Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Again, I’m Confused

Posted by Gerald on July 17, 2007

As the U.N. moves with some speed (at least for the U.N.) to take some action on Darfur, opposition to the draft resolution has emerged.

Now we cannot be surprised when Sudan announces its opposition to a resolution that suggests the possibility of sanctions against – Sudan.  Hey, everyone is the hero in their own story.

South Africa?

What is the deal with Thabo Mbeki’s foreign policy?  Unhesitating support for Mugabe as he rides his country into oblivion.  Never a word of condemnation when the Zimbabwean government cracks down on its political opposition; but plenty of condemnation for anyone who calls them on it.  Now it’s let’s defend the poor genocidal Islamists in Sudan from the big, bad western imperialists?  Is he playing to domestic political interests?  Is this all about his standing in the African Union?  I mean given the historic links between ZANU and the ANC, I suppose I can get the Zimbabwe thing – but Sudan?  The victims here aren’t a bunch of white farmers (well, they aren’t in Zimbabwe either, but that’s the rhetoric) they are black Africans.

I don’t get it.


Posted in Africa, ANC, Darfur, news, opinion, South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, United Nations, Zimbabwe | Leave a Comment »

Another Ongoing Crime

Posted by Gerald on July 17, 2007

The Swiss government is going to return $6.6 million in frozen assets to The Democratic Republic of Congo.  This is money from accounts held by the late Joseph Mobutu (or Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga.)

This number might be impressive if most estimates didn’t place Mobutu’s assets at over $1 billion or more (perhaps considerably more.)  Mobutu has become the poster-boy of corrupt authoritarian leaders in Africa.  Some critics maintain that he was stealing more from Zaire on an annual basis than the west was supplying in aid.  Unofficial numbers have placed his wealth at $5 billion.  In 1997, the Kabila government claimed he had $7.7 billion dollars in Swiss banks.  After his death that year, Swiss banking authorities claimed he only had $3.4 million in the country.  Today’s story doesn’t explain where they found the other $3.2 million – maybe in the back of Eichmann’s old safety deposit box.  Even at the time, Socialist politicians in Switzerland accused the banks and government regulators of hiding funds for their old client.

Whatever the true figure of the money Mobutu stole from his country, this whole thing demonstrates a wider problem.  If the Swiss were complicit in Mobutu’s crimes, well, so was everyone else.  The western democracies and media will shake their heads and piously condemn the “tragedy” in Africa – but will never own up to their own complicity in that tragedy.  Mobutu got support from the U.S. because of the Cold War, he got support from European governments because of regional power maneuvers.  All of the above were willing to turn a blind eye toward his government’s action if it meant their nation’s corporations would get access to Congolese natural resources.  Even while complaining of the instability of leaders like Mobutu, western business has been ready to work with them as long as there was a good chance of extracting wealth and as long as the African government was willing to help out with access to labor and to keep that labor in line.

Even with the increasing gap between the rich and everyone else here in the US, every American except the poorest of the poor is substantially benefiting from living in a society that consumes the majority of the world’s raw resources in a given year.  Many of those resources – especially minerals that help make the computer I’m writing this on right now – come from places not that much different from Mobutu’s Congo.  Not all of the blame for Africa’s problems can be laid at the feet of the west, but we certainly have our fair share to own, and we have certainly allowed economic and political expediency to stand in the way of doing what is right in many cases.

What I’m saying here is not new.  Others have said it before, in more detail, and more capably.  Still, so long as it remains true, it needs to be said again, and again, and again…

Posted in Africa, Congo, History, news, opinion, thoughts | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Gerald on July 13, 2007

I just got an e-mail from one of my students in the online History of Africa class.  Due to personal issues he is withdrawing from the class, even though we are very near the end.  Here is my wow! from the message:

“After completing the opposing viewpoints readings* I decided to join the American Friends Service Committee, that way I can do some real advocating for African issues.”

*The opposing viewpoints readings are articles from a reader called “Taking Sides” about both historical and contemporary issues in Africa.


Posted in Africa, Teaching | 1 Comment »

Go Read This Blog!!!

Posted by Gerald on July 9, 2007

There is an excellent post on the Scholars and Rogues blog about the attitudes in the west about globalization and protectionism and the realities of Africa written from an African’s perspective.

Probably even more than the other things, this is about unwanted Western paternalism. 

You can find it here.

Go read it, it is excellent.

Posted in Africa, America, economics, globalization, inequality, International, protectionism, South Africa | Leave a Comment »

Kenya (updated)

Posted by Gerald on July 7, 2007

American politicians often hold up Kenya as an example of democratic success and stability in Africa.  This article from “The Nation” in Nairobi is looking back from nine years after the “Second Liberation.”  It is worth a read if you have any interest in Africa.

This is interesting both for its summation of where Kenya has gone, and as a good example of the problems that have and still do plague many of the democratic governments in Africa.

