Week 10 – Workers’ Protest and New (?) forms of State Violence

This week’s readings focused on Peter Alexander, Botsang Mmope and Luke Sinwell’s book ‘Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre’. Chapter 1 discussed the difficulties the researchers faced in getting interviews, as well as provided background information on the issues surrounding the strike and massacre. The second chapter went into more depth in explaining and exposing the terrible working conditions in which workers not only risked their lives every day but often had to work double the amount of hours that their contract states. The miners are also subject to unfair wages, which are significantly lower compared to other countries such as Australia. The 5th chapter went even further in depth by sharing personal accounts and stories of the miners. This is something that is different than most of the readings we have done this semester. This angle taken towards the issue, sharing personal stories, has provided the reader with emotional connections to the miners and offers us a different perspective that is not strictly academic.

This reading gave a greater insight to police brutality and the power of the media, which is a very relevant topic in our world today. In this case specifically, miners were framed as the ‘bad guys’ and thought to be a large angry mob in which the police heroically gained control over. This was not the case however and it exposes how difficult it is to challenge government authority and uncover their wrongdoings to the world.

How are we supposed to achieve civil justice and peace when authority figures exempt themselves from punishable offences? How are workers supposed to fight for their rights and have their voices heard when they are responded to with brutality and violence? What can be done to protect workers from these actions in the future?

Emily McManus


Week 9 – Changing Landscapes: Dams, Degradation and Displacement

This week’s readings were on Allen F. and Barbara S. Isaacman’s book ‘Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007’. The assigned chapters discussed the construction of the Cohora Bassa dam project and how it was a Portuguese colonial power concept, which aimed to generate cheap power for the country in order for Mozambique to stay competitive in the new age of development. According to Gilberto Freye’s theory of ‘lusotropicalism’, there was a greater purpose for the dam. He suggests that the dam was a strategic move by the Portuguese to show that Mozambique was not a colony, rather a “foreign province”, which is developing infrastructure and gaining investment. This was a tactic for the government to leave the country and grant independence to the people of Mozambique.

Although the dam was highly publicized in a positive manner and as a great development for Mozambique, which was supposed to “bring the people out of poverty and close the wage gap”, in reality displaced thousands of farmers and put many workers in dangerous conditions. This was attempted to be covered up by the government as they enforced strict media restrictions at the construction site with the exception of journalists loyal to the government. This left many of the stories of workers deaths and injuries unreported and brings to question what countries and governments are willing to do to become ‘developed’ and the motives behind their actions.

‘Development’ is meant to help local populations by lift them from poverty and improving economic conditions, however as seen by this example, it often involves greater negative costs throughout the process to locals and the environment. Are these the necessary consequences for successful development? How can local populations overcome colonial powers and resist their movements to displace them and regain control?

Emily McManus

Week 6: The United States in Africa: from Aid to Anti-Terror

Emily McManus

This week we discussed US foreign aid in Africa and how it has evolved since 9/11 and created a greater focus on anti-terrorism. The first article, ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ speaks to the flawed policies of USAID and US national security objectives. The author, Alice Hill points out that the US is trying to appear as if they are “helping” and “developing” parts of Africa, however may have their own agenda for finding extremists and terrorists. The American government is using their “humanitarian” efforts to essentially gain control and to benefit their own national security. This is very sneaky, demeaning and insulting to the African people who are expecting neutral and objective aid, when it appears this is just a cover as the US prioritizes themselves and fights global terrorism.

The second article ‘Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism’ written by Jeremy Prestholdt, uses Kenya as a case study for the USAID’s presence in Africa and their agenda, similar to Hill’s article. Prestholdt criticizes the impacts of the US counterterrorism strategy, stating that “unless US policymakers and their African allies address the social tensions upon which counterterrorism is being grafted, security aid may produce few results beyond the alienation of Muslim communities and the empowerment of domestic security forces with greater martial resources” (p.3). Therefore, Prestholdt argues that the American agenda is creating more harm than good, because they are not present to help fix actual social problems, rather increasing violence and social tensions to capture a few extremists, sacrificing and violating a number of human rights in the process.

In the third article, ‘The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror’ by Jeremy Keenan, Keenan uses the USA-Algerian relations as a case-study exposing “alternative truths” within the Sub-Saharan war on terror. These three articles use different examples but all revolve around a main idea, that USAID is a selfish means for the US to gain military control over terrorist organizations by entering countries with the idea that they will be given aid and use this as a platform to pursue their own agenda.

