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

Sarah Virani

            Marikana: Voices from South Africa’s Mining Massacre discusses the massacre of strikers in the mining industry on August 16, 2012. The book provides testimonies from various mineworkers, which delivers a view of the incident from a perspective that you would not be exposed to traditionally, allowing the Marikana workers to speak for themselves and tell their own accounts of the events that led up to the massacre in 2012. After their employer Lomnin failed to listen to their basis for a decent wage, workers began to strike. Not only did the workers want a decent wage, but they also wanted improved working conditions as they were forced to work in hazardous conditions under fear or threat. This book truly draws upon the failed objectives of the National Union of Mineworkers as it failed to equally represent the workers and the African National Congress which did not stop the events from being carried out in post-apartheid South Africa.

The fear of being shot at again forced them to carry weapons, which is interesting because they did not initially arm themselves, but peacefully protested until the police attacked them. Rather than arming themselves with guns, which the police force did, they carried traditional weapons appropriate to their culture such as sticks and spears. It makes me question why the police had to use such violent force in order to diffuse the strikers, when the strikers were peacefully protesting. The presence of corruption is a problem and especially in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and this must be addressed in order for the mineworkers to be rightfully represented and to prevent another incident like the Marikana massacre from occurring.

I believe that it is very important for books like this one to be published as they expose the sides to conflicts and incidents that are often ignored in the media and remain unknown. By giving agency to the workers to speak about the issue, we are able to see how the issue affected them rather than the fabrication of the truth, which is what we normally hear. As we often only hear one side to the case, this book does an adequate job of displaying how mineworkers resisted the capitalist labour relations of production affected the lives of the workers. The number of people that were massacred varied depending on who released the number, thus its important to reveal the other side to the one-sided story that is the one we often hear most frequently.

It is also important to draw upon the social class differences amongst the police and the mineworkers and how this affects their treatment. In the book, one of the miners wives mentions how without her husband it is very hard to sustain a living while the children of the police officers were able to eat better food and had a chance at more opportunities. The oppression that the miners were faced with from the state and its institutions reflect the greater issue of systemic violence and oppression that exists in South Africa. In conclusion, this book is an eye opener as it depicts how the miners resisted the oppression that they were faced with, standing up for themselves, yet it backfired at them and they encountered horrific violence. It allows outsiders to see how miners are treated and the many inequalities that they are faced with by giving those involved the agency to share their experiences.

Miners Shot Down is a documentary about the massacre in Marikana and follows the events of the strike from the beginning, also portraying the events from the miners’ perspective.  Here is the trailer for the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkK_T_vz7cY

Discussion Questions

  • What lessons can be learned from the Marikana massacre?
  • How can we hold corporations accountable for the irreversible effects that mining has on the miners, the communities nearby, the environment, etc? Is it even possible?
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Week 9 Changing Landscapes: Dams, Degradation and Displacement

Sarah Virani

In the book, Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007, Allen and Barbara Isaacman discuss the case of the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique and the implications that the construction of the dam has had on the citizens of Mozambique. Chapter 3, Harnessing the River focuses on the building of the dam in Mozambique in 1965 until 1975. While focusing on the construction of the dam, the chapter raises some of the challenges that the Portuguese faced due to the lack of infrastructure in Mozambique. This chapter also highlights how the organization of the work on the Cahora Bassa was highly racialized, specifically between the African workers and the European ones. Workers were not the only ones affected by the construction of the dam, “Local African communities were forced to abandon their homes in the Songo highlands to make way for the construction of a segregated town for white workers recruited from abroad” (Page 57). An interesting point is raised as The Cahora Bassa was labeled by Frelimo’s first president, Eduardo Mondlane as a place of anti-colonial battle that if not destroyed would destroy them (Page 89). This created the rise of activists who began to boycott Western help and bring attention to the conditions that surrounded the dam, in order to create change. However, unfortunately the dam was not destroyed and continued to impact local populations.

