As our readers are aware, 2011 was a remarkable year for democratic change. Authoritarian regimes throughout the world were challenged by a surge of popular democratic will; as we write, those events continue. Most of the international media coverage has been on protests in North Africa and the Middle East, events that have seemingly surprised the entire world. Just months prior to the seminal protests in Tunisia, regional experts were consistently pessimistic of the region’s prospects for liberal democracy.1 For example, the 2010 Freedom House Report, countries across North Africa and the Middle East were summarily deemed “not free.” In fact, FH experts maintained that in the post-cold war period trends of political liberalization were reversing:
For the fourth consecutive year declines have trumped gains. This represents the longest continuous period of deterioration in nearly 40- years.
Although pessimism certainly sells in the business of political commentary, we can now see in retrospect that their pessimistic forecasts were largely wrong. Today it is clear that most of these regional experts had little to no idea about what was about to happen throughout the region.
The quest for political liberalization, as Amy Chua has so clearly argued, is generally accompanied by conflict. Chua argues that “freedom” has ironically –and tragically– helped to rekindle ethnic hatreds throughout the world.3 Indeed, the quest for “justice,” in whatever form, generally demands change of some kind: the holders of power, i.e. the status quo, will typically do what they can to maintain the existing order of things. As students of the social sciences all know, this was perhaps best argued by Karl Marx, who maintained that historical challenges to the status quo were consistently pursued by the less powerful, often in violent conflict. This is exactly what has occurred throughout the North Africa-Middle East region; it should come as no surprise that many of today’s students still see the relevance of Marx’s interpretation of change in history. Chua’s best-selling book has made long-time advocates of the pursuit of liberation– of freedom – think a bit more critically about the real-world impacts of individual choice and the growing sense of agency. Chua’s work is decidedly different from that of Marx in that she considers the expansion of freedom as a potentially destructive force, whereas Marx’s focus was on the frustration of the exploited masses who, he believed, would naturally rebel.
One could say, therefore, that we are now experiencing a “perfect storm” of the leading two Cold War ideologies of the 20th-century. On the one hand, the impoverished masses of the world are increasingly aware of their material depravity vis-à-vis others, which might well lead to notions of class differences which, as Marx maintained, are the root cause of violent conflict and change. On the other hand, the Wilsonian vision and practices of human rights-based freedom are now desired by a growing number, taking hold at the grassroots, but the results are, as Chua maintains, more violent than promoters of liberation might have expected! Historically, human expectations and resulting political changes were slow, frustrating, and sporadic. Most were tied to the natural cycles of the earth, lived with nature and not against it, and were decidedly less positivist about future change. The expansion of modern industrialization – promoted, after all, by both the West and the Soviets – was presented to the rest of the world as the only two choices. For good and ill, most have followed that developmental trajectory and all of the concomitant expectations that come with “modernization.”
In the post-Cold War era, Francis Fukuyama argued that the cat – by which he meant “liberalism” – was now out of the bag and that Marxism was dead. To the extent that peoples of the world did not experience liberal (free) democracy, it was just a matter of time. In Fukuyama’s words, they were simply “mired in history.”4 Critics have rightly pointed out that Fukuyama’s notion of liberalism was decidedly Western-oriented and did not adequately consider the many conceptions of freedom that might exist elsewhere in the world. As the Arab Spring gradually extends into the African continent, in what observers are already terming an “African Spring,” the prospects for democratically defining local understandings of freedom are going to be improved. Freedom, as challenging as it is to define, is best defined by a local citizenry.
In 1955, Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz argued that liberalism – by which he meant freedom – would inevitably be the choice of all people once they are given the opportunity to choose.5 But at the time that Hartz wrote, freedom, even within the American context, was still viewed through an ideological Cold War lens. Certainly, advocates of freedom were not commenting on the potential dangers of violent conflict that might accompany the processes of liberation. Had they paid a bit closer attention to their own classic commentaries—that of John Stuart Mill, for instance—they would have understood that “pure” or “perfect” freedom is, of course, wrong-headed and a potentially dangerous force.6 An advocate of political liberalism if ever there was one, Mill nevertheless understood that it was something that needed to be carefully monitored and managed, contrary to the logic of many libertarians and free-marketeers today. Interestingly, Mill also defended the need for high-minded despots in certain parts of the world:
Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with the barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate to find one.7
And this was exactly the policy that the Western powers pursued into the 21st-century. Authoritarian regimes were negotiated with, oftentimes supported, for a variety of official policy reasons. Among them was the need to maintain what was, in a very real sense, the existing order of things, the status quo. Security was thought to be better had through the maintenance of that order, even if it meant dealing with despots. As recent history has proven, the citizens of those despotic states were of a different view.
