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Category Archives: Reading
Africa has the largest river in the world, the largest desert in the world, an abundance of natural resources and is the second largest continent. Since mankind’s inception, Africa has rooted itself in the evolution of various countries. In The Amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts, Max Fisher examines how rich countries shrink and age over time while poorer countries expand rapidly especially Africa with an unprecedented explosion. My immediate reaction to Fisher’s point was first trying to figure out how the United States could possible have a negative trend in the future. Even after the 2016 presidential election, it would take historic changes and cemented laws to stop the United States from continuing its global development. I did not agree with Fisher’s point about China not ruling the world. With all of the recent investments in Africa and other countries I could see China competing for global dominance with the United States in a bipolar system. My opinion changed slightly after considering China’s law about one child per family. While trying to fix a short term issue China could have created a long-term problem where they will be dependent on a demographically smaller working class to provide for the young and elderly.
Africa is supposed to quadruple in size and North America is one country that is also reported to continue to increase. If the population of Africa is going to increase who is coming? I can understand if climate change forces people by the coast to evacuate their land, but Africa is a huge continent. One of Africa’s biggest concerns is the official corruption. When all of the expected emigrants make their way to Africa there should be someone to keep order as more aliens make their way into the foreign native societies? Nigeria has some of the worst corruption of the continent along with poverty and religious conflict. However, Fisher argues that Nigeria will reach the level of China even at the size of Texas. One reason I believe China succeeds is because of their political composure. If Nigeria can’t figure out a solution to their domestic problems then I can’t see Nigeria reaching their projections in Fisher’s graphs.
As people from different regions start to gather and coexist, they bring illnesses. Those illnesses have historically wiped out communities of people. In order for an African driven world to survive then I assume public health will have to be superb. Fisher argues that life expectancy will increase by fifty percent in Africa. I would be amazed to see part of that development. In North America the expected life span will be 89. Technology and medicine will have advanced beyond my imagination by that point. Fisher’s most interesting point was about the “youth bulge” created that results in instability and conflict. If the world does not commit to being more generous and open to the needs of others then the future leaders of the world could be its downfall. Millennials haven’t done so badly and we are the future leaders of the world.
Fisher, Max. The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts. Washington Post, July 16, 2013.
A renewed focus on African agency is central to Herbst and Mills predictions about the alternate futures that the continent of Africa faces. What is most interesting about the argument they have raised is the underlying issue that manages to tie together all of the hindrances that stagnate African growth. This underlying issue is a required revolution of culture, which is overlooked by the two authors, an embracement of new ideals, values, and ideologies that will allow the states to enact crucial systematic reforms. How else can democratic be embraced or women empowered if not for the fundamental concepts that accompany social reform towards liberalism? An important distinction of the culture is that the point is not that corruption and inefficiency are inherent in the African populace. It is that corruption, marginalization of population groups, ethnic conflict, etcetera have become more normalized facets of African society. Removing citizens from having to operate in these social systems can benefit states in the long run. Moreover, what this focus on African culture creates is a catch-22 styled complication for the next step for African states. In essence in order for African states to develop a middle class and the necessary economic infrastructure that guarantees long-term growth, a substantive culture or desire from the populace must be in place to allow for changes to be made. On the other hand, from a historical standpoint, the argument becomes that in order for African states to have a cultural change they must have the economic mobility that frees the lower classes to seek better policies from their government.
In specific response to today’s readings, the give & take scenario for Africa’s future appears to be the most plausible reality. The complexity and variance between African statehood suggest that a unified push amongst all nations has a relatively remote chance of succeeding. The completely opposite scenario, the maintenance of the status quo and lack of development, is equally unlikely for separate reasons. What the continental trend has shown is a mixture of strong and weak states that strive to focus on domestic improvement and seizing foreign opportunities. Taking into account that this reading originated from data in 2006, provides a different lens in which we process the scenarios because there is a full decade of knowledge that adds weight to the argument. In terms of Nigeria, South Africa, and other continental “powerhouses” there have been obviously marked improvements in terms of wealth, governance and potential interests.