Chapter 4, Displaced People discusses how the dam how they were evicted from their villages in 1970-1975 and many citizens were forced into modern planned communities, which are referred to as aldeamentos. I had never heard of aldeamentos, which are fertile lands that provided adequate water as a solution for displacement. We can see the devastating affects of Portuguese colonialism in Africa through the displacement caused by the Cahora Bassa and the villagization that occurred. However, it is evident that in order to get citizens to move, the colonialists used propaganda and false promises. One way was convincing communities that their agricultural cycle or religious practices would not be interrupted (Page 98). Nonetheless, the authors examine how the aldeamentos were not pleasant for citizens to live in and deprived them of their culture and identity and their basic human rights especially as they were constantly under the surveillance of the militia (Page 108). Despite that the colonialists said that the aldeamentos would have adequate water supplies, it was not surprising to learn that severe water shortages and health problems, including diseases stemming from lack of sanitation was one of the biggest consequences of the forced displacement and villagization (Page 114).

The Lower Zambezi, chapter 5 highlights how the landscape and nature has changed from 1975-2007 and the repercussions that the dam has had on its surrounding environment. The chapter specifically focuses on the Zambezi River valley and the surrounding communities. Flooding still occurs despite that the one of the reasons why the Cahora Bassa was built was to control floods and it fails to do so (Page 146). The dam sporadically releases water on downriver landscapes and human populations, which causes further displacement amongst populations and damage to the environment. It is upsetting that the impoverished communities are the ones that suffered from the war and are continuing to suffer because of the dam.

The focus of Chapter 6, Displaced Energy is on the ownership and control of the Cahora Bassa. The chapter examines how not only citizens were displaced from the dam but the energy itself was expatriated. Under control of a Portuguese company, they determined the outlay of the water and they discussed the sale of the majority of its electricity to South Africa. I was not surprised that Portugal only agreed to sell two-thirds of its shares in the Cahora Bassa dam after learning that the Mozambique government threated the building of a second dam, which would decrease the profitability of the Cahora Bassa dam (Page 166). Even though the dam is now under control of Mozambique, many citizens’ still lack electricity and rural development has a far way to come in order to benefit.

Chapter 7, Legacies, was the final chapter assigned this week and it highlights how hydroelectric dams in Africa are one of the most lasting legacies from colonialism (Page 167). I agree with this because even though the colonial presence may not be as prevalent within the country, the dams, as a result of colonialism, still continue to impoverish millions of residents and deplete the surrounding environment. The chapter also examines the second dam that could have possibly been constructed, Mphanda Nkuwa. By using the lessons learned from the Cahora Bassa dam, the authors assess the possible implications of a second dam. At the end of the book the authors raise a crucial point in saying that those that have suffered must resume conceptualizing how to both confront developmentalism and “decolonize development” (Page 187). With this being said, I believe that this is significant in dealing with developing nations and also with post-colonial countries and places more of an emphasis on empowering the locals rather than solely focusing on foreign assistance.

 Discussion Questions

  •  The Mozambican government wanted to construct a second dam, Mphnda Nkuwa.  Do you think that this could be a reflection of the colonialism they experienced?
  • If there is conflict arising over the control of a dam, who do you think you think should decide who controls it?
  • Do you think that it would be better to completely shut down the operation of the Cahora Bassa dam?

Week 8 – Emerging Powers: India in Africa

Sarah Virani

The readings for this week examined the Indo-African relations. In the first article India’s Rise in Africa, Ian Taylor examines the overlooked relationship between the two countries. While Indian diaspora largely exists in Africa, the presence of India in Africa is driven by private, commercially operated industries. India’s reasoning for their presence is to have energy security and also to gain a position as a global power on the world stage. As India develops, it loses interest in the idea of South-South solidarity, which I believe could be problematic and cause tensions between the countries.

