Week 9: Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development

This week’s readings were focused on the book Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development written by Allen and Barbara Isaacman which look into the histories and struggles that accompanied the building of Cahora Bassa in Mozambique. Chapter 3, Harnessing the River, takes a deeper look into the promises, plans and issues that all come into conversation regarding the building of the dam. This plan was brought forward by Portuguese colonial powers that envisioned a transformation into modernization and development of the Zambezi River Valley. Boundless, cheap energy sources, no more flooding, and a source of hydroelectric power to stimulate agriculture and industrial production were promised as a result of the Cahora Bassa dam. On top of these, they predicted development of the local communities infrastructure, commerce and income. However, there were skeptics from the beginning who questioned whether or not the dam was economically possible without placing too large of an economic burden on the nation, as well as whether or not they would be able to compete within the world market. The dam’s success was later seen as a solely hydroelectric scheme lacking necessary attention on the consequences of its construction on the community and environment.

Although narratives around the construction of the dam were positive and in favor of local and economic development, it was very saddening to learn of the inhumane and discriminatory ways that African workers were treated in the work environment from higher authorities. The work was grueling and beyond physically demanding, and since European’s held all titles of authority African workers and the local community were victims of daily abuse. They worked longer, harder and for lesser wage than European workers who were previously working on the project. As stated in the text “brutality, humiliation, and a culture of terror were intrinsic to the system of domination” (Isaacman & Isaacman, 2013, 82). There were also, far too often, instances of ‘industrial accidents’ that were greatly overlooked and likely the intention of Zamco and Portuguese colonial officials. These events led to the focus of the next chapter, Displaced People. In chapter 4, colonial powers attempted to civilize the society through their displacement promising “a social transformation and elevation in the quality of their lives” (Isaacman & Isaacman, 2013, 95). This was contradicted in their actions as intimidation and violence were used to overcome defiance.

The attention received by the lower part of the dam, which exceeds that of the issue of displacement as well as development are highlighted in chapter 5. As mentioned previously in the book, environmental and ecological consequences were of very little concern to the Portuguese officials and colonial powers constructing the same. They more so saw it as a powerful economic force to be utilized while skeptics felt pressured to succumb to authorities demands. There are diminishing ecosystems and flooding was a major problem behind the reservoir, drowning crops, animals and the livelihoods of many people. The dam resulted in climate change as well as differentiation in precipitation levels destroying potential for many agricultural opportunities. It can be seen that this dam project affected the livelihoods of many individuals who were previously content and well off in their communities before they were convinced, and forced, otherwise.

Do you think it is right to continue on with the project with the obvious predicted consequences that have occurred so far? If there were more evidence on the social and ecological impacts of Cahora Bassa affecting the colonial powers, would they be as eager to control and have lasting involvement within Mozambique?

How can local populations gain capacity to resist against colonial powers in order to mutually benefit from economic development as well as ensuring compensation for their losses? Does this seem possible based on what we have read?

Sources

Isaacman, A. F., & Isaacman, B. S. (2013). Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965–2007. Ohio University Press.

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Week 8: Emerging Powers – India in Africa

This week’s reading India’s Rise in Africa by Ian Taylor focuses on the rising significance of interest in Africa and India’s role within international relations. Indian relations in African have been overlooked and Taylor further seeks the implications of India’s interest in Africa and compares it to China’s approach of development and aid in Africa. India’s foundations and relations with Africa prioritize their energy security and determination to be taken seriously as an important global player just as much as they recognize Africa’s opportunities for investment sites, export markets and capital accumulation for their interests.

