the emerging superpower, by way of africa

By way of Africa, countries become superpowers. By way of Africa, countries gain influence, power, and resources. By way of Africa, exploiters can fuel their desires. And now this is the point where you should ask: “Why?” Well listen my children (not meant as a speaking down to you) and you shall hear of the midnight rise of the new Paul Revere. Instead of racing to sound the alarm of an invasion of British troops, this new Paul Revere races to beat the competition to the resources of the land and people. The new Paul Revere races to establish himself economically and politically in every middlesex town for his bank accounts to be up and full. This new Paul Revere yells to the people to get up and listen to what he can give them and what they can give him in return, he tells them not be get up and to arm against the invasion, but to sit down and join him in this great opportunity.

President Hu Jintao of China began his first official 12-day tour of Africa. Jintao began in Cameroon and signed a number of bi-lateral cooperation agreements. Cooperative? Possibly, it is important to note that trade with Africa has increased almost three-fold over the past few years as China searches for resources and markets to fuel its economy. This will be Jintao’s third visit to Africa since his term began in 2003. What many people do not know is that Africa supplies China with one-third of its imported oil. With this power of handing out loans and aid over the next three years, China has been pushed to use its influence on the African oil industry to pressure Sudan on the Darfur issue. Along with this potential issue, China is accussed of selling weapons to Zimbabwe adn flooding African markets with cheap goods that threaten the local producers.

Jintao’s tour takes him to Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, and Seychelles. In Sudan, Jintao was given a <a href="http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/AF777D16-5D77-406D-8045-FCF8714F6BD2.htm
“>red-carpet welcome in the capital of Khartoum. Members of the UN Security Council and numerous activists are calling for Sudan to use this economic influence to push Sudan to end the fighting in Darfur. Sudan has refused demands for a UN peace-keeping force, which it calls ‘neo-colonial.’ Currently China is the number one foreign investor in Sudan and buys oer two-thirds of its oil exports. China is also Sudan’s top political ally with its veto power on the Security Council keeping Sudan from facing heavy burdens. When the Bush Administration named Darfur a genocide and placed heavy sanctions and many Security Council members calling on Sudan to stop the government sponsored killing, Sudan has had to depend on China to buy its exports and support its infrastructure. Surprisingly, ahead of Jintao’s visit, Chinese officials highlighted human rights in Sudan and called for the government to find a solution to Darfur. This act is very uncommon for China, who claims to stay out of internal affairs of other countries. However there are also accusations that along with buying oil in Sudan, China also sells weapons, which calls into question the true strength on China’s words. Are they just meant to appease the international community? Is there any real threat behind that statement? I think not.

During Jintao’s visit to Liberia thousands lined the streets and cheered in arguably what is now Africa’s strongest democracy. Liberia is looking for much needed investment in the war-scarred country. China re-started diplomatic ties in the ‘American stronghold in Africa’ during the Cold War. In Liberia Jintao signed about seven bi-lateral argeements in regards to iron ore, rubber, and timber. “The visit of the president is good for Liberia. China is a super power in its own way. If such a country’s president can visit this small country, it means a lot for us,” said Jimmie Smith, as he painted a stairwell at the Foreign Ministry. This may be true but many people including Africans warn poor African countries of the dangers of making bi-lateral agreements with China if the agreements do not protect their markets from cheap Chinese goods.

In a <a href="http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=5398&&&edition=2&ttl=20070130191949
“>BBC opinion section people were asked to write what they thought China’s role in Africa will do. Many people expressed great hope for the involvement of China building infrastructure and also others noted the problem that China presents with their sale of weapons and their potential to ravage Africa. I hold a degree of both opinions. I am of the belief that China is now creating the last exploitation of Africa, sure they are building stadiums, schools, hospitals, and more, but what good is a hospital without investment in a trained staff, or knowledgable teachers in schools. There needs to be investment in people as much as infrastructure. The end game here is that China is after resources and a place to dump theor goods. This is simple and easy business, China is looking for a large market for its goods so they are more than willing to spend a little to win over their potential buyers – and it is working. It is also a great hope of mine that China’s actions will call up the West to start taking a more pro-active and positive step towards the African continent. The West needs to look beyond its history of exploitation and enslavement and neo-colonialism to be able to focus on helping the people in Africa, who, China may not be willing to invest. Whatever the case, by way of Africa, countries become superpowers – exploitation for resources, neo-colonial business practices. By way of Africa we all need to learn what is most important in this world. Capitalism will fall when our lust for profit out-runs our need for people to live to be able to help us make profit. Structures can be used to create good as easily as they create harm – we are all in this together.

zimbabwe, sudan, and the drc – enter ban ki-moon

As the new Secretary General of the UN completes his very <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6304043.stm
“>first official Africa tour, crises loom across the continent. Ban Ki-moon called on the DRC to make a pact for democracy and the AU to be unified on the conflict in Darfur. With the DRC still working to emerge from its long civil war, Ki-moon noted the successful elections last year. The DRC currently holds the largest deployment of UN troops anywhere in the world and the UN says it is committed to creating greater security of the region.

