary people a platform to voice their opinion that would otherwise go unheard.  Yes there will always be those people who simply decide to be troublemakers online, yet I believe that this is a small price to pay if it means that the world is able to hear cries for help or the shouts of joy from any individual who is able to do so.  In your opinion, is social media a valid option to incite change?  Or should requests for change be directed through another source?

Joshua Steinborn

Week 4: Neoliberalism

Joshua Steinborn – 111547440

This week readings relate the influence of neoliberalism and the economic expansion in Africa.   The first article by Lynn Thomas discusses the trade of ‘skin lighteners’ to dark skinned Africans and why it was so lucrative.  Jewish entrepreneurs immigrated to South Africa and were able to set up successful businesses.  This raises the issue of outside influence in local economies and taking advantage of certain markets. With the profits of their products, twin brothers Abraham and Solomon Krok were able to finance the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg which lasts as a memory of the struggles and discrimination caused by the social and racial disparities.  However, as benevolent as the Krok brothers seem to be in there intentions of the museum, the fact remains that they are businessmen and perhaps the museum is simply another endeavor pursued for financial gain rather than for memorializing the past as is suggested.

Another article discusses the funeral business and the opportunity that arose for further financial gain based on increased amounts of fatalities of migrants.  Entrepreneurs again rose to the occasion to make money from the living who wanted to pay respects to family and friends who passed away.  Even though Lee says that these entrepreneurs should not be seen as exploiters as they continue to shape the local mourning process and spiritual rites, it still sounds a little too capitalist.

The last article revolves around the shopping mall, Gugulethu Square and the neoliberal affects it has on the local social and economic structure in Cape Town.  The authors discuss how the mall must work to be appealing to everyone, and for this to be possible, perhaps post-apartheid exploitation is at work to attract more customers.  This is a Western ideal of capitalism and neoliberalism.  It is the continued Western notion of trickle-down economics, whereby the wealthy attempt to provide business opportunities to those less fortunate, but also for their own financial gain.  Clearly, the South Africans of Cape Town saw through the façade are not accepting of the new Gugulethu Square.

Many of the economic development plans come from Western ideals, however, is it possible that African economics are different than Western economics and the solutions must therefore be inherently African?  Is there a way that Western and African neoliberal ideas can coexist or hybridize to be more effective?

Week 3 – Oxford Street Accra

Joshua Steinborn – 111547440

This week’s readings were from the book Oxford Street Accra by Ato Quayson.  It was very interesting for me to read the few chapters of this book as it presented a lot of information about subjects which I had only been able to witness as an outside observer.  Chapter 4 begins by discussing the importance of slogans and inscriptions which are present on everything from moving vehicles to stationary businesses.  Many of these slogans are religious, traditional sayings or lesson’s learned by the owner or writer.  In essences, the continued use of these sayings and slogans work as a dynamic archive of historical information and traditional knowledge.  I find this particularly interesting.  While visiting Ghana, I observed many of these slogans written on shops, bars, buses, trucks, and donkey carts.  As I was simply a “tourist”, I only took these at their face value or a source of amusement.  So it is fascinating to look back on my experience and rethink my observations to consider the meaning behind the slogans that I saw.

Quayson also discusses the increasing popularity of salsa dancing and fitness training of people from all walks of life.  However it also serves to show the separation between social classes.  The salsa dancing appealing to a middle or higher class while fitness training tends to be more popular with the lower and working classes.  This degree of separation is not unlike what is seen in many other metropolitan areas around the world.  I think that this is what the author is trying to convey through his exposition in the book.  Accra is a thriving city with a booming economy.  Many aspects of its culture are represented and expressed throughout society.  As such, Quayson is drawing similarities with cities such as New York and Toronto.  Although I found the drawbacks of these comparisons are not particularly addressed by the author and would have greatly helped the narrative within these chapters.

Question: As much as Accra, in particular Oxford Street, is a fast development area of Ghana, are the profits of development stretching to the rest of the country, or does Oxford street remain an economic bubble?