Monday, December 31, 2018

On Neoliberal Economies and Living Conditions

Plenary Session I: Neoliberalism, Africa's Economies and the Living Conditions of Africans (Venue: Wampah Conference Room) 

Chair: Sylvester Akhaine (Lagos State University, Nigeria) 

Speakers: Gyekye Tanoh; Kojo Amanor; Chambi Chachage, Anita Nayar

Thursday, December 27, 2018

From Ghettoizing to Gentrifying African Studies

Between Ghettoizing and Gentrifying African Studies

Chambi Chachage

From time to time we are treated to a powerful critique of, or contentious debate on, African Studies. This time it has come from Haythem Guesmi's viral article on 'The Gentrification of African Studies.' In a way, it is coming on the heels of Jean Allman's  celebrated address on "#HerskovitsMustFall? A Meditation on Whiteness, African Studies, and the Unfinished Business of 1968."  

Two years ago it was another viral blogpost on 'Where is the ‘African’ in African Studies?' by Robtel Neajai Pailey. I recall how excited I was to read it. As a graduate student from the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Centre for African Studies (CAS), I could relate with most of the issues she raised about her experience there.

What I found so striking is why our academic paths had not crossed given that we both hail from the same continent and engage with the same field. "You may also find it interesting", I emailed her, "to read my experience below with the field: Chachage, C., 2007, Bringing African Studies Back to Africa: Beyond the African-Africanist Divides, paper presented at the 2nd AEGIS Conference on African Studies (ECAS)...." The self-promotion worked out. But promoting my relatively obscured paper is not the core purpose of my post today. It is an entry point into my main argument, though.

If you have noticed, the paper was written more than a decade ago. And it was presented in what Guesmi laments as the places in which it "is now routine for major conferences that focus on disseminating new research and findings on African culture and societies to take place." The first ECAS, which I also had an opportunity to attend, was held in London whereas this second one was held in Leiden. Where else could they be held? After all, ECAS stands for European Conference on African Studies and my other alma mater, the University o Edinburgh's Centre of African Studies (CAS), will host the next one in 2019 - the eighth ECAS.

Guesmi is apt in his lamentation on the difficulties that Africa-based scholars face in order to attend such conferences in the Global North. I won't repeat it here but I witnessed, first-hand, in the recent ASA annual meeting in Atlanta when I woke up early in the morning to listen attentively to an African scholar I have read but never had a chance to meet. He was not there due to unforeseen circumstances. Another one could not make it because of lack of travel funds. The panel of four ended-up having only two panelists.

Holding these conferences in Africa would surely be ideal. But it will only be a partial solution. The problem is not only ontological and geographical, it also epistemological and ideological. Take, for instance, the Review of African Political Economy's (ROAPE) bold decision to hold successive workshops in Accra, Dar es Salaam, and Johannesburg in 2017-2018. ROAPE's ideological foundation is Marxist, but its epistemological base is the West, notwithstanding some of its intellectual and political roots in Eastern Europe. This is why one of its contributors has recently queried why major African Studies conferences and journals hardly analyze capitalism, that is, the way Marxists do. ROAPE's workshop in Dar es Salaam which I participated in indeed attracted a number of Africans, but some of them raised scathing critiques of Marxism in relation to the need to use theories and concepts from Africa and its cultures/philosophies.

Getting visa and travel funds to attend conferences in Euro-America or holding them in Africa may be necessary, but, by no means sufficient conditions for resolving the epistemological crises of disarticulated knowledge production and dissemination. In fact, both can perpetuate the hegemony of western epistemologies and their respective disciplines in and on Africa. This is where, I am convinced, Guesmi misses the point. "The resulting displacement and exclusion of continent-based Africanists", he asserts, "have undermined the true purpose and identity of Africa studies; a pathological process commonly identified as gentrification."

By gentrification of the field, he means a marginalization process that has "altered the social character of its community and generated a new set of problems such as visa issues, academic hipsterism, and restricted access to critical research, which risks to permanently exclude continent-based scholars, undermine their crucial contributions, and eventually converts African studies into another impotent, banal field." This exclusion, however, goes a long way. When Philip Curtin questioned 'The Ghettoization of African History' in 1995, he was, in essence, attempting to guard the already exclusive gates of African Studies from 'Africanization.' 