BTW: When this article got posted to the allAfrica website, KANU (Kenyan African National Union) got rendered as “Kanu”.  It can be confusing if you do not know what the KANU is.

(This editorial – also from “The Nation” gives a bit more context to the other one.)

Posted in Africa, History, Kenya, politics | Leave a Comment »

This is NOT a Good Sign

Posted by Gerald on June 27, 2007

At an ANC policy conference in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki is warning delegate that this isn’t the time to discuss the identity of his successor.

It is to early to be really alarmed, but given the track record of fledgling democracies in Africa (and the post-Apartheid regime there would still have to be considered “fledgling”) it is always alarming when leaders make noises about not being succeeded.

Posted in Africa, ANC, news, opinion, politics, South Africa, Thabo Mbeki | Leave a Comment »

Somalia again

Posted by Gerald on June 18, 2007

It looks like the deteriorating situation in Somalia may be leading to it becoming the next African hotspot to get ten-seconds worth of time on American news broadcasts.  Read more about it here.

No doubt our policy here will be as effective and helpful as our policies concerning Darfur, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and, oh yeah, Somalia last time.

Posted in Africa, news | Leave a Comment »

Climate Change and Darfur

Posted by Gerald on June 17, 2007

Balkan has an interesting post about the relationship between climate change and the situation in Darfur.  Read it here.

Posted in Africa, Climate Change, Darfur, international relations | Leave a Comment »

Idi Amin and Steve Biko

Posted by Gerald on June 15, 2007

I just finished watching The Last King of Scotland.  Like many other people, and even film critics, I was very impressed by Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin and I thought it was a good film.  One thing bothered me, though.

I generally do not care for criticism of a film for not being a different film.  For example, criticizing the Pirates of the Caribbean films for not being very dramatic or historically accurate.  They were never meant to be.  I do have a problem like this with The Last King of Scotland and it reminded me of a similar problem I had with another biographical file set in Africa – Cry Freedom.

In both films we have a story concerning a significant figure in Africa, in The Last King of Scotland it is the dictator Idi Amin of Uganda and in Cry Freedom it is the anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness movement Steve Biko.  In both cases we see fantastic performances, in the first case Forest Whitaker’s and in Cry Freedom the brilliant performance of Denzel Washington.  In each case, it is the African-American actor and the African character that dominates the screen.

My complaint about both films is that neither of them is actually about the African character.

The Last King of Scotland is actually the story of Nicholas Garrigan (ably portrayed by James McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who winds up as Amin’s personal physician.  He begins by being charmed then winds up horrified as he discovers who Amin really is and then winds up escaping Uganda, to go tell the world the truth about Amin (note this), aboard the airplane that evacuated the non-Israeli hotages aboard Air France Flight 139 before the Israeli commando raid at Entebbe airport.  Garrigan is a fictional character loosely based on a man named Bob Astles.

Cry Freedom is actually the story of a white journalist named Donald Woods (ably portrayed by Kevin Kline), who meets Steve Biko, becomes more radical through his acquaintance.  He finally earns the official displeasure of the South African government, especially due to his reporting after Biko’s death while in police custody.  The last part of the film chronicle’s how Woods and his family escaped from South Africa so he could write a book to tell the world the truth about Biko (coincidence?).

While both films are fine, both seem to assume that a story about Africa has to be told through the eyes of a white guy.  In each case a brilliant performance by an African-American actor is given second place to a capable performance by a white actor.  This is a common Hollywood trope, to give the film a “familiar” character through who the audience explores an “foreign” or “exotic” situation (see Dances With Wolves).  This makes some rather racist assumptions about what constitutes a “familiar” viewpoint, though.  It also isn’t necessary for a film to be successful (see The Last Emperor or Gandhi.)  Both films are laudable enough, but both would have been better if they had told the African’s story from the African’s viewpoint.

Which gets me to my last problem with The Last King of Scotland.  It contained a fascinating portrait of Amin, but there isn’t much of a portrait of Uganda.  There are images of poverty and of violence, but there is no real examination of why there is poverty or why there was violence.  The last part bothers me more here.  The rise of Amin, like that of any brutal dictator, is the result of specific circumstances.  It is the tragedy of Africa that this story isn’t completely unique, but it is still a disservice to Uganda to treat it and it’s history as an interchangeable backdrop.

Of course, this could be just because I teach African history and I’m overly sensitive, but I don’t think so.

Posted in Africa, film, International, Movies, opinion, reviews | 5 Comments »

Good News, If It Works

Posted by Gerald on June 12, 2007

Sudan has agreed to a peacekeeping force in Darfur.  Things in this region often do not work out as hoped, but at least this is a step in the right direction.

To help make this work, we need to see that the force is properly funded.  Please support Amnesty International’s work to do just that.

Posted in Africa, Amnesty International, Human Rights, International, politics, taking action | Leave a Comment »