It was not surprising that the main challenge in the relationship between India and Africa is the lack of governance and the large presence of corruption. Taylor discusses how the presence of India in Africa creates competition amongst other countries for Africa’s resources, which in turn increases Africa’s capacity to have access to good at a price, which is more affordable. One of India’s main competitors in Africa is China. India followed China’s footsteps and established the Africa-India Forum Summit, which wanted to change the view of India from a recipient of aid to a donor. I believe that this could be way for India to play a game of catch-up with China in regards to their involvement in Africa.

In the second article Offshore Healthcare Management: Medical Tourism between Kenya, Tanzania and India, the author focuses on the role of medical tourism from Africa to India. While India is a destination country, the majority of patients are from Kenya and Tanzania, which Modi highlights. Africans go to India because the medical infrastructure is more advanced than Africa’s and to seek treatment for problems, which they had not been correctly diagnosed or local hospitals in Africa could not provide them with the necessary treatments. I found it interesting that Modi raised the point that some Africans frowned upon the term ‘medical tourism’ has tourism typically refers to a fun holiday hence why it is referred to as offshore health management. I agree that this term can be problematic as it depicts something that it is not. Public health delivery in Africa suffered from structural adjustment policies. The continent relies on expensive imported pharmaceutical products. The analogy mentioned of ‘unhealthy refugees’ is significant because it illustrates the realities of those who receive treatment in India.

The final article, Fragile Fortunes: India’s Oil Venture into War-torn Sudan examines India’s national oil company, ONGC-Videsh (OVL) and their presence in the African state of Sudan. The association of oil with armed conflict in the state raises concern over the political relations between Africa and India. Patey highlights that India’s engagement with the oil companies’ in Sudan ignored the human rights atrocities in the state and were more concerned over the companies’ safety. It is evident that both Sudan and India supported each other, especially as Sudan hoped that India would have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. I was surprised to learn that India has been able to avoid a lot of the negative publicity, especially from the West as their corporations pushed out of Sudan. As oil in Sudan is a cause of armed conflict, countries investing should be precautious as to whether their investment will due further harm in the state.

Discussion Questions

1) Do you believe that India has increased its efforts in Africa in order to have a more profound position in Africa especially if they are in competition with Chinas involvement on the continent?

2) What are some of the differences between India and China’s relationship with Africa?

3) What are some of the possible implications caused by the close relationship between India and Africa for the West?

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

Sarah Virani

The readings for this week focused on the relationship between Africa and China as emerging powers. In the first article, The Africa-China relationship: challenges and opportunities, Zeleza discusses the historical relationship between the two, highlighting the economic characteristics that exist and as well as the challenges faced. Zeleza mentions that the ideological adhesive in the relationship between China and Africa was anti-imperialism (Zeleza, 147). By focusing on the economic relationship between China and Africa, Zeleza demonstrates how historically China has become one of Africa’s largest development competitors. The “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” that are discussed in the article are important in distinguishing how China and Africa developed their relations, social systems and ideologies.

I found Zeleza’s discussion on the Forum on Africa-China Cooperation thought provoking as he outlined the outcomes of each conference. For instance, at one conference China offered to cancel $1.3 billion of debt, establish 30 hospitals and 1000 rural schools. In the discourse surrounding the relations between Africa and China, for example aid is referred to as charity relates back to the inadequate narratives that Zaleeza discusses by African and Chinese policymakers at the beginning of the article (Zeleeza, 146). I was unaware that China’s aid policies differ in oppose to those of Western nations, as they are a reflection of China’s development experience in a Western-capitalist society. The aid is used to increase exports and help new industries, or ones that were previously abandoned to expand. Nonetheless, the relationship between Africa and China is a beneficial one, however I agree with Zeleza when he says that in order for Africa to truly maximize their benefit from China, they must have clear and comprehensible policies and democratic responsibility.

