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Entries tagged "Africa"

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An Opening for Progressives? Obama to Step up Outreach to Africa in 2011

January 6, 2011 ·

Earlier this week, the AP reported that Obama is

[Q]uietly but strategically stepping up his outreach to Africa, using this year to increase his engagement with a continent that is personally meaningful to him and important to U.S. interests.

This story and the statement from Obama represent an opening for progressives in the United States. and in Africa to begin to push the Obama Administration on its short-sighted Africa policy. The last two years have been more or less a honeymoon where folks were so enthralled by a son of Africa in the White House that there was not enough hard criticism of the Administration’s policies, which continued rather seamlessly from Bush.

As you know, extractive industries - oil, gas and mining remain the dominant lens through which U.S.-Africa policy is set. AFRICOM and the expansion of U.S. militarism in Africa is a tool through which the United States can secure its narrow interests in Africa’s resources. In addition, the Obama Administration is pushing hard on its “Feed the Future” Initiative – which translates on the ground into land grabs for biofuels and genetically modified foods.

The key in the coming year will be the degree to which progressives can position ourselves to challenge harmful policies while pushing forward alternatives on food sovereignty (local food), land rights, human rights, environmental justice, economic justice (debt cancellation) and peace (stop the flow of weapons and military contractors). Many of these themes will be featured at the World Social Forum in Senegal next month.

The article focuses on elections noting that,

The administration is monitoring more than 30 elections expected across Africa this year, including critical contests in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Out of the 30, there will be 12 key elections in Africa this year (including the referendum in Sudan and Presidential elections in Nigeria, Uganda, Liberia – all of whom now have oil). This will bring more sustained mainstream media coverage to Africa than in other years.

An Obama trip to Africa will intensify that coverage. Rumors are flying as to where Obama will go and when. My bet is on the UNFCCC which will be in South Africa in December.

But Big Oil and other powerful U.S. companies and the negative impact of U.S. guns and training will remain a serious challenge to peace and stability on the continent.

Nigeria @ 50

October 7, 2010 ·

Nigeria turned 50 last week.   It’s been a turbulent fifty, a time of great success and more than a few crushing defeats.  The paradoxes of the last 50 years were captured during independence festivities in Abuja last Friday, as thousands gathered in Nigeria’s capital to celebrate Nigeria 50th Independence Day with food and fireworks only to be flee in horror when two car bombs exploded outside the Ministry of Justice, killing twelve.

The occasion of Nigeria’s 50th birthday provided many news outlets and commentators with the hook they needed to perform an autopsy of Nigeria’s history, with the usual analyses of Nigeria’s successes (its literary icons, its contemporary status as peacekeeper and stabilizer of West Africa), and its many failures (the oft-mentioned 419 email scams and the Biafran War among them).  It was jarring to see again the pictures of the Biafran war – the carnage of bodies piled atop each other, the stomachs of children bulging from hunger.  Yet Nigeria survived the catastrophe of its civil war, and has remained unified since.

Nigeria’s future, in many ways, turns on the question of ethnicity and politics, the same questions that have hounded Nigeria since its founding.  These questions will be at the fore as Nigerians head to the polls next year to elect their next president.  The last year has been an especially interesting one in Nigerian politics; the current president, Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian Southerner), ascended to the presidency only after his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua (a Muslim Northerner), died in office in May.  Jonathan recently announced his bid for the presidency; if he is selected as his party’s candidate, it would throw a wrench into the ruling party’s finely calibrated North-South arrangement whereby a candidate from one half of the country is replaced in the following election cycle by a candidate from the other half.  Since Yar’Adua only served a portion of his term, there are some who believe that a Northerner is entitled to another term as President.  If Jonathan manages to win the political primaries for his party, his candidacy will upset the system, and perhaps for the best.  A Jonathan campaign would hopefully provide an opportunity for Nigerians to focus a bit more on the qualifications and credentials of their presidential candidates, and a bit less on their ethnic background and religious beliefs.

