Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

6
Aug

James Mwangi grew up on the slopes of the Aberdare Mountains in central Kenya. His father lost his life during the Mau Mau uprising against the colonial authorities. His mother raised seven children, making sure both the girls and the boys were well educated. Everybody in the family worked at a series of street businesses to pay the bills.

He made it to the University of Nairobi and became an accountant. The big Western banks were getting out of retail banking, figuring there was no money to be made catering to the poor. But, in 1993, Mwangi helped lead a small mutual aid organization, called Equity Building Society, into the vacuum.

The enterprise that became Equity Bank would give poor Kenyans access to bank accounts. Mwangi would cater to street vendors and small-scale farmers. At the time, according to a profile by Anver Versi in African Business Magazine, the firm had 27 employees and was losing about $58,000 a year.

Mwangi told the staff to emphasize customer care. He switched the firm’s emphasis from mortgage loans to small, targeted loans.

Kenyans got richer, the middle class boomed and Equity Bank surged. By 2011, Equity had 450 branches and a customer base of 8 million — nearly half of all bank accounts in the country. From 2000 to 2012, Equity’s pretax profit grew at an annual rate of 65 percent. In 2012, Mwangi was named the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year.

Mwangi’s story is a rags-to-riches Horatio Alger tale. Mwangi has also become a celebrated representative of the new African entrepreneurial class, who now define the continent as much as famine, malaria and the old scourges.

But Mwangi’s story is something else. It’s a salvo in an ideological war. With Equity, Mwangi demonstrated that democratic capitalism really can serve the masses. Decentralized, bottom-up capitalism can be the basis of widespread growth, even in emerging markets.

That theory is under threat. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the beginning of a global battle of regimes, an intellectual contest between centralized authoritarian capitalism and decentralized liberal democratic capitalism.

On July 26, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary gave a morbidly fascinating speech in which he argued that liberal capitalism’s day is done. The 2008 financial crisis revealed that decentralized liberal democracy leads to inequality, oligarchy, corruption and moral decline. When individuals are given maximum freedom, the strong end up stepping on the weak.

The future, he continued, belongs to illiberal regimes like China’s and Singapore’s — autocratic systems that put the interests of the community ahead of individual freedom; regimes that are organized for broad growth, not inequality.

Orban’s speech comes at a time when democracy is suffering a crisis of morale. Only 31 percent of Americans are “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, according to a 2013 Pew survey. Autocratic regimes — which feature populist economics, traditional social values, concentrated authority and hyped-up nationalism — are feeling confident and on the rise. Eighty-five percent of Chinese are very satisfied with their country’s course, according to the Pew survey.

It comes at a time when the battle of the regimes is playing out with special force in Africa. After the end of the Cold War, the number of African democracies shot upward. But many of those countries are now struggling politically (South Africa) or economically (Ghana). Meanwhile, authoritarian Rwanda is famously well managed.

China’s aggressive role in Africa is helping to support authoritarian tendencies across the continent, at least among the governing elites. Total Chinese trade with Africa has increased twentyfold since 2001. When Uganda was looking to hire a firm for an $8 billion rail expansion, only Chinese firms were invited to apply. Under Jacob Zuma, South Africa is trying to copy some Chinese features.

As Howard French, the author of “China’s Second Continent,” points out, China gives African authoritarians an investor who doesn’t ask too many questions. The centralized model represses unhappy minority groups. It gives local elites the illusion that if they concentrate power in their own hands they’ll be able to move decisively to lift their whole nation. (Every dictator thinks he’s Lee Kuan Yew.)

French notes that popular support for representative democracy runs deep in most African countries. But there have to be successful examples of capitalism for the masses. There have to be more Mwangis, a new style of emerging market hero, to renew faith in the system that makes such people possible.

President Obama is holding a summit meeting of African leaders in Washington this week. But U.S. influence on the continent is now pathetically small compared with the Chinese and Europeans. The joke among the attendees is that China invests money; America holds receptions.

But what happens in Africa will have global consequences in the battle of regimes. If African nations succumb to the delusion of autocracy, we’ll have Putins to deal with for decades to come.

Published on Aug. 4 in the http://www.nytimes.com by David Brooks

12
May

Everyone wants to do something about Boko Haram.

