Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading: Things Fall Apart (Classics in Context edition)

In 1958, a highly unusual manuscript arrived at the Heinemann publishing house in London. It was a novel, set in Africa, with Africans as the main characters, and written by a young unpublished African writer. Heinemann took a risk and published the novel. More than 50 years later that novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest novels of the 20th Century. Indeed, it frequently ends up on lists of the finest novels of all time. Achebe was 28 when the novel was published and several years younger when it was conceived and started.

I'm currently rereading Things Fall Apart in the Classics in Context edition. It contains a wealth of supplementary material including scholarly essays by Professor Simon Gikandi of Princeton University and the late Professor Don Ohadike of Cornell University. This book is a fascinating introduction for anyone who might be interested to learn more about African history and African culture.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Encyclopedia of African Politics: Two New Entries

The two new entries to the Encyclopedia of African Politics both happen to be TLAs-Three Letter Acronyms:

  1. GNU (Government of National Unity)
    In other parts of the world, a GNU (pronounced like the antelope) is instituted after a period of hostilities between two parties has been halted and the former enemies agree to work together. In Africa, the GNU is brought on by a disputed election: one or more of the parties contesting the election refuse to accept the outcome of the ballot, normally citing various irregularities. The winning party and the losing party or parties then take the country to the brink of civil war. And then, with great aplomb, steer the nation back to safety using a GNU.

  2. PIG (Party and Its Government)
    PIG is the name given to the almost universal practice in Africa of the ruling party extending its tentacles into the affairs and working of government to such an extent that the dividing line between partisan interests and national interests are blurred.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Phenomenal and the Fundamental

Dambisa Moyo (Foreign Policy, “The Next Big Thing: Africa,” May/June 2009) argues that the current global economic crisis could benefit Africa by reducing the supply of foreign aid to the continent. This is on the grounds that aid is not only ineffective but counterproductive (as so ably shown in her highly stimulating and readable recent book “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa”) and that the removal of aid will force African leaders to find alternatives.

Moyo states that “Africa’s renaissance is firstly economic” and gives a largely economic analysis of the continent’s predicament and possibilities—not entirely surprising perhaps since she’s an economist.

But this approach is somewhat misleading in that it deals with phenomena and not fundamentals.

It is true that the removal of foreign aid will prompt the search for other sources of funding. However, fundamentally, it is not true that these alternatives will necessarily be good, as we see from the recent history of aid-starved Zimbabwe, where hyperinflationary printing of money was used as an alternative source of government funding.

It is true that there have been some improvements in governance, access to telecommunications via mobile telephony, and financial systems in Africa. However, unless these improvements are fundamentally linked with the cultural and institutional entrenchment of democratic values, progress will be ephemeral and short-lived.

This is the basic challenge facing Africa: Not the need for a past-focused African Renaissance to restore lost African identity and pride; but the need for a future-focused African Enlightenment based on the best ideas and ideals, which Africans themselves create, adopt (regardless of historical or geographical origin), cultivate and implement. This is much more involving, but ultimately sustainable, than any other development strategy for it embraces all aspects of that quality that Africa and Africans have been in search of for so many decades: Freedom.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Larry Speaks

You know you've really arrived when you finally join the ultra-exclusive My First Name Is Enough Society. You know, the one with members like Oprah (Winfrey), Tiger (Woods) and Warren (Buffet), and whose latest inductee is Barack (Obama). Larry (Page) joined the club some years ago along with his partner Sergey (Brin). It's been over ten years (ten years and eight months to be precise) since they officially founded Google. A decade is a good time to stop, look around, look back, and look forward. And that is precisely what Larry did on the 2nd of May 2009 when he spoke at the 2009 University of Michigan Spring Commencement. He also collected an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree at the same event.

My favourite pearl of wisdom from his speech:
Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.

You may...


Or read:

The Full Transcript

Either way: Enjoy.

Beyond Aid

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda puts the case for a development agenda in Africa that is not driven by aid.

The pro-aid activists will, of course, baulk at the very idea: "African development without aid? Impossible!"

And yet consider the evidence:
  • No country in history has ever developed as a result of the injection of aid. (And before anyone throws post-World War II Europe at me, that surely was a case of reconstruction not development.)
  • The only available precedents of rapid socio-economic development have all, without exception, been self-driven.
  • Heavily aid-dependent countries have regressed not progressed as they've sunk deeper into the swamp of foreign aid.
Could it be that what the pro-aiders really believe, perhaps unconsciously, is that Africans are somehow incapable of doing what Europeans, Americans and Asians have done before them?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

UEFA Champions League

Last night: Disappointing but not entirely surprising: Arsenal beaten 3-1 on aggregate by our mortal enemies Manchester United. I hate to admit it, but we were completely outthought and outplayed by our opponents.

Tonight: Surprising but not entirely disappointing: Chelsea beaten 1-1 on aggregate by Barcelona (that pesky away goals rule again--sorry Chelsea) with Barca equalising in the 93rd minute courtesy of a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (there's just no other way to describe it) volley by the gifted Spanish midfielder Andrés Iniesta (watch out for him in the World Cup next year). The 93rd minute! What a game football is. I know, I know, it's only a game, but my, what a game! Cruel and cool, all at the same time. Unfortunately this match will also be remembered for some atrocious refereeing by this man. But anyway...

Upshot: The appetising prospect of a final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Wednesday 27 May 2009.

Lesson: Didier Drogba, who completely lost his composure after Chelsea's defeat, needs to cool down and learn Kipling's If off by heart. As should we all:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run --
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Life: Retrospective and Progressive

One of my favourite quotations is: Life must be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards. It originates from an 1843 entry in The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard. Here's what Kierkegaard originally said in context:

It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life can never really be understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting-place from which to understand it backwards.