In the second article, History & Identity in the Construction of China’s Africa Policy, Alden and Alves emphasizes on the importance of the historical context of the relationship between Africa and China and how it has affected foreign policy. The authors highlight that instead of following international rules and norms, China carries out tactics that replicate their own experience with development. China’s new ‘independent policy’ that the authors refer to is structured around their practices of development and their interests on a global scale, accentuating on mutual benefits and concrete results (Alden and Alves, 52). The authors raise concern surrounding China’s changing identity from a developing country to one of the world’s super powers. I believe that this will significantly affect their foreign policies and interests on a global scale.

The final article for the week, From Guangzhou to Yiwu: Emerging facets of the African Diaspora in China discusses diaspora in China in two places, Guangzhou and Yiwu. Though these two cities are hubs for Africans in China, Africans face obstacles within these areas. For instance, African businessmen in Yiwu have difficulty communicating with others. I found it interesting that though both, Guangzhou and Yiwu are located in China, Africans in each place encounter different experiences. As Bodomo and Ma discuss, Africans in Guangzhou are not treated fairly. They are stopped and demanded to show their passports and the authors highlight the extent to which this happens through their experience at the restaurant. The role of law-enforcement officials in constructing the migrant and indigenous relations is imperative because it affects how Africans in China are treated and whether they will be able to live amicably. In conclusion, the relationship that Africa and China have with one another is continuing to grow, and I think that Africa will continue to develop in a beneficial way as long as they do not allow their states or resources to be exploited and establish concrete democratic policies that meet the needs of civil society.

Below is a link to some photos that I found were interesting and that depict some of the projects that China has implemented in Africa:

http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1884396,00.html 

Discussion Questions

  • Would you consider Africa’s relationship with China one that is mutually beneficial? Why or why not?
  • What does Africa and China’s relationship disclose in the new international order?
  • The articles mention that China’s policies reflect their experience in the Western-capitalist world and China traditionally has not interfered with the affairs of other nations. Do you think that as they become more and more involved with Africa, this will change?

 

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

Sarah Virani

The readings for this week focused on the role that the United States has in Africa highlighting the anti-terrorism policies and practices that they have instilled on African nations. In the article Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police, Hills discusses how USAID and the United States foster the countries security interests, specifically in Kenya. She criticizes the USAID suggesting that programs as such undermine the ability for the transformation of the state instead of strengthening democracy and stabilizing the government. Hills mention how disease, war and poverty in Africa impede on the fundamental values of the United States and their ability to strategically prioritize fighting global terrorism.

The pressure from the United States in regards to anti-terror has fostered the politicization of policing. The article mentions that prevention is the key to combating global terrorism. I believe that this is important to highlight, however prevention must be carried out in a way that does not violate individual’s human rights. The policing force is Africa is unstable as Hills mentions, encountering various factors that affect its effectiveness such as corruption and incompetence. As Hill states,  the concern over security and terrorism suppresses their obligations to individual security and local ownership. I believe that this will be problematic as restructuring a police force will impede on the lives of Africans while benefiting the United States. How can a stable police force be built when the nation itself is weak? It seems more rational to stabilize the country first, especially its security forces and ensure that the root causes of terrorism are addressed so that you are not taking two step forwards, only to take one step back. As the author mentions, counter-terrorism is not a priority for the majority of Kenyans, thus there are more significant problems that have to be dealt with before the United States reforms its security sector.

The second article by Jeremy Prestholdt,  Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism  considers the United States foreign relationships with Africa and counterterrorism. The article assesses how security concerns over terrorism have created a new way for the U.S to systematize on the alleged affiliation between weak states and extremism. Prestholdt highlights that in Kenya, security training has inspired anti-terrorism groups at the domestic level to address the problem of extremism. It was unsurprising that though the United States foreign policy has increased counterterrorism activities, tensions between Muslim communities and the government have been intensified as authorities have targeted the Muslim minorities in Kenya as the key actors of terrorism. Prestholdt highlights that counterterrorism has become a way for Kenya to control its relationship with the United States, specifically economically, which can evidently have negative affects as it has alienated Muslim communities.

