Why African Governments should Strongly Condemn the Xenophobic attacks against Africans in China

The last couple of days have brought depressing headlines that show Africans living in China being persecuted, in some instances at the hands of the police, as a new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hits parts of the country.

This is unfortunate news because China seems to have been trying to build economic partnerships with several African countries based on mutual respect and a win-win cooperation.

There’s also an irony here because not too long ago, Chinese nationals and other Asians were complaining of suffering physical attacks and hate speech amid xenophobic calls by some political pundits in several countries for Asian migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Indeed the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus trended on twitter a few weeks ago.

Thus, at a time when there has been calls against calling the Coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’, or the ‘Chinese virus’ as some have been doing, with people across the world standing in solidarity with Asians who were experiencing this hate speech, it’s disheartening to see Chinese people attacking Africans in this demeaning and insensitive manner:

In the weeks since COVID-19 has been circulating, Asian-Americans and Asians around the world have noted a spike in discrimination and xenophobic attacks. Public transit riders have encountered hostile interactions and people simply walking down the street have experienced microaggressions — which I prefer to call veiled aggressions, because there is nothing “micro” about them for the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Marietta Vazquez, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & General Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine; Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last few decades China has worked hard to court African countries by presenting itself as their alternative economic partner in a global competition against western countries. Using loans and infrastructural development assistance promises among other measures, bilateral agreements have been signed and investment into various sectors across African countries has followed.

China even hosts a summit for Africa (called Forum on China–Africa Cooperation) every three years.

Indeed such has been the level of Chinese incursion into Africa that in some places even obscure villages have Chinese communities numbering several hundred people.

Generally, Chinese investment into Africa works as follows: China gives African countries cheap loans (and or buyer’s credit), access to relatively cheap equipment and technology, help in infrastructure development such as building roads, railways, factories, hospitals and stadia, but without the IMF-type conditionalities, and without any paternalistic intervention in the recipient country’s domestic politics. In return African countries give China raw materials (of which minerals remain a significant part) and a growing market where Chinese companies can flog their wares, or offer their services. What is often left unsaid (but is perfectly understood) in these transactions is that African leaders should not criticise China in public.

Thus, with such strategic investment and presence on the African continent, a presence which China is keen to emphasize as not interfering in the internal state affairs of African countries, and which is not colonialist, you’d think the Chinese government would be at least careful about how it handles matters regarding African people.

However, looking at some of the videos coming out of China in recent days, it’s disappointing that the authorities, including the Chinese police seem to be partaking in the actual harassment of citizens of African countries.

And unfortunately, it’s not the first time that foreigners in China have been viewed as a threat to public safety. In 2016, local officials in Beijing ran an awareness campaign cautioning Chinese citizens against dating foreigners, who they said could be spies.

While the police in China may struggle to understand that human rights of all people must be protected, given the repressive nature of the Chinese State, and given China’s well-documented intolerance of freedom of speech, but surely they must know that repression of foreigners is out of bounds.

It’s one thing to be fast and loose with your own citizens, quite another to do it to someone else’s people.

This is why African countries must stand together in being firm against China to explain what exactly is going on. It’s not good enough to merely express “extreme concern”, when your country’s nationals are being attacked and harassed in this way. Not in a world where Africans the world over suffer demeaning insults and discrimination on a daily basis for all manner of things.

Thus, Foreign Offices across the African continent who have knowledge that their citizens have been affected should summon Chinese Ambassadors in their countries to explain what is going on, and why the police are not clamping down on the xenophobic attacks?!? They should also request an explanation of what will be done in terms of restitution to those who have been affected, and within what timeline. This should be handled as a matter of urgency.

Usually China is quick (some will say ‘harsh’) at dealing with civil disobedience and clamping down on unrest. Indeed there are many examples throughout China’s history one can pick from. So why are we not seeing Chinese police officers protecting Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for example?

Further, over the last 40 or so years China has been accused of many things, mainly by politicians and companies in western countries. Among the accusations is the allegation that China is lax on infringement of intellectual property rights by its citizens. But in recent times, the country has been trying hard to clean up this reputation, however unfair the perceptions that remain may be. In particular, there have been promising strides against counterfeiting and strengthening of China’s intellectual property laws, with admirable progress worth shouting about.

But the current xenophobic attacks stand squarely to undermine any such glimmers of hope. China will struggle to win the world’s hearts and minds with such grim headlines. And the criticism is not western media bias as some Chinese officials have been keen to dismiss them as. The stories of residents being kicked out of their apartments are real, and there is video evidence available across social media to prove they occured. They smack of illegality and the trampling of civil liberties in the face of the authorities. Blanket denials will not help China’s cause.

Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic will require a global united front. It will need not only lockdowns, a range of personal hygiene measures, social distancing, respirators, masks, protective personal equipment and a vaccine, among other things. But it will also require firmly and truthfully stamping out the darker impulses of human behaviour when faced with calamity; it will mean clamping down on physical attacks and hate speech against minority communities. And since the overwhelming evidence of the origins of COVID-19 points to Wuhan in China, the Chinese government above everyone else ought to be at the frontline of the effort to protect minorities.

Citizen led Development

CitizenActivism

The problem with Malawi is everyone wants to be president. Whether this is as a direct result of enduring bad and inefficient government for so many years, under several clowns who somehow managed to lay claim to the crown of public office, or whether this phenomenon is a misinterpretation of what democracy actually is, by a largely closed-minded and ignorant rural population – I do not know for sure.

What I do know, is every noisy little fella (and it’s often a man), with his 2 tambala of broken english wants to be the president. Just buy him a few bottles of Carlsberg and play some Afrobeats tunes, bokobo, doro bucci, skelewu or anything like that and within no time he’ll begin telling you what he’ll do if elected president, even though he’s never held public office let alone been a member of any political party.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against competent people being of service to Malawi. My worry is incompetent people wanting to undertake such service.

I’ve been around many a drunk fella. From the carefree high school days of imbibing on Redds outside the benches of Chichiri shopping mall in Blantyre, admiring the beautiful girls ordering take-aways at Hungry Lion (or was it Wimpy ?) – then catching a minibus to Ndirande in time to get back into school before the 6pm head count; I remember the pub crawling days at Nottingham Uni. – when you’d return at 3 or 4 am to your bed (and the next day fail to remember exactly how you got back, or who the person sleeping next to you was). At that time, you were still expected to be at your lectures at 9am, and yes a register of attendance was taken; I remember the nights at Kwacha in Nottingham, where Malawians would argue with Nigerians over as simple a concept as whether the free movement of people in the SADC region was helpful…trust me I’ve seen many a caroused character.

But strangely, it’s only Malawians who uncover their political ambitions when drunk?? None of the Nigerians, Kenyans, Tanzanians, English, Australian, American or Malaysian nationals I’ve encountered at pubs or drinking places in the past talk of politics when drunk?? Maybe it’s also down to the people I’ve mixed with…?

But still, it makes me wonder: Is the Malawian attitude to politics (if such a thing can be said to exist) part of the problem. That too many of us want to have a crack at steak on the bone, when we have no teeth, and can barely tackle porridge? When, in the proverbial sense, we are but babes.

No wonder then that too many of our politicians have no clue on what running a country entails – as evidenced by bad decision after the next. Because they got into politics for the wrong reasons, they fell into it: As they say in Chichewa, Anangogweramo. They have not studied Public administration, or been working in an official capacity, discharging or administering a public service or function to the public, for any considerable length of time, how on earth are they supposed to know what the business of government is all about? Sadly, many assume that being in power equates to doing anything you like – often with public funds? And funny enough, the people, those being governed (who elect the officials to power), also wrongly assume that ‘boma’ can do pretty much anything they like.

Or  I’m I missing something?

This is the challenge facing Malawi: of ‘rampaging’ public officials drunk with power, abusing their positions in the face of an ignorant, resigned and powerless populace; neglecting their responsibilities in preference to self-enrichment.

All this is happening on the full-watch of toothless Civil Society Organisations, and in the face of the donor community, who it appears are happy to look the other way.

Here, a comment is appropriate. Seeing that donors have refused to resume budgetary aid, because of the corruption and looting of public funds, I wonder what else they can do – to ‘encourage‘ good governance?

Lets speculate for a moment.

Is it conceivable, I wonder, for donor countries who have in the past supported Malawi via budgetary aid, to begin funding entrepreneurs? Not throwing $200 to the guy selling charcoal or tomatoes, or mbewa by the side of the road in Dedza, no, not that entrepreneur – if you can even call him that.

What I mean is why can’t donor countries support the kind of entrepreneurs who can create wealth for hundreds or thousands of people in Malawi? As in the cooperative which is trying to buy a plough and combine harvester to farm 50 acres of land; or the activist who is speaking out to power, demanding good governance, and has a sizeable following… Maybe let me rephrase the question… Why don’t donors begin funding Social entrepreneurs, including ACTIVISTS – if both groups can be assisted to create jobs for other MalawiansWith the understanding, a very clear understanding that their impact should be designed to have a domino effect towards achieving wider developmental outcomes?

Malawi needs everything. From a mental and political transformation (often talked about by many other far better placed commentators), to decent and well resourced hospitals, Malawi needs to improve its security (or a sense thereof), it needs reliable utilities (Water and Power), quality education … better customer service, the whole lot.

But the common denominator that stagnates any prospect of change, in all if not most sectors, and that is in critical shortage, is resources in terms of funding. Instead of looking away, donors should transform the way they work in Malawi and other African countries, and begin providing resources to those people or organisations who truly want to make a difference. I’m not saying its easy or simple. What I’m saying is it is necessary.

