Yearly Archives: 2008

Leasing African Land

Time Magazine reports that  South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics leased 3.2 million acres of farmland from the Madagascar government. The land would be used as a farmland, and the South Korean company hopes this would help secure food supply for their country. The lease is for 99 years.

A Daewoo manager, Hong Jong-wan, told the Financial Times that the crops would “ensure our food security,” and would use “totally undeveloped land which had been left untouched.” Land is scarce and expensive in South Korea, which makes it the world’s third-largest importer of corn. Daewoo says the Madagascar land will be leased for a price of around $12 an acre, which is a fraction of the price for farmland in the corporation’s home country.

The full story is here.

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State Failure and Africans

At the urging of Oz of Mootbox, some months ago, I downloaded a podcast from the Cato Institute. While listening to the podcast I was almost screaming out at the suggestion of one of the panelists. Military strategist and historian Edward N. Luttwak suggested that African governments should be left to fail instead of being propped up by aid from developed countries. His argument, the substance of which is not exactly original, is that African states did not evolve like modern states did in Europe, and so the relationship between the people and the state in Africa is not the same as one would find, for instance, in Western Europe and Northern America.

Peter Ekeh and the two publics
Anybody who is familiar with the literature on state and civil society in Africa would be aware of a similar analysis. Prof Ekeh wrote, in a now much-quoted article,  that an average African has two publics, one was the civil public of the nation-state, while the other is the more relevant immediate group. The immediate group could be the age-grade, the hometown association or even the larger ethnic group. He argues that it is morally acceptable – and maybe even expected – that one robs the civil public of the nation-state to feed the more immediate public. Conversely, it is more of a moral hazard, and therefore more frowned upon, for one to steal from the hometown association or the age-grade association. (For more about Professor Peter Ekeh see here. To get the 1975 paper you would need a subscription, so if you would really like to have a copy leave me a message and I could try to arrange that.)

Back to Edward N. Luttwak
Mr Luttwak suggests that western governments leave failing African states to fail, arguing that that failure would lead to the growth of a more organic structure that is closer to the reality of African societies. Mr Luttwak’s mistake is that the African people of his imagining are long dead and gone; the Africans of today live in a world where there is a state, and where the state has its functions, and they are oh so well aware of that. Go to any village in western Nigeria and you would find how much of a reference point the state is, even if that reference is more about its absence and inefficiency. Ask them what they want and they would likely tell you that they would like the government to remember them, shortly after telling you that ‘ijoba o ranti wa’ (Yoruba for ‘the government does not remember us’). I might be economically liberal in many ways, but I understand the importance of a state. Just ask the directors of Lehman Brothers, or even the private-jet owning bosses of the big car-manufacturing companies in the US. The state is important, and perhaps even more so in less developed countries.

Somalia now
Probably the most vivid case for the importance of the state is that of the most (in)famously failed of all African states: Somalia. The problem that is the failed state of Somalia is most highlighted by piracy along its coasts. Most recently, the pirates have become much bolder and their attacks have become more frequent. For instance, the Sirius Star, one of the world’s largest oil tankers, was recently hijacked. The Economist reports:

As if to underline the point, the tanker’s capture on November 15th, with $110m of crude oil bound for America, was followed by several other hijackings by Somali pirates, including a Thai tuna boat, a Turkish chemical tanker, an Iranian freighter loaded with wheat and a Greek bulk carrier.

Still think there is no need for the state?
There is a great need to police the Somali waters, and one of the ways to do that is to strengthen the capacity of the state to police its own waters. Just so this is not taken as a call to simply equip the state with the latest warships, I hurry to add that increasing the capacity of the state should be a comprehensive approach. That approach has to include incentives to not become pirates. Job creation and the provision of basic infrastructure should be part of these incentives. While there is a need to link the two publics of Professor Ekeh, there is no over-flogging the importance of that civil public.

Hat tip to Mootbox

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Patron-Client Relations among Igbo Migrant Traders in Cotonou

I have again been away for a while. I got back to Germany and had to almost immediately start working on a conference paper. Last week I was in Chicago for the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. The abstract of the paper I presented is below.

Anthropologists of economic relations are well experienced in dealing with the deployment of informal relationships by economic actors. These informal relations are often based on kinship ties and patron client relations. The paper aims to examine a particular manifestation of a mixture of both kinship relations and patron client relations. Rather than starting off with any assumptions about the relationship between these relations, or discussing the functions they serve, the paper aims to describe the relations among Igbo migrant traders in Cotonou. The trade in used clothing in the Republic of Benin is not just dominated by Igbo migrants, but almost all of the traders are from one local government area of Abia state in Nigeria. Looking briefly at the history of the trade in used clothing in Lome and Cotonou, the paper presents an examination that shows the way a specific expression of patron client relations is structured. It describes the modes of recruitment of clients by masters who are often owners of big used clothing businesses; it also describes the way the relationship between the Master and the Boy, or very often Boys, is structured. The paper draws from a year-long ethnographic fieldwork on the informal trade in used clothing between Nigeria and Benin.

Gotham City

I was in Chicago last week for the African Studies Association Meeting at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Walking around on a windy night in downtown Chicago, looking up at the tall buildings in the foggy night, I had the feeling that I was on a movie set. I remembered reading somewhere that Gotham City was modeled after Chicago. A young lady said, some days later, that she saw the Batmobile during the shooting of The Dark Knight.

If you are ever in Chicago, a good place to visit is the Field Museum. It is great, and you might see your first dinosaur. The Art Institute museum is also a must see. The parks are also really, really great. Ok, I might have been infected just a little bit by the American propensity for the superlative.