During this same period, through 2011, the news from sub- Saharan Africa was both encouraging and not: countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo continued to receive the lowest “not free” ranking from the authorities at Freedom House. Nigeria has continued to experience democratic backsliding, despite the growing efforts of external donors such as the United States, including the establishment of a US-Nigeria Binational Commission in April 2010. In fact, USAID’s FY2011 budget came to $647 million. As so often happens, Nigeria’s democratic gains were nonetheless few. The now oft-cited 2010 Atlantic Council report, entitled Advancing US, African, and Global Interests, was quite critical of US efforts to enhance the region’s security, which it deemed to be of mutual interest to all:
US donations of vessels and other security initiatives appear to be aimed mainly at preserving relationships, ensuring political access in the region, and meeting other diplomatic requirements rather than organized as part of a holistic, goal- based strategy to achieve defined and measurable improvements in security and stability.
Critics have been quick to recognize the 21st-century links being made between development and security, viewing the trends toward military support of development projects as troubling.9 Defenders of this trend would argue, as the Atlantic Council seems to have done, that these are goals of mutual interest and that there is, by necessity, a growing “development-security nexus.”
Most would argue that the global demand for Africa’s resources – notably oil – continues to plague the development of many sub- Saharan African states: despots, to use Mill’s term, are continually taking advantage of their positions of power, personally benefiting from strategic relations with oil companies, and loath to relinquish their “hard-earned” advantages. And this is, in fact, the gist of what was being argued by a panel of scholars, including Dr. LaMonica, at the November 2011 African Studies Association annual conference in Washington, D.C. Africana’s Editor-in-Chief, A. Curtis Burton, was also present to witness what happened next: a former employee of Shell Oil, Deirdre LaPin, who had in fact worked in Nigeria, vehemently disagreed with the views of the panel. From her perspective, Shell (and presumably other multinational oil companies) was getting short shrift, and was actually pursuing a lot of positive good throughout the region in an effort to promote “positive development.” Clearly annoyed by the tenor of our conversation she walked-up to the podium and addressed the entire audience as if her words would help to “correct” what had just been said.10 As most do, she portrayed the 80% of people of the Niger Delta who are living on less than $1 per day as if they were living in the Stone Age, desperately in need of modernization. What seemed annoying to her was the seemingly boundless critique of the oil industry in Nigeria; in her mind, at least, oil companies like Shell were actually doing a lot of good there.
In his closing remarks, fellow panelist (Jesse Salah Ovadia, PhD candidate at York University) suggested that the oil industry had severely threatened the fishing and farming practices of local peoples. Remarkably, LaPin, shaking her head the whole time, interrupted Ovadia in another effort to “correct” what was being said. In my own closing remarks, which followed, I suggested that the only reason why Shell and other oil companies had recently engaged in local youth support programs (which LaPin suggested was a sign of benevolence or goodwill) was because more and more people were paying attention to what the oil industry, acting in collusion with Nigerian elites, were up to and that we therefore had to remain vigilant; if not, those same oil companies and Nigerian elites would only continue as before. Oil industry- sponsored youth programs and the like are wonderful but one cannot lose sight of the many adverse consequences that the pursuit of oil has had on the state of Nigeria. This time, LaPin said nothing yet continued to display her anger in hushed but seemingly urgent comments to others in the audience. In her mind, we – the academics who were paying attention to the coercive role of external actors – were being irresponsible and were even, perhaps, part of the problem.
According to this view, the creators and maintainers of an existing Nigerian order – the status quo – are essentially blameless and critiques of their activities are unwarranted and irresponsible; it is as if the only thing observers can pay attention to are the “good” things that the powerful bequeath on the ignorant “barbarians” (to, again, use Mill’s term). From this point of view, if there is an abuse of power in Nigerian contexts, it is something that is best resolved from within, as had allegedly occurred in Western state history, to wit: motivated democratic principles, people rose up and held their leaders accountable.
Of course, we all celebrate the rising up of peoples in the name of democratic principles. But in a rapidly globalized world, where the policies and practices of heretofore “external” actors matter much to the livelihoods of peoples in developing regions, there is a danger of excluding the impacts of those external actors and of placing all of the responsibility for change on internal state actors. Doing so is neither reasonable nor practicable. In the 21st-century we must learn to work together to end despotism, not treat it as the problem of netherworlds where only barbarians dwell, and to be honest about our own complicity in these ongoing political conditions.
It is with the above in mind that we start the December 2011 issue with a contribution from Fidelis Akpozike Etinye Paki and Jude Cocodia, entitled “Africa in Post-Cold War World Politics.” Today, what is vividly clear and acknowledged is that the aforementioned ideological struggle, that so often translated into “proxy wars” on the African continent, was devastating to the welfare of millions of African peoples. Full understanding of what the post-cold war condition means for the continent of Africa is still being debated, as we see from these two Nigerian scholars, and we are pleased to include their arguments here. May that discussion continue!
For those who follow Nigerian politics, we have included a piece by Stephen Onakuse, entitled “Nigeria’s Seven-Point Agenda and the Financial Crisis: Implications for Growth and Development.” Onakuse is a Lecturer and Research Fellow in the Department of Food Business & Development at the Centre for Sustainable Livelihoods, University College Cork, Ireland. Using empirical data, Okanuse argues that the Nigerian government’s wildly fluctuating policies are harmful to ongoing reform measures taking place throughout the country. It is a well-researched and timely contribution.