Some people may be asking how this is going to work? How practical is this? Well, I think it is practical, because how many other ways can you create self-sustainability that does not involve the government, if not dealing directly with the people?

What they could do is create a portal (which I can create for them by the way) where requests for funds for certain projects can be made online? The donors can then have a team that will vet and review these requests and respond accordingly.

What about those people without access to the internet? Well, what about an application process by post or in person, communicated to unconnected communities for example using radio adverts…or if they want to do more, a mobile awareness campaign using a van such as the one below, which would have a team on board to review face-to-face proposals in the communities they broadcast?

mobile-radio-tv

They could even partner with TNM and Airtel to market such a scheme, and utilise the reliable networks of these telecom companies.

In the past, the usual responses to these kind of questions is we are already funding entrepreneurs. And that’s not our role, usually communicated in sentences that include words such as ‘ambit’ and  ‘mandate’…

If the ultimate goal of donors is to encourage good governance and effect development, then it is within their mandate to help provide resources. It’s all well and good providing funds for food, education and healthcare, but if after you’ve cured peoples diseases,and educated them, they have no job to go to, or no sustainable way of earning a living, what’s the point of giving them aid in the first place? If they then have to struggle to get by. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing that creates dependency?

A nonprofit that practices social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, relies less heavily on donor funds because it creates social programs that are meant to be self-sustaining. Social entrepreneurs manage donor contributions in an effective manner, investing in social ventures which can then generate their own revenues to sustain themselves. More here

But why does it matter Sangwani, why is it important? Why should anybody care?

Well, firstly as a Malawian it matters when I see so many competent young men and women who are not utilising their full potential because of lack of money. That’s a real concern which I’m sure is shared by thousands if not tens of thousands others.

But it also matters because in a centralised governance system such as that in Malawi – where everyone looks to the president to sort out all their little problems, lack of resources is holding back well-meaning people from acting independently to develop their part of the country. It’s a waste of talent and it’s holding them back from helping plug the shortfall in the different aspects of our economy; especially since the government is not doing many of the things they should be doing.

And this situation is not sustainable because too many capable people are powerless to effect the kind of change Malawi needs – with the result that the country is not moving forward. And come next election, in 2019, the largely ignorant rural population I mentioned earlier will be conned again into voting for another white elephant, and the vicious cycle will repeat itself all over again, worsening the living condItions, and bringing Malawi ever closer towards becoming a poor failed violent state. In the ranks of Somalia and Yemen. Surely, neither donors nor Malawians want this.

Also, there is evidence that successive governments in Malawi have taken advantage of this lack of funding to abuse their positions, and engage in dodgy deals, costing the tax payer. There are too many examples to cite, but two that come to mind are the Jetgate (the alleged sale of a presidential jet by President Joyce Banda – the funds of which were never accounted for), and the recent report that showed that $2 billion had been misappropriated by government officials the last 6 years.  How come none of the CSO’s sued the government on behalf of the public over these major instances of misappropriation of funds? Further, why does it look increasingly likely that many of the perpetrators of such misappropriation will get away with it?

Finally, lack of funding encourages corruption because otherwise decent people are forced to go begging to the government, the presidency or the presiden’s party – because they have no money – instead of them speaking out against bad governance and government’s failures in tackling societal ills.

Why China should help Mozambique and Tanzania develop their Natural Gas production Capacities

I refer to the section 3.1 titled ‘Addressing General weakness of the economy’  and section 6.1  titled ‘Unchecked Greed and Resource Conflict’ of the above document, which has the following interesting paragraphs:

Given the prospects of high revenue earnings from economic rents of oil and natural gas, unchecked greed of business, political or other social leaders can foment and precipitate “resource conflicts”, which manifest as civil wars, regional conflicts involving neighbouring countries which share common borders, as well as in-country social divisions which weaken national solidarity. In the extreme they become a prelude to secessionist tendencies, with intent to draw new territorial boundaries curving out the regions with rich resource endowment and to declare them as independent sovereignty. That is the “resource curse” per excellence! Resource conflicts destabilize nations hosting unchecked greedy “resource seeking investments” and increase the risk to human safety, natural resource extraction infrastructures, as well as raise the overall cost of doing business.
… The discovery of huge natural gas resources has engendered heightened expectations for Tanzania with respect to revenue receipts and the likely spending power of the government. People think Tanzania can immediately get out of the poverty trap and move into the middle to high income bracket. Such popular view does not appreciate the level of investments required, the engineering challenges to be overcome and the time required to move through all the process steps before commercial gas production commences. The timeline is
between 5 to 8 years activities.