Some additional comments include:
It is without a doubt that “first imagery” or who is the leader in any given nature is imperative to determining a countries future. Depending on who takes leadership and whether the character of said person can break the molds of action formed by their predecessor is instrumental to determining the future.
The first scenario, which is “Africa takes charge”, takes into account some of the external factors that remain out of Africa’s control. However, a thought to be further developed is how much of a unified Africa is in the interests of those abroad? The development of African statehood and even the ideology of Pan-Africanism can still pose a threat to foreign interest, and thus affect long-term improv
Herbst and Mills’ article on scenarios for the future of Africa effectively ties together the numerous issues and challenges that continue to plague African countries today. It provides an interesting interpretation of events and offers three potential scenarios for Africa in 2020, which is only four years away. The authors suggest that Africa will either take charge, “give and take,” or follow in terms of reforms and initiatives. Expanding upon themes and issues discussed in class, it seems that African countries tend more toward the scenario of “Africa Follows.”
The seven factors and driving factors that the authors suggest will propel change across Africa are still pertinent today. Economic growth, demography, democracy, external environment, the non-governmental sector, conflict, and diaspora, all continue to influence current, and future, political and domestic outcomes on the continent. In particular, economic growth, democratization, and conflict are likely the most pressing issues that have seen minimal improvements in the past 12 years.
The authors assert that economic growth is a necessary precondition for African stability and prosperity and argue that 6% is the target growth rate that countries should strive to achieve (3). Economic grievances are a common underlying cause of political instability and conflict across the world. Many of the same political discontent, rampant unemployment, corruption among elites, and concentration of wealth seen in African countries were also seen in the Middle East, and these factors directly contributed to the Arab Spring. The youth bulge is another critical factor that has exacerbated problems with the economy and prohibited significant improvements in stability. Moreover, the youth bulge and economic grievances have created stagnation or minimal improvement in African economies during the past 12 years. The significant economic growth the authors emphasized has largely failed to take root, which implies that Africa’s overall trajectory has experienced minimal improvement.
According to the article, stagnation and preservation of the present status quo do not bode well for the future of the continent. The “Africa Follows” scenario is the most accurate description of the current state of affairs across the African continent, as African countries continue to not necessarily drive the reform agenda (10). External powers continue to influence development throughout the continent, often acting in their own interests rather than those of African countries. Additionally, frustrations with political and economic reform, or lack thereof, do persist within African countries and continue to disenchant the general public. However the situations the authors predicted about Africa being a place of turmoil are not entirely as bleak or dire as they suggested in 2006 (11). Certainly, growth has been minimal and the status quo has not significantly changed, but many countries are in fact slowly making progress.
This article remains especially relevant today, as the debate over “Africa Rising” being a myth or reality continues on. It is not yet 2020, however 2016 is close enough to the author’s time frame to reevaluate the framework and scenarios they suggested. It is evident that while many of the problems and challenges they mention continue to plague Africa, 12 years is not enough time for significant political, economic, or domestic changes to occur. However, the destabilizing nature of maintaining the status quo and Africa’s continued movement to “follow” will likely be detrimental and a threat for countries in the future. Drawing on historical events seen elsewhere in the world, it is evident that there are patterns that emerge with regards to political changes and conflict, and that many of these events were set off by an unrelated or incendiary incident. The future of African nations and the continent as a whole remains uncertain; however, this article’s articulation of potential scenarios can still serve as a good framework for consideration and analysis. The article provides an interesting perspective for the future of Africa as a continent and considers individual variances that may also occur and puts forth relevant arguments for Africa’s future beyond 2020.
Word Count: 650
Herbst, Jeffrey, and Greg Mills. “Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future.”Brenthurst Discussion Papers, February 2006, 1-14.
The environment—weather, geography, shifts in patters of nature, etc.—may seem like one of the few uncontrollable and objective variables to interact with the political sphere, but the largest takeaway from this week’s reading is the politicization of the environment in modern African foreign and domestic relations. From how climate change might affect levels of conflict to external actors funding environmentally hazardous infrastructural projects, the earth itself has become a tool of politics. Across the African continent, the environment—as both talking point and tangible entity—is used by both regional and external powers to actualize both the soft and hard power increases that they seek. This trend is visible both within and across national borders.