That’s fine. Nevertheless, as I argued on Wednesday, Twitter hashtags won’t recover these girls. Even apart from that, what has happened is only the symptom of the larger Boko Haram disease. Absent a strategy that exerts significant military pressure on the group, it will simply keep doing what it’s doing.

After all, these are extremists made from three toxic ingredients: fanatical Islamist medievalism and the ramblings of two psychopaths: Mohammed Yusuf andMohammed Marwa. In practical terms, this means that Boko Haram has little interest in compromise or peace.

Unfortunately, as we’re seeing, the Nigerian government is little better. Beset by corruption and weak leadership, it has allowed Boko Haram to wreak its chaos. Additionally, the Nigerian military is variable in professionalism and limited in capability. It also lacks the popular trust of many Nigerians. So what should America do?

Well, first, we need to admit what we’re unwilling to do. A major U.S. ground deployment is clearly out of the question. American public support would disappear in the face of more than a few American casualties. After Afghanistan and Iraq, the country is sick of war. Moreover, in an election year, the already hyperpolitical Obama White House will be paranoid about the appearance of another Somalia.

How about the much-vaunted Special Operations Forces (SOF) option?

Again, easier on Twitter than in reality. Not only does Boko Haram operate over a vast area, its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria shares borders with three other nations. Correspondingly, any SOF task force would need three things. First, it would require significant troop strength. The U.S. could send elements from the Special Forces Groups (“Green Berets”), but with the direct-action, hostage-rescue capabilities needed here, Special Mission Units (SMUs) would also be needed. More specifically, I believe the U.S. would have to send at least two squadrons (about two hundred men) from either Delta Force or the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, better known — at least since 2011 — as SEAL Team Six. To enable their effectiveness, those forces would have to be accompanied by aviation, intelligence, logistics, and command-support personnel. The White House would also have to procure military operating authorization from Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon (perhaps also Chad and the Central African Republic). AFRICOM is a smaller combatant command of the U.S. military, and even with credible SOF support from other nations (the UK seems interested), it would take major resources to make this work..

A focused SOF mission also presents two other obstacles. First, whatever Zero Dark Thirty might suggest, special forces are not omnipotent. Many SMU operators have been wounded or killed since 9/11; their adversaries are highly dangerous, and Boko Haram is no exception. Second, a major SOF deployment to Nigeria would require some tough choices over priorities. For a start, the Special Forces Groups are stretched by their heavy commitment to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Similarly, while emergency standby squadrons from Delta Force and DEVGRU could be deployed to Nigeria, doing so would limit U.S. contingency options. Of course, American SOF already operate out of East Africa against the groups al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which recently released a video) and Al-Shabab (the Nairobi mall massacre). As such, a scout team was probably sent to Nigeria a couple of weeks back. Still, that would have been a small team.

big Special Forces option would be doable, but very messy. And that conclusion brings me back to the hashtag I floated on Wednesday: #HellfireBokoHaram (that is, strike them with drones).

As I see it, drones offer three unique benefits as a prospective tool against Boko Haram. Most obviously, drones are drones. They don’t put U.S. military personnel at risk. Second, the drones offer a symbiosis of intelligence collection and military lethality. In short, they would enable the U.S. to covertly monitor Boko Haram formations over long periods of time and then incinerate some of them with Hellfire missiles. Third, the drones double as a psychological weapon. The experience of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Co. in the Pakistan FATA (federally administered tribal areas) proves that the drones don’t simply wreak havoc upon the enemy’s command-and-control apparatus; they deny freedom of movement and induce paranoia. Helpfully, the U.S. already has a drone base in nearby Niger. This is the foundation from which we could slowly bring Boko Haram to its knees.

Put another way, it’s time to #HellfireBokoHaram.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He is based in Washington, D.C. Published on 8 May in http://www.nationalreview.com/article/377605/hellfirebokoharam-tom-rogan

8
Apr

KIGALI, Rwanda—A jet roared overhead as we approached the crash site, strolling through a garden of fruit trees at the home of the late Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana. In front of us, a guard manned a small concrete tower perched atop a red brick wall that obscured our view of the wreckage.

Walking under a massive ficus tree, past a pond that once housed Habyarimana’s python, my guide Christine motioned me toward a ladder that led to a small viewing platform. Minutes earlier I’d stood inside Habyarimana’s bedroom, explored his secret weapons closet, and the chamber where he’d practiced witchcraft. Now, I was about to see the remains of the plane in which Rwanda’s longest-serving president was assassinated—the event that ignited the Rwandan genocide.

