Workers’ Protest and New(?) Forms of State Violence

On August 16, 2015, South African police opened fire at thousand of striking miners in Marikana. They killed 34 people, and injured several others. This incident occured against the backdrop of South Africa’s awkward and iniquitous structural hegemony, certainly; but it also occurred specifically against the backdrop of the poor working conditions of lower-class South African workers, and the duplicitous neglect by the ANC government of the very people for whom their existence and rise to power is owed. Since the massacre on August 16, there have been several studies, dissertations, and articles accessing its intricacies specifically, and the South Africa’s (specifically, the ANC) anticlimactic government. This week, we read one of such studies — a book by a group of academics, journalists, and activists titled, Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre. 

The authors of this book set out, on their account, to discover how and why the massacre happened. To achieve this, they conducted their research somewhat non-hierarchically and from the bottom up by analyzing the massacre from the viewpoint of those most affected: the miners themselves. We learn that contrary to their depiction in popular media, these protesters were neither barbaric nor combative. The authors also make explicit their bias, if it can be called that, towards the miners and their plight. This bias seems to permeate the rhetoric in every aspect: they interviewed only the miners, without seemingly questioning the veracity of their testaments; they do not interview any others who might have had different, but equally poignant, narratives of the massacre. They also make several conclusions based on these interviews; this, in its right, is not indefensible, but, in fact, quite understandable given the circumstances of the massacre and in consideration of the grief stricken. But it does make one question the extent to which it can be said that the authors achieved their goal of getting to the bottom of the nature of the massacre and its intricacies.

Nevertheless, many of these conclusions are not off-point or unprecedented. The massacre, as we learn in the book, was in fact premeditated one way another by the diabolical troika consisting of the police commissioner and the ANC government, Lonmin, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). This response was in their eyes justified because the strikers had been attempting to usurp the existing power structure dominated by the aforementioned troika.

The issues that linger on after having read the book are as follows: now that the wage requested by the miners has been granted, are we to ignore the other problems inherent in the business of mining, not just for platinum, but for other resources. These miners, even when well-paid, are still having to work in sub-par conditions — and the business itself is profitable at a great cost to the environment. It is also important, I think, to point out the genealogical similarities between ANC and other black, African nationalist movements. In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere was, like Mandela, heralded as the liberator of indigenous Tanzanians and the progenitor of the Tanzanian state; he still is heralded as such, but upon ascension to power, his regime failed on several occasions to deliver on its promise of black liberation. The same trajectory of disappointment can be seen too in Ghana (Nkrumah), Zimbabwe (Mugabe), and so on. It is obvious at this point that as a democratic unit the ANC, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, functions undemocratically, to a certain degree, and wields too much power. Without being theatrical, it can be said that until this power is checked, occurrences, like the Marikana massacre (which was not unprecedented), that shake the bones of human conscience will continue to happen.

Moyosore Arewa

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Week Nine — Changing Landscapes: Dams, Degradation, and Displacement

This week, we read Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development, a book by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman. The book considers the the Cahora Bassa dam on Mozambique’s piece of the Zambezi river. Their aim in the book is to offer a new, and perhaps a more veracious, account not only of the harmful effects of the Cahora Bassa dam on indigenous populations, but also on the general effects of such large-scale “development” projects. We learn, for example, that the Cahora Bassa dam was built in 1970, at a time when Portugal’s colonial rule in Mozambique was reaching an end. During this period, as one might expect, there was an uncertainty characterized by economic and security problems, but there was also an increased focus or shift, internationally, towards the large-scale development paradigm. This paradigm shift towards grandiose development projects serves, according to the authors, as the impetus for further exploitation of the African continent. The Cahora Bassa dam was constructed not for the benefit of Mozambicans, but for the benefit of foreign elements: the electricity generated went to South Africa; and, until 2007, much of the revenue went to Portugal. As a result, the authors argue that the dam only brought misery for Mozambique’s riparian population. Much to the authors’ chagrin, Mozambique’s government plans on building new dam(s) along the Zambezi river, following the same rhetoric and pattern as the Cahora Bassa dam.

This obviously begs the question: what exactly is development? And for whom is development done? One might assume unwittingly that any kind of development denotes an improvement from the status quo — a positive change. But, for those in riparians communities in Mozambique, the so-called development by way of hydro-electric dams, for example, is neither an improvement nor a positive change. The construction of the Cahora Bassa dam, the first of its kind along the Zambezi River, led, as we learned in the book, to the displacement of thousands of Mozambicans, many of whom still do not see the benefit from, or have any use for, the electricity generated by the dam. The only winners, it seems, are those to whom the revenue from the dam goes, or perhaps those who are already doing well enough to afford electricity.