Ki-moon also spoke to the AU about keeping unified in the face of the Darfur crisis. With the potential of Sudan becoming chair of the AU there is worry for the conflict to fall from the priority list. Ki-moon condemned the recent bombings of villages in Darfur and called on Africa’s leaders to join together for peace as they did before to bring peace to Burundi and Sierra Leone. Ki-moon met with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan at the AU summit and urged him to commit to a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force for Darfur. “I… am deeply concerned about the continuing violence and the suffering of the civilians there. This time we need action and to make real progress,” Ki-moon said. Four years of violence and genocide has killed over 400,000 people and has displaced over 2 million people. “Together, we must work to end the violence and scorched-earth policies adopted by various parties, including militias, as well as the bombings which are still a terrifying feature of life in Darfur,” he told the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ki-moon also announced that he planned to convene in March a working group on Africa and the MDGs, “a coalition of the willing” of African stakeholders and international organizations and donors, to accelerate progress on the goals, which also seek to reduce maternal and infant mortality and provide access to health care and education. He noted that many African countries have made remarkable progress, but there remains a lot to be done.

As the well-publicized conflicts in Africa continue to recieve support, a mostly unheard of crisis grows. The name of this crisis is Zimbabwe or more specifically Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe since 1980 and recently his term was extended for years. Mugabe has mis-managed economic policy and thrown out human rights. Hyperinflation and negative growth are a few of the problems which he attributes to Western sanctions and the legacy of white minoritiey rule. Reported in the news Zimbabwe is facing a massive food crisis. The government has refused aid agencies support and again combats calls of mis-management with the idea of an international plot to remove him from power.

The effects of the food crisis among many Zimbabwean issues is yet to be seen, however maybe we will not witness such tragedy. This July the popular band, Dispatch, will be reuniting for a cause. That cause is Zimbabwe. Their benefit concert has been sold out, a new date added, and again sold out. The proceeds are to be used to fight disease, famine, and social injustice. After reading that I inquired as to where exactly donations will be made, since funds in the government’s hands will not necessarily be used for good. “We are in the process of figuring out some existing NGO’s that are doing great work there–and some other projects we’d like to support. Once identified, we will make a post about them to the public!,” was the response I recieved. I was very pleased to get such a response from a well-known band working to make a difference in Africa. Supporting existing programs and projects that are working effectively will creat the most good. Check out the Dispatch Zimbabwe Team site, I think there are some remaining tickets for the concert this summer at Madison Square Garden.

Here at Michigan State University there is a push within the Student Assembly to revoke an honorary doctorate degree in law, which was presented to Mugabe when he spoke at MSU. The bill written in the Student Assembly will be voted on next week and after that will be referred on to the Administration. The international plot to overthrow continues. All jokes aside, the efforts of Dispatch should be commended and the pressure on Mugabe intensified as his people face certain death from his inactions.

iraq, a humanitarian crisis as much as darfur?

Is the Iraq conflict now seen as a humanitarian crisis as much as the more well-known Darfur genocide? How can the two be compared. For starters we can look at US commitments to both conflicts. Back in 2000 when Bush was handed a press release about the Rwandan genocide, he wrote, “not on my watch” in the margin. In 2003 we became involved in Iraq to fight terrorism? The polls now tell us taht Americans would rather be involved in Darfur than Iraq. Why? Maybe because we would rather save lives than assist in their destruction. David Bosco of the LA Times writes of the ugly truths in his blog on the Foreign Policy website. Recent UN findings have totaled over 34,000 Iraqi deaths in just 2006. “The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced,” writes Bosco. However the estimates vary and many state that over 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur. Bosco wants is trying to make us think of the possibilities of our actions in both Iraq and Darfur. Is it too late in either case? Is one life more valuable than another? His closing statement sums it all up, “Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.”

Accompanying the cry for US military action in Darfur is a push to divestment from Sudan, much like what was done during apartheid South Africa. The US congress has called for sanctions and divestment, yet has ‘suprisingly’ taken no action to move divestment along. Yet again the US policy on Africa entails the action of a pen to paper. There have been numerous campaigns and petitions within the government and also outside the government to pressure the US government to drop interests in Sudan. Check out the full report by Africa Action (here).

More recently the insecurity of the region is driving out aid to millions as aid agencies leave to ensure their own safety. This will only intensify the humanitarian crisis already pushed beyond the tipping point. This crisis has met the drowning victim under the sinking boat level. We need to be the skilled rescue divers who can turn turn this conflict around through actions on the ground in the US and Darfur. There have also been reports that the Sudanese government continues to bomb the people of Darfur without holding back.

