Week 10 – Marikana

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings focused on the book “Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre” by Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell and Bongani Xezwi. It discussed the murder of thirty-four peaceful mine workers on August 16, 2012 and was the most violent use of force in South Africa since the end of the Apartheid state. These workers were peacefully protesting the horrible conditions, and the many hours they were forced to work in the platinum mines. However, the South African security forces reacted violently against the mass protest and killed thirty-four of the protesters, injuring many more. The media portrayed the incident as the protesters having become violent and the police as having “just done their job.” However, the book takes a strong position, arguing that this was not at all the case. Through strong oral narratives an histories from mines workers, mine workers wives and many witnesses, the authors create a far different picture of what happened on that day. One of discrimination and violence against the mine workers which ended in murder.

These oral histories make up a large section of the book and lend significant amounts of credibility to the author’s arguments. As Dr. Cammaert has mentioned in lecture, in order to write in African history or literature, having oral histories is vitally important. Therefore, as the authors in Marikana are crafting an alternative version of a historical event, it is extremely important that they have the oral histories and witnesses to these alternative views to back up their view point. I also found it quite interesting that the authors were quite obviously pushing their view point in the book, that they took an angle in their writing- something that many academics are hesitant to do.  What struck me most about the readings is that we often tend to think of South Africa as a nation past most of their violence- much like Canada. However, every now and then something creeps up and we are reminded that we really aren’t past that racism and that ugliness and we have to constantly keep working to make sure our society keeps moving forward.

1) Have their been similar situations in Canada where the government and the media have re-framed the narrative against peaceful activists or when times when protesters have been killed by police?

2) How is the academic narrative different when it is coming from an activist perspective than from an ‘unbiased’ perspective?

Week Nine- Dams, Displacement and Development

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings centered around Allen F. Isaacman’s  and Barbara S. Isaacman’s book “Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007″ which discussed the construction of the  Cohora Bassa dam project. The dam was the conception of the colonial power -the Portuguese, as a way of creating cheap power for the country in order to surge Mozambique forward into a new age of development. However, according to Gilberto Freye’s theory of “lusotropicalism,” it also had a much more insidious purpose. At the time, many colonial powers were in the process of – or already had – relinquished control of their colonial lands. The dam was a strategy by the Portuguese to show the world that Mozambique was not a colony, but a “foreign province” in which they were demonstrating great care by developing significant infrastructure and investment. This strategy was a way of taking the pressure of their government to leave the country and give the people of Mozambique their independence. (p. 59)

One can see evidence of this theory in the construction of the Cohora Bassa dam. Though it was highly publicized as a great development project for the people of Mozambique; meant to “bring the people out of poverty and close the wage gap,” what it actually did was displace thousands of peasant farmers and marginalize thousands more workers in unsafe and radicalized working conditions. However, even though the project was advertised as a modern development miracle, the state evidently knew full well of the contradictions of its words because it imposed a strict media blackout at the site except for journalists loyal to their views.

Therefore, many of the deaths and stories of terrible working conditions at the site went largely unreported. In the past weeks in class we have been talking about the mining sector and co-operations in business between China or India and various nations proficient in IT, mineral, oil, and other sectors. However, Cohora Bassa is an example of how these kind of co-operations between big businesses and nations can go wrong if not heavily monitored, and all in the name of “development.” Generally, everyone has an agenda, as the Cohora Bassa dam demonstrated – whether that be profit, to hedge of an attacking rebel group, or to hang on to political power. As the readings stated, fervent post-colonial theorists tend to look at development “as a continuation of colonialist process of the Third World as an object to be developed.” or “Just another way to gain access to their resources.”  (pg 19) I believe this is true to a certain extent, certainly in the case of the Cohora Bassa dam, where the development rhetoric was used in such a way as to exploit the very people it was supposed to help.

However, then one must ask, if development rhetoric is capable of producing this affect, is it really helpful at all? Is it meant to help, is it it also born out of these colonialist structures as well? Were the Portuguese simply using another piece in the colonialist tool box, or were they manipulating the international community with words they would understand?

Week 8- India and Africa

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings focused on the ever-developing relationships in economics and trade, diplomacy, aid, as well as knowledge production; between the continent of Africa and the powerful nation of India. Unfortunately, only one of the readings was accessible during the multiple times I attempted to gain access to the resources, so I will focus on Ian Taylor’s article “India’s Rise in Africa.” This article is a valuable resource because it highlights many valuable points about the changing relationship between Africa and India. However, it also draws on last week’s themes by discussing the involvement of the Chinese in many sectors of the economy, and how this has shifted some of India’s motivations.

