Barack Obama’s legacy for African democracy advocates?

John J Stremlau, University of the Witwatersrand

American President Donald Trump’s February 13 calls to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma are his first signals of interest in sub-Sahara Africa.

Trump reportedly raised two US priorities: terrorism and trade. We don’t know if his counterparts found his assertions to be credible or even accurate. What we do know is that mutual confidence is essential in successful international relations. And confidence in Trump appears to be rapidly waning at home and abroad amid the chaos, divisiveness and alarming decisions that have marked his first month in office.

Barack Obama legacy Africa democracyAfrica’s democrats fear Trump’s autocratic leadership traits will give political cover, comfort and confidence to the continent’s remaining strongmen. It remains unclear whether this will in fact be the case. But it is a safe bet his leadership will not inspire the confidence of Africans that his predecessor Barack Obama enjoyed throughout his two terms.

In a survey of nine sub-Sahara African countries in 2015 the Pew Research Centre found that 74% had confidence in Obama to “do the right thing regarding world affairs”. Racial identity may be one explanation. But Obama also scored high or higher in predominantly white, Western Europe, Canada and Australia.

Moreover, his high standing in sub-Sahara Africa persisted despite grumbling that he never delivered American largess to the degree many initially expected. Nor did his use of the US military in Africa, including his support for the NATO-led 2011 overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, appear to dent his standing. This, despite the fact that he had many critics on the continent. Among them were prominent pundits and professors in South Africa.

In Kenya, the country of his father, his popularity remained high despite slipping from 94% in 2009 to 80% in 2015.

Beyond the numbers, Obama’s most lasting legacy may be his leadership traits. These were rooted in a commitment to sustainable democracy, no less than his hero, Nelson Mandela.

Pillars of Obama’s approach

Obama spent his political career building and benefiting from diverse coalitions, identifying with three civilisations through his own family: America, Africa and Islam. He advocated civic nationalism as an essential part of sustaining pluralistic democracy, and rejected the divisiveness of ethnic nationalism.

Obama is also an accomplished constitutional lawyer, whose respect for due process marked his presidency. Unlike Trump, Obama criticised court rulings against his policies but never the authority behind those rulings. Facts and evidence were essential to Obama and abetted confidence in his leadership at home and abroad. False news and repeated lying by Trump, or any elected leader, are among the most egregious threats to sustainable democracy. This is true in both America and Africa.

Obama also demonstrated a commitment to multilateralism. It was qualified, however, in a way that advocates of the African Renaissance and a more effective AU can appreciate. Regional and global order requires agreement to respect sovereign rights – as well as sovereign obligations. This is now reflected in the growing willingness of the African Union to engage in the internal affairs of its member states.

Obama’s most notable multilateral efforts all reflect this dual responsibility. These included the nuclear agreement with Iran and, most importantly for Africa, his leadership in advancing the agreement on shared sovereign obligations in addressing climate change.

Obama was also exceptionally respectful of constitutional due process and limited unilateral use of force in reprisal for terrorist and other hostile acts against the US. The same applied to his partnership with other nations that sought US military assistance in their counter-terrorist operations.

Criticisms and failures

Obama made a number of decisions that led to military assistance being given to African governments, including authoritarian regimes. Even though the assistance was limited, critics complained that it contradicted his democratic rhetoric and polices.

But in my view such assistance is legitimate, with two provisos. That it is proportionate to the threat to innocent civilians. And that it is provided at the request of a recognised sovereign government.

That Africa has faced a growing threat from terrorism is beyond dispute. According to the UN’s conflict prevention specialist Mohamed Yahya 33,000 people have died in terrorism-related violence in Africa over the past five years. The worst civilian losses occurred in the conflict prone countries of Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia.

One particularly controversial aspect of Obama’s policy was his willingness to deploy drone weapons to combat the scourge. Most deaths from drones occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. In 2016 US drone attacks killed around 2,000 in those countries, including about 100 civilians.

But Obama’s most controversial use of force was in Libya.

In March 2011 the UN Security Council approved collective intervention under a new doctrine, the Responsibility to Protect. As the civil war escalated the NATO-led coalition of 19 states also escalated their airstrikes. This led to the overthrow of the government, and eventual capture and killing of Qaddafi by rebel forces.