While the United States claims that they are implementing counterterrorism activities, they are committing human rights violations at the same time.  For example, following 9/11 the United States gave Kenya’s National Security Intelligence Service a list of 200 hundred suspects in which they assumed were linked to al-Qaeda. Many were arrested, including popular businessmen and activists from the opposing party, and some were held for a long period of time without charge. This is a human rights violation that Africans have faced because of the anti-terror activities. It is disappointing to learn that the United States is willing to take advantage of the political, economic and social situation of Kenya and hide their true intentions behind the idea of counterterrorism.

The link below is to an article that criticizes the new anti-terror laws implemented in Kenya and mentions some of the outcomes of the new law:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/12/kenya-passes-divisive-anti-terror-law-2014121974313523159.html

In final article for the week, The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror Keenan draws upon Foucault’s ‘regimes of truth’ in his discussion of how the United States and Algeria fabricated information. The ‘alternative’ truth, which has been established over the war on terror in Sahara-Sahel region can be attributed to the United States and Algerian authorities whom have contributed to the disinformation surrounding the hostage situation in El Para. The idea of the ‘banana theory’ of terrorism depicts how Washington imagined the ‘terrorists’ leaving from Afghanistan and entering Africa. It was a way of the United States to weave their way into African nations. Washington perceived the launch of a Saharan front in the global war on terror as a way to create the conditions for the militarization of Africa and a way to gain access to its oil resources. Keenan suggests that the United States war on terror in Africa can only be maintained through the logic of re-categorizing ‘trafficking’ and other criminal activities as ‘terrorist’ ones, which in turn fosters local outbreaks of anger and resistance. I suggest that in order to truly address the root causes of terrorism, there must be one universal definition to prevent disagreement on what constitutes terrorist activity and to prevent the spread of alternative truths.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do counterterrorism activities carried out by the United States have a racist framework?
  2. The war on terror in Sahara did not end the terror in the region as Keenan says that there was none to begin with. Were you surprised to learn this?
  3. Keenan focuses on the ‘alternative truth’ and the ‘official truth’. How does this relate to our previous class discussion on the ‘one-sided story’?

Week 5: Digital Media and Emerging Technologies

Sarah Virani

The podcast from Africa Past and Present discussed media systems and communication in Africa, focusing on Nigeria. Ogundiumu mentions how the media has had a significant role in Africa’s story of revitalization and has been influential in the popularization of democracy, acting as a way for Africans to regenerate from the institutional forms of oppression. I was surprised to learn that the advancement of the private development of the press in Sub-Saharan Africa was not led by foreign ownership but instead indigenous African capital, which relates back to how Ogundiumu mentioned at the beginning of the podcast that Africa is portrayed in the media in stereotypical ways. His discussion of local language presses highlights how the liberalization of the politics surrounding the media has fostered the growth of indigenous language presses, which are more successful than stations broadcasted in the colonial language. He also brings up the medias relation to politics and raises the question of whether the press is an agenda setter or an agenda follower, mentioning that we need to improve capacity. I agree with Ogundiumu as we need to teach people how to be critical thinkers, we need to teach them how to think rather what to think, and teach them the necessary skills to become active participant in society.

In “The Media in Social Development in Contemporary Africa” Zeleza, discusses the many uses of media and the various roles that it can have with spreading information. This article expressed media as a dynamic force that is always changing depending on various factors such as the existing ideologies of the current political economies. The articles provides a more in-depth context for media development today in Africa, discussing the implementation of media as well as the impact that it has on the identities of African. I thought that the articles discussion of the challenges that the media faces beneficial as it exposes some of the challenges that Africa faces in their development. Zeleza discusses the implications surrounding corporate pressures, which is similar to Ogundiumu’s discussion in the podcast concerning foreign ownership.

