Africa Blog Roundup: University of Timbuktu, Boko Haram and Cameroon, Bribes in Kenya, AFRICOM, and More

I suspect anyone who read news about Africa this week saw the controversy over the “Stop Kony” project launched by the group Invisible Children. I do not have much to say about it. I side with the critics of the project, but I also think the issue has been a distraction – as bloggers like Jina Moore and Andrew Harding have pointed out – from other, more important issues. Those wanting defenses or critiques of Invisible Children can find them easily; any round-up on my part would be redundant.

I found the most value in efforts to place the discussion in a wider context, such as Aaron Bady’s roundup “On the genre of ‘Raising Awareness about Someone Else’s Suffering’” and novelist Teju Cole’s micro-essay “Seven thoughts on the banality of sentimentality.” Finally, there is a lot to ponder in Max Fisher’s response to Cole – not because I agree with Fisher (I agree with Cole), but because of how keen Fisher (editor of the international channel at The Atlantic) is to police the boundaries of the debate. Fisher criticizes Invisible Children, but he dismisses Cole’s concerns about broader issues concerning white American activists and Africa as “resentment.” Fisher others Cole – prompting Cole to respond, “I’m as American as you” – and passes silently over Cole’s invocation of the contrast between white activists’ responses to the Iraq War and their responses to African wars. My question for readers is: What does Cole and Fisher’s interaction say about the tensions and limitations in efforts to examine America’s relationship with Africa?

On a lighter note, the White Nigerian.

Inside Islam continues a really cool series on important Islamic sites with a post on the University of Timbuktu.

Dibussi Tande has written a series, “Boko Haram and the Fear of Islamic Extremism in Cameroon.” Part One looks at possible connections between Boko Haram and Cameroon. Part Two looks at the history of Cameroon’s Islamic community, with an eye toward identifying trends that might create opportunities for Boko Haram there. Part Three assesses Cameroonian security forces’ responses to Boko Haram, looks forward to ask what chances Boko Haram has of establishing a serious presence in Cameroon, and suggests what Cameroon can do to prevent that.

Jimmy Kainja asks why Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika felt the need to say he will step down in 2014, given that he is constitutionally required to step down at that time.

Asch Harwood flags a new online tool, I Paid A Bribe, that activists are using in Kenya and India.

The Economist‘s Baobab makes the important point that killings and repression of African journalists deserve just as much attention as the deaths of Western journalists.

The lack of interest in their fate among their counterparts in Western countries is doubly demoralising given that Western hacks have rightly highlighted the sacrifice of their own colleagues who died recently in Syria and Libya. Just as dispiriting is the silence of donor countries. Britain, America and others appear intent on disbursing aid even at the expense of press freedom in Africa. More solidarity is needed.

Zach Warner critiques AFRICOM’s reading list.

6 thoughts on “Africa Blog Roundup: University of Timbuktu, Boko Haram and Cameroon, Bribes in Kenya, AFRICOM, and More

  1. There was a suicide bomb attack on St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in Jos. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility. Meanwhile, reprisal attacks have followed, 10 people killed.

  2. In defense of Western reporting, it might not be easy to get information on African, South American or Asian reporters who are killed*.

    *Though I suspect a large part of it is that it’s easier to get people in a nation angrier about the fact that one of their citizens was killed than what happens to citizens of another nation.

    • Fair enough. There is a parallel issue with kidnapping victims; the freeing of a Mauritanian police officer by AQIM got much less attention than the deaths of the two hostages in Nigeria, for example.

  3. On Asch Harwood and bribery – let’s stop pretending that an internet tool will eliminate bribery in Africa or that it would even have the slightest impact on it.

    Firstly, democracy is the rave in Africa, but nobody asks where the funding for electoral campaigns in nations as large as Nigeria or Kenya comes from. Even the richest Nigerian businessman will find it difficult to fund an electoral campaign and still remain solvent. Honest people don’t bother, so “American styled” democratic politics tends to attract the worst sort of people.

    Why are we surprised that African democratic politicians are corrupt? They have to recoup their massive expenditure, build up a war chest for the next set of elections, hire a private army of thugs and prepare for retirement. African politicians don’t have the option of making millions on the lecture circuit!

    On a more serious note, there is no point harping on bribe taking if we don’t consider a set of “campaign finance rules” for Africa.

    Secondly, nothing drives corruption like job insecurity. There are too many poorly (and infrequently) paid African civil servants and policemen for bribery to cease. Has anyone here actually queried an African civil servant/policeman on why they take bribes? They don’t like taking bribes (because it eats at their souls), but they have to take bribes because there are no alternatives if they want to send their kids to school (or in some cases feed their families).

    In Nigerian pensioners are paid infrequently, so every new recruit to the Civil Service understands that the game is “steal now and steal often, because when you retire you are on your own”. We can quarrel about the morality of this stance, but they’ve got to feed themselves.

    In summary, we cannot talk about reducing bribery without seriously considering what leads to bribery in the first place. After that has been done, we have to reform institutions and ensure that salaries keep pace with inflation. (Until Obasanjo came, Civil Service salaries in Nigeria were based on the rates of inflation that existed in the seventies. Even today, they are woefully inadequate – the N20,000 ($130) minimum wage almost certainly ensures that any person on that salary will (a) be unmotivated and (b) actively seek opportunities to demand for bribes.

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