Saturday, 27 March 2010

What exactly does "sub-Sahara Africa" mean?*

It appears increasingly fashionable in the West for a number of broadcasters, websites, news agencies, newspapers and magazines, the United Nations/allied agencies and some governments, writers and academics to use the term “sub-Sahara Africa” to refer to all of Africa (53 countries) except the 5 predominantly Arab states of north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and the Sudan, a northcentral African country. Even though its territory is mostly located south of the Sahara Desert, the Sudan is excluded from the “sub-Sahara Africa” tagging by those who promote the use of the epithet because the regime in power in Khartoum describes the country as “Arab” despite its majority African population.

As we now demonstrate, the concept “sub-Sahara Africa” is absurd, misleading, if not a meaningless classificatory schema. Its use defies the science of the fundamentals of geography but prioritises hackneyed, stereotypical, racist labelling. It is not obvious, on the face of it, which of the four possible meanings of the prefix, “sub”, its users attach to the “sub-Sahara Africa” labelling. Is it “under” the Sahara Desert or “part of”/“partly” the Sahara Desert? Or, presumably, “partially”/“nearly” the Sahara Desert or even the very unlikely (hopefully!) application of “in the style of, but inferior to” the Sahara Desert, especially considering that there is an Arab people sandwiched between Morocco and Mauritania (northwest Africa) called Saharan?

The example of South Africa is appropriate here. Crucially, this is a reference underlined in the relevant literature of the era especially those emanating from the West, the United Nations (principally UNDP, FAO, WHO, UNCTAD), the World Bank and IMF, the so-called NGOs/“aid” groups, and some in academia who all are variously responsible for initiating and sustaining the operationalisation of this “sub-Sahara Africa” dogma. The point is that prior to the formal restoration of African majority government in 1994, South Africa was never designated “sub-Sahara Africa” by anyone in this portrait, unlike the rest of the 13 African-led states in southern Africa, which were also often referred to at the time as the “frontline states”. South Africa then was either termed “white South Africa” or the “South Africa sub-continent” (as in the “India sub-continent” usage, for instance), meaning “almost”/“partially” a continent – quite clearly a usage of “admiration” or “compliment” employed by its subscribers to essentially project and valorise the perceived geostrategic potentials or capabilities of the erstwhile European minority occupation regime-led country.

But soon after the triumph of the African freedom movement there, South Africa became “sub-Sahara Africa” in the quickly adjusted schema of this representation! What happened suddenly to South Africa’s geography to be so differently classified?! Is it African liberation/rule that renders an African state “sub-Sahara”? Does this post-1994 West-inflected South Africa-changed classification make “sub-Sahara Africa” any more intelligible? Interestingly, just as in the South Africa “sub-continent” example, the application of the “almost”/“partially” or indeed “part of”/“partly” meaning of prefix “sub-” to “Sahara Africa” focuses unambiguously on the following countries of Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, each of which has 25-75 per cent of its territory (especially to the south) covered by the Sahara Desert. It also focuses on Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and the Sudan, which variously have 25-75 per cent of their territories (to the north) covered by the same desert. In effect, these 10 states would make up sub-Sahara Africa.

Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the five Arab north Africa countries, do not, correctly, describe themselves as Africans even though they unquestionably habituate African geography, the African continent, since the Arab conquest and occupation of this north one-third of African territory in the 7th century CE. The West governments, press and the transnational bodies we referred to earlier (which are led predominantly by West personnel and interests) have consistently “conceded” to this Arab cultural insistence on racial identity. Presumably, this accounts for the West’s non-designation of its “sub-Sahara Africa” dogma to these countries as well as the Sudan, whose successive Arab-minority regimes since January 1956 have claimed, but incorrectly, that the Sudan “belongs” to the Arab World. On this subject, the West does no doubt know that what it has been engaged in, all along, is blatant sophistry and not science. This, however, conveniently suits its current propaganda packaging on Africa, which we shall be elaborating on shortly.

