Two days without opening my laptop – now that’s a vacation.
Logging on again today, four Africa stories that caught my eye:
– “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora”. Lydia Polgreen, writing in the New York Times, has a useful update on a very old Ghana story: attempts to rebrand Ghana as a homeland for Africans enslaved and brought across the Atlantic to return home to.
Ghana’s coastline is lined with European-built castles, some which preceded slavery, but nearly all of which were used in the slave trade. The well-preserved – and therefore all the more viscerally disturbing – castles at Cape Coast and Elmina are UN World Heritage sites and are widely visited by Ghanaian schoolchildren, as well as tourists around the world.
The Ghanaian government – and many Ghanaian entrepreneurs – would like to have a special relationship with African-Americans who are returning to Ghana to visit these sites, encounter Africa for the first time, and perhaps discover something about their roots. When Ghana gained indepedence in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah, who’d been educated at a historically black college in the US, reached out to the African-American community to welcome leaders, investors and artists back. But when Nkrumah was overthrown and Ghana’s economy crumbled, it became harder for the nation to try to lure anyone “home”.
Now the barriers are financial and cultural. When I walk down the street in Accra, I’m greeted again and again as “obruni” – a word that means both “white man” and “foreigner”. It’s a little disconcerting at first (it’s hard not to hear the word as “honky” the first few dozen times), but it eventually becomes clear that folks are simply looking for a way to connect with you, someone who’s clearly a foreigner in their midst. I encourage friends who are visiting Ghana to learn the Twi or Ga phrase which translates as “My name is not obruni – my name is…”, which tends to get laughter in response and often starts conversations.
But it’s obviously very different to hear yourself called “obruni” when you’re an African-American in Ghana. And it’s even harder to hear the message many of my African-American friends heard while visiting Ghana – that they were “lucky” because they “got to live in America”. While this may be an astonishingly insensitive thing to say to people looking for their ancestry after being uprooted by one of the greatest crimes in history, it makes some sense when seen from the perspective of a young Ghanaian. Many Ghanaians are desperate to emigrate to the US or the UK – it’s hard to understand, from that perspective, why people “lucky” enough to live in America would be looking back towards Africa.
Chippla’s running a series on Nigeria’s 2007 presidential elections on his blog, and offers a very helpful history lesson regarding Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s military dictator through much of the 1990s. Chippla believes that Abacha was on a path towards becoming “president for life” and thinks that Obasanjo may try for a third term, despite constitutional restrictions.
Abe McLaughlin does his best to explain the almost inexplicable conflict that threatens to restart on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. While the conflict is ostensibly about the dusty desert town of Badme – seized by Ethiopia in the 1998-2000 war, but awarded to Eritrea by a UN-sponsored boundary commission in 2002, McLaughlin makes it clear that the conflict is at least as much about two decidedly non-representative governments and their desires to hold onto power.
In case you didn’t spend Christmas Sunday reading the NY Times Week in Review… Michael Wines has an interesting piece on the politics of aid in Africa, titled “When Doing Good Also Aids the Devil”. One of the devils in question in Wines’s piece is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Wines is concerned that UN food aid being brought to Zimbabwe is being distributed – at government direction – primarily in rural areas, which helps cement the effects of “slum clearances” earlier this year, designed to move hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans from Harare to rural areas. Wines likens this to aid in Darfur which has helped keep refugees in camps, allowing government-supported Janjawid militants to cement their grasp on villages the refugees have abandoned.
When I link to stories on Zimbabwe either here or on Global Voices, I’m often reminded by my Zimbabwean friend Dumisani Nyoni that the situation in Harare is lots more complicated than is generally portrayed by non-African journalists. Dumi has an excellent critique of an earlier Simon Robinson piece in Time (which I continue to think is a good piece) that touches on some similar issues – I’m hoping Dumi will weigh in on the Wines piece as well, either in comments here or on his own blog.