From Great Zimbabwe University we have a piece written by Tendai Mangena and Aaron Mupondi, entitled “Moving Out of Confining Spaces: Metaphors of Existence in the Diaspora in Selected Zimbabwean Writings.” For those who have been following news from Zimbabwe, and the resulting diaspora of Zimbabwean peoples throughout the South African region and, indeed, the world, this article is especially timely. In a well- researched and scholarly fashion, Mangena and Mupondi explore Africana December 2011 the literary representations of out migration by Zimbabweans in the last decade in selected literature.
The next piece entited “A Bleak Future, a Wasted Generation: Child Soldiers in Africa,” by Kenneth Chukwuemeka Nwoko, Lecturer in the Department of History & International Relations at Redeemer’s University in Ogun State, Nigeria, provides another snapshot of unfortunate African realities of the modern age. Raw in form, Nwoko considers many of the ongoing intra and inter- ethnic conflicts in Africa to be direct byproducts of the colonial era. The ongoing challenges to civil society are often portrayed as impediments to African development but here Nwoko focuses on the real-life circumstances of far too many children on the African continent, many of whom “…end up on the street, become involved in crime, or are drawn into armed conflict.” By focusing on the horror of lost childhoods and the perpetrators of these ongoing social arrangements, Nwoko provides readers with an important wake-up call – particularly to those who think of Africa’s developmental challenges in only broad theoretical ways.
Dr. Fainos Mangena, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy at the University of Zimbabwe, provides us with a discussion of the challenges to ethical leadership in Zimbabwe. In this piece, Mangena compares the philosophy of ubuntu (as presented in Lisa B. Ncube’s essay entitled “Ubuntu: A Transformative leadership philosophy” which appeared in the Journal of Leadership Studies (2010)) with western leadership philosophies and discusses the historical development of Zimbabwean political norms as a way to better understand today’s circumstances.
Bhekezakhe Ncube of the Department of African Languages and Literature and Thamsanqa Moyo of the Department of English and Performing Arts, both of Great Zimbabwe University, have provided us with a piece entitled “Portraying Women as The Other: Ndebele Proverbs and Idioms in the Context of Gender Construction.” Their contribution is both unique and well received as it deconstructs some of the broader literature on gender construction and applies it to the specific case of the circumstances among the Ndebele. This piece could be especially interesting for researchers who are looking to find more specific and decidedly less broad theoretical discussions of gender in African contexts.
Over the past fifty years, the cultural implications of having multinational oil corporations exploit Nigeria’s resources have been profound. Uzoechi Nwagbara, Doctoral Researcher at University of Wales, in the U.K., who has been researching the impacts of oil multinationals on Nigeria for years, provides us with a wonderfully written piece entitled “Dimensionalising Cultural Implications of the Multinationals in the Niger Delta: A Consequentialist Approach for Resistance.” Readers of Nwagbara’s work are inevitably impressed by his impressive insight and writing style. We, in fact, view Nwagbara as an important rising star in Nigeria-oriented scholarship and are especially pleased to have his work published in this issue.
The prolific expert Dr. Kelly Bryan Ovie Ejumudo, of Delta State University, Nigeria, provides us with another insightful piece entitled “Air Pollution and Health Challenges in the Niger Delta: Desirability of a Collaborative Policy and Action.” Following an overview of the environmental circumstances in the Niger Delta, Ejumudo argues that there are significant public health impacts throughout the region that are not adequately dealt with by the “poor functioning an low performing health care system in Nigeria.” Ejumudo suggests that the development of a more collaborative policy environment would help to bring about more informed and pragmatic policy solutions, particularly for the disease-prone oil-bearing communities.
With the advent of the aforementioned social movements in the North Africa-Middle East region, many researchers have turned to the subject of social media and other forms of popular communication now and in history. One of these is Timothy R. Amidon, PhD candidate in Writing & Rhetoric at the Univeristy of Rhode Island. Amidon has contributed a book review of David Ciarlo’s 2010 book, Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial German, published by Harvard University Press.
Lastly, a few announcements. First, we are thrilled to announce the addition of a new Board member, Cleménce Pinaud, a PhD candidate from the University of Paris-I/Pantheon-Sorbonne, who is currently a Fulbright Fellow at the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A brief bio of her professional background and research interests is now posted at http://www.africanajournal.org.
We would also like to announce the establishment of a new Africana Advisory Board. Over the past year, we have endeavored to reach out to distinguished Africanist scholars who might be able to assist our journal in an advisory/ideas-oriented capacity. Our thought is that this would remain a very limited and distinguished group. Our first two members of the Advisory Board are Anne Serafin, co-editor of a recent book entitled African Women Writing Resistance (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), [See: http://www.amazon.com/African-Women-Writing-Resistance- Contemporary/dp/0299236641] and Edouard Bustin, Professor at the African Studies Center of Boston University (where our journal is based) and Director of their Francophone Africa Research Group (GRAF).
It is with great pleasure that we present to you the December 2011 issue of Africana. As we move into our fifth year of publication, we thank you again for your ongoing interest and support.