Nevertheless, the harmful effects of such large-scale development is not tied only to Mozambique or to dams. Similar effects can be seen across the continent with the construction of railways, roads, mining operations, oil exploration, and so on. Similar modernization trends can also be seen outside Africa, most applicably with the Keystone pipeline that’s meant to pass through America and Canada. In all these examples, the characteristics remain the same: environmental degradation, displacement of locals or indigenous populations, unequal distribution of benefits, and so on. This begs two questions: first of all, are we making a mistake by conflating modernization with development, and can one exist without the other? Secondly, would an appropriate solution be one that reduces, but does not eliminate, the negative impacts of development — or are we to find alternatives to development that do not affect anyone, anywhere?

Moyosore Arewa

Week Eight: India in Africa

This week focuses specifically on Indo-African relations. India’s Rise in Africa, an article by Ian Taylor, gives, as its title might suggest, some foundational insights into India’s rise in Africa. We learn that India’s presence in the continent is mostly commercially driven and with the private sector, rather than with the public sector. We also learn that India’s involvement with Africa might be motivated by some desire to increase its geo-political strategic position — most notably by making a case for a permanent seat on the UNSC. Taylor also juxtaposes China’s role in Africa with India’s role.

He concedes to some similarities in the two countries’ Africa policy, but also points out some glaring differences, including, as mentioned earlier, India’s focus on private sector (whereas China deals mainly with the public sector). We also learn from this article of the origins of Indo-African ties. As with China, this relationship was founded upon the idealistic rhetoric of south-south solidarity. But, as the relationship between Indians and Africans continued to change dynamically, this idealistic rhetoric was left behind for a more pragmatic, commercial, and somewhat nationalistic approach.

As with the discussion on China’s role in Africa, India’s role in Africa brings forth several questions. For example, what agency are African countries afforded when interacting with these foreign bodies? Are they able to secure enough bargaining power to ensure that these “strangers” have their best interest at heart? Is India’s involvement in Africa just another example of how Africa, as Paul Zeleza put it, is a “hapless tabula-rasa” upon which imperialist visions of other countries are tested?

Nevertheless, one must be careful when answering these questions not to be speculative or fall for simplistic rhetoric and conspiracy theories. But, for Africa to truly benefit from its involvement with foreign countries, be it China or India or France or America, it must first make rigorous changes to its political, social, and economic structure. Perhaps it can be said that the only way to do this sustainably is by interacting in many different ways with other nations. But perhaps it can be said that because many African countries lack the structure to have high bargaining power in bi-lateral or multilateral foreign relations, any such relation will be at the expense of sustainable development in the African country in question.

Moyosore Arewa

Week Seven: China in Africa, Africa in China

The three readings this week focus on Sino-African relations. The first article, by Paul Zeleza, offers an expansive and somewhat nuanced account of some of the most vital dialogues on China’s ever growing involvement in Africa. We learn from Zeleza that there are two major sides in the debate on China in Africa: on one hand, there are those who believe China to be a well-intentioned, amicable partner in the structural and idealogical war against western imperialism. On the other hand, there are those who are just as skeptical about China’s involvement in Africa as they are about the west’s involvement on the continent. The latter group believe, as Zeleza points out, that instead of being an amicable partner, China is in fact a self-interested competitor looking to do to Africa what the west has done. Much of Zeleza’s article is concerned with reconciling these opposing views, and he concludes that in order to achieve sustainable development, Africa must deal with China as collectively as they can.

The second article, by Chris Alden and Cristina Alves, offers in contrast a strictly historical account of China’s Africa policy. It offers the reader a glimpse into how China has manipulated, to a certain extent, or over-exaggerated its ties with Africa in order to construct the image of a benevolent, innocuous developing country that can do no harm to the continent of Africa.

The third article, on which this response focuses less of its attention, is by Adams Bodomo and Grace Ma. Bodomo and Ma discusse the dichotomy between the treatment of Africans in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Yiwu. We learn that there exists in the two cities a vast, ever-growing population of Africans. In Guangzhou, the Africans are met with animosity by the locals; meanwhile, in Yiwu, the Africans are met with hospitality, and a recognition of their added value to the local economy. For this reason, the authors state, Yiwu has “eclipsed” Guangzhou — economically, of course, but also culturally and politically.

Keeping in mind the first two articles by Zeleza and Alden et. al. one discovers what the burgeoning relationship between China and Africa means. As Zeleza rightfully pointed out, Africa has for centuries been reduced perniciously into a “hapless tabula rasa always waiting for the inscription of development models from elsewhere.” Africa, in this sense, is an entity in perpetual need of help, and in this sense, since it cannot fend for itself, it must cling to strangers bearing gifts like an infant does to its mother. Hence, since Africa is no more an infant than China or Europe is, it must stop conducting itself like one, and instead develop an agency for itself that will render strangers’ gifts useless. One way to do this, like Zeleza suggests, is for the continent to deal for the continent to deal collectively with China; but since this pan-Africanist ideal is highly improbable, perhaps the onus lies on African leaders to instigate a developmental push that is reminiscent of China’s.

Moyosore Arewa

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

Together, the three readings this week seek to debunk, to varying degrees, America’s involvement in the manifestation of the global war on terror in Africa. In Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police, Alice Hills chronicles specifically the addition of a security agenda to USAID’s original mandate as a development agency. This new agenda, as Hills notes, is beyond USAID’s traditional roles and signals a corruption of the somewhat “humanitarian” principles upon which the parastatal was formed. USAID’s security agenda manifests mainly in the form of “security aid” to the police departments of several African countries, notably Kenya; this way, the hope is that these African countries will be better equipped to carry out anti-terror missions.

In Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism, Jeremy Prestholdt takes an approach very similar to Hills’, in that they both examine the flow of security aid from U.S. to Africa (Prestholdt focuses here on Kenya). However, Prestholdt’s most significant addition to the scholarship on U.S.-Africa relations is that he considers the impact to the otherwise obscure population of this deceitful and futile security aid. He notes that the aid has empowered Kenyan forces, which is not such a bad thing, but that the Kenyan government proceeds with his “duties” in ways that can be comfortably labelled as violations of both domestic and international laws.

Likewise, in The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror, Jeremy Keenan explores America’s collusion with the Algerian government, supposedly in order to fight terrorism in the Sahara. Keenan makes the argument that this Saharan front in the War on Terror never existed and is in contravention of several laws — international and domestic. He presents the Banana Theory as the nonexistent route through which nonexistent terrorists from Afghanistan made their way to Africa, starting from the Horn in Somalia and ending up in the Sahara. He believes, however, that this falsified Saharan front in the War of Terror is collapsing: academics are finally being made aware of the deceit, and indigenes of these Saharan regions are also being made aware of, and beginning to believe in, the alternative truth. In his words, “The official truth has now become a demonstrable lie.”

As stated earlier, the three articles share a common characteristic: they all seek to dismiss America’s collusion with African states in attempts to fight terror — attempts that, more often than not, end up being thwarted, opaque, and obfuscatory. Furthermore, they all seem to suggest that even if America’s conflation of security with development (with regards to the War on Terror in Africa) were morally defensible, it consistently fails to be practically defensible. This is simply because, as the three authors imply, African governments are corrupt, unreliable, and irrevocably prejudiced; and their security apparatuses echo this ineptitude in every possible way. The empowerment of these African security apparatuses would be positive if the apparatuses were competent and a little less politicized. While this is true, it is equally important to point out that with or without American security aid, these security apparatuses will function in incompetent and prejudiced ways.

Questions:

 — To what degree do you think Nigeria’s reluctance to receive security assistance from America (in regards to the Boko Haram insurgency) is as a result of America’s practices as depicted in the readings?

— Joseph Keenan seems to dismiss the existence of terror in Africa — especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Is this a careless conclusion by Keenan, given, of course, the rise in Africa of Boko Haram, and dozens of other similar terrorist groups.

— Moyosore Arewa

Week Five

The materials this week are centred on digital media and emerging technologies, and their links with Africa. In episode 4 of Africa Past & Present, Folu Ogundiumu chats mostly about press freedom in Africa. He laments about the extent to which the press in many African countries are not truly “free,” citing that they are often used as tools to further the agendas of political hegemonies. Nevertheless, he recognizes that this challenge is not one peculiar to African countries alone (a direct allusion to the antics of Rupert Murdoch). Furthermore, as Ogundiumu says, the little press freedom that exists is more as a result of indigenous African capital ownership, than as a result of foreign support. This, however, is not to suggest that foreigners do not play a role: much of the technicalities associated with the press do come from abroad. The questions that lingers on from Ogundiumu’s podcast become: how does the African press become more independent of national political factors and international pressures? Is it premature or unfair to conclude that the African press, when compared to the press in more developed countries, lacks the sophistication needed to attain an ideal level of independence?