The shift of India from an aid recipient to an aid donor has allowed them to develop higher education systems, vocational training institutions, and other services for African populations. Their economic activity in Africa has also shifted greatly from the individualistic nature of most western corporations. Indian aims in Africa are to help diversify their exports, and have done so in Taylor’s example of the Tata Group. I found this to be very interesting because what we have learned in class is that many nations are self-interested, however, when it comes to trade and exports India is attempting to further expand their markets and agricultural resources. I found that the benefits of Indo-African relations and the willingness of India to provide assistance to African society and economy to be extremely interesting and very positive. Their supplying of cheap, generic anti-retroviral medication is significantly increasing the number of AIDS patients being treated, and their focus on hiring locally as well as providing adequate training gives local personnel the capacity to maintain these companies after development assistance. Another perspective of the India and China relationship with Africa struck me as intriguing when Taylor suggested that they are complementary to each other. China as supplying the hard infrastructure while India takes a larger focus on the technical services and assistance significantly cheaper than those of western nations.

Do you think that India’s efforts are an attempt to increase their position on the international stage and overcome competition with China, or do you agree with Taylor’s suggestion that India simply plays the role of ‘conscious keeper’ and provides technology, skills and advice for development complementing China and their focus on infrastructure and material resources?

The second article this week, Offshore healthcare management: medical tourism between Kenya, Tanzania and India, explores the common type of ‘tourism’ as they call it that allows foreign patients to seek healthcare in better equipped, cheaper hospitals, most commonly in India. It seeks to understand the industry of medical tourism in the context of globalization and liberalization. India is seen as a global health provider because of their cheap, developing world costs which very much relates to one of Taylor’s points in the previous article that this is a way in which Indo-African relations different from Sino-African relations. Following the implementation of structural adjustment programs, African healthcare facilities and services experienced severely constrained funding.

Do you think that the term ‘medical tourism’ is problematic? Consider Modi’s reference to India as a necessary evil in order to compensate for the lack of services in Africa, whose interests are ‘pure business’.

Week 7: China in Africa/Africa in China

Africa-China relationships have experienced dramatic growth through recent decades and in the article The Africa-China relationship: challenges and opportunities, Zeleza explores the factors behind the development of these relations through economic growth and the challenges and opportunities associated with both regions. He critiques the lack of knowledge and narrative around the more complex reality of Africa’s relationship with China and emphasizes their deeply rooted history throughout a time of major changes in the global political economy. This article takes an optimistic view of China’s involvement within Africa and their recognition of Africa as a profitable investment, while at the same time giving African countries an alternative ideology to Western imperialist reflexes. He also provides insight on the unequal bilateral relationship of China with 54 countries of the African continent. I found this to be interesting because it touches on the importance of Africa establishing their own interests and development goals in order to ensure economic stability and emergence in the global economy. As long as China is involved in Africa, do you think it is possible for Africa to act collectively in articulating their interests to ensure self-determination and sustainable development?

         History & Identity in the Construction of China’s Africa Policy written by Alden and Alves examines China’s historical approach in establishing a contemporary relationship with Africa. China became a leading developing country after their self-proclaimed foreign policy, and their foreign policy aims in Africa have been products of wider international aims, for example the cold war. What I found very important here was the necessity to take into consideration the historical implication of China Africa relations and how past experiences, relationships and other factors are determinant of their relationship. China is not solely interested in the exploitation of African resources and Alden and Alves highlight that calling upon history, in an increasingly economic relationship, reassures the Chinese lack of interest in exploitation or Chinese colonialism. Do you think that China’s historical relationship with Africa is legitimate to ensure that they will not exploit African economy, or do you feel as though it could be seen as just a useful tool in establishing trust?

The final article we read for this week was From Guangzhou to Yiwu: Emerging facets of the African Diaspora in China written by Bodomo and Ma. This article was interesting because it focuses on Africans and their receptions in cities throughout China. Since a lot of research and academic studies surround the Chinese city of Guangzhou, their focus is on the city of Yiwu and its rising market and large commodities. The commodities market is very large and the trade market is continually growing. The interview with Wufei stuck out to me because we have read a lot about China in Africa, but it was good to hear about an African who is experiencing such success in Chinese markets and in their cities. I also found it surprising that because there were fewer Africans in Yiwu, they were treated with more respect and civility than in Guangzhou whose immigration laws cracked down after the 2008 Olympics. Is it plausible to assume that if Yiwu continues to develop into an international trade centre, the African population within the city will experience similar discrimination and interrogation as those in Guangzhou?