Obama admitted later that not providing adequate state building assistance to Libya was among his greatest failures. Whether the use of military force violated international law or was to the long-term detriment of the Libyan people is less clear. A 2016 Brookings study by Shadi Hamid makes a convincing defence for the intervention despite the continuing chaos and conflict.

Enduring inspiration

Few leaders – whether in America or Africa – leave office with Obama’s record of public service unblemished by scandal, accusations of lying, defying or circumventing laws, or actions of self-enrichment. Leaders that eschew these traits are easily discernible and their behaviour adds authority and endurance to their legacies.

Obama no longer holds office but his voice is bound to resonate, especially when his leadership traits are compared with the reckless, bigoted and uniformed actions of his successor. Obama’s approval rating among Americans remains high lending strength to those resisting Trump’s executive actions. His Africa legacy will be harder to measure but should be of enduring inspiration to advocates of sustainable democracy.

The Conversation

John J Stremlau, Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Boosting STEM education for African girls and women

By Sam Otieno

[NAIROBI] Mentoring girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is, no doubt, viewed as one of the most central pillars for equitable and secure sustainable future of Africa.

But experts, governments and several institutions have been grappling with how best this can be executed to achieve the desired goals fully, and consistently.

“Science needs women [and] women need science.”

Alice Ochanda, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

These emerged as some of the vital issues during the 2nd International day for Women and Girls in Science forum held in Nairobi, Kenya, this month (11 February) , which was organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation in Kenya and the African Women in Science and Engineering.

But UNESCO-Government of Kenya online tool for mentoring young girls and women in STEM, which was launched at the event, was a shot in the arm for STEM education in Africa.

I couldn’t help valuing this as quite interesting move since the online tracking tool would provide a chance to facilitate mentoring and tracking of the mentored students at different levels of education in Africa. For instance, so far 730 students in 80 schools have been mentored in Kenya.

Another take of mine is that this would also enable upcoming women scientists and students with interest in science to highlight the issues that continue to side-line them in these important educational fields, and to also discuss future approaches vital for effective participation of women in science.

Experts emphasised that there is a need for the participating schools to track the performance of those students who have been mentored.

The mentors, some of whom are women scientists, engineers and lecturers in the universities, , monitor the admissions to see how many of the mentored students are admitted in the different STEM courses, and are also expected to analyse the admissions for indication of an increase in enrolment.

According to Alice Ochanda, programme specialist for gender and science, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, the tool could boost visibility, recognition and a voice for science by telling people what is happening to women in Africa.

“Science needs women [and] women need science,” says Ochanda. ”The involvement of women in science will facilitate the development of the continent.”

She adds that girls should be empowered to think for solutions for problems in their countries from scientific and engineering insights.

Ochanda notes that science clubs in schools to facilitate further mentorship and networking opportunities for the students should be implemented.

From the 2nd International day for women and girls in science meeting, it clearly emerged, to me, that to close the gender gap in science there’s greater need to inspire girls to embrace the sciences through mentorship talks, laboratory demonstrations, linkages of STEM subjects to careers and showing their relevance to society.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


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Propaganda in Portugal’s colonies: lesson for today

Marissa J. Moorman, Indiana University, Bloomington

“Revolt begins where the road ends.” This sums up the thoughts of a Portuguese general on the counterinsurgency strategy in the 1960s against nationalist movements in the country’s former African colonies of Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique.

Angola lesson for today propagandaWhen most other African countries had liberated themselves from Europe’s colonial yoke, Portugal, one of the earliest colonisers and the poor man of Europe, insisted on retaining its empire. Drawing on research for my upcoming book “Powerful Frequencies: Radio, State, and the Cold War in Angola, 1931-2002”, this article looks at the relationship between military radio propaganda of counterinsurgency to draw some lessons for today’s wars.

Counterinsurgency has garnered renewed attention in the wake of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Invading Western powers desperately need the cooperation of local populations to fight Iraqi guerrilla insurgents resisting US occupation and Afghani Taliban (along with a congeries of tribal allies and opium traders).

Western military brass and policy wonks repeatedly appeal to the historical, anti-colonial struggles and the counterinsurgency strategies European and US imperialists deployed against local populations as relevant case studies for contemporary wars. Recall, for example, that the Pentagon screened Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” in 2003 to raise the issues of infiltration, interrogation and torture of insurrectionary forces in Iraq.