There are many others who aspire to become the next president of Nigeria, the most interesting of whom, perhaps, is Nuhu Ribadu, the former Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Division, the anti-corruption agency.   Ribadu has returned to Nigeria after several years in exile; he fled Nigeria after several attempts on his life as a result of his anti-corruption work.  Now he is mounting a campaign that he promises will be based on the ideals he’s spent his career defending – honesty, integrity, and a promise to crack down on the graft and corruption that has become an endemic part of the political culture in Nigeria.  His campaign has already attracted attention among many youth across ethnic boundaries in Nigeria.

The fate of Nigeria in the next half-century hangs in the balance.  The direction that Nigeria takes – towards a future of hope and growth, or one of backsliding and defeat – depends, to a great extent, on leadership.  For this reason alone, the next few months in Nigerian politics will be of critical importance.

A Nation still Divided: Rwanda's elections provoke fierce debate at Washington briefing

August 5, 2010 ·

A tense briefing Tuesday on Rwanda’s upcoming elections held at the National Press Club in Washington demonstrated that politics still evoke a strong emotional response from many Rwandans 16 years after their devastating genocide. Despite a series of new laws aimed at promoting reconciliation and inclusion, divisions in the young democracy continue to run deep over the prospect of reelecting strongman Paul Kagame as president.

Rwandan Ambassador James Kimonyo arrived unnanounced and took the podium Tuesday to defend President Paul Kagame's controversial rule.

The briefing was aimed at shedding light on the illegitimacy of Rwanda’s upcoming election on August 9th.  In the past few months, the Rwandan government has grossly violated citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Local authorities prevented opposition parties, including the Democratic Green Party and the FDU-Inkingi, from registering by denying them permission to hold the required congressional meetings. The manipulation of the “Genocide Ideology Law”, adopted in 2008, has been used almost exclusively against political opposition leaders like presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, portraying them as genocide sympathizers and imprisoning them.  

Other opposition leaders, including Joseph Ntawangundi and Frank Habineza, have been threatened, beaten, and/or arrested. Independent journalists such as Didas Gasana, Charles Kabonero, and Richard Kayigamba have been imprisoned. Others who have vocally opposed the Rwandan Administration, such as Jean-Bosco Gasasira, have been forced to flee into exile after severe threats. Vice President of the Democratic Green Party André Kagwa Rwisereka was reported missing before his body was found mutilated. For a thorough, though still non-exhaustive, see the chronology of abuses or the submission for Universal Periodic Review by Human Rights Watch.

The briefing’s panel, consisting of human rights lawyer Peter Erlinder and Rwandan civil society advocates Claude Gatebuke and Pascal Kalinganire, began by spotlighting these abuses and denouncing the election as a “lie,” a “myth,” and a “sham” primarily because of the suppression of opposition. The unexpected arrival of the Rwandan Ambassador, however, radically changed the course of the dialogue.  After being granted permission to speak, Ambassador James Kimonyo vociferously denied the panelists’ statements, vouching for the validity of the election process, and commending the Rwandan government for its many achievements.

Ambassador Kimonyo further incited controversy by personally attacking the panelists. Seemingly bent on avoiding dialogue and the topic of the elections altogether, he accused Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda in absentia of financially aiding FDLR rebels in the DRC. Many of the FDLR are former Rwandan genocidaires, and thus the Ambassador smeared Rusesabagina as a genocide sympathizer, or guilty of “Genocide Ideology.” Erlinder, he charged, was guilty of the same crime by association. These accusations provoked a clamor from the audience, many of whom were members of the Rwandan diaspora community, and prompted defensive refutations that derailed the discussion of the elections to political bickering. While moderator Emira Woods attempted to steer the discussion back to the U.S. government’s role in the upcoming election, explosive outbursts and defensive debate characterized the remainder of the two-hour briefing.

While this tense dialogue represented a microcosm of the deep-rooted political tensions that have no platform on which to be voiced in Rwanda today, it detracted from the objective of the briefing – to call on the U.S. to be a more responsible global partner, not recognize illegitimate, undemocratic elections, and end its support of repressive strongmen.

DR Congo: Independence 50 Years Later

July 2, 2010 ·

Congo conference 2Foreign Policy In Focus commemorated 50 years of independence for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week, along with Friends of the Congo, Congo Global Action, Africa Action, Africa Faith & Justice Network, TransAfrica Forum, and WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington DC. For many of us, the event organizers and most of those in attendance feel that true independence for DRC has yet to be realized.