Taylor discusses how India in many ways has previously been viewed as the “protector” of South-South relations, due to their very negative colonial experience with the British. Therefore, in many of their interactions with African nations, they almost had a sense of being beyond reproach in their actions and foreign policy in the past. Taylor argues that this is no longer the case for several different reasons, one of which being the involvement of the Chinese. The economic power of the Chinese in general, but specifically within Africa is preventing India from achieving one of their main goals — which is becoming a permanent member on the security council. At the very least it is preventing them from achieving greater notoriety as a global powerhouse, in order for them to achieve this they need to boost their economy, and in order for that they need resources. In the past the protector of South-South relations would not follow neoliberal principles or intentionally rock the boat between Southern members, but China is leaving India with few options but to take a more self-interested economic policy at the present time.

Additionally, Taylor’s article states how India itself has shifted from being a nation which receives aid, to becoming a donor country themselves. It is important to note that large portions of India’s global aid contributions go to African nations, second only to India’s direct geographical partners. Additionally, the aid model that India follows cuts down on corruption opportunities by going straight to the source and funding the projects directly. They are also non-refundable and have no conditions attached (you could argue this I suppose we’re in Global Studies.)  Taylor does make the point, that this aid is not completely from a selfless and humanitarian perspective, but that the donation of this aid helps India in its endeavors and trade with many African nations.

Questions:

1. Does India’s previous colonial history possibly shield it from scrutiny when implementing its own economic policy in formerly colonized nations within Africa?

2. Do we have a right to question formerly colonized nations for simply trying to operate a successful economic policy when we in Canada are doing the same?

Week 6- From Aid to Anti Terror

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings discussed the United State’s continued efforts to implement counter-terrorism strategies and reinforce police presence and surveillance as part of their development policy in Africa. In the article  “Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police,” the author Alice Hills discusses how the American government implemented counter-terrorism as part of their development initiatives. Under USAID, police forces and surveillance were increased, justified through liberal peacebuilding as part of creating public order and good governance, which is generally viewed as conducive to development work. However, the author states that this was a ploy in order to gain greater power for Americans in the region, allowing the government to hunt down extremists; if not themselves, by extension through other governments.

The second article,  “Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism,” by Jeremy Prestholt also discusses the United State’s concern with what they perceive as “weak states” and the dangers of “breeding grounds” for extremism. The article essentially answers the question of who has the money to deal with the terrorism problem and who is potentially more concerned with the threat? Terrorism is currently the United State’s witch hunt and it appears that they are willing to take it all the way to Africa. The article talks about how the American government has also been implementing these anti-terror measures around the world as part of their official military-lead development assistance programs.The article states that just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, these kinds of programs place a high importance on “winning the hearts and minds of the local people.” Simply put, earning their trust and convincing them that the foreigners are there for the locals vested interest. However, as Iraq and Afghanistan actually demonstrate, this is the exact opposite message which locals received from military development assistance programs. As African models are now being created in similar ways, leading with security interests and following with development concerns; it is unlikely that “hearts and minds” are going to be swayed.  Contrarily, former models found that these kinds of models actually contributed to the recruiting of insurgencies and their ideologies, thus USA interference in the African countries in this particular context is concerning. In the Kenyan context, the American government is subbing out its security concerns by paying the Kenyan government to enhance their security and pursue counter-terrorism.

The last article  “The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror” describes the differing accounts or ‘truths’ about the Sub-Saharan war on terror. Altogether, these three articles document shady and sometimes illicit activity by the American government in various African countries in order to further the anti-terror mantra in a region of the world they have little business being in. Hiding surveillance deals within development packages is reminiscent of insidious SAPs which had extremely detrimental effects on local populations in these very regions.

1) How might the American government actively including counter-terrorism as a part of development policy (in a formerly colonized region such as Africa) actually further the cause of radicals?

2) Do you think the United States approach will be successful in winning “hearts and minds” this time? If they fight against terrorism in Africa through localized governments rather than with their own soldiers do you think it will be different?

Week 5- Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

Naomi Pearson

I found this week’s readings a fascinating connection to many questions around the spread of technology which I have been pondering recently. After stumbling upon -one-too-many Peshmerga or ISIS twitter/Instagram accounts  (i’m not joking) while conducting research, I have been asking myself just how relevant social/digital media has become in the modernized world?