While there may be few dream images of the erstwhile Middle East and Persian Gulf countries as models for sharing national prosperity of the new gas economy, there are also nightmare images of the bad experiences of the Niger delta being repeated in the Ruvuma delta. It is common knowledge that oil production in the Niger delta has resulted in environment degradation on a massive scale, which has totally damaged the traditional local economy and livelihood which was based on fishing and agriculture. In that regard, the local communities feel “left out” of the growth and economic benefits, which have accrued to Nigeria as an outcome of exploitation of the petroleum resources. Then local communities have come to be viewed as a security threat because they have engaged in hostile activities against both the Government and the Oil industry. …

But first, lets deal with China. I’m not completely sold about them. I like their organisation and unity, and how they can achieve seemingly heavy tasks, in very short periods of time, and at a fraction of the cost west companies would undertake such tasks. But there can be a price. On quality in particular. Further, I don’t like the controversies that they tend to leave behind, or rather the alleged conduct of some Chinese companies, neatly dissected here, regarding their practices in Africa, and the implications of such practices. I also wish Chinese politicians and officials could at least raise human rights issues when dealing with countries such as Uganda, Sudan (where they’ve sent 700 troops), DRC, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

But that’s besides the point. Some readers of this blog will know  that there have been large Natural Gas finds off the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique. The estimates of the finds range from  46 trillion cubic feet(tcf) to 55 tcf. for the deposits in Tanzania, and 50 tcf. to 70 tcf. for the deposits in Mozambique. In plain English it’s a fortune!

According to Standard Bank, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will add $39 billion to the Mozambican economy over the next 20 years, boosting GDP per capita from approximately $650 in 2013, to $4500 by 2035.

The trouble is, it is being claimed that billions upon billions will be required to put in place the technology, infrastructure, structures and logistical capacities to realise the benefits of these reserves.

And I simply don’t believe it will cost that much.

Now, I may be an engineer – one who knows how to build certain things cost-effectively, but I’m not a geological engineer. I’m not a surveyor, or an industry professional within the natural gas or petroleum industry, and my contention is based purely on rebuttals such as these – in this case of the corrupt practices in the construction sector in Malawi. But having said that I can find some credible industry professionals who can provide an honest unbiased opinion of the costs involved.

In other words, the $10 billion that is claimed in the above paper as the cost of building capacity, how exactly did they arrive at such a costing? I’m not disputing it outright, I’m just curious to know how they computed the figures…. since as I stated earlier, contractors and other infrastructure developers have a bad habit of quoting say £10,000 for a job that in real terms will cost £1000 to build (that is in real money the cost of raw materials, labour, logistics). The extra £9000 goes to profits for the company …and it is this that I have a probelm with because in my view it is hugely inflated.

So if someone says some project will cost $10 billion, alarm bells automatically start ringing in my head. I begin asking, is that $10 billion the real cost of raw materials and labour, or are we factoring in wastage in terms of corruption, the profits you want your company to make – off the coffers of the undiscerning African government, and off the backs of the helpless African people??

In the long term this translates to tax payers who must be taxed heavily to pay off the debt that will be taken by the government to finance such a project. Pensions that will remain meagre, because the African government is still paying that $10 billion loan they took…school children who will continue to have poor facilities, because…well, there’s no money to invest in modern educational facilities…salaries that will remain low…lapses in security, because, well, there’s simply not enough money about to improve security or pay decent salaries… I could go on.

My point is if the Mozambican and Tanzanian governments asked the Chinese for greater degree of help, in establishing the industry, employing professionals, while maintaining ownership of the whole project and resource (or atleast a large % of it) – as opposed to letting any foreign corporation have the lions share – the governments would most probably be able to build everything cost-effectively, probably for less than £2 billion, and Tanzania and Mozambique would come out stronger than any arrangement that gives ownership (or  the lions share) of the finds to a foreign private company.

If I come across another #book written by a #white #expat about his or her #African #childhood …

african
random picture of an African girl in an initiation/tribal ceremony from someone’s facebook profile

Having overheard some disgruntled comments made to JKIA bookstore assistants, I know I am by no means the only person who wants to read something about Africa besides another expat memoir. Is there really no market, are there really no writers? Or is just that publishers are unwilling to back anything besides more of the same tried, tested and tired old formula?

More here titled If I come across another book written by a white expat about his or her African childhood …

A promising future

VISION
a sky shot in a prominent Asian city

What does a future of peace and prosperity for Africa look like? Is such a future possible with the present dynamics at play across the continent? Is such a future sustainable? What needs to be done for every child to have food each day. For every child to have access to an empowering education? For every man to have access to land ? For each person to have access to work? What will it take to achieve safety and security on the continent? To end the proliferation of arms into the hands of militia and rebel groups….What will it take for African countries to feed their people – an end to hunger, to be able to clothe them – an end to poverty; to be able to afford essential medicines, provide for their old and vulnerable, to protect their people, and for African leaders to be able to resolve their differences without turning to war?