And just in case you are wondering, I didn’t see Obama, but in a T-Shirts store, I met a manager who was grumpy about how much business they have had in the past few months. He said he had never seen anything like it before. Shirts with different messages about Mr Obama, the Democratic Party and the GOP were on sale. It was not difficult to figure out that Chicago was really very Democratic. And oh, there is now an Obama city tour, a bus ride that would take you around on a tour of the president-elect’s favourite Chicago spots. I wasn’t on that either.

Some pictures.

From my hotel room

From my hotel room

Downtown Chicago

Downtown Chicago

Michigan Avenue

Michigan Avenue

Nice legs close to the field museum

Nice legs close to the field museum

Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune

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Loving George Benson and Earl Klugh

I know, I didn’t decide to learn to play the guitar but the sax, but that does not mean I cannot show my love for these two brilliant musicians.

I used to be a member of a jazz club when I was in the university. It was called the Jazz Nucleus. We didn’t play any music of our own, we just hung out together, organised open-air concerts where we played the old standards and some much newer stuffs. Ok, Grover Washington Jr., George Benson and Earl Klugh were not exactly new stuffs, but they were not Charlie Parker, Satchmo or the early Miles Davis either. I didn’t ‘discover’ jazz when I joined the club, but my love and interest in it deepened during that period. I owe a lot to Yemi Akande, Tunde Otubanjo and every other member of the club.

I remember an open-air concert – we really only played CDs and tapes on loud speakers – in front of the Alumni Centre of the University of Ibadan. It was the Christmas season and we had rented some lighting that we put around the top of a tree that was in front of the Centre. We started playing at about 7pm and we played till 10pm. In the last thirty minutes we put off the flood lights, left the Christmas lightings on and handed each person who was there a candle. We switched to some slow and smooth jazz renditions of standard Christmas tunes. I was behind the music desk and I could see the look, from the candlelight, on the faces of the people. It was one of those moments you kick yourself for not having a girlfriend.

Yea, yesterday I bought Absolute Benson, Miles Davis’ Mellow Miles and Earl Klugh’s Living Inside Your Love. I have since been thrown on a nostalgic trip….

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Want to see a bit of the Niger Delta?

See this presentation on CNN. When we think of the Niger-Delta region and the movements we should remember that the region is one of the most environmentally degraded areas in the world, that this degradation happened in the recent past, and that it is still ongoing. We should not lose sight of that when we condemn the movements. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to show my support for the kidnapping of oil workers and their families, it is to provoke you to think about how life might be living under the conditions. Empathy has a serious role to play in understanding, and so proffering solutions to, the situation in Niger-Delta region.

A New Deal?

Paul Krugman thinks that Mr Obama has the chance of ushering in a FDR-like New Deal for the United States, but he thinks that Obama should be less cautious about his economic policies. He says that the shortcomings of FDRs New Deal, on the short run, was due to the cautiousness of the economic policies he introduced.

Barack Obama should learn from F.D.R.’s failures as well as from his achievements: the truth is that the New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious.

In another paragraph:

The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. F.D.R. thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.

The whole article, at Paul Krugman’s column, is here.

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Congratulations Mr President-Elect Barack Obama

This did not really come as a surprise now, did it? The polls said it, the pundits called it, and the outpouring of passion underlined it. Despite talks of the Bradley effect people kept believing that the change that Mr Obama promised – and indeed epitomised – would be realised. Now that it really is, we are relieved. Relieved mainly that the hope is realised.

In Europe
In Europe, Mr Obama has been close to the heart of the people. Last night, I learnt of an association of Obama supporters in my small eastern German city of Halle. I went to join them late in the evening to watch the early results on CNN. There seems to be a promise to be an improvement in relations across the Atlantic.

I am happy for Barack Obama, and I am happy for America. This is probably the greatest thing that has happened to America in recent history.

Thank you America for voting Obama

by Alfred Ochuma

The emergence of Barack obama as the first black presidential nominee of a major party in the U.S is no longer news – the news obviously is that the United States of America has once again re-assured the World that they are the world’s leading democracy. In the face of seeming racial inequality and perceived segregation, they willingly and enthusiastically, and with great aspiration and anticipation of a greater future, voted today the most intelligent, vibrant and dependable leader I have heard of in recent times.

The Senator from Illinois and the President-elect is a man who has proven bookmakers wrong in many occasions, a pacesetter of great repute, a campaigner for change, and above all an honest gentleman who needs no introduction.

Obama’s victory in today’s election should not be seen as a political victory for the U.S Democratic party alone, but a victory for the down-trodden, the neglected, the discriminated-against, the colored people of the world and above all, a victory for humanity.

The son of a Kenyan immigrant has proven that a man should not be judged by the colour of his skin or background, but by the content of his character. Martin Luther King,Jr. in his famous speech at Lincoln Memorial stated thus: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” Today that dream has become a reality.

Thank you America today for re-establishing your hope in the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr. who foresaw a day like this.

Thank you America for standing on the side of economic recovery, peace, unity and progress.

Thank you America for voting Barack Obama.

Free Jonathan Elendu Now!

I just read Jonathan Elendu’s brief summary of what happened to him. It is so sad that this can go on in Nigeria. It is really, really, very sad. I insist, like I did in the previous post I wrote on the topic, that the federal government of Nigeria needs to tell us what transpired. We need to know why Mr Elendu was arrested, held without trial, kept in solitary confinement, and why everything he came into the country with is still being held. In short, we demand that all information about this incident be made public. The list of countries that clamp down on internet journalism is a rather unattractive one. I would not want to have Nigeria on that list.

And, I join my voice to the voices of freedom-loving persons to say Free Jonathan Elendu Now!