Therefore, I was interested in how the readings focused on the way in which modern social media technology can influence democracy, speak out against oppression, or simply voice displeasure against a government where this once was impossible. Kimani Njogu and John Middleton discuss how media itself is very central to the idea of African identity, and how the rise of cell phones as a status symbol became a normality.  Additionally,  Folu Ogundiumu’s “Mass Media and Democracy,” podcast discusses how the rise of the media and technology has grown to influence democracy in certain regions of Africa. Certain elements of his podcast reminded me a great deal of the Arab Spring (and I do believe he mentioned it more than once) due to the fact that citizens were able to mobilize because of their social media technology. It was this technology, allowing them to express their thoughts, feelings, and plans, on an instant basis; that made the spread of the uprising and more mobile. Likewise, in the podcast, they are discussing how the media is allowing Africans to share their own thoughts and opinions in a very democratic way, across vast distances. There is a more diverse array of news channels, and people have a larger selection of opinions with which to debate. Though the podcast also stated that they wished the media was more responsible in their reporting, and in their actions at times, they had to acknowledge the ground that had been made.

Lastly, the article  “Twittering the Boko Haram Uprising in Nigeria: Investigating Pragmatic Acts in the Social Media” investigated the rise of twitter in response to the violent acts committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The article found that once again, there was a diverse reaction in the responses people had to Boko Haram’s attacks, and this was reflected in taking to social media and free speech. However, due to social media, citizens had the opportunity to feel connected in their displeasure with the government in ways they previously hadn’t. When the people of Nigeria were angry, they could come together and communally express their anger instantly, in a non-violent way. Social media provided an outlet for the emotions the country was feeling. Though this is a simplistic way of putting it, this rings true for many people from many countries. I know that I myself often express displeasure at government action through social media. This is engaging in the democratic process, because I am allowed to express my displeasure with others and am not thrown in prison for doing so. Therefore, I can see how the rise of social media in Africa is such an important phenomena, I highly value it myself.

1) What do you think could be the possible negative impacts of the social media situation in Nigeria and Boko Haram?

2) Do you think the academic community values the impact social/digital media has on democracy too lightly?

Week 4- Neoliberalism Revisited … All about the $$$

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings focused on neoliberal structures and how these economic ideologies can impact many elements of African society (broad generalization.) The article “Capital’s New Frontier: From “Unusable” Economies to Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Markets in Africa” discussed many economic ‘developments’ in Africa, brought about through neoliberal structures. The article states that new structures of power are created through the implementation and creation of new business markets or “Bottom of the Pyramid” markets, which actually restructure the poor in these areas. Neoliberalism, it argues creates an ulterior market which shoves these individuals aside into informal or alternate economies which can not compete or interfere with the global economy in ways which are considered undesirable by larger, neoliberal free-market actors. The article also includes the expected criticism of the inefficiency of aid, as well as the impacts of Structural Adjustment Programs.

Another reading from this week was “Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa.” There aren’t many ideologies or structures of violence other than neoliberalism which can effectively package racism —  and then sell it back to you, but apparently this this one can. The idea that racism and colonialist structures are not only external, but run so deep that they can become internalized and marketed as a beauty regime is deeply appalling. This is a racial issue, this a cultural issue, this is an economic issue, this is a class issue, but this is also a gendered issue — why were women the main ones using the cremes? Why are they still the ones using the cremes in many countries, and why are they the ones being marketed to? This is a complex social issue made more complex through its neoliberal exploitation.

Lastly, another one of the readings I found truly fascinating was “Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa” which discussed the changing funeral practices in parts of South African society due to changing technology, rising costs, and other pressures. The increasing migration rates of rural populations to the cities has created changing funerary practices in South Africa, and increased the cost of burial. Though this is good if you are perhaps an undertaker or a carpenter who makes coffins, it is not ideal for the average South African who wishes to bury their loved one with dignity. It is interesting to note however, that there have been innovative changes in funeral practices, like coffin design. The fold-up suitcase coffin mentioned in the article, which is designed for life — or death — on the move, is just one example . I found this article extremely interesting, because just as people are constantly worried about rising funeral costs here in Canada, the same is happening in South Africa. I wrote last week about how it was hard to find a sense of place where I had never set foot on the continent, but here is a familiar concern over such a simple matter with which I can relate.

Week 3: African Urbanism: Oxford Street Accra and My Lack of Place

Naomi Pearson

I found this week’s readings very difficult having never been to Accra, and therefore could not situate myself in the ‘place’ in which the author was describing. In fact, having never visited the continent of Africa at all, there is no context of ‘African Urbanism’ which I have witnessed which I could bring to these readings. I think that this is an important point to remember when discussing these readings. Though I may have done readings on other areas of Africa, I have very little understanding of what it is actually like to be standing in Accra, in order to be able to say I can conceptualize such an important element as ‘place’. As I have absolutely no context of place in Accra, it is much harder for me to formulate an understanding of place, in a reading discussing the shifting nature of place.  That being said, I do recognize the transformative importance of modern urbanism upon society and the impacts it can make.