In their journal article “Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict”, Hendrix and Salehyan explore if and how climate change impacts conflict in Africa, and though they conclude that changes in rainfall are not in and of themselves an issue of politics, “conflicts [do] arise over the distribution of resources rather than their absolute level.” Because climate change is a major facet of the monolithic “environmental factor” and impacts availability of resources, succesful resource distribution should be understood to include alleviation of practices that exacerbate the dangerous changes catalyzed by greenhouse gas emissions. Hendrix and Salehyan’s findings thus provide a theoretical framework for how climate change, political decision-making, and civil/social/violent unrest function in tandem. Because the distribution this research refers to is controlled by (depending on the case), local, national, or multi-national bodies, willingness to distribute in a way that minimizes environmental changes even at the expense of profit illustrates these actors’ commitments (or lack thereof) to the safety and stability of their citizenry. Professor Nelson’s research outlined in “Africa’s Regional Powers and Climate Change Negotiations” and Hensengerth’s “Chinese Hydropower Companies and Environmental Norms in Countries of the Global South” each help expand on this relationship between the environment and political motivations, nationally and internationally respectively.
The narrative of “Africa’s Regional Powers and Climate Change Negotiations” shows this phenomenon in the actions of national governments. Nations like Ethiopia, which stands to be majorly impacted by changing weather patterns, are willing to forgo expensive and time-consuming action to stall global warming in an effort to avoid pursuing an unpopular policy. Conversely, regional powers that stand to gain soft power by joining international efforts like the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, as South Africa did. And yet, South Africa continues to be one of the biggest users of coal energy, a huge source of fossil fuel emissions. None of these federal governments, even when feigning partnership against global warming, show a commitment to tangible actions that will reduce weather changes.
On an international level, China’s participation in building infrastructure in Ghana is a case study that illustrates the continued importance of international players exercising power in (what they perceive to be) weaker states. Political scientists, Hensengerth included, attempt to inflate the validity of the pursuit of influence and resources in such relationships, particularly in South-South cases. This line of argument often verges on neo-colonial apology, particularly when the building of a (lucrative) dam like the Bui dam no longer occurs in Western and more developed countries, where it has been deemed to likely to cause disaster.
All of this evidence becomes even more troubling when acknowledging the widely accepted theory of political science wherein social unrest allows those in power to maintain their power. An unwillingness to address climate change—and even a willingness to exacerbate it for the sake of profit—by national and international bodies shows a global trend of leadership failing to have their citizenry as first priority. It seems that power accumulation and maintenance have surpassed avoiding social and civil unrest, a conclusion made clear by the synthesis of these readings on climate change.
 Hendrix and Salehyan, “Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict in Africa”, Journal of Peace Research, 37.
Nelson, Michael, “Africa’s Regional Powers and Climate Change Negotiations”, MIT Press Journal, 124.
 Hensengerth, Oliver, “Chinese Hydropower Companies and Environmental Norms in Countries of the Global South”, Environment, Development, and Sustainability, 289.
An analysis of the domestic and international responses to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa provides a critical examination of Africa’s contemporary and historical position in global politics. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—ground-zero of the epidemic—each represent a distinct set of interests to some of the major global leaders. Despite some initial successes and the eventual eradication of the epidemic, the numerous failures of domestic governments in addressing the outbreak highlighted common deficiencies that many African countries need to address to start changing the homogenizing narratives about the continent. Moreover, bilateral responses during and after the outbreak revealed Africa’s most important ally in its quest for economic development. If Africa ought to leave the peripheries of international politics, there needs to be less reliance on outside help and greater efforts to strengthen domestic institutions.
The 2014 ebola outbreak was not only unprecedented in its scale but also unmatched in how quickly it spread across borders. While previous cases of ebola on the continent were contained and never reached above 300 casualties, there were over eight thousand deaths and twenty-one thousand plus suspected cases recorded within a year, across not only the three initial countries but also in Nigeria, Mali, and Senegal, among others. Insofar as travel to and from the affected areas facilitated the spread of the disease to other parts of the world, a more fundamental problem that helped the outbreak spread like wildfire was institutional failure. Although Kim Yi Dionne and Adia Benton claim to deliberately de-emphasize the role of institutional failure in their commentary, the authors included several pieces in their analysis that did just the opposite.