Yesterday I attended an amazing Hip Hop concert sponsored by the Spartans Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter at Michigan State University. MSU was just one stop on the national Save Darfur Tour. It was a great show with a fair attendance. The artists such as Alexipharmic and Freestyle spoke to the real issue at hand and our potential to make a difference. Besides being the best performers of the night, in my opinion, they also understood the complexity of the Darfur genocide. Freestyle of the Arsonists was an amazing performer. He had great beats with great lyrics and knew how to really involve the crowd of mostly stiff white college kids who had no idea what hip-hop was all about. I am not going to lie I was standing there in my shirt and tie (after coming from meetings all day) putting my hand in the air and feeling the beats. That made me think – what is the color of hip-hop? I concluded that hip-hop obeys no set rules so therefore it is not an only-black, or only-white thing. Freestyle also spoke to the myth that hip-hop is dying. Let me tell you hip-hop is alive and well, check out the artists of underground hip-hop and learn the history and ideal behind the movement. Hip-hop is not dead, I have seen it alive and well, knocking on the front door of my consciousness and directing my compass of compassion to empower the world!

what, are you serious?

I was going to be done for the year with the annual report, but recent events do not allow me to leave this year with something unsaid.

Today I had a dentist appointment. My teeth were first checked out and cleaned by the dentist’s assistant and as you all know, while they have those metal tools and the nifty little mirror in your mouth, they ask you questions and try to hold a conversation with you. You, the one with everything in your mouth. It started out normally – I was wearing my Michigan State University sweatshirt so I was first asked about college, how it was going, and then my major – International Relations and Global Area Studies: Africa specializing in International Development. Well now that changes the conversation to Africa. “Wow Africa, so what do you plan to do with that degree after college?” I said I was planning on doing the Peace Corps for two years and then whatever comes after. (most likely the Master International Program with the Peace Corps)

The assistant then told me some very interesting stories about people she knew who did related work in Africa. She talked about a co-worker who was a photographer and was about to go on safari in Africa to take pictures of wildlife, ‘wouldn’t that be fun?’ Then she noted with a degree of disdain in her voice that she would never go to such a dirty, sticky, tropical place with a bunch of mosquitoes and stuff. All I could think was ‘you have got to be kidding me!’ Is this still how most people think of Africa? I could not say much because of the tools occupying my mouth. Then she said something to the effect of ‘well whatever you want to do.’ To be honest I could not believe it and I was slightly taken aback by her perceptions of Africa. Thanks so much American mass media! That is a topic for another time, but this event has given me a sense that more people need to travel to Africa and see first hand the wonder and beauty and people. More people need to understand that actual people like you and me live in Africa everyday – they may not have as much ‘stuff’ as we do, but nevertheless they live incredible lives in that dirty, sticky, mosquito filled tropical wonder land that I have come to love.

On a more up-beat note, UN personnel arrived in the Darfur region of Sudan to support the African Union force, which is attempting to keep the peace as government backed militias spread destruction and terror with ‘rebel’ groups battling to keep the people safe. This is a large step towards a much debated hybrid UN force, backed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, being sent to the region to keep the peace. The African Union troops are under equipped and understaffed in this conflict. With the UN personnel also came equipment, including night vision goggles and armored personnel carriers. The goal is to eventually move to a hybrid UN-AU force of roughly 20,000 personnel. I believe that a positive step has been made here and it gives me hope for a future resolution of the Darfur conflict and the lives of those affected.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

beyond the tragedy, the hope of africa

Africa is far from being without tragedy, but when you look past all the blaring news article headlines you will see that there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African and its people. Beyond the Western media’s fixation with the African tragedy there is so much hope and joy that gets pushed under the rug. Why? Is it because there is an othering and the problems and issues are over there? Is it because there is no hope on the ‘dark’ continent? Is it because the West would rather not admit that Africa is ‘developing’ and is really doing well? There are plenty of articles in the news that would deter even the staunchest optimist. Most of Africa lives in extreme and absolute poverty. Crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a few other countries are far from resolved. The conflict in the DRC has been inflamed by its recent free election results. Uganda is moving closer to a peaceful resolution of its conflict, but the rebels have backed out again. There is growing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia. And now Chadian rebels are storming across the country capturing major cities. The conflict in the western Darfur region of the Sudan is becoming further and further from resolution it seems. The African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate has been extended, but a UN force is still being rejected. All these armed conflicts are frightening, but then there is also many preventable diseases and basic essential needs that kill more people each year. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem and has yet to reach its peak in Africa.