The DRC won a hard-fought independence from direct Belgian colonialism in June of 1960, led by Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently elected Prime Minister of the Congo. It is widely accepted that Belgium, the CIA, and other Western forces conspired to, and succeeded in assassinating Lumumba. This travesty was also a recurring theme within yesterday’s event.

Held at the Public Welfare Foundation’s True Reformer Building, this day-long conference attracted over 150 people, many of them Congolese. We began by screening 20 minutes of three films; Memories of Lumumba by Lubangi Muniania, The Street Children of Kinshasa by Gilbert Mulamba, and  Apocalypse Africa by Del Walters. I highly recommend that you click the link for Apocalypse Africa to view its trailer.

The films were able to dispel a racist notion promoted by Western media; that Africans are a naturally brutal and violent people, particularly toward one another. Once one understands that it was Belgian colonial rule that introduced the chopping off of hands and raping of women as methods of subjugation, then today’s realities in the Congo are better understood. Once one learns that it was U.S. government policy to saturate “Black Africa with weapons” to deliberately foster violent internal conflict, explanations about the current state of Africa become much clearer.

Emira Woods speaks at the Congo conferenceIt became very evident that people are very frustrated about, and anxious to find solutions to the dire situation in DRC. We were able to get into a more full discussion about what can be done during a panel moderated by Del Walters and IPS’s Emira Woods.

With a 14-year conflict over mineral resources that has claimed six million lives and hundreds of thousands of women raped, a discussion about how to actually insure the security and sovereignty that should accompany independence was a very difficult thing. Frustration and disgust intermingled with African pride and human compassion were the order of the day.

In my view, the most instructive lessons regarding the fate and current state of the Congo have come from the late Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana and promoter of the scientific theories and practices for uniting the whole continent. Nkrumah, also overthrown in a CIA orchestrated coup, wrote the book Challenge of the Congo; A Case Study of Foreign Pressures in an Independent State. Nkrumah said:

"Although the struggle for national independence in the Congo has yet to be won, I see no alternative for the future of the Congo, except in the arms of a united Africa within the framework of a continental Union Government. Until this is achieved, the dangers facing the Congo will not only multiply but will be complicated by many factors which will involve the whole of Africa” (Challenge of The Congo, p. XVI)

It seems Nkrumah predicted what we now see taking place in the DRC. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments carrying out destabilization policies at the behest of U.S. power is one example.

Congo conference audienceAfricans in America, and the whole African Diaspora, have a special role to play. So long as we do not see ourselves as African first, how much we engage and what exactly we do when engaged will not be adequate enough to address the problems we face in the Congo or anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, people who are not of African descent must begin to respect African people as a national entity, or in a more contemporary and useful sense as a political entity.

In quintessential African style, we closed the event with culture: captivating performances by Omekongo Dibinga, Deja Belle, and Anna Mwalagho. I'm certain the Democratic Republic of the Congo had not, in a long time, if ever, received as brilliant and suitable a commemoration in Washington DC as this.

From the Frontlines: May 7th, 2010

May 7, 2010 ·

Deregulation and carcinogens, racial foreclosure gaps, and the Fed audit: today's news and notes.

Might want to reconsider how "microwaveable" your Tupperware is: Nicholas Kristof highlights a new report that shows the connections between industry deregulation and increased cancer rates. 

Why is the foreclosure rate three times higher among blacks than whites? IPS scholar Dedrick Muhammad appears on CNN to discuss.  

Danny Schecter's new movie, Plunder, shows that the story of our economic collapse is even darker than you'd think. Truthdig has the preview; we've got the film screening in DC.  

After the BP oil spill, 55 percent of Floridians now oppose offshore drilling.  Almost a year ago, 55 percent were for it. Via Think Progress.  

Score one for government transparency: Dean Baker reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders reached a deal with Sen. Chris Dodd to get the GAO to audit the Fed. "Any interested journalist, academic, blogger or generic snoop can read through the data and find exactly how much money Goldman Sachs got, at what interest rate, with what collateral and when they paid it back."

New Yorkers will gather outside of Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev’s New York store this Saturday, to protest his involvement in human rights violations and settlement building in Gaza.

How will the British elections affect Africa and the Global South?

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