First, early response to the ebola outbreak in the three countries were poorly supported and coordinated by domestic governments. One of the reasons for that, the authors argue, was the underestimation of the epidemic’s potential by government officials. Even though there was limited experience with the disease in this part of the continent, President Alpha Conde of Guinea “claimed that the disease was under control and publicly criticized Medecins Sans Frontieres for issuing dire warnings about the outbreak” (Benton & Dionne, 2015). Moreover, even when there was a more aggressive domestic response to the epidemic early on, institutional failure also seemed to thwart efforts to stop the outbreak. In Sierra Leone and Liberia for instance, the presidents issued threats of prosecuting anyone hiding suspected cases of ebola, which the authors attest were ineffective. Lastly, each country’s dependence on foreign organizations to take a leading role in its health system further underscored the role of institutional failure.
The three countries’ current relations with China reveal that they could have built on existing partnerships to strengthen their domestic institutions. With China’s win-win approach to Africa, the governments could have partnered with Chinese firms to develop critical health infrastructures that would have helped them at least contain the outbreak. Nevertheless, China was probably looking after its own interests when it sent aid and personnel to help with the outbreak. The African Union should be taking a leading role in these times of crisis to minimize African states’ reliance on the West, which responded inadequately during the outbreak, and promote greater cooperation amongst African states in general. Guinea’s economy worsened after the outbreak partly due to a decrease in trading with Senegal and Ivory Coast after they had closed their borders.
- Benton, Adia, & Kim Yi Dionne. 2015. International Political Economy and the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak. Afr. Stud. Rev., 58 (01), 223-236.
- Taylor, Ian. 2015. China’s Response to the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa. The Round Table, 104 (1), 41-54.
- Abeysinghe, Sudeepa. 2016 Ebola at the borders: newspaper representations and the politics of border control. Third World Quarterly. (Access via Taylor and Francis).
Ian Taylor’s article titled “China’s Response to the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa” does an outstanding job in giving a background to the epidemic and by describing Chinese relations with Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone to show the stakes that Chinese had in helping the region. The article concludes on a provoking thought criticizing the ability of emerging powers like Russia and China to take on the responsibilities of global leadership. Though, Taylor’s criticisms are with foundation and it is true that China has economic interest and is motivated by maintaining its image, he fails to mention that China’s actions demonstrate a commitment to help and work with its trading partners given the resources that Beijing has.
The rise of China in Africa has been a wakeup call to Western countries, especially former colonizers, who have taken their relationship with African countries for granted (51). China is more willing to work with failed states, as seen with Guinea (44-45), and is willing to put up with government irregularities that other Western countries would not have ignored (48), making China a more appealing trading partner. Furthermore, African leaders seem to have more agency when dealing with China. This is not to say that Sino-African relations are without flaws, but it is to highlight that whether good or bad, African leaders have found more appealing to cooperate with China than other powers. Despite the growth in trade between China and Africa and China’s rise as an economic super-power, the country is still a developing country and is experiencing many hurdles in development and with the well-being of its population (51). Given China’s position, its contribution to relief effort is impressive.
Chinese officials almost always skew their statistics and make it difficult to accurately describe its effects on the continent since it only describes positive aspects and exaggerates them. China’s response to the Ebola crisis was certainly driven by the economic interest it had in the region and by the desire to keep its image and increase its diplomatic influence in the region as well. Regardless of its intentions, Beijing demonstrated a commitment to help its African partners given the lack of experience it has with the epidemic and the lack of medical capacity to even handle the virus (50). Comparing China’s contribution to the U.S. is not helpful given the differences in their ability to combat the disease and the amount of time each power has had as “leader” in the international community. The effort that China put in responding to the Ebola crisis suggests that Beijing is truly committed to helping its African counterparts and hints that Beijing may provide greater help in the future if it continues to grow and develop the infrastructure domestically and abroad to take on greater responsibilities globally.