Also, I think it is important to note that when I discuss ‘place’, I am also meaning my ability to conceptualize myself standing in that spot. Thus, when I say I can not conceptualize any form of ‘place’ in Accra, I mean that I have no real life experience. I can not picture Oxford Street, and I only know what a Tro Tro is on paper. Up until last month I could not have told you what a plantain was for the life of me, let alone known they were sold on Oxford street, or known that the presence of their street vendors created an interesting element of urbanism. I can’t tell you what Oxford St. smells like – but I do know that these factors are key to being grounded and having a sense of place. Therefore, the reading is describing the changing nature of place and urbanism and how this is effecting Accra and Oxford Street, but as I can not put myself in a sense of ‘place’ to begin with, this is very hard to grasp.

Additionally, I found the readings difficult because ‘Oxford Street Accra’ was exceptionally dense in disseminating its information. I feel like Ato Quayson had many valuable points about the changing nature of Accra, but I simply missed many of his finer details. He spoke in great detail about some of the modern buildings, growing tourist economy, the tro tro business, and many nuances of modern language in the city, but I was never entirely sure if he was critiquing the changing nature and urbanization or simply stating facts.  This lack of a clear argument in the reading presented a large problem for me, and coupled with my lack of conceptual understanding of ‘place’ in Accra, left me feeling rather lost and confused.

1) How essential is it to be able to conceptualize yourself in a place to have a sense of ‘place’ within it? Do you see this as necessary?

2) Did you personally have difficulty with Oxford Street Accra because you had never been there as I did? If no, why not?

Week Two: The Narrative of Disease and Critique

I found this week’s readings interesting, as they are topics that most North American Arts students would be in the very least, vaguely familiar with. When people in the West speak about Africa, more often than not the narrative of disease is included in their discussions. Even a casual afternoon of television is rarely presented without commercial breaks airing pleading World Vision commercials featuring children orphaned by disease, usually from African nations. However, these commercials and these narratives play into the idea of a “single story” as discussed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in week one. Though disease does present itself in African nations, as it does in all other nations on earth, there are often complicated social, political and economic forces influencing outbreak. As the readings discuss, this is exactly the case with both HIV/AIDS and the recent Ebola crisis.

In the article “Ten Things Anthropologists Can Do to Help Fight the West African Ebola Epidemic” I felt that the author Sharon Abramowitz did a good job in establishing many of the ways in which anthropologists could help fight Ebola. Additionally, the author helped identify many of the key social challenges regarding burial practices which hindered quarantine efforts essential to fighting the disease. In many cases I heard that extraction teams were attacked by families in attempts to keep their loved one’s body with them. The lack of understanding between health care professionals and the local population created great rifts and slowed the response to the epidemic. Both Abramowitz and Saez, Kelly & Brown identify that understanding burial rituals were essential to curbing the outbreak but also calming hysteria. Therefore, the importance of anthropologists in these kinds of situations can clearly be understood.

However, I found that Abramowitz’s critique of MSF in this time of crisis was misplaced. Though anthropologists could have been of great benefit, they may also have been a great liability. At a time where beds could not be built for the sick fast enough, and the dying were laying at the gates to MSF facilities waiting for there to be enough room to be allowed in; it is understandable that the organization would be hesitant to take on personnel who were yet untrained to deal with an outbreak of that magnitude. Individuals without specific kinds of medical training would be putting not only themselves, but also others at risk. Though anthropologists had very valuable knowledge and could make a valid contribution, at that point in time fighting the epidemic did seem to be more like stomping out a wild brush fire.

The video “Ebola War: The Nurses of Gulu” really illustrates that in these cases of disease outbreak, the doctors and nurses are not the individuals to be heavily criticizing. Though critique is necessary for improvement, I believe it is important to note that crises like these can push the limits of what health care professionals can handle. The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, similar to the one in the Gulu, claimed many nurses and doctors’ lives. Social stigma, illness, quarantine, and physical attack were the price many of these doctors had to pay for their work. Though anthropologists may not be allowed on the scene yet, I think it is important to remember there are many dimensions to this outbreak and it may be a matter of learning how to safely work this area of academia into disease control.

1) How is an intricate understanding of local culture fundamental for developing a Public Health campaign against disease?

2) How can religion and spiritual belief effect a person’s choice towards treatment? In what situations is it appropriate for Public Health to supersede these beliefs?