Maybe some of these are the wrong questions to be asking at this time, but even still, the solutions are there. If others can achieve them, the solutions have got to be there.

China’s Investment In Africa – The African Perspective

China’s Investment In Africa – The African Perspective (via Forbes)

By Steven Kuo

JOHANNESBURG – China’s interest in Africa is often said to come on the back of colonial aspirations. Newspaper headlines scream that Chinese firms, backed by the powerful and deep-pocketed Chinese state, will mop-up Africa’s business opportunities to the detriment of Western and indigenous firms. Given these developments, is it possible for Africa to benefit from increasing Chinese investments in Africa?

While it is easy to conclude that China is taking over and ‘colonizing’ Africa when one sees ‘Made in China’ goods in every African marketplace and Chinese construction crews on seemingly every construction site, it is easy to forget that Chinese goods and labor are able to entering the African marketplace amicably, rather than the historical model by which Beijing would be sailing a warship up to the coast and forcing African governments to accept trade. In fact, Chinese goods and companies are possible in Africa because WTO efforts over the past two decades have decreased trade tariffs and opened up the African marketplace. Ironically, therefore, it is not a ‘colonialist’ China, but the WTO that set the playing field for Africa as an attractive opportunity for China.

More here

Bad-mouthing a country

monkeys-47226_640The other week President Peter Mutharika of Malawi said that Malawians should not bad-mouth Malawi. That people shouldn’t say negative things about the country.

Although I see his point, in that he would like a more positive message about Malawi to be visible, especially to foreigners, I was left wondering, how can one not comment on the things that are going wrong in the country when very little seems to be done to prevent against them; when those in power come across as either not caring, or are preoccupied with self-enrichment to take serious note of the needs of the populace.

For example, not too long ago, I read an article on Malawi 24 that said students at teacher training colleges were going hungry after the government stopped giving them allowances in April. The problem the article said was centred at Machinga Teacher’s training college where student’s had not been paid their allowances and did not have money to buy food. Yesterday another news report came out saying about 2.8 million people were at risk of starvation in Malawi. It quoted an assessment of the damage caused by the recent floods, by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (which only last year also warned of food shortages).

But as far as hunger goes, there is more bad news. At the beginning of the month, the Malawi Congress Party refused an invitation to a state banquet commemorating Malawi’s 51 years of independence on moral grounds, saying why would you want to celebrate when the majority of Malawians were starving.

“Even ambulances are not operating, how can we be dinning and wining at the state House, this is setting priorities upside down” said Dr Jessie Kabwila, MCP’s publicity secretary.

They questioned why instead of spending K300 million (£427,870.00) on the banquet, the money couldn’t be used on a necessary expenditure such as on paying civil servant salaries – which had been delayed.

On one level I understand why when commemorating an occasion in which dignitaries and a president of another country  have been invited, it would be rude to send them back without some kind of a banquet. On another level though, desperate situations require wise measures. Spending on food and strong drink when salaries have not been paid is irresponsible.

Maybe they could have asked donors to chip in? But again, why can’t they ask donors to chip in to pay civil servants? And much more importantly, where is the ‘independence’ if you have to run to donors for every piece of expenditure?

But I digress, the reason people complain about what is happening in Malawi is not that they like complaining, or that they are anti-DPP. There may be some people who are just disgruntled moaners, but I think they are in the minority.

One of the most common reason why people complain about the situation in Malawi is because there appears to be way too many thoughtless decisions (which adversely affect Malawians) at the heart of government, and not enough thoughtful decisions to help the people on the ground. And frankly this trend has been the same with all previous multi-party governments since 1994. In my view, the only administration which tried harder (or appeared to be trying harder) than the rest to manage Malawi properly was Bingu Mutharika’s first government. That’s not to say that it didn’t have its ills. It did , and we can argue about that till the Chickens come home to roost. But the point is Bingu tried.

Which reminds me of my post last year here, titled 7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack.

The historical disadvantage of Africa

image
The start of the transatlantic slave trade around the year 1519 was the beginning of tragic events that systematically displaced millions of people in Africa.  By the time the last slave ship left Africa around 1867 to Cuba, the continent had been stripped of valuable human capital for nearly 3 centuries. After the abolition of slavery, the scramble for Africa in the late 1800s saw European countries colonising the well resourced African countries for another century. The history of colonialism has  lived on to affect the the contemporary sociopolitical issues in Africa with detrimental effects that have hampered growth and stability for the continent. In this article I argue that Africa lags in development performance in comparison to other continents, due to its history which subjugated free thinking to develop in Africa.