At the core of all these strategies, old and new, is the blurring of civilian and military practices. Put differently, under these circumstances development is just another word for counterinsurgency. Reform (for civilians) and repression (for rebels), the twin prongs of this strategy, are more intertwined than they are parallel tines.

Bromides about the future are aimed at dulling the violence of forced removals, spying on one’s neighbours and family, and the militarisation of everyday life. Indeed the vaunted progress – roads constructed, homes built, fields tilled – are built on and through big and small acts of violence. The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, (2006), the first to be published in 20 years, offers a tidy dyad in its foreword:

Soldiers and marines are expected to be nation builders as well as warriors.

Anti-colonial radio and the state

In late colonial Angola, radio (the object and the institution), blared the contradictions of this kind of counterinsurgency programme and sounded out the fragmented nature of the colonial state.

One plank of counterinsurgency was what the Portuguese military referred to as “psychological action”. Crafted in the information trenches, psychological action had three targets:

  1. Civilians – win their hearts and minds;
  2. Rebel combatants – demoralise them and encourage desertion; and
  3. Colonial soldiers – maintain their morale and loyalty.

Plainly put, this was propaganda. Both sides used it. The Portuguese almost always played catch up. Military reports from a Counterinsurgency Commission held in 1968-1969 point to the effective histories and radio broadcasts of guerrilla movements. They refer in particular to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) based in Brazzaville and the need to counteract their transmissions.

The MPLA had been broadcasting guerrilla radio from the mid-1960s via the state radios of the Congo Republic in Brazzaville. Brazzaville, once the site of Charles DeGaulle’s Free French government-in-exile during the Second World War, had the largest transmitter on the continent. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) did much less from their Kinshasa base in Zaire.

MPLA cadres received some training in Algeria. This, with their already Marxist and anti-colonial orientation, meant the programming on Angola Combatente (Fighting Angola) broadcast critiques of colonial occupation and its capitalist ends. It also sent secret messages to movement militants working clandestinely and appealed to Portuguese soldiers to desert.

The FNLA’s Voz Livre de Angola (The Free Voice of Angola) served primarily as a community station for the many African exiles from Angola in the area. The Portuguese secret police (PIDE) faithfully listened and transcribed. Only later, after the Counterinsurgency Commission, did the military develop its own radio propaganda.

The colonial state played a reactive game. They employed various media: radio, newspapers, pamphlets and posters. In Mozambique for example, loudspeakers mounted in aeroplanes as part of Operation Gordian Knot, was the largest and most successful Portuguese counterinsurgency effort. It was based on US counterinsurgency in Vietnam.

The Military Information Secretariat produced news that local papers printed. It was also relayed on civilian radio stations and was loosely coordinated through the official Angolan broadcaster, the EOA or Emissora Oficial de Angola.

Broadcasting in Angola – the longer view

A vast network of radio broadcasters, largely member based radio clubs, developed in Angola from the 1930s. By the 1950s each region of Angola had a least one radio club. This meant a total of 10 broadcasters for a white settler population that reached nearly half a million by the early 1970s. They were also served by a commercial station, another belonging to the diamond mining company Diamang, and the EOA.

Member based groups drew from radio enthusiasts, the local business elite, and, increasingly, young folks. Every club was different in structure and size. While they broadcast in Portuguese, their main focus was local events: football games, car races and radio plays. Many also organised live musical events.

They often implored the colonial state for financial support and strategically lauded Portuguese Prime Minister António Salazar and the work of empire. Yet, radio club broadcasters were largely (though not entirely) deaf to the nationalist cause. Still, these young men and women created a dynamic network and vibrant modernity. If clubs found their broadcasters pressed into broadcasting counterinsurgency messages, it seemed a small price to pay.

The official EOA opened in the early 1950s (then too a settler initiative). But the war made it more of a priority. The Plan for Radio Broadcasting in Angola, established in 1961 a few short months after the war erupted, attempted to fortify broadcasting structures. The plan was a long term, shifting set of goals. It was grounded in infrastructure and targeted at increasing the state’s broadcasting range.

It put broadcasting in the hands of the Centre for Information and Tourism and the Post Office. But archival files show a jumble of voices and interests. Broadcasters, military and secret police varied in their ideas about how and what radio should do.