Convenors of ASA's roundtable on 'Ghettoizing African Studies? The Question of Representation in the Study of Africa' in 1995 knew what he meant. For him and many others who could not dare air it public, the gatekeepers of the canons of African History and and African Studies in the Global North were mainly white male scholars. Only once in a while a couple of white women and black scholars would be allowed in the hallowed gates. The fact that it is only in 2018 that Olivette Otele has become the first black woman professor of history in the UK and yet she has to publicly weather criticisms on her credentials is a testament of how the exclusion runs deep. Africa is thus a preciously guarded academic jewel.

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza aptly referred to this battle for gatekeeping in the case of the US as the 'The Perpetual Solitudes and Crises of African Studies....' in 1997. "African Studies was pioneered in the historically black universities long before it became fashionable in the historically white universities," he notes, "but this fact was thrown into a historical ghetto of the U.S. racial imagination." In the 1950s, funds and other forms of support were channeled to the latter at the expense of the former and "so paternity of the field was wrested from W. E. B. Du Bois and given to Melville Herskovits."

Allman's recent powerful critique of Herskovits' role is therefore only a nuanced restatement of what African scholars have decried for over a generation. Or as a colleague who does not mince words has put in his tweet: "'The whiteness of African Studies will only be acknowledged if acknowledged by a white person' ~African Proverb #HerksovitsMustFall." What all these accounts reveal is that what Guesmi refers to as the true purpose and identity of the field remains contentious. His assertion that "African studies have always been for Africans and about Africans" does not hold water.

No wonder David Ndii has responded by tweeting: "African Studies is the pursuit of Africanists, not Africans, and it remains for the most part an appendage of imperialism." It is for the same reasons that we, Africans who holds degrees in African Studies, shy away from referring to ourselves as Africanists. As Zeleza has  argued in his book on 'Manufacturing African Studies and Crises',  the term "Africanist" denotes "the entire intellectual enterprise of producing knowledge based on a western epistemological order in which both educated Africans and non-Africans are engaged." We are African intellectuals who have stormed the gates of the field to get something out of it, not least because traditional disciplines also marginalize Africa. Like our critical African colleagues in those disciplines, we are struggling to decolonize the Study of Africa.

So, as long as the arduous task of decolonizing the Study of Africa -- be it by anthropologists, economists, political scientist, historians or others -- remains incomplete, once in a while we will be treated to viral critiques of African Studies. Probably Zeleza anticipated this when he thus stated in 1997: "In reading debates about African Studies over the last few decades I am struck by the persistence of the same questions." These nagging questions will remain until we transcend the epistemological order that continues to shape the academic disciplines that are deeply invested in studying Africa(s).

Until then, we will swing between ghettoization and gentrification. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Is Machinga Identification equal to Recognition?

Is Machinga Identification equal to Machinga Recognition? 

Mwanahamisi 'Mishy' Singano

In a surprising move, the president of Tanzania produced and handed over ‘Machinga Identification Cards’ to Local Government Authorities (LGAs) to be distributed to street vendors. Commonly known as ‘Machinga’ apparently derived from 'Marching Guys', these vendors are mainly based in urban areas. The cost of the new ID is TZSh 20,000 per card and the payment is to be sent to the central government via the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA).

 These ID cards are said to have a security features which cannot be replicated – this means, they will only be accessible to those who have been ‘given’ them. When presenting the 2017/2018 budget speech to the parliament, the Minister of Finance reintroduced the formalization of Machinga. It entails registering all the Machinga and providing them with identification cards so they can be to be able to pay taxes. 