Are we seeing both sides of this argument? It is easy to pin the USA as selfish with a hidden agenda, but are we overlooking the positive aid that has been provided? Or would these African countries be better off without USAID?

Would it be different if the US simply provided the training for local governments as opposed to offering their own troops? Or does the US have the right to be weary of training other militaries when it came back to bite them after their support of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, pre-9/11?

Week 5: Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

This week contains very interesting information regarding social media and how it can be a useful tool during times of strife. In Chiluwa and Adegoke’s article ‘Twittering the Boko Haram Uprising in Nigeria’ we learned that growing access to technology has allowed citizens to use their twitter platform to express themselves without fear, report and respond to ongoing events and to join the online discussion. We have seen how twitter and social media can contribute to social movements through the Arab Spring, which was coined ‘The Twitter Revolution”. It allowed people to connect with each other and organize demonstrations, as well as its use as an alternative press – reaching out to the global community and providing firsthand truths and photos. In the Nigerian case, twitter is being used as a political platform as well as a news platform to discuss support or rejection of Boko Haram and report about the uprisings and bombing attacks.

There were many parallels that could be drawn between the article discussed above and the assigned podcast ‘Mass Media and Democracy’, episode 4 of Folo Ogundiumu’s series Africa Past & Present. The podcast explains how mass media is reforming the way African countries, specifically Nigeria, have popularized democracy. Africa is often shown in a stereotypical frame and media reports can often be seen as politically motivated, which is why the use of social media is so detrimental. Social media platforms have allowed Africans to speak for themselves, and specifically Twitter has allowed people to connect, organize, and express their own opinions publicly.

Although social media and freedom of speech have proven to be powerful in terms of achieving democracy, it can also have negative effects. An example that immediately comes to mind is the KONY 2012 campaign that beat a number of records of views/shares/retweets, but dwindled out as quickly as it arose. If people rely too heavily on social media, we end up with more ‘click-tivists’ than activists. Also, due to freedom of speech, terrorist groups are equally allowed to share their opinions and plans on social media, potentially recruiting more supporters. We cannot be selective about who is allowed freedom of speech and therefore anyone and everyone can say what they please, sometimes resulting in violent or negative behaviour. On a lower scale level, there is an all time high of cyber-bullying and heated debates through social media, which gives people the confidence to say terrible things behind the comfort of a keyboard and screen. Although the latest advancements in media have given people a platform to share their voice, it is important to look at both sides when determining its power.

Do we give too much credit to social media in terms of achieving democracy?

Is there a way of restricting the negative impacts of social media, which are often overlooked, without infringing on people’s freedom of speech?

Emily McManus 100674760

Week 3: African Urbanism – The Global City

Ato Quayson’s book ‘Oxford Street: Accra’ spoke to a number of themes including transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, westernization, as well as social relations within different classes and genders. Within the assigned chapters, Quayson spoke about capitalist products making their way into Ghana, such as imported cars and an increase in cell phones. Although the cars are imported and sport the symbol of their creation in another country, the people of Accra have used their personal symbols and slogans to decorate their tro-tros and make them their own. Within the advertisements that have been popping up along the Oxford Street strip, Quayson questions and criticizes their goals when seeing that the skin of the Africans in the ads have been lightened, appearing as a ‘hybrid’ of cultures as to appeal to a greater mass.

Quayson uses the examples of salsa and ‘gymming’ to speak to the everyday lives of the people living in Accra. I found this to be odd at first, but admire how instead of focusing on what a person does for a living in a work-sense; he focuses on what they do in their spare time and how that is a reflection of both their gender and economic statuses. He goes into detail about the history of salsa, how some believe it to have originated from African beats, and it’s journey to making it’s way back into Ghanian culture. ‘Gymming’, as Quayson puts it, is very different than ‘going to the gym’. ‘Gymming’ is a lifestyle choice of devotion to fitness and is not just a past-time activity. Because many of the gymmers are under- or unemployed, fitness is their way of breaking the cycle of boredom and gives their time meaning.

I find it interesting, however, that Quayson does not seem to take a stance or aim at proving a certain perspective. He remains highly objective to the material, which at some points makes it difficult to find the purpose of what he is saying, or if his purpose is to simply lay out his information, allowing the reader to create their own perspective. He uses examples that are not originally Ghanian, nor African for that matter – but expresses how the people of Ghana, specifically in Accra, have hybridized these cultural aspects, have put their own flair on them and incorporate them into their own culture.

Emily McManus 100674760