It would appear that we still don’t seem to be any closer at establishing, conclusively, what its users mean by “sub-Sahara Africa”. Could it, perhaps, just be a benign reference to all the countries “under” the Sahara, whatever their distances from this desert, to interrogate our final, fourth probability? Presently, there are 53 so-called sovereign states in Africa. If the 5 north Africa Arab states are said to be located “above” the Sahara, then 48 are positioned “under”. The latter would therefore include all the 5 countries mentioned above whose north frontiers incorporate the southern stretches of the desert (namely, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and the Sudan), countries in central Africa (the Congos, Rwanda, Burundi, etc., etc), for instance, despite being 2000-2500 miles away, and even the southern African states situated 3000-3500 miles away! In fact, all these 48 countries, except the Sudan (alas, not included for the plausible reason already cited!), which is clearly “under” the Sahara and situated within the same latitudes as Mali, Niger and Chad (i.e., between 10 and 20 degrees north of the equator), are all categorised by the “sub-Sahara Africa” users as “sub-Sahara Africa”. To replicate this obvious farce of a classification elsewhere in the world, the following random exercise is not such an indistinct scenario for universal, everyday, referencing:
1. Australia hence becomes “sub-Great Sandy Australia” after the hot deserts that cover much of west and central Australia

2. East Russia, east of the Urals, becomes “sub-Siberia Asia”

3. China, Japan and Indonesia are reclassified “sub-Gobi Asia”

4. Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam become “sub-Himalaya Asia”

5. All of Europe is “sub-Arctic Europe”

6. Most of England, central and southern counties, is renamed “sub-Pennines Europe”

7. East/southeast France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia are “sub-Alps Europe”

8. The Americas become “sub-Arctic Americas”

9. All of South America south of the Amazon is proclaimed “sub-Amazon South America”; Chile could be “sub-Atacama South America”

10. Most of New Zealand’s South Island is renamed “sub-Southern Alps New Zealand”

11. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama become “sub-Rocky North America”

12. The entire Caribbean becomes “sub-Appalachian Americas”

So, rather than some benign construct, “sub-Sahara Africa” is, in the end, an outlandish nomenclatural code that its users employ to depict an African-led “sovereign” state – anywhere in Africa, as distinct from an Arab-led one. It is the users’ non-inclusion of the Sudan in this grouping (despite its majority African population and geographical location) but its inclusion of South Africa only after the latter’s 1994 liberation that gives the game away! More seriously to the point, “sub-Sahara Africa” is employed to create the stunning effect of a supposedly shrinking African geographical landmass in the popular imagination, coupled with the continent’s supposedly attendant geostrategic global “irrelevance”.

“Sub-Sahara Africa” is undoubtedly a racist geopolitical signature in which its users aim repeatedly to present the imagery of the desolation, aridity, and hopelessness of a desert environment. This is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of 1 billion Africans do not live anywhere close to the Sahara, nor are their lives so affected by the implied impact of the very loaded meaning that this dogma intends to convey. Except this steadily pervasive use of “sub-Sahara Africa” is robustly challenged by rigorous African-centred scholarship and publicity work, its proponents will succeed, eventually, in substituting the name of the continent “Africa” with “sub-Sahara Africa” and the name of its peoples, “Africans”, with “sub-Sahara Africans” or, worse still, “sub-Saharans” in the realm of public memory and reckoning.

*This essay is an updated version of a paper entitled "What is 'sub-Sahara Africa'"?, read at the IDeoGRAMS Conference: Contemporary Media, University of Leicester, 14 September 2007.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Jos - foregrounding a failed state

The concept “failed-state” carries an understandable melodramatic import! It refers to the inability or failure of a state to fulfil some of its key roles and responsibilities to its people(s) and others domiciled within its territory and consequently to its neighbours and the wider global community of states. According to the Funds for Peace think-tank, state failure materialises at three broad spheres of the lives of the people(s): social, political and economic. The following would feature among the key empirical determinants of this failure:
1. The state’s inability to provide security to its population. This situation may have arisen because the state no longer exercises control across part/parts or all of its territory. Factors such as catastrophic breakdowns in vital internal sociopolitical and economic relations, intra-regime fractionalism and rivalries, external invasion and occupation of territory, and unmanageable natural disasters would contribute to the failure. It could also be due to the state’s violation of the human rights of the people(s) including a deliberate state policy to embark on the destruction of one or more of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups, etc., etc.
2. The state’s inability to provide essential social services
(communication infrastructure, health care, education, housing and recreation, development of culture) to its people(s) or the state’s deliberate policy to deny or partially offer such services to some of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups… This failure could be the consequence of a state’s dwindling fiscal/material resources or just sheer incompetence in its management capacity. Alternatively, this inability points to the staggering nature of corruption and largely institutionalised norm of non-accountability in the access and control of public-owned finances by state officials and their agents.

