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.

Africa Blog Roundup: Mauritania and Malawi Protests, Lebanese in West Africa, India and China in Africa, and More


Baobab writes about how Lebanese businessmen are prospering in West Africa:

Those in business say several factors have helped them to succeed. Most crucial are trade networks among the Lebanese diaspora and beyond, says Abdallah Shehny whose office-equipment business spans Sierra Leone, Liberia and Dubai. Contacts in countries Brazil to China—little trade is done with other African countries due to costs of overcoming poor infrastructure—are important for trade. But they also act as substitutes for the lack of local services such as access to finance. Family workers bring down costs.

Thousands Lebanese fled Liberia’s long civil war; those who stayed found plenty of opportunities for reconstruction. Many educated and well-off Liberians also left. But competition from businessmen from India and China is now growing.

Flexible responses to the changing political and economical situation has been key to the diaspora’s success, according to Mara Leichtman, an American academic who studies the Lebanese in Senegal.

Scott Baldauf looks at Indian-Chinese competition in Africa:

If it wasn’t already clear, India’s announcement of $5 billion in development deals in Africa should certainly put to rest any question of whether India is dedicated to doing business on the African continent over the long haul.

The pledge of development aid to African countries – essentially a fund to help African countries to meet their development goals – stands in stark contrast to Africa’s largest single trading partner, China.

While China trades large infrastructure projects (built mostly by Chinese labor) for access to African raw materials, India spends money on training Africans to develop their own countries. And while Indian countries certainly have come into Africa as investors, Indian diplomats are quick to stress that the relationship between India and African countries is more one of equal partners.

Loomnie posts an Al Jazeera documentary on Lagos.

G. Paschal Zachary gives his take on a recent article about corruption in Nigeria.

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discusses the organization’s response to the crisis in Abyei, Sudan.

Aaron Bady takes down Paul Theroux’s “myth of native intolerance” in Africa.

Any new blogs springing up?

Saturday Links: Somalia Violence, Nigerian Politics, Sudan and Ethiopia Elections, India and Africa

The long-awaited “Battle for Mogadishu” may not come at all: Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government opts for a gradual approach:

Officials familiar with the offensive’s planning said it was repeatedly delayed because the Somali army lacks equipment, training and a reliable system to pay its soldiers — problems that the EU hopes to address by training 2,000 troops under a plan it approved Wednesday.

Any offensive action will be more of a gradual expansion of the area under the government’s control, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said, claiming the media had misunderstood the government’s plans.

“It is not a big push. It will be gradual and well-planned,” Sharmarke said in an interview Wednesday.

U.S. diplomats have been pressing Somali leaders to detail the goals of the assault, to figure out how the U.S. could help. The Pentagon is considering dispatching surveillance drones and other limited military support. Somali Interior Minister of State Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig said there is already “strong collaboration” between the U.S. and Somalia on security, humanitarian and development issues and that U.S. surveillance planes already fly over Somalia’s skies, something Somalia encourages.

Meanwhile, violence continues.

Islamic clerics visit Nigeria’s sick President Umaru Yar’Adua.

“We set up the meeting because we wanted to know the truth to see whether he is alive,” [Imam Musa] Mohammed said. “We have now seen him and we are satisfied that he is recovering.”

He said Yar’Adua had some difficulty speaking, saying only one or two words to them. The president also remained seated during the meeting with his wife Turai at his side.

In other Nigeria news, the US has dropped extra screening requirements for passengers arriving from Nigeria.

Sudan elections boycott: will they or won’t they?

The government of Ethiopia accuses Human Rights Watch, VOA, and the US State Department of fomenting unrest in the country in advance of its May elections.

Senegal will soon unveil its controversial Monument of African Renaissance.

As a disagreement between Chad and the UN concerning peacekeepers continues, the UN replaces the head of its MINURCAT force.

It’s not just China in Africa: India‘s on the block too.

Bharti Airtel, India’s top telecommunication company, announced this week its purchase of a Kuwaiti company’s African operations.  The multi-billion dollar deal represents India’s biggest push into Africa.  Africa is on the radar of many Indian companies seeking to expand their businesses.

Comments and links welcome.