The article, Twittering the Boko Haram Uprising in Nigeria: Investigating Pragmatic Acts in the Social Media examines tweets on Twitter and comments on media reports by Africans and how these pragmatic acts function within social settings, especially within the Boko Haram revolt. The articles brings up the notion of citizen journalism and how social media inspires this type of journalism as it is a way for Africans to express their thoughts. This is significant when discussing media in Africa as it as a way for Africans to become involved in current issues as well as communicate their perspectives.

These pragmatic messages can be interpreted in more than one way as the authors highlight. The article mentions that they had selected the Tweets and comments that met the common goal of the six groups they had chosen such as a group for ones that support and identify themselves with Islam and Boko Haram and ones the blame the West. This could be problematic, as the ones that were not chosen could have had pragmatic messages that could have been interpreted in a different way in comparison to the author’s perspective.  Nonetheless, the podcast and the articles do an adequate job of explaining how media in Africa has been affected by democracy and the roles that the media has in African identities. The articles debunk the traditional stereotypes that the West has a profound influence on Africa but rather expresses how the growth in Africa is attributed to the indigenous populations rather than foreign operations, which I believe needs to be examined more in literature.

Despite that this picture is from 2011 and is a few years old, I believe that it gives a good representation of how many Africans are using Twitter and their location within the continent. I can only imagine how many more users there are now!

African-tweeters-graphic-006

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/26/african-twitter-map-continent-connected

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think that in the years to come the state will have a more significant role in regulating the media? (i.e freedom of the press)
  • In what ways can social media platforms be used in Africa in order to produce change other than expressing ones beliefs? Do you think it is beneficial that indigenous presses are more popular than foreign owned ones? If it were to be heavily dominated by foreign ownership, how would the media change?
  • Do you think that the media in Africa will encounter the same revolutions that we did (i.e. moving from paper to electronic)? What do you believe the future of independent media in Africa looks like?

Week 4: Neoliberalism Revisited

Sarah Virani

The readings for this week brought a neoliberalist perspective to the changing scenes in South Africa. The idea of Bottom-of-the-Period that Dolan and Roll discuss in the article, Capital’s New Frontier: From “Unusable” Economies to Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Markets in Africa, is important when examining how neoliberalism has affected the entrepreneurship of South Africans and impacted how consumerism has changed the economic realm. The idea of market-based approaches to poverty reduction that are discussed throughout the article such as circulating items that can improve their life like solar lanterns is an important aspect in development as it increases opportunities for Africans to become entrepreneurs. It is through this approach that African are empowered to create their own business opportunities within their communities. Though the article mentions companies like Avon and Proctor and Gamble and how they are influencing capitalism on African communities, I believe that it is important to highlight both the positive and negative repercussions from the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid model.

In the article, Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa, Lee discusses how migration and urbanization have altered the way in which death is experienced and how the funerals are carried out. By examining embalming and exhumation, two contemporary aspects involved in the funeral process, it allows us see how migration has created new perspectives towards the dead. Mobilization has a crucial role in the burial practices of South Africans as they can meet their emotional requirements and at the same time have a dignified funeral. Entrepreneurs within the funeral industry have an important role in the funeral process as they have opened pathways in the urban-rural nexus, allowing people to fulfill their needs even if they are on the move, which is significant when it comes to having a dignified funeral.

The South African businessmen, the Kroks, generated a large profit from selling skin lighteners to black South Africans as discussed in the article Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa. The growth of the skin lighteners industry can be seen in response to the Second World War and the consumer culture that followed it. The article highlights how the increase in black consumption created opportunities for mainly white businesses. The use of the product is tied to the idea that there is a connection between lighter skin to power and beauty. Having interracial parents has exposed me to two different cultures and perspectives and this article reminded me of a story my parents once told me. My father was born in Tanzania but because of diaspora he is East Indian and my mother is French-Canadian. Growing up my female cousins from my father’s side used to scrub themselves in the shower in hope to make their skin lighter because they did not like being dark and were uncomfortable with the colour of their skin. This article reminded me of this and the relation it has to the larger ideology of the connection between light skin to power and beauty.