The first great example of African hope is the amazing diversity of ideas and cultures. The people are shaping a better future for themselves and advancements are being made. African culture is thriving. Before we, who are not in Africa, can begin to understand how to assist Africa we have to first understand the intricate links between Africa’s people, culture, and wildlife. Africa’s middle class is growing, African entrepeneurs are becoming more prominent and have incredible ideas and solutions to problems that they know and live with.

On the continent the advances in medicine, technology, and science are taking hold. I remember when I was in Africa almost everyone had a cell phone and could easily stay connected. Advances in medicine are slow to be adopted mostly because of their costly nature, but there are growing efforts to provide services. We all need to remember that Africans are not just vulnerable people, but also solvers of problems. They may live in dire situations, but they still have the capacity to run a more effective program that pinpoints the real issue, which many times Western donors miss. The greatest innovation that I have seen developed so far has been the PlayPump. Discovered and designed by a man visiting South Africa. The pumps are set up to provide children a way to release their energy on a roundabout and also pump clean water for their community. There is a wealth of children’s energy, but a lack of means to use that energy. The water pumped through play is then stored in a 600 gallon container with billboards promoting HIV/AIDS education and other healthy messages. These billboards assist in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the pump. No worries children are not forced to play or pump, they just enjoy playing and that helps their community to have clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in Africa and the ‘developing’ world. It is estimated that two out of every five Africans live without a clean water source. With the PlayPump children are able to stay in school instead of getting water. Women and children benefit from less injuries due to carrying heavy water containers over long distance. Women can focus more on their families and children with extra time not spent on water fetching. Some women have been able to start-up small businesses to provide an added income source and more food for their families.

Beyond the calls of corruption, falsified elections, and conflict between candidates, there is an increase in credible leaders in African countries. The first woman leader was elected last year. Leadership is growing as Africans step up to help one another and show their fellow citizens effective ways to improve life. There has also been a venture launched by an African millionaire to combat corruption within African governments. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese multi-millionaire, is offering $5 million to African heads of state who deliver security, health, and economic development to its people. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched on the 28th of November this year. This is obviously a very controversial idea and many have stated that African leaders that are oppressing and killing their people will continue to do just that. Mo Ibrahim has said, “The day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life.” The award will be given out as $200,000 for 10 years after the leader is out of office, so that the African leaders will have a life after office. Secretary General Annan has thanked Ibrahim for offering such a generous prize, but many still remain skeptical. Keep a watch on this one, time will tell if it will be successful.

Along with all the innovation and advancement there is also a great opportunity fro those of us in the ‘developed’ Western world. Doing your research, finding a sustainable project to assist, and becoming personally involved in working for Africa provides so many opportunities for personal development and happiness. I can tell you working in Africa is a joy and an amazing way to self-actualize your potential to change the world. Don’t wait, jump in – each year that you wait is a missed opportunity, each day that you do not challenge yourself is a wasted day, each minute is a lost life.

today in africa

As you may have heard Sudan has accepted a ‘hybrid’ UN peacekeeping force to help in the conflict torn Darfur region. Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, is awaiting a letter from Sudan and his top aide is warning of an ‘abyss’ of suffering if something doesn’t happen soon. Currently there is a mini-summit of African leaders happening in Libya to discuss Darfur. Also in the Eastern/ Central region, Uganda has taken great steps closer to peace. More is needed to make this peace successful. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has signed an agreement with the Ugandan Government to cease hostilities and release non-combatants, but more is needed to encourage regular face to face talks because the rebel leadership is still cautious. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the election has been finished and Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent Kabila, has been declared winner with a majority of votes coming from the Eastern region of the DRC. The opposition party has not taken the lose very well and there has been rioting and clashes with police in the DRC capitol of Kinshasa. Kabila has set an ultimatum for when UN peacekeeping forces can remove the rival soldiers from Kinshasa. The droughts in the Horn of Africa (namely Somalia, Ethiopia) and Kenya have ended, but now there has been flooding. It is estimated over 100 have died in the flooding. In France, arrest warrants were issued for nine aides to Rwandan President Kagame. They are accused of involvement in shooting down the plane of the former Rwandan president, one of the events leading to the genocide. Illegal immigration into Europe is worrying many EU leaders as the issue grows with the numbers of Africans seeking a better life in Europe. The HIV/ AIDS epidemic “is getting worse” and African baby deaths are “preventable.”

I know all this news may be a lot to take all at once, but this is what some people live with everyday, every single day of their lives is full of turmoil and strife. However, it is imperative to note that even as crisises grow and troubles spark – Africans love life and enjoying sharing their love with everyone. I can tell you first hand from my experience in Africa never had I seen such poverty and pain, never had I seen such joy and happiness. This news may seem all ‘bad’ news, but what I see is progress. African organizations are working to build stronger relationships, peace is closer than ever in many areas, drought is ending, and people are being held accountable for terrible pasts. I encourage you all to read the news from around the world from many sources and develop a global perspective.