There remains a lack of consensus among scholars studying the failed states of contemporary Africa on the terms of the evaluative parameters of this enterprise including the crucial constitutive timeframes of assessing and therefore concluding when this or that African state “began to fail” or/and when indeed it “failed”. There is a tendency by some experts to arbitrarily circumscribe the limit of the focus of interrogation to the so-called African post-conquest epoch (i.e., post-January 1956) with the underlying presumption that the state, as formulated and constituted on the eve of the “restoration of independence”, has a definitive and enduring internal logic to its being. In its annual 2009 “Failed States Index” publication, the Fund for Peace identifies the “worst 20 states”, 11 of which are in Africa. It is to one of these, Nigeria, that we should now turn.

For Nigeria, it was Jos, a city in its northcentral region, that the trajectory to its “failed state” status began. The year was 1945, 11 years before 1956 and 15 years before 1960 – the year of the presumed termination of the British occupation of the country. On 22 June 1945, Nigerian workers declared a countrywide strike to back their demands for a pay rise in response to their deteriorating social conditions, aggravated by the effects of the Second World War. Since the earlier strike in 1941, the cost of living in Nigeria had increased by 200 per cent. While European staff in the country had been paid a couple of “allowances” to cope with these skyrocketing costs, the occupation regime refused bluntly to make similar payments to Africans. The strike virtually paralysed Nigeria’s economic life. It went on for 44 days in the Lagos capital district, but even longer elsewhere in the country – up to 52 days in some places in the regions. The National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons, the vanguard political party for Nigeria liberation and its press (particularly West African Pilot and Daily Comet newspapers) supported the strike, highlighting the increasingly evident cooperation between the trade unions and the emerging political leadership in the struggle to achieve the country’s restoration of independence. The British however had successfully persuaded the predominantly Hausa-Fulani muslim north region, which was opposed to termination of its occupation of the country, to boycott the strike.

Nonetheless, the strike was an outstanding success. It was the most far-reaching mobilisation of labour in 60 years of occupied Nigeria and its political implications were not lost on the British. They banned the Pilot and Comet and openly blamed prominent Igbo leaders (including Nnamdi Azikiwe, the pre-eminent leader of the freedom movement who also owned and edited these papers), their political and cultural organisations for leading the strike. Such was the vitriolic nature of the occupation regime’s anti-Igbo propaganda on the strike that by October 1945 it became the instigator prop to Hausa-Fulani leaders’ organised massacres of Igbo immigrants in Jos and the surrounding tin mining towns and villages. Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during the pogrom and tens of thousands of pounds’ sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed. No perpetrators of these murders were apprehended or punished by the regime. As a result, emboldened Hausa-Fulani leaders organised yet another pogrom of Igbo immigrants in the north, this time in Kano, in May 1953, which coincided with the heightened debates among Nigeria politicians on the possible date for the formal termination of British occupation and the restoration of independence. In contrast to the Igbo and other nations in the south who favoured the year 1956 for both historic events, the north, as was expected, was vehemently opposed to any such dates. Essentially, the north unleashed the Igbo pogrom in Kano to scuttle these debates – which it succeeded in doing, with evident British relief and satisfaction. As in Jos, the occupation regime did not apprehend or prosecute anyone for these massacres and destruction.

In the meantime, the regime would spend 15 and one-half long years (March 1945-September 1960) working assiduously to ensure that Igbo people, who spearheaded the liberation movement to terminate its occupation of Nigeria, did not assume a leadership position in a post-conquest/occupation Nigeria. Britain also spent 15 and one-half long years (March 1945-September 1960) fashioning the institutions and processes that, in effect, choked off the possibilities of the emergence of a coherently organic state that would serve the interests of most of the African constituent nations in a future independently-restored Nigeria state. In 1951, Britain helped to found the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), an exclusive north-based retrograde feudal political party that opposed the restoration of African independence but supported indefinite British occupation. As a reward to north Nigeria’s steadfast support for Britain, the occupation rigged both the 1952 census results and the defining 1959 elections to the central legislature in favour of its Hausa-Fulani north clients.