The article, Gugulethu: revolution for neoliberalism in a South African Township highlights how changes within South African cities are driven by neoliberalism specifically Gugulethu, which is a modern mall in Cape Town. This example portrays how businesspeople and stakeholders attempt to fulfill their neoliberal ideas by building modern facilities yet still localize them. The Gugulethu center reminded me of the mall, Palma Real Shopping Village that I visited in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The mall had many popular stores that would be familiar to us with an open concept layout. The mall attracted many tourists and upper class citizens, as the stores were quite pricey, demonstrating the multi-dimensions of the neoliberalization process. The overarching arguments that are seen throughout the articles is how neoliberaliztion is affecting the practices of African and whether this influence is one that is assisting in developing the society and empowering individuals or whether it is impeding on the traditional ways of life of Africans.

Discussion Questions

  • Were you surprised to learn that the commodification of burial rites is attributed to the influence of Western consumerism?
  • Do you think that the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid approach is beneficial? What are some drawbacks to using this approach?
  • Do you think that it was moral for the Kroks to build a museum to document the racism that occurred during apartheid when they generated their profits from selling skin lighteners?
  • Do you think that the companies that enter into Africa’s markets can have an actual impact on poverty reduction?

African Urbanism: the Global City

Sarah Virani

In Oxford Street, Accra, Ato Quayson discusses how the street Oxford Street in Ghana has become a city that is embedded with transnationalism and a display of the effects of globalization. In chapter 4, The Beautyful Ones, Quayson focuses on tro-tro slogans and writings that cover the streets of Accra and how advertising has a role within the city drawing upon slogans and large billboards scattered on Oxford Street. By highlighting the connection between the two, he mentions how popular forms of media help to maintain the expansive connections between the traditional and the modern as well as the local and the transnational. By bringing up the campaigns that promote a cosmopolitan identity, Quayson highlights how globalization can influence individuals to achieve a certain lifestyle that is often out of norm and depicts Western values and beliefs.

Chapter 5, “Este loco, loco” highlights how the particular spaces of salsa dancing and gymming exemplify how individuals perform their occupation of urban space in modern day Accra. The author goes on to explain how these spaces are affected by the dynamics of transnationalism. After learning about how the salsa scene has had an influential impact on Accra economy as well as by bringing people together and increasing communication amongst one another, I was disappointed, but not surprised to hear that sense of communal feeling began to diminish following the commercialization of salsa. This is the irrational logic of globalization, by this I mean that even though globalization and transnationalism intends to connect people through the flow of information and goods, it often leads to the destruction of close communities as Quayson mentions in his discussion of the changing salsa scene in Accra.

In Chapter 6 “Pumping Irony” focuses on the idea of gymming in Ghana and how gymming fits in with the vehicular reason of tro-tro slogans discussed in Chapter 4. I found it interesting that the various spatial and extensive overlaps that exist in Accra because of transnationalism, even in the class disparities that exist between the users of working-class gyms and high-end gyms. Quayson discusses how those who attend each gym have specific characteristics that are attached to them and stereotypes that are given to them. For instance, individuals attend high-end gyms to stay fit, while individuals attend working-class gyms to build muscle and sculpt their body. Quayson mentions how the gymmers that he interviewed had a goal of ending up in Hollywood or as a personal trainer for the wealthy in the West. This portrays how globalization has impacted this public sphere and the social understandings associated with gymming.