Initially before the slave trade, the Portuguese were the first to establish contacts with sub-Saharan Africa and much to their surprise, they found societies which were engaged in trade, had a similar range of pre-historical industrial crafts and they were also organised into Kingdoms with class divisions. The sub-Saharan Africans were much advanced than the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean or the Brazilian littoral such that they were able to maintain equal relations with the Europeans. For the next centuries to come, Africa fully engaged in the transatlantic slave trade which accounted for an estimated 10 million slaves.

The transatlantic slave trade disturbed any pending advances in African society such that Francis Moore a merchant along the coast of Senegambia in the 1730s observed,

“Since this slave trade has been us’d, all punishments are changed into slavery.”

In 1730 the Dutch Director General of Elmina Castle on the modern coast of Ghana also observed,

“The great quantity of guns and powder which the Europeans have brought have caused terrible wars between the Kings and princes and Caboceers of these lands”.

What is evident from these observations is that the slave trade brought chaos (which in some respects is irreversible) to the continent of Africa. For 2 centuries Africans got accustomed to one mode of trade and that was the capturing and selling  of valuable human capital for the development of other continents. The it can be inferred that the slave trade may well have hindered Africans from having innovative ideas, those which could have helped in the development of trade and the advancement of other aspects of society. The chiefs of Africa in conjunction with the Europeans systematically raided villages of humans, who could have played an important role in the development of Africa.

What started the transatlantic slave trade is hard to pinpoint, but evidence points out that slavery was prevalent in African societies when the Europeans arrived. Whatever the cause, the slave trade changed the African landscape in that it encouraged inter-ethnic wars with the sole purpose of capturing slaves for sale at the north African coasts. Between the 14th and 19th centuries, the most lucrative trade in Africa was the slave trade, which helped Africans to acquire guns which were used for slave wars. The violence and brain drain of Africa carried on for atleast 2 centuries and it is no wonder that by the time missionaries arrived in Africa, they witnessed brutal scenes of savagery.

Africa reeling from the effects of slavery, European countries carved up Africa into nation states which bundled different ethnic groups together. The rush to colonise Africa by the European powers, was influenced by the vast deposits of untapped natural resources which were mostly unknown to the locals of Africa. For nearly 70 years, indigenous Africans were utilised to provide manpower for farms, to fight wars,  in mines and many other income  generating avenues for the benefit of European countries.

To add on from the 2 centuries of slave trade, another century of colonialism was added on to the ills that crippled Africa. It was the politics of colonialism which championed the tactics of ‘divide and conquer’, where some African tribes were pitted against each other to avoid the unification of people. These tactics were triumphant in that modern-day societies of Africa still have tribalism as a hampering obstacle to national unity. Today some countries in Africa are embroiled in bitter tribal wars which seem to have no end in sight, due to long standing feuds which stem from the effects of colonialism.

During colonialism, African natural resources were excavated for the sole purpose of developing the imperialist countries while neglecting Africa. Africa’s palm oil, petroleum, copper, chromium, diamonds, platinum and in particular gold helped Europe’s earlier development, which has lived on to contemporary societies. Robert Beckford who shot a documentary titled ‘The Empire Pays Back’, claims that Britain’s debt to Africans on the continent and in the diaspora is estimated to be in the trillions of pounds. This assessment by Beckford’s experts was considered to be false because the real amount of wealth that was pulled out of Africa is arguably incalculable. It is incalculable because vast deposits of resources were pulled out of Africa, to the point that it is near impossible to document or estimate the actual volume of wealth extricated from the continent.
Which is why it is insulting. deeply offensive and laughable altogether to attack ‘migrants’ as the source of Europe’s economic and social problems, when the same European countries are largely responsible in creating the conditions which have greatly hampered the development and prosperity of African countries today.

President Barack Obama last year addressing 500 young Africans who were attending a leadership course:

“As powerful as history is, and you need to know that history, at some point you have to look to the future and say, ‘OK, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure that we’re not making excuses for not going forward,”

This statement by Obama is a double-edged sword because a people’s history defines how modern day society is formed. It is through history that one tends to look for answers to contemporary problems which hamper nation-building activities.  It is indeed true that Africa needs to look to the future rather than the past, but how is that possible when colonial borders are still a source of attrition for the thousands of tribes in Africa? When there is a huge economic divide between black Africans and Whites who live in Africa (many of whom benefitted from the proceeds of colonisation and slavery)
Further, there are young and educated Africans today with no assets who can’t get loans(therefore can’t start impactful businesses), and are barred from participation in their country’s politics because of ageism and a neopatrimonial culture. They are powerless and Obama’s statements can’t address their plight.