It was therefore to the NPC that the British handed over supreme political power in October 1960 with the expectation that this anti-African freedom party would safeguard their vast economic and strategic interests in this southwestcentral region of Africa in perpetuity. Six years later, beginning on 29 May 1966, the north region, true to type, and other key sectors of the Nigeria political establishment (military, police, emirs, intellectuals, muslim cleric, feudal overlords, businesspeople, civil servants, varied regional/constituent nations’ leaderships, other public officials and patrons) with full complicity of the Harold Wilson government in London, launched the Igbo genocide. Throughout the slaughter, the genocidists had the following gruesome anthem in Hausa, broadcast over the authoritative Kaduna radio and television stations (variations on this anthem have since been adapted and re-broadcast elsewhere in Africa by genocidist journalists supporting the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur) with spot advertisements and editorial comments on the theme regularly reproduced in the mass-circulating New Nigerian and Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo newspapers:

Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property)

The Igbo genocide is the foundational and worst genocide in Africa of the 20th century. In response, the Igbo renounced their Nigerian citizenship forever. They created the state of Biafra in its place and tasked it to provide security to the Igbo and prevent Nigeria from accomplishing its dreadful mission. Between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970, 3.1 million Igbo people, a quarter of its population at the time, were murdered. The genocidists also sequestrated and pillaged the multibillion dollar-Igbo economy. Yet despite earning the gargantuan sum of US$700 billion in oil sales in the subsequent 40 years, a significant proportion of this from occupied Igboland in the Abia, Delta, Imo and Rivers administrative regions, Nigeria has cascaded into a degenerative slump politically, economically, intellectually, socially, morally and spiritually. For all intents and purposes, Nigeria collapsed as a state with any serious prospects in the wake of the Igbo genocide.

Just as in the antecedents established in the 1945 and 1953 Igbo pogroms, no person or institution in Nigeria or elsewhere has been apprehended or prosecuted for their role in the Igbo genocide. On the contrary, many operatives who worked as advisors, at varying layers of the genocidist command and control infrastructure, went to, or returned to universities and colleges as professors and researchers, some became university administrators, bureaucrats, media editors and executives, company chief executives and directors, ministers of state, ministers of religion, businesspeople; many of the commanders and commandants became generals and admirals and marshals, and state legislators, administrators and the like; some even sought the highest office of state – head of regime (Awolowo – genocide chief “theorist” and head of finance ministry – variously, without success; Gowon – chief commander – once, successful; Obasanjo – commander – three times, successful; Babangida – commander – once, successful; Buhari – commander – once, successful; Abubakar – commander – once, successful). Not surprisingly, the Nigeria state’s incessant murder of the Igbo has continued unabated despite the “formal” end of the genocide in 1970. The following years of additional murderous outrages illustrate the extent of this continuing tragedy: 1980…1982…1985…1991…1992…1993…1994…1999…2000…2002…2004…2005…2006…2007…2008…2009…2010…

Sixty years on, with the 2010 murders in Jos whose gory images have shocked the world, the wheel has indeed come full circle. Few now doubt that Nigeria is historically a cataclysmic failure. Presently, Nigeria is a grave danger to itself. It is a grave danger to its constituent peoples and nations, to its neighbours, to the west Africa region, to Africa and the wider world. The recent murders have exposed particularly the lethal fissures in a hitherto seemingly compact genocidist monolith. This fractionalisation cannot be contained.

The future for the nations and peoples of this region couldn’t be more reassuring on the morrow of that which was once genocidist Nigeria. Biafra and the other successor states, organically constituted, really have their work cut out. Their mission is not to begin to construct states that are merely post-genocide or post post-conquest/post post-“colonial” states (cancelling out that which was Nigeria here and there!) but a realisation, a reclamation of that which makes us humans and part of humanity. The new states have an opportunity to begin to build a new civilisation where human life, fundamentally, is sacrosanct. This is an inclusive state where women and men live as co-operators and co-creators in fundamentally transforming their society. This is a state that accepts and accords full rights to all minority groups, however defined. This is a state where people enjoy the rights to differ and to dream dreams and dream different sets of dreams as they choose. This is a state dedicated to furthering and nurturing the resilience of its people and to enabling them pursue their highest creative endeavours. This state continuously strives to remove all limitations in the paths of its people and committed to making life better and better and better. This is a state that primes its people to flourish. Finally, the long drawn out nightmare is over and truly we do stand poised on the eve of a new beginning.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Yoweri People's Democratic Republic