Machinga registration pilots were held in few areas, including Ilala. One of the key concerns of the Machinga during the pilot phase was the overemphasis of ‘registering them for paying taxes.’ Most of them felt that TRA running the registration process meant that the end goal is for Machinga to pay their taxes and not identifying them and their needs. In other words, it is not really about ‘recognizing them’ and their contribution to the economy, which should result into a strategic investment in the 'informal' sector. 
The new move from the President's 
office to issue these identification cards clearly addresses Machinga’s concerns of TRA being the face of ‘identification.’ But it raises more questions. It also fails to answer other key fundamental questions.
1. The Value of the ID – When the President unveiled Machinga IDs, he said that those with the IDs should not be ‘disturbed.’ Although this presidential order need to be commended and supported, there is more to be done than ‘leaving them alone.’ Most Machinga wants their identification to go hand in hand with capacity building, which should include improving trading environment – access to selling spots, toilets facilities, portage services, clean and secure environment, harassment-free markets and so forth. Just ‘living them’ to trade in a non-conducive environment is putting Machinga and their customers at risk and stagnating their growth. This does not mean Machinga want to be sent to the formal structured market, but rather, it is a quest for recognizing the 'informality' of their sector and investing in the services they need in the most convenient ways. 
2. ID without Individual Machinga Recognition – Most of the actors working on the 'informal' sector have called for the identification of Machinga in the sense that the government need to have an inventory of Machingas individually to know who they are and what they do. This inventory would not only result in the issuing of IDs, but it will also give the government information, facts and trends they need to make policy decisions. The IDs issued by the President Office are like ‘stickers’ that you buy and stick for identification. It carries no further information in terms of which ID belongs to which Machinga. Security features and serial numbers will only help to know if the ID is legit or fake, but it won’t detect if this ID belongs to a shoeshiner or mama lishe. The danger is that these IDs might be sold to others when they become scarce and precious. By using this model, the government is denying itself the right to have robust information/data on the Machinga as the only information they will have now is the number of Machinga based on the number of IDs sold out.
3. Lack of a Clear Definition of the Machinga – The Machinga sector has evolved tremendously within the last five years. Machinga have creatively and innovatively ventured into a range of new products and services, using cutting edge selling strategies, making the Machinga sector wide and fluid. A lack of clear criteria for defining Machinga will make it harder for the ID provision. Chances are different regions will provide ID cards to different groups based on their ‘perceived idea of who is a Machinga,’ which might deny others the right to be identified. 
4. LGA Revenues – Most LGAs used to collect trading fees from ‘Machinga’ that were used for servicing trading areas – i.e. cleaning, security, infrastructure development – among other things. Now, all of these funds will be going to the central government, a phenomena which will not only handicap LGAs to perform their functions better due to lack of resources, but also likely fuel conflict between Machinga and LGAs. Machinga will have higher expectation on service delivery now that they are identified through the President's Office IDs (which to them means they are recognized) but LGA’s will have low capabilities to deliver those services – given resources are now channeled to the central government contrary to fiscal decentralization. 
Identifying Machinga is an important stage in recognizing and supporting them to unleash their potential. However, to make the most out of the President's will and order the Government should not only ‘sell’ these IDs, but they should properly identify and capture key information and profiles of Machinga. Technology should allow LGAs to do this exercise effectively and efficiently.

All the resources from the selling of IDs should be retained at the local government level and channeled to the vending sector to improve the trading environment, especially in beefing up security. Women, people with disabilities and the elderly people should be prioritized in the identification process, even if that would mean subsidizing the cost of IDs. Last but not least, these IDS should not be tools of control and surveillance, but of access and mobility.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Blue Economy Agenda-A Resource Grab Scheme?

The Blue Economy Agenda: New Dawn for Africa or just another resource grab scheme?


Ronald B. Ndesanjo
The World Bank defines the blue economy as sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, livelihoods improvement, jobs creation, and ecosystems sustainability. In simple terms, it entails the use of ocean resources for sustainable economic growth. This is what we have understood as blue economy until a week ago when the concept presumably got a whole new meaning to include inland water resources. Lakes and rivers were added to the economic equation.

This redefinition was presented during the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya between the 26th and 28th of November 2018. It was a meeting that touched on many things. But, more importantly, it was for mobilizing the global community to exploit the potential for economic growth, jobs creation, and poverty eradication that our blue resources offer.

Economic exploitation of our ocean (and indeed inland waters) resources is not a new thing at all. It dates back to antiquity. Therefore, the main question is: Why such heightened interest in blue resources now?
 The overall aim for the Blue Economy, as far as its propagators are concerned, is twofold: to harness economic potentials offered by oceans (and inland waters); and to restore the health of our blue resources and the ecological systems they support. I am tempted to regard the former as the real motive behind the current Blue Economy agenda. As for the latter, I see it as a mere campaign to legitimize the underlying economic motives.

We have seen this strategy working in other resource exploitation regimes. Be it forestry, wildlife, mineral ores, oil and gas - you name it. The key issue has always been whether there are tangible benefits to our local economies and small holders’ livelihoods. Let me share my reflections on this.
It is quite evident that there are very strong geopolitical motives behind the Blue Economy agenda, especially in the West Indian Ocean (WIO) region. The region is constituted by ten countries, namely Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, and France. The region is valued at US$20.8 billion annually in “Gross Marine Product”. In contrast, the global ocean economy is valued at around US$2.5 trillion.

Hence, by comparison, the WIO economy seems small. But is quite significant given the economic situation characterizing its countries. This potential is likely to be scooped by global superpowers.