Across all three readings related to the Ebola crisis in western Africa, a common theme that emerges is the persistent prioritization of foreign powers’ own interests over individual humanitarian concerns on the African continent. It is entirely rational for states to protect their own interest; however, the repeated emphasis on the political and security aspects of the Ebola crisis and the minimization of African issues led to a global disregard for the individuals experiencing the epidemic.
The rhetoric from foreign powers about the Ebola epidemic shaped the crisis largely as a political and security issue, rather than about humanitarian concerns. For instance, China’s response to the crisis mainly stemmed from their desire to support their own national interests by upholding their image as a “friend in need” and by being seen as “doing something” (Taylor, pp. 51). Western states further designated Ebola as a security crisis—not primarily a humanitarian health concern—and thus “seemed to put Africans who were ill and dying in the same category as politically motivated terrorists” (Benton & Dionne, pp. 223). For instance, government officials compared a travel ban from West Africa to banning private travel to Europe during World War II (Abeysinghe), thus framing the issue as a military problem with little regard for the human stakes in the Ebola crisis. Even the official United Nations response to the epidemic (the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response) was created primarily based on international security concerns (Benton & Dionne). In Australia, “compassion” for people suffering from the epidemic was weaponized as a political tool for domestic political parties. Foreign powers and the international community focused on their own interests and de-prioritized the humanitarian aspect of the crisis at the expense of the people most affected by the epidemic.
Along with treating the Ebola crisis as a security or political concern rather than focusing on the fundamental humanitarian issue, during the Ebola crisis foreign countries additionally dehumanized, minimized, and distanced African concerns. Abeysinghe noted that the discussion about the crisis generally ignored how Ebola was deeply impacting West African states and instead focused on how Ebola could “infect” the West (pp. 454). Similarly, it was only after a few people who had contracted Ebola entered the U.S. that significant concern and action on the crisis emerged (Abeysinghe). The political cartoon by André Carrilho shown above captured the intense media focus on the few infected people in the West rather than the thousands affected in West Africa. In addition to this disregard for Africa, discourse about the Ebola crisis included “othering and exoticizing narratives” (Abeysinghe 464). Through this dehumanization of the people suffering through the crisis, concerns were again shifted away from the people of Western Africa. The West African component of the Ebola crisis was so ignored by foreign powers that U.S. Senator Scott Brown actually proposed that the U.S.-Mexico border should be closed in response to the crisis (Abeysinghe).
Overall these three readings indicate how the international community responded to the Ebola crisis with deep self-interest. This manifested in 1) the treatment of the epidemic as a security and political concern rather than a humanitarian one, and 2) the minimizing and distancing of the concerns of the people of Western Africa. Together these two components served to reduce the focus on the well-being and support of the people and communities most impacted by the disease.
This is the article I was talking about in class. It brings a very interesting and different perspective to the whole China debate.
Also focuses on the history of China and Kenya relations, which is very important in understanding why China’s interest seem like they just arose.
Everyone should read it.
Séverine Autesserre did a great job explaining the unintended consequences of three dominant narratives that were used to explain the war in Congo (Zaire). I believe that international actors should be extremely cautious before intervening in dire situations such as the conflict in Congo. As much as external help is needed, international actors should first try to seek adequate knowledge about the crisis at hand, and they should also be cautious not to propagate pre-existing and potentially harmful ideas about a people or a country or a culture. I argue that the crisis in Congo would have probably ended in less than five years if the international community had not focused on telling a single story about Congo.