Ethnic conflicts in Africa are well documented and one of the clearest examples is that of the Arabs  (and the Tuareg, who are Berbers) and sub-Saharan Africa(black Africans)s. Historically, the Arabs enslaved sub-Saharan Africans for about a 1000 years with about an estimated 18 million people carted off into slavery. In the 1800s when the Scamble for Africa begun, the Arabs and the sub-Saharan Africans were thrown together to form modern countries along the Sahara such as Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan. This history of nations in Africa has been detrimental for nation-building, because different ethnic groups were lumped together to form nations when they had no sense of belonging to these nations.
In the past decade Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan have experienced rebellions fought over resources, politics, religion and history. In the middle of all these causative agents, ethnicity played a central role, when it came to which side the Arabs or sub-Saharan Africans picked to fight for.

Perhaps one of the most bloodiest ethnic conflicts in memory on the continent of Africa is that of the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. In 1994, Rwanda’s 7 million population was composed of Hutu (85%), Tutsi (14) and the Twa (1%). In the early 1990s Hutu extremists resented the Tutsis with claims that all the social, economic and political problems that Rwanda was going through, was down to them. On 6th April 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down and Hutu extremists under the cover of war, began to systematically exterminate the Tutsi population. Within weeks after 6th April, 800 000 men, women, and children were killed in a brutal manner, with ethnicity being the dividing line.

Years of animosity between tribes who were forced to form nations together, remains one of the biggest challenges for development in Africa. When Obama says that Africa has to look in the future to move on, the past still has a nefarious hold on Africa’s nation-building capabilities. Africa’s history of being under subjugation and slavery has all to do with the current disorganisation of the society of Africa. To look beyond history as Obama asserts, would be quiet difficult because the reconciliation solutions of Africa lie in the past where current problems were created. It is therefore important that the past is revisited to help in establishing the starting points of the many problems that have engulfed Africa.
The same could be said of the problems faced by African Americans, who for years have been persecuted in one form or another.

The other problem that lies with Africa is that through slavery, colonialism and post-colonialism periods, Africans have always lived in the shadow of the West. For centuries Africans have not been self-thinkers, and this has obviously affected innovative ideas on the part  of African free thinking. It was through slavery and colonialism that the African way of life was made to be inferior, and whole cultures and traditions were systematically wiped out only to be replenished by western culture. Today, most sub-Saharan Africa struggles to emulate western cultures because their culture through years of subjugation, was made to look inferior. This in turn has created an identity crisis with modern Africa where society struggles with being an ‘African’,  in a world where western culture is seen to be superior.

Looking at the political picture of Africa, one can see how a western style of democracy is not working in Africa. A lot of African countries that became democratic states, are today still grappling with corruption and bad governance issues because of poor accountability structures. Since the the early 1980s of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), Western ideology has been central to African affairs and time and again this has led to failure.

This historical disadvantage has and is still one of the biggest factors why Africa lags in the social, economic and political arenas. To disregard the linkage of the past and the current problems of Africa, would be a mistake because it is through history that nations are built. Africa’s tumultuous history needs to be understood and addressed, to create the many needed solutions for the continent because on the average, many African countries have only been independent for 50 years. To forge a strong Africa, Africans need to disregard assertions like those of Obama and seriously begin looking into the past to rectify the factors that disadvantaged societies, economically and politically. The options are few (for example it’s hard for countries to reunite into bigger and stronger nations), but it’s not an impossible task.

Why are African parents fond of giving their children non-African names?

AfricanNamesA few weeks ago I watched the video on this article in which a lady passionately encouraged other women to be proud of their African sounding names, and it got me wondering, why are African parents across Southern Africa fond of giving their children non-African names?

I’ve never quite understood why.

If you do not know about this, then you will find that its common in Southern, Eastern and Central Africa for a child to be given a Christian or English name. In Zimbabwe it’s arguably more widespread, and you have many people given first names such as ‘Destiny’ and ‘Prosperity’, but with a Zimbabwean surname. I don’t know how widespread English names are in former French colonies (Is it the case that French names are more popular?), but I know that in countries around Malawi, they are common.

Even amongst my friends, most have an English name besides an African name, and many have given their children English first names, which is okay. Whatever works for them.

I’m just surprised that even amongst those people who identify as Pan-Africanist, and ‘proud of being African’, if you probe a little, and ask them what their children’s names are, most often than not you’ll find English first or middle names.

What is going on there? Obviously everyone has the right to give their children a name of their choice, but isn’t a name a badge of origin? An identifier (who you are, where you come from) which marks your individuality and sets you apart ? If so, shouldn’t it be unique or at least point to your roots in some authentic way? In any case, in a country like Malawi, most parents maintain the surnames, so clearly some link to one’s origins are desirable.

Also, consider that Europeans or White westerners do not give their children African names. Imagine meeting a white British man named Chuck Demola Foshola Scott? Or a Canadian girl named Jessica Ochiugo Fraser? Imagine meeting a French girl called Marie-Chimwemwe Fournier…?? where do you even begin the conversation?

Now, I’m not about to lecture to anyone what kind of names they should give their children, but I’m just wondering why so many African Parents (including I must say my own mother), feel the need, or decide to give their children English sounding names; as if there are no good names to choose from in their own African languages??