We’re jamming

Despite the largely discredited practice of jamming, some military and police figures continued to advocate it well into the late 1960s. Blocking the signal of the guerrilla radios was inefficient and expensive.

But broadcasters from the national broadcaster – Emissora Nacional – in Lisbon, rich in expertise but poor in structural authority, argued for propaganda produced by an autonomous body, not the EOA. Propaganda required nimble structures, free of the state’s imprimatur and staid sound.

In the end, broadcasting policy came down on the side of technological solutions to political problems. Even as the military and secret police argued for responsive forms of counterinsurgency, state policy around broadcasting opted for concrete solutions.

Fast forward to today

The lesson for today is the obvious one. But the one still not learned. No matter how slick the Field Manuals sound and how well they shill the idea that occupying militaries can purvey both violence and the building of a state, the contradictions and complications ultimately undo the best of intentions. You cannot introduce development surrounded by concertina wire or democracy with drones buzzing overhead. And neither will technology fix political problems, which are essentially human.

The Conversation

Marissa J. Moorman, Associate Professor of History, Indiana University, Bloomington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Seeds help transform farmers’ yields, income

By Sam Otieno, Isaac Odhiambo

[NAIROBI] Adopting certified seed varieties with improved agronomic management practices could significantly transform Africa’s agricultural sector, says a farmer.

During a field trip last month (26 January) to assess the impact of certified seeds on crop yield, Margret Njagi, a smallholder farmer in Kenya’s Embu County, told SciDev.Net that using certified seeds could help eradicate poverty and hunger on the continent.

Njagi explains that for many years she has depended on recycled seeds and the output was not enough; from one hectare she would harvest three and two bags of maize and beans respectively annually.

“I am now harvesting ten bags and four bags of maize and beans respectively on the same piece of land.”

Margret Njagi, a smallholder farmer

“However, after implementing certified seeds, I am now harvesting ten bags and four bags of maize and beans respectively on the same piece of land,” she says.

Njagi adds that she is able to provide basic needs for her family by selling some of the produce and earning money that she can save.

Anastasia Mbatia, seed distribution specialist with Agri Experience in Kenya, says that there is a need to ensure the seed market in Africa is more resilient than before by using quality seed with desirable traits preferred by smallholder farmers to deal with current pressing challenges such as climate change related impacts. She explains that farmers need to adopt agriculture practices such as planting “climate smart” crops that are tolerant to their present ecological zone conditions and those that can grow either in high, middle or low altitudes.

Mbatia advises countries that mostly depend on maize as a staple food to change their dietary habits by introducing other crops such as sorghum, potatoes, beans and cow peas.

“When maize fails they will have something to put on their table hence definitely change the livelihood of people across Africa,” she says.

Farmers should prepare their farms and do everything on time to help control the problem of aflatoxin and also they should have enough storage for the produce to solve the issue of post-harvest loses, Mbatia notes, adding that ignorance and lack of knowledge contributes to low use of certified seeds.

Njeru Mwita, a crop officer at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, appeals to African governments to build capacity of the agricultural extension agents to help farmers.

“Extension officers should be capable of instructing farmers on which type of crops to plant according to the type of soil and availability of rainfall, and also the best agronomic practices [such as use of fertilisers]”, he explains.

But Mwita says the government need to strengthen seed policies by addressing the gaps in seed demand and combating the booming fake seed problem that is making farmers not to buy certified varieties.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Strong family ties’ role in Nigerian sex trafficking

Valentina Pancieri, University of Cape Town

Discussions about human trafficking between Africa and Europe are frequently blurred by generalisations about villainous traffickers and their naïve young victims who have been misled into prostitution. But the world of sex trafficking is far more complex.

For example, several studies have shown that Nigerian sex trafficking rings are dominated by women, known as madams, and use of black magic rituals, known as juju, to keep their victims captivated. But little or no work has been done on other important dynamics. Two in particular are important.

Nigeria sex traffickingThe first is the active role that extended families play in helping women secure work in Europe. The second is the fact that women themselves are nowadays increasingly aware of the work that awaits them, even though they cannot imagine how brutal and miserable it actually is.

The lack of research has resulted in an incomplete understanding of the much more complex reality of the circumstances under which victims fall into the hands of traffickers. This has also compromised the effectiveness of prevention and rehabilitation projects in Nigeria, which seldom take into account the involvement of family members.