The first dominant narrative Autesserre focused on was the acclaimed cause of war in Congo, which foreign agencies claimed to be the illegal exploitation of minerals. She explains that European advocacy NGOs were the first to publicize this narrative. Some people believed that minerals in Congo generated the involvement of Rwanda. Some have also attributed minerals to be the source of funding for armed groups. Due to these reasons, international organizations amongst other actors alluded that the availability and illegal mining of minerals in Congo caused the war. They have also continued to spread this dominant narrative, which was attractive to many people since it played into the notion of the ‘resource curse’. Isolating one factor and identifying it to be the sole cause of such a large scale war (as it is comparable to World War 2) is problematic and also a short cut to identifying and solving problems. This shows a lack of initiative by the international agencies to dig deep and unearth the root causes of problems before committing to them. It also negates other factors which could be crucial in lessening the development of a war. For example, grassroots antagonisms, corruption, and the state of the government. Maybe trying to solve grassroots antagonisms would have prevented the multiplication of armed groups and hence slow down the intensification of the war.
The second dominant narrative explained is sexual violence as a consequence of the war. This narrative not only placed women, girls, and young boys at risk of being used as bargaining tools and hence worsening the situation instead of preventing it, it also ignored other forms of violence such as non-sexual torture and killings. In addition, donors and aid workers began using this narrative as a catch phrase when requesting funds. The latter result led to misuse of funds as some people victimized others i.e. by lying about rape in order to get a lot of funding for projects, while some Congolese women realized that they had to lie about being raped in order to get medical attention, which is just undignified. Margot Wallstrom termed Eastern Congo as “the rape capital of the world.” These narrative is dangerous because it did not prevent sexual violence but instead escalated it. Furthermore, it reinforced the idea that Congolese people are barbaric. If this narrative had been deconstructed, soldiers would not use it to negotiate terms, and hence they would have less bargaining power thus making them lose relevance.
The third dominant narrative saw state building as the solution to this wreck. I disagree with this solution one cannot mend something with a broken foundation. Maybe Congo cannot work with a democracy, can we find a new or different form of government in which its people will still be governed. We live in a world full of options and new ideas, thus it is lazy to claim that there is no other solution for Congo without dedicating studies, research, experiments to the cause.
- Autesserre, Séverine. African Affairs; Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences. (2012)
The Oil Curse
This idea of an ‘oil curse’ is seen in North and West Africa as well as in the Middle East. I have read about it in both courses and have seen very similar outcomes. First off, the discovery of oil actually happened quite recently in most of those countries (1950’s to 1970’s). So, there has not been enough time for these countries to react and develop accordingly. Being a resource/commodity economy means the market and thus your domestic economy is volatile. Because of this volatility many countries tend to nationalize their oil production, which means putting under control of the country and its leaders. This act inherently breeds corruption because countries have massive oil revenues and few or no checks and balances and the money’s distribution.
Michael Watts insists that the massive violence and corruption in oil states is not due to the commodity itself, but the centralization of the resource revenue. Furthermore Watts thinks the nationalization of a resource breeds the violence and conflict. To this, I agree to an extent, but maintain that without the resource countries would not have the type of violence they do. For example, violence would not be centered around the Niger Delta if there was no oil being produced there. The Niger Delta is sedimentary basin surrounded by few other available resources, yet migration has flocked there.
To think the nationalization of oil has led to the violence and conflict is a new point of view. From most articles I have read, the nationalization is always seen as an aspect of the overarching issues of an oil economy, not its own mechanism. However, Watts makes great points when discussing how Niger states are struggling to maintain their power because of the conflict arising from oil. Nigeria today has the largest economy in Africa, in large thanks to oil and the conflicts in the Middle East. It is important to remember that the United States and other nations came to Africa for oil because of the instability they saw in the Middle East and Venezuela. Therefore, Nigeria needs to maintain its stability if it wants to continue to capitalize on oil production.
While oil prices have plummeted, Nigeria has slumped into a recession. Similar to other oil curse nations, Nigeria relies on oil for 70% of its government revenue. Because of its lack of diversification, Nigeria cannot advance when oil prices and revenues are low. In MENA states, the decrease of oil prices usually means the decrease of government spending/welfare and distribution. Yet, the kings and royalty maintain their lavish lifestyles with the amount of oil revenue that came in. Many countries that have nationalized oil companies do not release public financial statements, so nobody knows what they are truly making or doing with their profits. The real push should be for diversification of the economy by putting oil revenue into infrastructure development. Meanwhile, citizens should be pushing for more transparency so the government can be held accountable for oil production and subsequent redistribution.