In my case, my father gave me a Tumbuka name, and that was my only name until about 10 or 11 years, when somehow, my mother decided I should also carry my grandfather’s name ‘Joseph’??  And thereafter I was constantly reminded of this new appendage – not that I had any issues with it.

But what was the point of that? I had gone by one first name and a surname for 10 whole years without a problem, and suddenly I needed a middle name?? What the hell…

In the past, I’ve encountered research that suggested that children with white english sounding names have better prospects in finding a job (i.e. are less likely to be discriminated against or held back when looking for employment) than those with ‘ethnic’ sounding names. However, while the data is unfortunate to say the least, what about a child who is born in an African country; who may grow, live and work in that country, as hundreds of millions do, in an environment whereby the majority of employers are African? Will being called Frank instead of Babatunde still enhance your chances of landing employment?

I’m not so sure.

Further, shouldn’t we all be fighting the discrimination that produces such outcomes in the first place, instead of validating or circumventing the issue (thereby perpetuating it) by going for the easy way out?

Then there are also those parents who claim that the names they give their children are Biblical and reflect their Christian Faith. Well, here again, I take issue with this explanation; In Malawi, Yesaya is the Chichewa language equivalent of Isaiah; Mateyu is Mathew, and John is spelled as Yohane. Yet most of the times Malawians who go by names such as these which have an english equivalent, prefer the english name over their African name??

In contrast, I’ve met some German people and they went by their German names, even when there is an English equivalent. For example many years ago, I knew a guy named Cédric whose name was spelled with an e-acute (instead of an ordinary e). When I asked him why this was so, he told me that’s how they spelt it in German, and he considered his name German, not English. Similarly, an Austrian I went to school with was named Mathias (and went by that name and not Mathew / Matt – the english variant). Then there was the Cypriot flatmate who preferred Christarkis to ‘Chris’. Further, I know quite a few Polish people, and all of them have distinctly Polish names (Łukasz, Karol, Ilona)…. there was the lady who worked for the bank I banked with several years ago (who I got to know), and another lady who was a manager of an incubation centre, who also became a friend. Both had at the time lived in Britain for over 10 years, but went by their Polish names.

There is another explanation I’ve encountered which says that culturally, an English sounding name will help a child from an ethnic minority family integrate better into the culture of their adopted country, and may protect the child from bullying at school. While I’m sympathetic towards this claim, it’s not entirely convincing because being named Catherine instead of Nandi doesn’t automatically mean that I am in tune with the culture of the country I live in. Also, I think if there are bullies in a school, they will pick on anything that’s different on brown Catherine regardless of the name. So if a child is called Pat instead of Oga, the name won’t protect them from being picked on over their hair, stature or facial features. Clearly it is the bully who is at fault, and my decision to give my child a strong African name that links them to my tribe and culture as an African should not be in the slightest influenced by some kid I do not know – and who is likely to bully my child. I simply don’t accept that.

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Speaking to some people over the weekend, it seems to be the case that many parents in Malawi like the idea of their children having an English name. It’s almost as if it’s more fashionable to give your child an English name over a name that is distinct to your tribe or language, although I’m not entirely sure why this is so.

But the reason I am opposed to this trend is because it comes across as though the parents are not proud of their African culture. It’s as if they don’t identify themselves strongly with their roots, and have lost touch with tradition. It may come across as though they do not value their culture and their history, and do not want their children to be associated with it. I mean, are we saying our traditional African names are inferior and not good enough? Is that what we are saying?

If Europeans or Americans do not give their children African names (or when the majority of Chinese people do not give their children English names), why should Africans have to name their children English names? What message does that send?

English may be the dominant language of communication in the world today, but should it also steal or neutralise individual cultures to the point some people are embarrassed with their own traditional and distinctly African names?

doorplates-238472_640100 years ago, you would have walked into an African village and everyone would have had an African name. Similarly, 100 years ago, you would have walked into a Chinese Village, or German City or even an Indian Town, and most of the people you met would have held traditional names that were linked to their cultures, families or clans. Today the chances are while the names themselves may have changed, this picture hasn’t shifted as much in India, Germany or China as it has shifted in some parts of Africa.
How so? Because there are too many African kids with English names.

The notion that you should change your name after becoming Christian or being Baptised is more doctrinal in my view than Biblical. At least if you consider the new testament, this seems to be the case because there is no verse in which Christians are explicitly charged to change their names in the Bible, even after Baptism. In any case, does having a non-Christian name make you less of a Christian than someone who has a Christian name?

It is likely that the whole name change thing may have arisen during the colonial period, to the benefit of no other than colonial officials – who struggled to pronounce the African names, and needed the colonised population to carry names they could more easily pronounce.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but to me this alone is enough reason for Africans to stick with African names.