The European Union (EU) has already entered into a partnership with Morocco, Mauritius, Senegal, and Seychelles to reform the countries’ fisheries. As if that is not enough, the EU's target is to form coalitions on Blue Economy sub-sectors with at least 50 African countries. The EU, as a region, boasts 640 million euros of revenue and 3.5 million jobs in the Blue Economy and, from the look of things, the big boys want more cut in the sector. In doing so, where else to go than the West Indian Ocean region?

Interestingly, Seychelles was named, in the Nairobi meeting, as the floater of the first Sovereign Blue Bond; a 15 million dollar bond aimed at sustainable fishing and marine resources conservation. The money is coming from American investors with guarantees from the World Bank and the Global Environmental Facility. And this means business, big business. The big question is: what is in it for African countries in the region?

As I hinted above, the tone set in the Nairobi meeting made it very clear that even inland Blue Economy resources (Lakes and Rivers) are on the menu. This is where the potential locked in the Great Lakes regions come into the scene. One can’t help thinking of confirmed and potential oil and gas reserves beneath the Eastern Africa Rift Valley Lakes.
It has already been confirmed, for instance, that there are commercially exploitable oil and gas deposits in Lakes Turkana and Albert in Kenya and Uganda, respectively. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated (in 2013) that oil and gas reserves, respectively, amounting to 1.554 Billion barrels and 623.55 Billion cubic feet in the four East African countries of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. An Activity Map from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) indicates that virtually all the major water bodies in the country are under exploration. Mozambique also has enormous potential for gas.

Thus, when one hears of promises of financial and technological support in sustainable exploitation and conservation of inland Blue Resources, it is not very difficult to tell what the real motives are. This is only oil and gas. Much can still be said about fisheries, tourism, and aquaculture potentials in the great lakes.
Now let us look at how this Blue Economy thing fits into the current East African situation. The first thing that comes to mind is the local (riparian) communities’ welfare. Lake Victoria's Basin, for instance, constitutes about 30 million inhabitants. About 70 percent of them are smallholders engaged in fishing, farming, and livestock husbandry. Equally important, the Lake serves as a source of food, energy, fresh water, shelter, transport, and environmental sink. Its fisheries are valued at US$800 pa. But, even in current standards, distribution of benefits (only from fisheries) is deemed inequitable with smallholders at the losing side.

Apart from potential investments in formalizing (economically) and protecting (for strategic reasons) Blue Economy resources, it still is quite vague how our local communities’ welfare will be safeguarded. There is no clear agenda yet on how local communities’ rights (access, ownership) to such resources will be protected especially after the big boys gain a foothold in the region’s Blue Economy sector. All I see now is what I dare call “blue PR” deceptively used to make an impression that global Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and their frontline institutions’ aims are socio-economically and ecologically friendly. 

Yes, the big boys will help us in regulating fishing, pollution control through the transfer of modern cleaner technologies, curbing regional insecurity, climate change mitigation, etc. But for whose interest really? Ours or theirs? Or both?
The bigger question we need to ponder about is how to protect our people and their economies from potentially negative effects following the influx of new, bigger and powerful players in the Blue Economy sector with new rules of engagement likely to see smallholders being pushed out of the equation. I am very optimistic about the benefits we stand to gain from the Blue Economy resource exploitation. But, we need to put our house in order and very fast so as to better position our people and our local economies as winners.

Re-aligning legal and institutional frameworks should be a top priority to regional bodies like the African Union (AU) and the East African Community (EAC). The AU’s Agenda 2063, for instance, is a potential platform for Africa to position itself strategically to win big from her Blue Resources. Aspiration number 6 of the agenda is quite pertinent here. It seeks to attain people-centered development by tapping the potential of African youths and women who are drivers of the economy. Some flagship projects of the agenda, such as as the African Commodity Strategy and Continental Financial Institutions, could be re-aligned to ensure our people benefit equally from the Blue Economy.  

At the East African level, regional institutions like the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and Lake Victoria Fisheries Office (LVFO) are better positioned to play a pivotal role in brokering for local communities’ interests. This goes alongside ironing out all problems, especially economic barriers (e.g. trade wars between Kenya and Tanzania) and streamlining transboundary natural (water) resource management mechanisms (ref. dispute over Lake Victoria’s Migingo Island between Kenya and Uganda). It is until this and many more are done when we, as a region, can confidently say that we are ready to do business or this Blue Economy epiphany will be just another resource grab scheme.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Genius of My President

The Genius of My President 

Mwanahamisi 'Mishy' Singano

A significant number of the people I know are falling out of love with my president for so many reasons. Some claim he is not presidential, not compassionate and, of course, not a politician. Ironically, the latter was one of the qualities most of his aficionados  admired - the fact that he was not a typical politician. ‘Mechanical,’ they called him - he would deliver development without being politicized, they presumed.