Evidently, globalization and transnationalism have had an effect on this imagescape and they have become things that can be read and interpreted by society. Kòbòlò, which is a street loiterer and a possible criminal and gymmers, are visible sociological representations of the vehicular reasoning behind the tro-tro slogans, which Quayson discusses in Chapter 4. They depict a certain lifestyle that can be interpreted by society. I found it interesting that globalization and transnationalism have transformed the public sphere in Accra in ways that I did not consider before such as in the salsa and gym scene. While tro-tro slogans have traditionally depicted the values, goals or biblical verses, Oxford Street has become covered in billboards that display the world economy of cultural and aesthetic practices that is often not the norm of the society, bridging the traditional and the modern. I believe that it is important to highlight how Oxford Street has benefited from globalization and transnationalism, however it is also crucial to acknowledge the negative effects that it has had on the city and the ways that it has changed the imagescape.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the negative repercussions of globalization that we can see in Accra? Do you believe that Quayson does an adequate job of discussing the negative effects of globalization?
  • Quayson highlights some of the effects that globalization has had in Ghana specifically with the salsa industry and gymming industry. Do you think that these effects are the result of the influence that Western nations can have? Would you say that these effects are positive or negative?

Sources

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

 

Week 2: The Political Economy of Disease in Africa: AIDS to Ebola

The article, The politics and anti-politics of social movements: religion and HIV/AIDS in Africa discusses how religion plays a role in the HIV/AIDS pandemic focusing on the idea of religious mobilization. Burchardt et al., mention how global norms and institutions have an influence on the how the mobilization surrounding HIV/AIDS occurs. Religious institutions and movements have had a significant role in responses to the pandemic, allowing individuals to try and make sense of the disease.

In  Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the time of Ebola, the authors raise the idea that there is a failure of biosecurity methods, as there is a knowledge gap towards biomedical practices. This is a gap in which anthropologists could assists in closing. The article mentions how anthropologists tested for situations where Ebola can be transmitted, specifically, which animal was the transmitter of the virus. In the case, it was bats. The anthropologists furthered their study by examining human-bat relations. The article highlights how ethnographic work can help diminish some of the stereotypes or stories that put the blame of the outbreak on the local populations.

The final article, Ten Things that Anthropologists Can Do to Fight the West African Ebola Epidemic discusses how anthropologists are needed as resources to understand and establish new ways to confront the Ebola crisis. Abramowitz lists ten actions that anthropologists could take such as observing and interpreting local viewpoints on the response to the Ebola epidemic. I believe that in order to make sense of the local beliefs and behaviours, anthropologists need to be on the scene and integrate into communities to clasp a more meaningful understanding of the crisis.

Burchardt et al., discuss how religious organizations such as Christian and Muslim ones, have a role in containing the disease as well as treating it. The Neo-Pentecostal movement is an example of how religious movements have had an influential effect in the HIV/AIDS response by minimizing the transmission of the disease. Both Saez et al., and Abramowitz highlight how anthropologists can be assigned to examine traditional practices and the spread of Ebola. The article also mentions a conversation that a medical anthropologists had with Medicines Sans Frontiers offering to help, however their help was denied. Their help should not be ignored but rather anthropologists should be useful resources. Anthropologists could assist with the Ebola crisis by working alongside religious organizations to minimize the transmission of Ebola.

            It is concerning that they are not asking for more anthropologists to help during the crisis when many anthropologists are offering their help. I was unaware of the significant role that anthropologists could have during a crisis like Ebola. I believe that they should be present as they are familiar with the cultural barriers. Anthropologists would be able to help local populations grasp a better understanding of the disease and the ways that it is transmitted, and be able to diminish some of the existing stereotypes. It is evident that the biomedical approach is not stopping the spread of Ebola. Thus a new innovative approach that involves the assistance of anthropologists is needed. This approach would examine the disease from a sociocultural perspective allowing for a meaningful understanding of how the disease affects individual’s beliefs and their everyday activities. It would also assist in determining how the disease is transmitted through their actions.

Discussion Questions

1) If anthropologists would be beneficial on the scene during the Ebola response, why are more not sent to assist?

2) Do you think that religious institutions are as involved with the Ebola crisis as they are with the HIV/AIDS response?