As part of my doctoral research I recently conducted interviews in rural communities outside Benin City, the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria. Recruitment of women for work in Europe is rife in the area.

Many of the young women I interviewed knew that prostitution lay behind vague offers for work as hairdressers, cashiers or domestic workers in Europe. Nevertheless, out of desperation, some are prepared to take up the offers driven by the need to provide a better life for their families.

In rural Nigeria, widespread emigration aspirations are often fuelled by the high levels of joblessness, corruption, poor infrastructure and family struggles to make ends meet.

My interviews with communities members and NGO representatives indicate that many young Nigerians see the opportunity of finding work abroad as their best, if not their only, means to a better future for themselves and their families. The dire economic situations which their families face, combined with a sense of obligation, is an important factor in the decision making process. Added to this complexity is the fact that extended family members often act as the link between human trafficking syndicates and their victims.

The Nigeria/Europe nexus

Nigerian sex traffickers have developed a highly organised and wide web of criminal contacts throughout Europe. Over the years this has grown as they have found new ways of overcoming logistical and law enforcement obstacles.

Italy serves as the primary gateway for Nigerian migrants entering Europe.
In 2016, almost 38,000 landed on Italian shores. Just under 10,000 were women.

This number represents the largest jump in the yearly total of Nigerian women arriving in Italy in the last 10 years. In August 2016 the International Organization for Migration reported that 80% of the Nigerian women who arrive in Italy would ultimately be trafficked for sex.

The role of the family

There is high awareness of sex trafficking in Nigeria thanks to the work of international organisations, local NGOs and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons.

But women continue to leave in large numbers to seek a brighter future in Europe. This is exacerbated by pressures put on them by their own families.

Family pressure is often the deciding factor in their leaving home. The struggle to make ends meet often leads families to view sending young women off to Europe as an investment, leading to future income for the household. Thus family members are involved in the recruiting phase of trafficking.

Women migrants – unlike their male counterparts – don’t have to finance their own trips to Europe. They are sponsored by their future “employers” and once in Europe are forced to work until they repay the debt incurred for passage. This can take years as the inflated sums can amount to as much as €60,000. This indebtedness also means that women are less likely to report their situation to the police.

Extended family members often mislead women into believing that their migration process will be different as their contact in Italy is a trusted one.

Unlike the Western “extended family”, Nigerian families are tightly knit through ancestral ties. This makes the closeness of the biological connection irrelevant in determining the importance of the relationship. This creates a very profound sense of moral and financial obligation among family members, a factor which has great importance in the dynamics of sex trafficking.

In Nigerian families, for instance, the wealthier family members are both expected and feel obligated to provide financially for those who struggle. Nigerian “madams” use this to their advantage. For example they allow women to keep a small sum of money to send back home occasionally.

These remittances become a double-edged sword. They provide a financial incentive to the family in Nigeria to do whatever they can to discourage the women from escaping.

As long as the woman keeps sending money home, neither the community nor the family is likely to question the source of her income. Being unable to find success abroad and to live up to her financial responsibility to her family would be perceived as a failure and the source of significant shame and dishonour on a personal, family and community level.

Fighting sex traffickers

Several major international police operations and intelligence gathering projects funded by the EU and various EU member states are in place to fight Nigerian transnational sex trafficking.

But the increasing number of Nigerian women arriving in Europe suggests that their success is limited. The Nigerian criminal groups have proved to be very adaptable and to be able to quickly reconstitute themselves when put under legal pressure.

Law enforcement operations should be combined with prevention and rehabilitation strategies for a more effective and holistic approach to address the Nigerian sex trafficking problem.

In Nigeria, projects to reintegrate the women back into their societies are often focused mainly on the re-empowerment of victims through either work training or access to micro credit grants for business start-ups. Too often little or no attention is given to the reintegration of the women in their families.

It’s undeniable that families play an important role in the sustainability of external sex trafficking. But the power of strong family ties could also be a great asset in preventing the women from joining the sex trade in the first place. Family based interventions and family counselling could play a pivotal role in the success of reintegration strategies for the victims as has been the case in addressing other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, bullying and gambling.

The Conversation

Valentina Pancieri, Ph.D. Candidate in Criminology, University of Cape Town, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.