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Archive for June 2009

Zenawi hinting departure?

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After 18 years at the helm of Ethiopia and increasingly autocratic tendicies over these years, President Meles Zenawi may be leaving office. This is what a piece from AllAfrica suggests.

A leader in the struggle against dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in the 1980s and 1990s, Zenawi ushered in a new era of multi-party elections in Ethiopia. He is rightfully commended for this. In recent years, Ethiopias has also produced one of the region’s highest economic growth rates.

The most controvertial of his three electoral victories came in 2005, when fraud and vote-rigging were rather evident. This election saw a significant amount of vioilence in its aftermath.

Heavily spported by the USA and Britain, it is hard to disentangle the straegic relations of these coutries with Ethiopia vis-a-vis Somalia and the increasingly tight grip of Zenawi and the EPRDF over Ethiopian politics, media and society.

A recent op-ed by David Dage for Project Syndicate, calling for more press freedom in Ethiopia, mentioned the following quote from a journalist:

“There is only fear, not freedom, of expression in Ethiopia.”

If true, Zenawi’s announcement of stepping down would be huge news. Should I believe it? Why isn’t this story getting more international press?


Written by Niall

June 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Africa, Ethiopia

When the History of the Development Debate is Written…

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…this paragraph from Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat should figure prominently when reflecting on the first half of this decade:

By the turn of the century, Western policy in the developing world was increasingly being set not in ministeril offices but by NGOs – organizations like Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid. The Make Poverty History campaign, pushing for the cancellation of Africa’s foreign debt and dramatic increases in Western aid levels, was gathering momentum. Jeffrey Sachs, the brilliant American economist who campaigned in favour of a massive hike in funding, appeared to have won the emotional, if not the intellectual, argument. Other analysts might shake their heads at Sach’s simplistic formula for the continent’s recovery, but he had successfully wooed pop-star campaigners like Bono and Sir Bob Geldof, and their abilty to mobilise a younger generation bored by traditional politics awed Western governments. Whether on the right or the left, political parties realised that promising to ‘save’ Africa was a potential vote winner in the eyes of an idealistic coming generation. No wonder members of the African elite, aware of these pressures, sometimes sounded unappetisingly smug when contemplating tortured Western attitudes to the continent. As one Kenyan newspaper editor told me: ‘What we Africans have realized is that your leaders need to lend to us more than we need to be lent to.’

See Chris Blattman’s review of the book.

Written by Niall

June 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Book release anticipation: William Kamkwamba’s Story

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Not published until September 29 of this year, William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (with Brian Maeler), is already on my reading list.

William, already a top blogger in Southern Africa, provides an example of an inventor and a man with a spirit for making dreams reality. I predict that it will be a worthwhile read for anyone interested in development, Arfica and invention. The power of human ngenuity should be a motivation for all of us who strive to improve living conditions throughout the world.

William’s home town is in Kasungu, Malawi, where I do a lot of my work. I hope to meet him once he returns to Malawi after an international tour of engagements.

Here is the twitter feed for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: http://twitter.com/malawindmilbook

And here is a short clip of William at TEDTalks.

Written by Niall

June 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm

“If you fight corruption, it fights you back.”

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Quoted from a recent article by Celia Dugger on corruption in Africa.

I am currently reading Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat, a thoroughly engaging account of John Githongo’s life and struggle to fight corruption in Kenya. This is by far one of the best books on contemporary African politics. In particular, it provides a very accessible introduction to Kenyan politics.

Githongo is one of the modern-day heros of Africa. Former head of Transparency International-Kenya, he was picked by an incoming President Mwai Kibaki in 2003 to be the anti-corruption head for the Kenyan government. Up against inertial tendencies toward graft and shady deals, Githongo quickly realized that the plague of corruption was deeply seeded in the upper echelons of Kenyan officials. Refusing to play the puppet, Githongo pursued a strategy of collecting evidence against fellow government officials by recording audio tracks of meetings. Carrying these tapes and other evidence with him, Githongo went into self-imposed exile in London.

In Dugger’s article, Githongo (now back in Kenya) is quoted:

“Going after big fish hasn’t worked,” he said. “The fish will not fry themselves.”

Written by Niall

June 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Africa, Kenya

Tagged with , ,

Global NYTimes

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I never understood the relationship between the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. IHT always seems to get most of it content from the NYTimes.

With the launch of its Global Edition, clearly the NYTimes is looking to fully integrate IHT with its regular operations. Directing your browser to http://www.iht.com also brings you to the NYTimes Global Edition.

Is this true witht he print eddition, too?

On first impressions, I like what I see. I fear, however, that this means that the IHT will only print NYTimes material.

Written by Niall

June 15, 2009 at 9:04 am

Posted in Journalism

Travel items for Africa

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Over at White African, there is a valuable list of items to bring along during travel in Africa.

The following are the five items that I have with me in Malawi that I have repeatedly thanked myself for bringing:

  1. Rechargeable batteries. Whether they be AA or AAA, batteries in Malawi are ridiculously expensive (once you exclude the generic Chinese “Tiger” batteries that last about 2 hours on a GPS unit).
  2. African history books. I get most of my contemporary African history from online sources, but nothing online can replace the in-depth and detailed histories laid out in some of the 600+ page histories of the African continent and its peoples.
  3. Ultra-light backpack. This is
  4. Netbook. This is a recent addition to my collection and probably one of the most useful items while doing field work.
  5. Comfortable shoes. Walking is inevitable. Might as well be soft on the soles.

The two most important tools I can advise to anyone traveling or working in Africa are not material items, however. Patience and curiosity get you further and provide greater rewards than anything you could pack in a suitcase.

ht to Kim.

Written by Niall

June 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Africa

Tagged with ,

Thembi Ngubane

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From the obituary of a woman lost at an all-too-young age:

this is Thembi,” began the diaries. ”Every morning when I wake up I run off to my drawer, take out the mirror and look at myself. Then I start to do my prayer. I say it every day every time when I am feeling angry.”

”I say, ‘Hello HIV, you trespasser. You are in my body, you have to obey their rules. you have to respect me and if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you. You mind your business and I will mind mine and I will give you a ticket when your time comes,” she said.

Ngubane was 19 when she was given a tape recorder to make an audio diary about living with HIV in a country where nearly one third of young women are infected with the virus.

Written by Niall

June 14, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized