President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of DRC. Photo Credit: Paul Kagame
By Nick Branson and Jamie Hitchen
Staying Power: Referenda in the Republic of Congo and Rwanda have paved the way for presidents Sassou Nguesso and Kagame to extend their tenures. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), President Kabila appears intent on remaining in power beyond the end of his second term in November 2016. Kabila’s political machinations have been met with violent protest and international opprobrium. By contrast in Benin, incumbent president Boni Yayi has resolved to step down when he completes his second term in February 2016.
Africa Debt Rising: Sovereign bond issuance rose dramatically as commodity markets peaked in 2014, before tailing off as the price of oil and export minerals collapsed. With budget deficits approaching unsustainable levels in many countries and the supply of cheap debt in decline, some African governments face tough choices – cut spending or dramatically improve domestic revenue collection. This new reality will be inescapable for Zambia and Ghana in an election year. In 2015, their currencies were devalued substantially and visits from the IMF further raised concerns about the sustainability of debt levels. 2016 may see the IMF revert to a more familiar role of supervising austerity measures, albeit in a less conspicuous fashion than during the structural adjustment era; whilst Ghana accepted IMF support, Zambia has so far rejected a financial bailout package.
Economic Opportunity: African economies that rely heavily on oil and other commodity exports – including Nigeria, Angola and Zambia – continue to suffer due to low or declining prices. But this setback also provides an opportunity to focus on diversifying their economies. In Nigeria, there is much talk of revitalising agriculture. In East Africa, efforts are being made to reduce economic inefficiencies and improve productivity: progress in regional telecom reform, for example, demonstrates much from which the rest of the continent can learn.
Insecurity in Nigeria: Many Nigerians voted for Muhammadu Buhari because of his campaign commitments to tackle corruption and defeat Boko Haram. The arrest of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki for allegedly overseeing illicit and financially fraudulent transactions worth billions of naira is highly symbolic. Despite an announcement that the government has “technically won the war” against the Boko Haram insurgency, military action has not yet been convincing and the threat remains. The renegotiation of the Niger Delta amnesty and recent agitation by Biafran separatists illustrate the security challenges facing Buhari’s government.
Urban Transport: In September 2015 Addis Ababa opened the first part of a new 17km light rail system funded in part by Chinese investment. A similar venture that forms part of the urban plan in Lagos has been beset by delays. However, Governor Ambode of Lagos State has promised that the first line will be operational by December 2016. Dar es Salaam’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system failed to open as planned in October 2015 but is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2016. New urban transport networks will need to be affordable for the everyday commuter if they are to successfully reduce congestion and improve the productivity of cities.
Flying Donkeys: The world’s first civilian cargo drone station is set to open in Rwanda in 2016. “Flying donkeys” will be capable of carrying small packages across distances of up to 80km and could help to overcome some infrastructure challenges. Regulation concerning the use of unmanned vehicles is in the process of being drafted by Rwanda’s civil aviation authority and a successful pilot should see a nationwide network of cargo drone routes established.
Sorting out the Union: The post-election crisis in Zanzibar has highlighted the shortcomings of Tanzania’s current political configuration and reignited calls for power to be shared more equitably among the constituent parts of the Union. Tanzania remains the only African nation to possess a dual-government structure, a lopsided arrangement that falls short of being a fully-fledged federation. Zanzibar retains its own executive, legislature, and judicial system; while a parliament in Dodoma and a president in Dar es Salaam take decisions for both the mainland and the Union as a whole. Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, may consider constitutional reform as a solution to the impasse in Zanzibar; however, he will face resistance from his own party, which has repeatedly rejected changes to the status quo.
The Prominence of Social Media: African youth harnessed the potential of modern communication tools to mobilise protests in Burkina Faso and South Africa, successfully preventing a military coup and halting significant rises in university tuition fees. Twitter hashtags are becoming important tools for mobilisation and are likely to become more prominent as the cost of communication decreases. Governments are already responding to this perceived threat. Tanzania rushed through four pieces of legislation relating to access to information, media, statistics and cybercrime in 2015, while Nigeria may adopt a social media bill in 2016.
The Battle for the ANC: In South Africa, rumours have been circulating about plots to oust President Zuma mid-term. Zuma famously usurped Mbeki as ANC president at the national conference in Polokwane in December 2007, positioning him to become head of state, following the April 2009 elections. Zuma’s decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister was an assertion of his authority that backfired. With the ruling party likely to lose control of important metropolitan authorities at municipal elections in 2016, the campaign to succeed Zuma will dominate South African politics right up until the next ANC national conference in December 2017.
A Changing Climate: In 2015, flooding in Freetown and Accra devastated urban areas whilst El Niño brought drought to rural Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Unpredictable weather will be a continuing feature in years to come, despite the agreement reached at COP21 in Paris. Long term commitments can work alongside short-term solutions: improved urban management and support for the growing of drought resistant crops like finger millet. But weather can also offer opportunity for the continent. Renewable energy, in particular solar, wind and geothermal, has been cited as a key avenue for tackling the power deficit on the continent by African Development Bank president, Akinwumi Adesina.
Nick Branson and Jamie Hitchen are researchers at ARI.
Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, a high school student from Long Island, N.Y., has a big decision to make soon. The Elmont High School valedictorian has been accepted at all eight Ivy League schools!
Schools in the Ivy League are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.
She also gained admission to Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Augusta is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, and she said her parents instilled in her the value of education.
“Though I was born here in America, I visited Nigeria many times,” she told WABC. “And I’ve seen that my cousins don’t have the same opportunities that I have. So definitely, whatever I do, I want to make sure that it has an impact on Nigeria.”
She also says that her own tenacity and persistence helped shape her into becoming a great student. But as with a lot of students, she did face hardships with some classes.
“I’ve struggled with numerous classes in the past,” Augusta told the station. “But I guess what allowed me to be successful, ultimately, in those classes, at the end, is my persistence and my tenacity.”
Augusta hasn’t decided which college to attend, but with a GPA of 101.6 and a recent invitation to the White House Science Fair, there’s no doubt that she’ll continue her academic excellence.
There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.
Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.
Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.
Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.
According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.
In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.
“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.
Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.
In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.
Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.
The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.
“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.
Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.
Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.
In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.
In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.
Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.
In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.
Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.
Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.
For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.
Senegalese military personnel are voting in a national referendum on March 13. The rest of Senegal votes in the same referendum on March 20. The military is voting early so that it can be alert during what is hoped will be a peaceful vote. Dakar, the capital of this country of fourteen million, is decked out in posters shouting “Oui”: vote “yes” for strengthening democracy and the rule of law. The referendum concerns reducing the term limit of the presidency and other initiatives. It is a reminder that this is a sub-Saharan African country that is a historically stable democracy, in a region that has seen coups, dictatorship and most recently, Islamist extremism.
A week in this West African state gives an idea of the security challenges it is facing. Dakar port, which is the second largest after Ivory Coast’s Abidjan, is an entree to West Africa and a gateway to Mali, where France intervened to prevent a takeover of the country by Islamist rebels and their allies in 2013. The security here is noticeable, with private security running checks on passengers, and a local police and gendarme detachment. The Senegalese navy is based here and the coast guard does regular patrols from the harbor.
Soldiers have been deployed in districts where there is nightlife in Dakar. Hotels in the capital have also upped security after the attacks on November 20 in Bamako which killed twenty, on Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on January 15 which killed 30, and in Ivory Coast on March 13. Much of this security seems symbolic rather than necessarily reflecting deep experience or expertise. But there is no doubt that Senegal is taking it seriously and most of those we spoke with felt there was a terror threat and that leaders were cognizant of it.
Senegal’s capital may be 1,200 miles from Ouagadougou, but it feels much closer. If terrorists could slip into that country and attack a hotel, couldn’t they do it here, which is equidistant from Mali or Mauritania where the extremists operate. The U.S. Army’s Flintlock exercise which began on February 8 in the village of Theis an hour east of Dakar, is symbolic of the faith Western powers and regional powers put in Senegal’s influence and its desire to be vigilant against extremism. U.S. Army Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc said of the thirty-nation exercise that “it is more than a military exercise, we are training together to increase our interoperability and collaboration to counter today’s threats.” Senegal led this year’s exercise.
Aminata Touré, a former prime minister and currently adviser to the president says that one of the great long term threats to security can be youth unemployment. “There is a relationship between instability and youth unemployment. That is the first threat to security and social stability. Of course, we are concerned by security issues, we are surrounded by countries with troubles.” Many Senegalese emphasize that the country was able to prevent Ebola from crossing the border after the outbreak in West Africa in 2014, which points to an ability to close a porous border if necessary.
According to local security analysts the Senegalese army is of a high quality compared to its neighbors. It does not play a role in politics, an issue that has harmed armies in other countries in this region because of suspicion between the presidential guard units and other units. Senegal’s army also has experience fighting in Mali and most recently in Yemen, where it sent 2,100 troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in May of 2015. SO far, more than a dozen Senegalese have joined ISIS and related groups. In December, for example, one medical student at Senegal’s largest university posted on Facebook that he had gone to join ISIS. Four local imams were arrested in November for supporting extremism. A Pew Research Center poll released the same month showed that while 60 percent found ISIS unfavorable there were 10 percent who found it more palatable.
Many local experts say that the tradition of large Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal means extremists have difficulty taking root. Professor Ibrahim Thioub, the rector of the University Cheikh Anta Diop, says that on the fringes of these brotherhoods are figures who are marginalized and punished if they promote extremism. “The brotherhood knows how to discipline these urban youth leaders. But the problem is the Salafists who exist in Senegal since the 1950s. The radicalization in the last years, it is slightly more, but not like in Mali, or Mauritania, because there is something else. The brotherhoods are able to organize and have a strong network.” He argues that even abroad, where Senegalese might be exposed to extremism—in France, for example—these brotherhoods have local chapters and encourage moderation and a very Senegalese version of Islam. Amsatou Sow Sidibé, a former presidential candidate, agrees that the people of Senegal are the strongest asset the country has against the regional developments:
“[Terrorism] is terrible. We must have solidarity both of the people here and of the countries. It’s not good. We haven’t had any acts of terror but we don’t know. It is a possibility. We don’t have eyes to see the future. We must be vigilante, and the public must be educated to be vigilante.”
Part of that vigilance is relying on these local brotherhoods and citizens to inform on any extremists who may be operating. The concept is to rely on human intelligence and the strong social solidarity in Senegal which is different than some of the region’s states whose instability led to the rise of groups like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS. In some cases these extremists preyed on tribal, ethnic or religious differences, or perceptions that the government was suppressing local people. Senegal, whose population is 95 percent Muslim, appears to have very strong feelings of social solidarity.
Nevertheless the fact is that Senegal has become a base for many regional embassies, due to the Ebola outbreak in neighboring states and to the country’s relative stability. That means Senegal has a strong foundation of international support but also is a target. Those foreign embassies, foreign nationals, hotels and NGOs can all present a target—like in Bamako and Ouagadougou—where Islamists seek to carry out spectacular attacks to harm the image of a country through mass murder.
So far, Senegal’s decision to send troops abroad has given its army experience, and its hosting of regional security exercises such as Flintlock are a welcome development. The key would be if the country could project its stability to neighboring states, and anchor the West African security system against the threats of extremists.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The article was published in the National Interest Online.
On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.
Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.
What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.
This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:
“If America is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America. Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.”
This is the same Ben Carson who used this closing statement at the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C., by imploring Americans to join him “in truth and honesty and integrity.”
Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
And yet, on Friday, Carson endorsed one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in recent presidential election history, a man for whom “truth and honesty and integrity” are infinitely malleable, and easily discarded, concepts, and whose rallies have been plagued by vileness and violence.
Carson, like so many conservatives, isn’t truly interested in unity as much as silent submission, a quiet in which one can pretend that hostility has been quashed, all evidence to the contrary.
These are folks who view discussions about reducing racial inequity and increasing queer equality as divisive. They are people who see efforts to protect women’s health, in particular their full range of reproductive options, including abortion, and to reverse our staggering income inequality as divisive. Indeed, the very words white supremacy, privilege, racism, bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and poverty are seen as divisive.
Somehow, they think, these very real oppressive forces will simple die if only deprived of conversational oxygen. In fact, the opposite is true. By not naming these forces and continuously confronting, they strengthen and spread.
Carson’s endorsement further tarnished his already tarnished reputation. He validated and rubber-stamped a grandiloquent fascist who is supported by a former grand wizard.
All Carson’s calls for civility were in that moment proven hollow.
No wonder so many Americans despise politicians and see them as soulless and without principle. And although both these men pride themselves on being political outsiders who’ve never held political office, they are undoubtedly political animals and relentless personal brand promoters who chase a check over a cliff.
But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. Carson and the real estate developer are not so different from one another in this predilection for outrageous utterances, it’s just that one smiles and the other scowls.
This is the same Ben Carson who called President Obama a psychopath who is possibly guilty of treason and was, oh my, “raised white.” He has accused President Obama of working to “destroy this nation” and compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers.
This is the same Ben Carson who on a radio show in 2013 said of white liberals:
“Well, they’re the most racist people there are because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box — you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”
This is the same Ben Carson who has compared women who have abortions to slave owners, who said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — yes, he’s obsessed with slavery — and that being gay is a choice because people go to prison straight and leave gay. On the issue of whether a Muslim should allowed to be president, he said:
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Carson isn’t the only one. Chris Christie’s endorsement of the front-runner is just as baffling and unprincipled. As The Los Angeles Times put it:
“Christie had spent years curating an image as a policy-focused administrator who reached out to Muslims and Latinos, and he was rewarded with rock star status in the national Republican Party. Now he’s backing a candidate who has insulted minorities, shown a casual disregard for policy discussions and is reviled by the party’s establishment.”
And yet it is Carson’s endorsement that I find more interesting, not because it will have a greater impact, but because he and the front-runner are two sides of the same coin: they are both dangerous, but one is a narcissist who just might win the nomination and the other is a near-narcoleptic who never had a chance.
Early on Wednesday evening, as the sun began to set and the air cooled to just below freezing, police arrived at a unremarkable white home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a few blocks from the campus of Indiana Tech. We do not yet know who called them or what they expected. Inside, they found the bodies of three young men, shot multiple times in what police, on Friday, called “execution style” murders.
The young men were members of a predominantly Muslim diaspora community whose roots are in Africa’s eastern Sahel region. They were Muhannad Tairab, age 17, Adam Mekki, age 20, and Mohamedtaha Omar, age 23. Police have identified no motive in the killing, which appears to be something of a mystery.
The modest white building had apparently become something of a “party house” used by local youths, but police said there was no known connection to gangs or any other violent organization.
Were they killed for their religion? A police spokesperson cautioned against jumping to conclusions, stating that, as of yet, they had “no reason to believe this was any type of hate crime, or focused because of their religion or their nationality whatsoever.”
Indeed it may turn out that there was some unseen force at play here: gang violence, a robbery gone awry, some personal dispute. Nonetheless, it seems impossible, at this point, to completely rule out the possibility that this could be exactly what Muslim American rights group already fear it may be: an expression of America’s increasingly violent Islamophobia problem.
There were the murders, almost exactly one year ago, of three Chapel Hill students, by a local man who’d expressed a paranoid hatred of religion. Later that spring, the FBI arrested the leader of a far-right militia that was planning to massacre a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in upstate New York. Another militia, in Texas, has sent its assault rifle-wielding members to stalk a local mosque and its adherents, later publishing the home addresses of “Muslims and Muslim sympathizers.”
More isolated acts of violence — what we might call “lone wolf” attacks had the religions of the shooter and victim been reversed — have been so frequent they are difficult to track.
On Thanksgiving, a Pittsburgh man accosted his Moroccan cab driver with questions about ISIS, then shot him. Two weeks later, a Michigan man called an Indian store clerk a “terrorist” before shooting him in the face. On Christmas eve in Texas, a local man charged into a Muslim-owned tire shop and shouted “Muslim!” as he opened fire, killing one and critically wounding another.
Less than a week ago, a Missouri man charged at a Muslim American family with a handgun, telling them, “This state allows you to carry a gun and shoot you. … You, your wife, and your kids have to die.” The family was able to flee.
This has not come out of nowhere. Islamophobia has entered mainstream American discourse in the past year, receiving substantial airtime on cable news networks. CNN anchors have called Muslims “unusually violent” and “unusually barbaric”; Fox News has called Islam a “destructive force” and suggested that Muslim American communities are running secret terrorist “training camps.” Presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Marco Rubio continue to dabble in overt Islamophobia.
It is important to caution against assuming that whatever happened this week in Fort Wayne, whatever chain of events led to the mysterious “execution-style” murders of three young men, must necessarily be part of the rising wave of Islamophobic violence in America. Police are presumably cautioning against that conclusion for a reason, and it may well turn out that their deaths are entirely unrelated.
Still, it is difficult to ignore that three apparently Muslim young men have been murdered, for no immediately obvious reason, just as indiscriminate violence against Muslim Americans is growing out of control.
It is thus concerning that these murders have received so little attention, if only for the possibility, however remote, that they could be part of this trend of religious violence against American citizens.
As a thought experiment, scroll back up to the top of this page and read back through, but this time imagine that the Muslim victims of violence, in every instance, were instead Christian. Imagine that the perpetrators had all been Muslim, and had targeted their victims explicitly because of their Christian faith.
Imagine that, rather than Donald Trump calling for banning Muslims from entering the US, it was Rep. Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, calling for banning Christians. Imagine that Rep. André Carson, who is also Muslim, complained bitterly when President Obama responded to anti-Christian violence by visiting a church, and that Carson further argued America should be willing toclose down churches and anywhere else dangerous Christians might congregate.
Now imagine, amid all this anti-Christian violence and anti-Christian hatred, as Christians were gunned down in the street for their religion and crowds of thousands gathered to cheer anti-Christian rhetoric, that three Christians youths turned up mysteriously executed a few blocks from Indiana Tech. Ask yourself whether it would be treated as major news, if only for the possibility of its connection to that wave of violence, or whether it would be largely ignored, as the murders of Tairab, Mekki, and Omar have been.
Photographer Glenna Gordon spent months capturing female Muslim writers whose books are among the dozens of cheap, pamphlet-style novels popular across markets in northern Nigeria.
Known as “littattafan soyayya” – meaning “literature of love” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language – the plots all revolve around love and marriage. But not all the stories are Mills and Boons-style fantasies: some are subversive or political, tackling subjects like child marriage and trafficking.
The movement was born in the northern capital of Kano in 1990, when author Balaraba Ramat Yakubu published Sin Is A Puppy That Follows You Home. The novel was based on her experiences of being a child bride before being divorced and destitute by the time she was 19 years old.
Gender disparity is high across all of Nigeria, but particularly in the Muslim-majority north, and many of the authors struggled to get an education. A minority are encouraged to pursue writing by their families. But all face public censorship. In 2007, then-governor of Kano, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, publicly burned the novels, which he claimed were “pornographic” and out of line with northern Nigeria’s traditional values.
In her book titled Diagram of the Heart – named in the style of the pocket-sized novels – Gordon shows another side to a region known to the outside world primarily for attacks from Islamist militants Boko Haram.
Gordon, who has also tackled subjects such as the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, also documents the weddings and glamour that accompany life in northern Nigeria, which revolves around family ties.
To check out more of the photos, visit the article, which was originally published in BuzzFeed.
It’s 8 a.m., Congress isn’t in session and Washington’s roads are icy, but more than 100 ambassadors, academics, African emigres and heads of humanitarian groups have crammed into a basement room of the U.S. Capitol for an unofficial meeting about how Boko Haram and other terrorism groups are stunting African progress.
The regular breakfasts are the brainchild of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is frustrated by a lack of attention paid to the continent and sees her own constituents with deep interest in policy toward Africa.
“In community organizing, you believe that the best policy is made by having those people that are most affected by the policy at the table. It’s not rocket science. If you do policy in a vacuum it can have unintended consequences,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
Bass first got involved in African policy because of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s when she co-chaired the local Southern Africa Support Committee.
“I stopped doing international work and just focused on domestic work. One of the reasons I was excited about coming to Congress is I could do both,” Bass said. “I really took almost a 20-year hiatus away from foreign policy.”
She views it as her responsibility.
“The same way it was my responsibility to figure out how to address the gang and crack intersection in South-Central, I also felt it was my responsibility to help fight to end apartheid and especially the U.S. government’s policies,” Bass said.
When she joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee after taking office in 2011, Bass said it didn’t feel like those actually affected by the committee’s decisions had a voice.
“When I would go to hearings on Africa, you would have no Africans participating, but they are sitting there in the audience while we’re talking about their countries. That just seemed odd to me,” she said.
She is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. Other Foreign Affairs Subcommittees focus narrowly on one or two subjects.
“That in and of itself to me kind of says that Africa is not a big enough priority to have its own focused subcommittee,” she said. “We could go easily a month or two without having a hearing on Africa [with] so many subject matters.”
Bass said she’s gone out of her way to work with the Foreign Affairs Committee, not supersede it, by having committee leaders co-host the breakfasts or speak.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said a wider group of people are excited about legislation before the committee because of Bass’ breakfast meetings. He’s spoken at a few.
“It’s effective,” he said. “Karen Bass is able to strategically use the enthusiasm of those who participate in the breakfasts in order to try to assist us.”
Royce pointed to several cases, including a bill recently signed by President Obama aimed at electrical infrastructure around the continent, the global anti-poaching act and congressional response to Ebola.
Bass said Africa may seem so far away to her Los Angeles constituents, “but we have a huge diaspora community in L.A.”
Her district includes Little Ethiopia, a block-long stretch on Fairfax Avenue between West Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive.
“Even Little Ethiopia is a commercial strip. It is not like Ethiopians reside in that area. I’m sure some do, but that area’s very, very mixed,” she said.
She plans to talk with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council about a trade mission and also a seminar to connect federal agencies with private businesses interested in investing in Africa, Bass said.
This year she wants to coordinate with the African diaspora living in Los Angeles and hold a policy breakfast in the city so her constituents can be heard too.
“I know there’s a huge Nigerian community, Cameroonian, and there are seven official consulates for seven African countries, and then there’s about another five honorary consulates,” she said. “There should always be a voice. If we come up with a policy we want to bounce it back and forth. You want the people that are most affected also pushing for the policy as well.”
Nii Akuettah, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus, a coalition of immigrant groups in Washington, called Bass “a big champion for Africa.”
“There is a great deal of good will in the African community here for her and on the continent for her,” he said.
The periodic gatherings draw members of Congress, ambassadors from African countries, emigres or diaspora, and other people who have a stake in the United States’ policy regarding Africa, such as businesses, State Department officials and academics–and often the groups are “not on the same page,” Bass said.
The meetings began as a way to draw attention to reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. First created in 2000, AGOA gives special market access to certain sub-Saharan countries that maintain legal, human rights and labor standards. In June, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation extending the act until 2025.
The talks continued, with a focus on trade and economic development between the United States and African countries. Topics have ranged from Ebola to elections to electricity, and the July 2014 breakfast was also about instability because of Boko Haram, the northeastern Nigerian Islamist group.
Bass said Boko Haram must be addressed when looking to set policy about Africa’s future.
“You can’t talk about economic development, you can’t talk about the implementation of AGOA in countries without security and in countries that are not stable or are being destabilized because of Boko Haram,” she said.
“When you look at the number of people that have been killed by Boko Haram, it’s more than the number of lives lost to ISIS. I think part of our job here is raising the consciousness in the U.S. that just because something is happening on the continent, that doesn’t mean that it does not have international significance,” she said.
It’s her goal to reshape U.S.-Africa relations.
“We still kind of view Africa as a charity case and not as a continent that is a partner. Unfortunately, I think the United States is behind the rest of the world, because the rest of the world sees Africa as much more of a partner than we do,” she said.
The original article was published in the Los Angeles Times.
It was sitting in a conflict resolution lecture – an intern in my early twenties and eager for life – when I knew that was it, I wanted to be an aid worker. I wanted to be the one who makes the difference.
I started my career as that obscure national staff member who took the minutes at important meetings and was good at it. Many times however, I would be the only African in those meetings and my role would solely be to take minutes. Strangely, and contrary to popular belief, minute taking is the best way to learn and adapt to new concepts. Nobody noticed me, or asked for my opinion; even when what they discussed affected how much food I had at dinner. So I listened, took notes and learned. Soon I knew more than most people coming to the meetings.
‘It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room to bring the reality of my home, my continent.’ Photograph: Alamy
A few years later, I landed my first international job. I had managed to convince a HR officer that I knew what I was doing better than anyone else going for the position, and that I deserved the job. This time, I became the obscure African girl who could relate to the context and whose opinion was closest to the reality of those affected by crisis. The room would fall silent when I spoke, and I felt relevant. I was making the difference, and I thought I was good at it.
That was until I was told: “you speak African, we cannot understand what you say”. That was actual feedback I got from one capacity building initiative set up by an organisation specifically to raise the profile of its “native” staff. I wanted to get on though so I changed my accent, pronouncing phrases like IDP camp as “IDP kemp” instead of “IDP kamp” in order to appeal more to an American audience. Now I start to construct my sentences before I pronounce them. I’m no longer making the difference, I’ve become an illusion of it.
The continent I call home is now “the field” for me and my colleagues, and the people we are contracted to serve have become indicators in the reports we churn out. When I’m in the field, the only difference between me and the starving mother of seven who I’m excited to photograph (in order to attach to my trip report), is the sheer fate that life brought us. Because I know how it feels to be hungry and desperate, I take it upon myself to make the field more than just numbers and check boxes. At the next meeting, I make a point to remind everyone that we are here to serve human beings.
The room falls silent when I speak. I notice a slight look of surprise from those around the table. I’m used to this, an expectation that I, like others would attend and take notes, agreeing to everything. But I’m no longer the obscure African girl that impressed her European audience because she is fluent, outspoken and confident. I am part of the decisions made on the lives of people. That is enough to outweigh comments like “you have such impressive intelligence” or “you don’t sound like most natives” that often come from well-meaning colleagues but are condescending and disrespectful.
I speak out when the politics of aid stops it from being useful, when we get derailed by bureaucracy and forget the starving mother of seven who hopes that her picture attached to a foreign report will provide her next meal. It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room full of white faces to bring into the room the reality of my home, my continent.
The silence in the room has stopped bothering me, and I no longer care that I must introduce myself multiple times to people because “all Africans look the same”. I am making a difference, even when it is sometimes difficult to see it. I remind myself that my place is deserved, I earned it and that I owe it to myself and others to let my presence be the difference.
Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a program jointly funded by the U.N. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.
Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund.
Sunkutu said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the U.N., in its program materials, referred to the drones only as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — not drones.
“We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.”
Less than than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.
“We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,” Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.
The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a program in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.
The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.
Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.
Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionize women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.
Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to Huffington Post. In June, a Dutch organization called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable program for delivering contraceptives by drone.
Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionize other areas of rural African life., starting with family planning.
“They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,” he said. It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.”
Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is an author who has written a number of books on the history and experiences of African people.
Recently there have been rumors that Beyonce is planning to write and star in a film about a woman named Sarah Baartman. That is an important story that needs to be told. During the period of slavery and colonization African women endured a number of abuses. The case of Baartman is perhaps the best example of how African women were degraded and treated as sex objects. Baartman was an ethnic Khoikhoi woman who was born in South Africa. She was taken to Europe where she became a freak show attraction because of her features, especially her large buttocks. She became a sort of symbol for the hypersexuality and inferiority of African women.
Baartman died in 1815 at the age of 25. Baartman had died an impoverished and alcoholic woman who had turned to prostitution to support herself when her novelty wore off. Her sexual organs were persevered and placed on display in Paris. It was not until 1974 that her display was removed and her remains were finally returned to her homeland for burial in 2002. Although Beyonce denied the claims that she was planning any movie on Baartman, the story is one that does need to be told so that people can understand the extent to which African women were degraded and reduced to sex objects for the entertainment of European men.
As important as Baartman’s story is, I also think there are many other African women whose stories are worth being made into films as well. In the media there is definitely an under-representation of strong and powerful black women, which is a stark contrast to Africa’s own history, which is filled with examples of powerful women that ruled kingdoms. In speaking of his native Guinea-Bissau, Amílcar Cabral stated: “You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos Islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens.” For this reason I will present a list of some other African women that also deserve having movies made about them.
Queen Makeda is held in Ethiopian tradition to be the Queen of Sheba that is mentioned in the Bible. The Bible briefly mentions the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, but provides very little information about the Queen of Sheba herself. The Kebra Nagast tells the story of Queen Makeda, who is described as the powerful ruler of a wealthy kingdom who is curious to test Solomon’s purported wisdom. She decides to visit Solomon in Israel. The Kebra Nagastrecords that Makeda was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and was so interested in “the God of Israel” that Makeda converted to Solomon’s religion. Makeda returned to her kingdom in Ethiopia where she gave birth to Solomon’s child, a boy who was named Menelik. This story forms the basis of Ethiopian monarch’s claim to have a direct lineage to Solomon.
Nzinga was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms which were located in present day Angola. She is best remembered for the resistance that she put up against the Portuguese slave traders in her nation. Nzinga was a brilliant stateswoman who fought the Portuguese for decades until the two sides came to form a truce. Nzinga was described as the greatest military strategist that the Portuguese had ever confronted and as someone who was dedicated to destroying the slave trade. Among her own people she was a very respected and beloved ruler.
Yaa Asantewaa, like Nzinga, is remembered for her military prowess. Over a span of nearly 100 years, the Asante people of Ghana fought a number of wars with the British, winning a good portion of those wars before finally being conquered in 1900. Leading up to the final war the Asante ruler Prempeh had decided to peacefully surrender to the British to avoid another war, but the British provoked a war when Governor Sir Frederick Hodgson requested that the Golden Stool of the Asante people be brought to him for him to sit on. The Asante people considered the Golden Stool to be so sacred that not even the Asante king himself sat on it. Yaa Asantewaa was so angered by the disrespect that was shown to the Asante people that she urged her fellow Asante citizens to take up arms to defend the Golden Stool. In the subsequent war the Asante people were defeated by the British and Yaa Asantewaa was exiled, but the Asante people generally remember this war as a victory because they prevented the British from capturing the Golden Stool.