It’s been 20 years since Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 aircraft was shot down on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and the country has come a long way from the 100 days of mass murder that followed. Although political tensions still simmer and current President Paul Kagame has been accused of suppressing dissent, Rwanda is now one of Africa’s safest nations and its economy is among the fastest growing on the continent. The country that in the spring of 1994 witnessed the worst genocide since the Holocaust is now defined by a lack of crime, spotless public areas, and officials who are harshly punished if caught soliciting bribes or skimming off of public contracts. Today, aside from a handful of memorials filled with skulls, photos of the dead, and displays of the instruments of death—spiked clubs, hoes, machetes—there’s little visible evidence of the nightmare that saw the deaths of up to 1 million Rwandans, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.

The 20th anniversary of the genocide will be commemorated on April 7, and I decided to visit the scene that triggered the bloodshed. On an afternoon in March, I made my way to Habyarimana’s residence: a three-story brick and concrete structure located a mile from Kigali International Airport’s runway. Built in 1976, three years after Habyarimana seized power, the mansion has been open to the public since 2008, when it was reborn as the State House Museum. An hourlong tour includes a walk through the house and gardens and a visit to the Falcon 50 wreckage, which sits just beyond the edge of the compound. Read more…

 

By Jon Rosen. Jon Rosen is a freelance journalist focusing on East Africa and Africa’s Great Lakes region. He is a two-time finalist, and one-time winner, at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards in London.

Published on April 4 in http://www.slate.com

 

12
Dec

Africa’s militant threat

Written on December 12, 2013 by Waya Quiviger in Africa, News

The West may have to help France in its efforts to suppress Islamic militancy in Africa

The deaths of two French soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) have reminded the world of the deadly seriousness of France’s latest foreign foray to confront Islamists in their former colonies. Hundreds of troops are still in Mali, where they have helped force insurgents out of their northern city strongholds and into the desert. Now, a force of about 1,500 has been deployed to the CAR, where an alliance of rebels, known as Seleka, seized power in March. Communal fighting recently claimed many lives and the French have started to remove weapons from fighters in a bid to stop the violence.

While Britain and America continue their disengagement from overseas incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has fallen to the French to take up the challenge posed by the spread of militant Islam in Africa. Long the region’s self-styled policeman, France has experience restoring regimes or thwarting rebellions. Over the past three decades, French forces have been deployed in Congo, Rwanda, Chad and the Ivory Coast as well as Mali and the CAR.

Foreign adventures are a useful distraction for political problems at home and President François Hollande certainly has plenty of those. But he has been anxious to distance himself from the more unilateralist stance of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. He exhibits a greater willingness to co-ordinate military action with local and African Union forces, and recently hosted a summit on peace and security on the continent.

The big question is whether the French should be left to get on with it without external military back-up. For now, they seem willing to take responsibility. But if the threat from militant Islam in North Africa continues to grow, their Western allies might have to provide more than moral and logistical support.

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Published by The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk on December 11, 2013

 

9
Dec

How Mandela Changed South Africa

Written on December 9, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Africa, News

Nelson Mandela was the father of the current democratic South Africa that replaced the odious apartheid state.

His primary legacy is a multiracial South Africa under the rule of law. Mandela’s governance was characterized by racial reconciliation, especially with white Afrikaners, which he shrewdly promoted through the use of symbols. Like President Obama, Mandela sought “teachable moments.” For example, he publicly supported the predominately white national rugby team. He took tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of Hendrick Verwoerd, the chief architect of apartheid. He avoided African National Congress (ANC) and black African triumphalism; there was no wholesale change in Afrikaner place names during his presidency.

He insisted on the rule of law. Apartheid may have been a crime against humanity, but there was no extra-legal “revolutionary justice.” Instead there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the presidency of Archbishop Desmond Tutu that offered amnesty in return for confession to liberation fighters and members of the apartheid security services. Mandela assiduously observed the new constitution that enshrined the strongest protection of individual and minority rights anywhere in the world. Alone among African states, South Africa permits gay marriage, though much of the population remains homophobic.  Read more…

As published in The Council on Foreign Relations on December 5th, 2013  http://www.cfr.org

 

A statue of Nelson Mandela stands outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison) near Paarl

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