Week 6: From Aid to Anti-Terror

In the first article this week, Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism, Prestholdt addresses U.S foreign policy and their pressures on Africa to increase counterterrorism activities after the global war on terror. The issue this poses, as he argues, is that without winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the target minority populations, military assistance and stronger security will provide few results in the end. As a Christian nation, Kenyan minorities are scrutinized by counterterrorist activity and suspicion, which create a lot of tension between central governments and minority groups. With tensions and unintended effects of U.S security measures, authorities are often quick to jump to a narrow conclusion that the problem of terrorism can be accredited to Muslim minorities in Kenya. What I found to be an interesting point is even though counterterrorist activities in Kenya may go against domestic and international law, the U.S continues to support these operations through security funding and assistance.

American aid has allowed Kenyan authorities to expand their security infrastructure significantly; however, this infrastructure has yet been seen to affect authorities’ ability to identify terrorists, foil terrorist plots, and bring criminals to justice. (Prestholdt, 2011)

If continuous aid from the U.S and an increase of American forces on the ground has not yet solved these very basic problems of infrastructure, identifying terrorists, and in some ways encouraged an ignorance to domestic and international law, do you think that the U.S is beneficial in Africa or only making the threat of terrorism worse?

The second article is more focused on U.S and Kenya relations and the so called ‘banana theory’ that Washington held in accordance to the banana shaped route that he believed was the route of terrorists travelling from Afghanistan into Africa. The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror analyzes the two regimes of truth that come from the second front of the global war on terror and interestingly places blame on U.S security policies and their assumptions towards Muslim minorities within Africa. It states that the U.S and Algeria’s military intelligence services and informal team of local researchers are the ‘alternative truth’ behind the war on terror in the Sahara-Sahel region despite the ‘official truth’ that everyone is taught and exposed to. This leads to further questions about the motives of countries who provide this kind of disinformation to their nations and the international community, like the U.S and their potential for using the Saharan front as an ‘operational zone’. Washington is criticized to have launched the Saharan front in order to secure access to Africa’s oil resources.

Do you think that the U.S is using Sahara as an ‘operational zone’ in attempt to cover up the alternative truth that lies behind such terrorist operations?

Do you agree that the Bush administration was vulnerable to attack due to their lack of human intelligence on the ground and their acceptance of unverified intelligence on the front?

What this article further detailed that I had not taken into as much consideration was the effects that these events and ‘alternative truths’ have had on the Sahara-Sahel region. The war on terror has forced hundreds of young men to find alternative employment because of the destruction of Africa’s tourist industry. It also impacted the trafficking industry because of drivers who were now able to expand their businesses. What I found to be the most interesting argument, and no less discriminative, was that U.S foreign policy was classifying trafficking as terrorist activity, which leads me to believe that the presence of U.S authority, security and counterterrorism is only making terrorist activities worse, especially through their recategorizing of trafficking activity, and discrimination of minority populations.

Sources

Prestholdt, J. (2011). Kenya, the United States, and counterterrorism. Africa Today, 57(4), 2-27.

Week 5: Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

This week’s articles and podcast focus heavily on the role of media and the advancements of technology in the development of Africa. Folu Ogundimu’s podcast Mass Media and Democracy is an interview discussion on the conditions and trends of media in Africa, and goes into detail about his views of the democratization of Africa and the role of media in its revitalization. Yes, there were huge obstacles to the popularization of democracy within Africa, but with media people were able to resist institutional forms of oppression and express their own liberated views and concerns regarding their countries state and its actions. This is emphasized because Ogundimo believes that the real story being missed is the extent of influence the media sector had on the revival of the African sector. A growth of the private world began in the 1990s with early transformations of modern media, and has allowed a space in which individuals with access to some sort of social media platform can voice their opinions, and use it as a means of communication with few to no retributions. Freedom of the press revolutionized an era of personal opinion, and a private sector in media that has significantly stabilized in improvements. The point that I found stuck out the most to me during the podcast was when Folu says that without a portion of press under foreign ownership, Africa would continue to lack behind in terms of development of press in comparison to the rest of the world. Although they pride themselves off of Africa’s recent private development of press, there is always foreign influence in news coverage and information distribution. Another question is raised in regards to whether or not the press is “an agenda setter, or an agenda follower?” I find this extremely relevant in not only analyzing media’s role in the democratization of Africa, but also observing whether or not democracy was a driving force of technological advancement and press improvements.