Aside from her role as a military leader, Yaa Asantewaa was a stateswoman who served as the queen mother of the Asante district of Ejisu. After her son was exiled along with Prempeh, Yaa Asantewaa served as the king of Ejisu. Yaa Asantewaa was known as a just ruler who hated to see people being mistreated. She would use state funds to settle the debts of some of her poorer subjects to prevent them from becoming debt slaves.
Funmilayo Kuti was the mother of famed Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Funmilayo was a nationalist who fought for the independence of Nigeria and along with her husband, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, Funmilayo was involved in anti-colonial organizations such as the West African Students Union. In 1947, Funmilayo led a group of women in protest against the District Officer of Abeokuta. Fela later spoke of this incident with pride, recalling how his mother had insulted the highest representative of the British crown in Abeokuta. For the courageous manner in which Funmilayo took on the colonial government she was popularly known as the “daughter of Lisabi.” Lisabi was a famous warrior who led the Egba people in their war of resistance against the powerful Oyo kingdom. Funmilayo died in 1978 from injuries that she sustained from being thrown out of a third floor window when the Nigerian military had raided her son’s compound. The raid was done in response to a song that Fela had preformed which criticized the behavior of Nigeria’s military.
The article was published in Huffington Post’s Black Voices.
This week the authors issued a note explaining the mistake in their October 2015 Science paper on the genome of a 4,500-year-old man from Ethiopia1 — the first complete ancient human genome from Africa. The man was named after Mota Cave, where his remains were found.
In the Science paper, researchers confirmed this finding. The paper also suggested that populations across the continent still harbour significant ancestry from the Middle Eastern farmers who were behind the back-migration. Populations in East Africa, including Ethiopian highlanders who live near Mota Cave, carried the highest levels of Eurasian ancestry. But the team also found vestiges of the ‘backflow’ migration in West Africans and in a pygmy group in Central Africa, the Mbuti.
Andrea Manica, a population geneticist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who co-led the study, says the team made a mistake in its conclusion that the backflow reached western and central Africa. “The movement 3,000 years ago, or thereabouts, was limited to eastern Africa,” he says.
Manica says that the error occurred when his team compared genetic variants in the ancient Ethiopian man with those in the reference human genome. Incompatibility between the two software packages used caused some variants that the Ethiopian man shared with Europeans (whose DNA forms a large chunk of the human reference sequence) to be removed from the analysis. This made Mota man seem less closely related to modern European populations than he actually was — and in turn made contemporary African populations appear more closely related to Europeans. The researchers did have a script that they could have run to harmonize the two software packages, says Manica, but someone forgot to run it.
Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, says that he was surprised by the claim that as much as 6–7% of the ancestry of West and Central African groups came from the Eurasian migrants. But after obtaining the Mota man’s genome from Manica’s team, he and his colleague David Reich carried out their own comparison and found no evidence for that conclusion. They informed Manica’s team, who then discovered the processing error.
“Almost all of us agree there was some back-to-Africa gene flow, and it was a pretty big migration into East Africa,” says Skoglund. “But it did not reach West and Central Africa, at least not in a detectable way.” The error also undermines the paper’s original conclusion that many Africans carry Neanderthal DNA (inherited from Eurasians whose ancestors had interbred with the group).
Skoglund praised the paper — “the genome itself is just fantastic,” he says — and the researchers’ willingness to share their data and issue a speedy note about the error: they posted it online on 25 January. When asked to confirm whether and when it would publish the researchers’ update, a representative for Science said the journal couldn’t yet comment.
Manica is not yet sure if Science will change the title of the paper, ‘Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent’. But if the team had caught the error earlier, he says, “I’m sure we would have phrased things differently”.
We speak to young South African entrepreneur Shalton Mothwa about his project, the AEON Power Bag. Watch.
Mothwa took part in the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, a workshop that hoped to inspire young South African entrepreneurs to collaborate, be creative and share their ideas for a bright South African future.
Mothwa’s AEON Power Bag is a laptop bag that will be able to charge mobile devices using WiFi and telecommunication signals. He says, “It’s about convenience and freedom. You’ll be able to do your thing on mobile devices without having to power your stuff.”
The 28-year-old nuclear physicist is from the North West Province. He tells us he is one month away from finalising the prototype but will still need R900,000 in funding before we see this product on the shelves.