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda is unlikely to vocalise that classic dictum of absolutism, “L’etat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”), any time soon. No, he doesn’t have to. This is because the Museveni patrimony in contemporary Uganda state is writ large. Museveni, who has been head of regime since 1986 and had played a key role in the countrywide insurgency of the 1970s to terminate the Idi Amin vile dictatorship, is on course to stand for reelection yet again next year, after changing the country’s 1995 constitutional provision that had restricted occupancy by the president to a maximum of two 4-year terms. The top echelons of the country’s political, military and economic establishment are occupied by leading members of the Museveni family: wife Janet is not only “first lady” but cabinet minister responsible for the important Karamoja north region; son Muhoozi, who has commanded a special forces brigade in the military for two years, has now been appointed commander of the presidential guards and only few doubt that he is “heir apparent” despite the officially-designated republican status of Uganda; oldest daughter Natasha is private secretary to the president and her husband Edwin oversees a real estate empire which specialises on state contracts; second daughter Patience heads a major pentecostal church in Kampala that attracts an influential clientèle of worshippers; third daughter Diana’s husband’s (Geoffrey) consultancy firm specialises in petroleum oil prospecting while Museveni’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa is none other than the father-in-law of son Muhoozi; sister Miriam is administrator at the presidency and younger brother Caleb is senior presidential advisor on defence. The leader’s cousins and wife’s cousins and their in-laws and the in-laws’ cousins and the in-laws’ cousins’ cousins and their cousins make up an impressive network of this hardworking and dedicated apparatchik. It is surely ironical, in retrospect, that the sub-title of Museveni’s very informative 1997-published memoirs on the resistance during that tragic Idi Amin epoch in Uganda is captioned, “The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda”.

Yet, just to allay the concerns of some future sceptic who may not be too sure of the validity of the Uganda=Museveni plc prevailing geopolitical equation that most Ugandans recognise, it may be advisable for the regime to extend its legacy further by naming some noticeable landmarks, especially cities, towns, lakes, rivers, mountains, fauna and flora in the country after some of its illustrious personnel. Capital Kampala’s name should henceforth change to Kaguta, the leader’s middle name and the historic Makerere University renamed Museveni University. The beautiful city of Entebbe is henceforth called Janet. The majestic Lake Victoria that bears the name of a subjugating foreign sovereign of yesteryears now has a new name, albeit belatedly, appropriately called Lake Janet and the scrumptious tilapia therein acquires the name of the much-treasured initials, ykm. The delectable matoke national dish of course becomes mky, the reverse of those initials! The north town of Gulu becomes Miriam and Caleb replaces the name of Mbarara in the south.

Finally, those remaining locally entrenched references that are an uncomfortable reminder of that era of British conquest and occupation of Uganda such as Lakes Albert, Edward and George, Fort Portal and Mount Elgon require an immediate erasure for the following more deserving substitutes: Lake Kaguta, Lake Natasha, Lake Patience, Fort Diana and Mount Muhoozi respectively. Following from these transmutations, Victoria Nile and Albert Nile, the names of the two great River Nile tributaries, become Janet Nile and Kaguta Nile. For a more edifying and immortalising signature, cartographers must be alerted to the new name of the Republic of Uganda – Yoweri People’s Democratic Republic.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The state and African choices

Last week marked the 125th anniversary of the conclusion of the infamous 1884-1885 European leaders’ Berlin conference on Africa to formalise the pan-European seizure, planned occupation, and exploitation of the legendary riches of the African World. It is arguably germane that this anniversary slipped by with scarce notice but some of the enduring consequences of the curse of Berlin on Africa cannot be ignored. The prevailing grave politics and socioeconomics in particularly Nigeria, the Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Kenya attest to this.

These states of conquest (as well as the rest on the continent) have largely remained what they were since their 1885 terms of reference albeit with some doubtful African configuration since January 1956, beginning in the Sudan. Pointedly, two-thirds of the 15 million Africans murdered by African regimes in genocide and other conflicts on the continent since May 1966 are in Nigeria, the Sudan, DRC and Kenya. Why and How does a state exist to dominate, exploit, and, in such cases as in Nigeria and the Sudan, attempt to destroy some of its constituent nations?

As everyone knows, the states that Europe created in Africa in the aftermath of Berlin cannot lead Africans to the reconstructive changes they deeply yearn for after the tragic history of centuries of occupation. Such change was and never is the mission of these states but instruments to expropriate and despoil Africa by the conquest.

As in Berlin, states are not a gift from the gods but relationships painstakingly formulated and constructed by groups of human beings on planet Earth to pursue aspirations and interests envisioned by these same human beings. The flourishing age of organically articulated African-own states to radically transform depressing African fortunes in the contemporary world has already begun.