I drew a lot of connections between Folu Ogundimu’s podcast and Zeleza’s The Media in Social Development in Contemporary Africa, which analyzes the media’s influence on the development, construction, and articulation of collective identities within African society. There are four main conceptions of the media that are summarized as serving as a vehicle of transmission of ideas, information and images, it is a space for public communication, sign of communication and communities, and lastly they constitute a means to perform social identities and identify social performances of others. In relation to the podcast, Ogundimo says that sometimes there is a glorification of foreign politics that does not focus on political action or crisis within their own country, which can be classified as ‘mass communication media’. This could in large part be an explanation for the statement that democratization has been critical to the growth of the media, and the media have been critical to the growth of democracy in contemporary Africa.

Do you feel as though democracy in Africa was a result of technological advancement and the introduction of a private sector for public opinion and communication, or do you think that strategies of mass media communication promote an independent voice by the press to promote the popularization of democracy?

Do you think that with the commercialization of mass media, private media corporations within Africa will be able to compete with foreign corporations and increasing commodity?

Week 3: Oxford Street, Accra

This week’s assigned readings were from Ato Quayson’s book Oxford Street, Accra. It begins by introducing Ghana as having one of the fastest-growing economies and in return, it is a very safe and sought after travel destination. The author’s focus on space is highlighted throughout the entire book as it is a look into the history of Oxford Street’s commercial district and how transnationalism and globalization have effected the representation of space and urban processes. “Any temptation to see Oxford Street as a postmodern transnational commercial boulevard is, however, quickly to be tempered by the many signs of cultural phenomena that reach back several generations” (Quayson, 2014, 12). This passage from Oxford Street, Accra depicts the overall feeling one has when they are on Oxford Street because among the transnational, commercialized enterprises, there are more complex elements that bring together cultural elements of writing, images, soundscape and performance. These are further demonstrated in chapters 4-6 of his novel with a focus on vehicular slogans, cell phone advertising, Salsa dancing and gymming.

In chapter 4, The Beautyful Ones, it attempts to understand the characteristics of Oxford Street in relation to how social media and technology is desired and represented in specific discursive environments. Vehicular slogans are a way that Quayson analyzed the collective transcript of responses to social transitions. The slogans were identified as mobile or stationary, depending on whether they were on permanent infrastructure, or vehicles such as tro tros and vendors. These slogans and inscriptions throughout the commercialized community are translations of the local culture onto the processes of globalization. Do you agree that they are translations of the local culture, or perhaps a way for the local community to reject further trends of globalization and transnationalism? Further in this chapter, the delocalization of these slogans is put into perspective when looking into the consumer-based campaigns to promote cell phone usage. Delocalizing the transnational interests of the community served as a benefit in the high rates of subscribers to cell phone companies. Do you think that the high rates of cell phone subscribers is a direct effect of globalization and delocalization of the transnational or simply as a step into modernity, and the age of technology?

The fifth chapter of Oxford Street, Accra, it is a struggle to find balance in Accra’s salsa scene between economic advancement with the hosting of a salsa, and the aspiration of feelings of community when participating in one. It demonstrates the many different interests of people that can clash in a culturally traditional practice. Vera Adu was passionate about salsa and loved the feeling she got from it and the sense of community that came with it. The economic benefits of hosting a salsa came from the mass amounts of people who came to watch, as well as socialize and buy drinks etc. However, the issue arose when venues wanted to start charging for entry and participation, and it was now a very commercialized event. Without the sense of community, the traditional salsa that was celebrated in Accra was altered, and people did not get the same feeling as they did before the economic interest.

Sources

Quayson, A. (2014) Oxford Street, Accra. United States: Duke University Press.