In Twittering the Boko Haram Uprising in Nigeria, Innocent Chiluwa and Adetunji Adegoke write about the ways in which Nigerians have used Twitter, a microblogging site, to report and discuss the Boko Haram insurgency. We learn from this article about the recent history of Boko Haram (up to 2011), and we learn about the exact processes through which Nigerians use social media, particularly Twitter, in relation to the insurgency. Adegoke and Chiluwa put forward a theory, so to say, of citizen journalism and “pragmatic acts”. Citizen journalism, as its name might imply, refers to the ease with which ordinary people can act in certain situations as journalists. This accessibility and reach of social media makes it easier, as the authors point out, to “champion and mobilize offline social and political protests around the world…” They cite that access to social media has certainly increased citizens’ political participation; I would submit, however, that social media has not increased political participation so much as it has made it “visible.” That is, social media platforms are simply an extension of African oratory culture; the difference, however, is that, especially with sites like Twitter where thoughts and reports are written down and can be revisited and accounted for, it was and is quite difficult to account for things that are spoken. In Nigeria, there is a culture of gossiping and “gisting,” a culture that creates a grapevine through which ideas and sentiments are easily spread. Today in Nigeria (especially for young Nigerians), Twitter serves as the navel of this “gisting” culture. It serves, more importantly, as a contemporary grapevine. The shortcoming, then, is that just as it is likely for a revolution to be sparked from the sentiments expressed in the grapevine, it is also equally likely for mischievous, perilous, and fictitious sentiments and ideas to spread. Hence in that sense, social media serves as a double-edged sword.

One need not look further than the reactions of Nigerians to the Boko Haram insurgency. Many rightfully condemned the terrorist acts and the government’s inefficiency in dealing with it; however, a great many people submitted instead to petty conspiracies that have unfortunately become, through the grapevine, the prevalent rhetoric about the situation.

With social media, Twitter in particular, there is very little room for individual thought to manifest, and it is not difficult for people to detract from the important aspects of a situation, focusing instead on the mundane and frivolous.

Nevertheless, there are ways through which social media can be used creatively and positively. A prominent example is of Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American writer who chronicles the experiences of ordinary Nigerians in informative and creative ways (Google: Teju Cole AND Small Fates).

Moyo Arewa

Week two — The Political Economy of Disease in Africa: Aids to Ebola.

Moyosore Arewa

The readings this week all seem to propagate some of the shunned methods or approaches of disease control in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first article, The politics and anti-politics of social movements: religion and HIV/AIDS in Africa, as its title may suggest, discusses some of the relationships in Sub-Saharan Africa between religion and HIV. It conveys the fact that religion has a bigger role to play the onset of an epidemic than many may think — it has the ability to either stifle efforts at controlling the disease or mobilize people in seeking solutions. Hence, this article seeks to help us understand the dynamics of the intricate relationship between religion and HIV. The next two articles, unlike the first, focus on the recent Ebola outbreak; they both try to convince the reader of the importance of anthropologists, or of anthropological work, in the efforts to contain the disease.

The bridge between the three articles is that they both detract from the “traditional”and popular biomedical approaches to disease control. In suggesting that there may be more to HIV/AIDS control than the biomedical method, the first article inadvertently proclaims the same arguments as the other two articles, albeit in a more concrete, academic manner.

Important to note from all the readings is what should seem apparent, but often isn’t: even if many African settlings were not, as some academics refer it, “neo-patrimonial” and communitarian, it should still be quite conceivable to expect that the onset of diseases such as HIV and Ebola will affect more than just the physical health of people in the society. It goes beyond that into the social and cultural fabric of their lives. The example given in the second reading about the difficulty of getting locals to alter their traditional burial practices in favour of a foreign, but safer, one is a perfect illustration of this point. Another perfect illustration is how neo-pentecostal churches in Africa play an important role in how HIV is conceptualized by the community. Some of these churches stress, as the first article mentions, the importance of spirituality and moralism, which, as one would expect, makes discussions about HIV, a disease transmitted mainly through sexual intercourse, a little bit awkward.

Furthermore, although it is difficult to disagree with the “spirit” of the last two articles, it is equally difficult to consume them without reservations. That is, if at all one is to accept that there is a need for Anthropologists on the field, must these anthropologists come from America or other western countries? Is there a shortage of African anthropologists (or Africans who are capable of doing the work anthropologists claim they can do) in these ebola-stricken areas? Moreover, the articles both present their arguments in a way that suggests that none of the organizations involved in containing ebola have medical anthropologists on their staff. Perhaps this is not true (see, http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_05_12_ebola/en/).

Some questions:

  • Would anthropologists interfere with efforts already being made?
  • Is it logical to assume that the costs — financial and otherwise — to send a large team of anthropologists would be too great to bare?