So perhaps a better, more succinct response to Will Saletan’s piece on race, genetics, and intelligence which appeared on Slate last month, is this video of a talk by Ron Eglash, an "ethno-mathematician" who studies African fractals. Learn about the African origins of binary code, and how God, architecture, and mathematics are married in infinite regression:
The Batwa people were traditionally hunter-gatherers. In Eastern Congo, they lived off what the forest provided, until prolonged warfare and the creation of national parks ended their way of life. Neglected by the government, shunned by other ethnic groups, the Batwa live on the margins of Congolese society. They have no knowledge of agriculture or animal husbandry. They have never participated in a cash economy. They live in temporary villages in constant fear of being driven out by real estate developers or the government. They build their houses out of sticks and leaves and die of things like too much rain. There are about 3,000 living in the area around Goma. They want dignity, they want a way to live as others live, but how? No one can simply give that to them.
In August, I met an American girl in Kigali with a friend named Morgan, a student at the Université de Goma. On a whim, I went to eastern Congo, ostensibly to climb a volcano and see some gorillas, all because Morgan knew a guy who knew a guy who could get me a good rate. Morgan also happened to be one of the most extraordinary individuals I’ve ever met–a law student, an eldest son, the founder of his own NGO, and a good guy to have around the next time Mt. Nyiragongo erupts–and so on a second whim, I made a promise I intend to keep to Morgan and 3,000+ people. Needless to say, I never did get to see the gorillas.
In a series of posts, learn about the Batwa, the support Morgan’s NGO needs to help them, and how I hope to mobilize that support while avoiding all those pitfalls of aid I love to critique, but to which I can offer no easy solutions.
I was having dinner with a French-British Afrophile journalist friend here in Kigali the other night. It involved a lot of shouting and righteous anger even though we agreed with each other. Again the topic turned to aid. My journalist friend said something along these lines. I’ve elaborated:
France, 1788: The countryside is plagued by major food shortages. Mobs are lynching tax collectors. The government, which has squandered all of its tax revenue on foreign wars and luxury goods for the ruling elite, asks the international community for assistance. The World Food Program starts distributing grain. They are a major success! They save the lives of thousands who may have died of famine or malnutrition. (Had they known how many would have died under the blade of the guillotine, they would have given even more food.) The Bourbons live to see another day, and the international community implores them to be nicer. They run training workshops to sensitize the peasants on their rights as citizens.
I was watching the official announcement of the 2007 French Presidential Election along with about 200 French expatriates in a bar in Beijing on Sunday; my presence there was unplanned, but there I was, and then there Nicolas Sarkozy was, delivering his acceptance speech live on the big screen.
I’ve written elsewhere about how I appreciated Sarkozy’s gallantry in saying he respected Segolene Royal and her ideas. Maybe the French Left collectively rolled their eyes, but it was a gesture I appreciated, if only because I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a president who acts presidential.
But then there was the last part of the speech, the part the nearly made me spray my drink on innocent spectators standing in front of me.
One summer not too long ago, I was on a plane touching down in Accra. I was only supposed to be at the airport for a short while before heading on to Sierra Leone, but I was flying on the now-defunct Ghana AIrways (yes, the very same Ghana Airways famous for attempting to traverse the Atlantic with only one engine and with barely enough fuel, the same Ghana Airways that was that summer banned from operating in the US) and a two hour layover turned into four days in a guesthouse somewhere on the outskirts of the city.
I will always be grateful for that time, not only for the friendships I made with the older women I was traveling with who took such great care of me while I was in Freetown (pictured above, decked out for a wedding), but because there’s a decent chance that had I not had an experience in another West African country – one that has known fifty years of peace – to contrast the pain, the mistrust, the psychological scars I encountered daily in Sierra Leone, I might not have ever wanted to go back to Africa.
Indeed, Ghana has a lot to celebrate not only because of what Ghanian independence represents, but because Ghana has been able to avoid the civil war and (largely) the most brutal forms of dictatorship that have destroyed many of its neighbors.
That said, I was dismayed when I read that the $20 million spent on independence celebrations went to buying luxury vehicles to carry around visiting VIPs and putting on a massive celebration from which ordinary Ghanians were barred.
Here is some great blogger-generated content to take you on a walk through 50 years of history from folks who are much more familiar with Ghana than I:
- Accra By Day and Night has photos of the Daily Graphic and the New African covers celebrating the golden jubilee
- Hiplife Complex has a Youtube video of Obrafour’s rap tribute to Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first post-independence president.
- Ethan Zuckerman, whose heart is still in Accra, has a Youtube slideshow highlighting key moments of Ghana’s path to independence set to The Birth of Ghana” by Trinidadian musician Lord Kitchener (I challenge you to watch it without feeling happy and/or inspired). Apparently the president of Ghana is quite a fan (of Ethan’s blog, that is).
See also "What is Ghana’s Secret" from the American.com
While I have the feeling that
Elaine Meinel Supkis is just a little more to the left than I am, her blog, Diplomacy: Winning Without Killing, is always worth a read. Most recently, she offers a very funny and unforgiving look at why so much of American and European criticism of China – while valid – is also shamelessly hypocritical.
A Mail & Guardian article explores the role of Indian investment in Africa, reporting on Indian investments in African oil, infrastructure and light manufacturing. Last week, 300 business delegates from 35 African countries visited New Delhi to explore potential opportunities.
Well it may not be as big of a story (India is democratic and English-speaking. China is everyone’s favorite whipping boy), India is clearly looking to expand its business presence in Africa. (See also: Africa as China and India’s "New Economic Frontier")
Can Other Developing Countries Be a Model for Africa?
At the China-Africa Business Council meeting, Chinese participants talked about the ways in which they believed Africa could learn from their experiences. Before Deng Xiaoping’s gaige kaifang ("reform and opening up"), China was at a similar economic level as many African countries. China’s success over the more than twenty-five years since can offer important lessons for African economies, they argued.
Similarly, I noticed the following quote in the Mail & Guardian piece:
"We want to learn from India’s experience," said Amadou Dioffo, managing
director of Sonidep Petrol and Gas Company of Niger. "Like us, India also has a
colonial past. We want to know how and why it is doing so much better now."
Which brings up a series of old and familiar questions (or at least I encountered these questions in nearly every college political economy course or course on the politics of X developing country):
- Can other developing countries’ successes offer lessons or models for Africa?
- Why did South Korea become so rich when in the early 1960s, it was at about the same level of economic development (or perhaps even a bit lower) as Ghana?
- Why are China and India successfully developing now?
- Is Asia fundamentally different than Africa and is Africa just doomed to always be last in line?
- What structural or historical reasons account for Asian success and African stagnation?