Three years down the line, I look back on how it started and how we got here. I can’t help but feel admiration on how cleverly he has played his politics; smart, tough, and sequenced - virtually dealing with one thing at a time, almost in a chronological order. And in the broad day light - live televised. Such genius!
When he put a stop on the live broadcast of the parliament sessions, I thought this is a simply a mechanism to control information and shape the narrative. What I didn’t realize then is that I will not only miss out on information, but I will not recognize the faces of our Members of Parliament (MPs), I won’t know their names and what they stand for, I will not connect with them - the trust bond between me and them is gone. Most of them have become unpopular and less influential to the majority of us. But because he is the only one who is really watching, MPs now have only one person to impress - him. 

On the other hand, he has made himself a household name. There are live coverage of all his events and speeches, ensuring there will be new news from him or his famous press secretary every day. We talk about him, everywhere and every day, whether being in a romantic date, in a bar or dinner. Love or hate it, he is the most talked about person in the country even by the people who never used to follow politics beyond elections. Such awesomeness!
I guess we would all agree that his crackdown on the rich and the powerful was untraditional and innovative. He did not only pick up a handful of them and deal with them aggressively to the extent that the majority of the ‘other’ started to pack and go, but with the help of  his aiders, he also made sure that the drama aspect of these crackdowns are of high quality in terms of their viral effect. We know, at time, the drama and script didn’t match – but who cares? They served the purpose and that is what makes it super cool!
Another new entry to the history book is how tax has been used as a tool of punishment for businesses of all scales and shapes, with only two options given to the punished; accept the punishment with praises or close the business with praises as well. For those who have accepted to be punished, they then have to deal with Regional Commissioners (RCs) and District Commissioners (DCs) who often show up or call them, demanding contributions to build or host this and that. I bet socialists are having the best time of their lives. As he famously said, ‘the era of ‘the rich can do anything’ are gone, now, ‘anything can be done on the rich.’

Then there is - or there was - the opposition. I guess we all know how he is dealing with them. But one of the things that strikes me, is his effortless ability to make all of us realize that opposition leaders have a price tag too, they can be sold and bought just like pizza. ‘Standing for an issue’ is for only those who do not have the opportunity to enjoy the national cake with the rulers. Because of that, people feel cheated by the opposition. 

We are increasingly pledging our allegiance to our ‘frustrations,’ which serves the party in power. Less opposition MPs due to defection to the ruling party means fewer funds and human-power to run and build the opposition parties. Add that with the crackdown of the rich, and the limited scope of political parties' mandate as proposed in the political party bill, I see a boring, broke and starved opposition  camp come the 2020 elections. I swear, we are all set to vote yes. 
Media – Oh gosh, who would ever thought I will be only watching the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) TV right now, with about 90% of its programming praising our Commander-in-Chief? Laws and regulations have been enacted to make it harder for alternative narratives. What we have now is state of the art, well-thought through state propaganda system run by once celebrated critics of the state monopoly of the public media and the best part is, no one is really complaining. I am amazed. 

Of course, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) should have been complaining but most of them are dealing with their own state conformity. With new law demanding CSO to gazette all the funds received and ministries responsible holding the right to direct them on both ‘focus, and geographical coverage’, the level of CSO's self-censorship is at all-time record high. NGOs have turned to be New Government Organizations.

Satisfied with his subtle crackdown on the parliament, media, business, and CSOs/NGOs, the only group which was left were development partners. With the international community powers plus the actual money power, they can real make things hard to the rulers. The genius of my president set up a ‘frustration’ trap. As per its design, they are falling for it. I can imagine him on his sofa and popcorn, watching their every move, waiting for the right time to indulge them with other sets of frustrating drama until they leave him alone with his country, in any form. That aside, I strongly believe, he might not qualify for the Nobel peace price, but he definitely deserves a Harvard honorary degree for politicking.

Having all these achievements in 3 years, with majority of the citizens running their business as usual despite shrinking income and insecurities, is commendable. You can blame this on the apparent non-confrontational Tanzanians culture but never underestimate the influence of the men behind it. His political acumen has left many of us failing to predict and afraid to act. One of my good friend wrote, ‘confusion is his strategy.’ I see no confusion. All I see is determination, over-calculation and super-powered brain-coding of every move. 
The question is, to what end? Life-time presidency? What else?

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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