Sunday, November 28, 2010

Africa’s Next Nation or Next War?

When the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, settling the long civil war between North and South Sudan, it offered hope that this troubled country could become a source of benefit to East Africa and not the constant drain and threat that it is now. Unfortunately, competition for resource control and ethnic divisions have kept this agreement from having the full positive impact that had been hoped for. We are now at the eve of its final prescription – the referendum on southern independence – and far from providing a final end to the war, it may lead to a resumption of armed hostilities.

The attention of the international community is increasingly pointing toward Southern Sudan and its January 9, 2011, referendum on independence, which also include a vote on whether the provinces of Abyei, Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile will join Southern Sudan in independence from the North.

The North faces the distinct possibility that it will lose not only a third of its territory in that vote in January, but also a significant portion of its income, which largely comes from oil. Approximately 56% of the North’s revenues are generated by oil, and 75% of Sudan’s known oil reserves lie in the South. The North does have some minerals, but agriculture is constrained by its largely desert terrain. There is about a two kilometer-wide swath of alluvial land in which agriculture is possible, and that depends on the annual Nile River flood. Consequently, Northern Sudan is definitely not looking forward to a successful referendum that frees the South from its control.

Of course, even if the referendum goes as anticipated, the North has several choke points to use as leverage over the South to force revenue sharing on oil. For one thing, some oil fields span the still-unresolved border between North and South Sudan. Currently, any oil pumped from southern soil must go through northern Sudan for export. As for water resources, the current international agreement on the Nile water allocates 80 billion cubic meters of water to Sudan, but only 18 billion cubic meters for the South.

Since 2005, Northern Sudan has refused to cooperate in implementing the CPA. The international community has been so focused on the continuing crises in Darfur, there was inconsistent attention on the failure of the CPA process. Rather like a magician, the North distracted from the CPA breakdown by maintaining the world’s attention to the West. The possibility of losing the South has far more immediate implications for Sudan than does the desert region of Darfur.

The demilitarization of the South has not been completed, and there is a significant force of northern troops and weapons remaining in the South despite the CPA plan. The North is ready for renewed war in the South and the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) is trying to catch up. As it has since the days of the long civil war, the North supports southern rebel movements to cause confusion and to create potential allies in any new conflict.

Right now, some of these rebels are busy leasing land in the South to foreign interests. One-time warlord Paulino Matiep Nhial’s family leased 400,000 hectares in Unity State last year, and in late October, militia leader Gabriel Tanginya entered into an agreement with Jarch Capital, the company that leased the Unity State land last year. The GoSS has not agreed to recognize these deals, though.

The most immediate threat to a peaceful transition lies in the voter registration process, which began in mid-November. This process is filled with possibility for voter challenges. There is no computerized registry. The entire process is dependent on hand registration using carbon paper. Given the many similar names and lack of street addresses, the likelihood of confusion, if not fraud, is rampant. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party recently expressed its suspicion of the voter registration process and said its complaints to the South Sudan Referendum Commission have been unaddressed. Consequently, the Khartoum government has said it would not recognize the outcome of the registration process if problems are not corrected.

Furthermore, the Khartoum government continues to strongly urge that the referendum be postponed. For the South, that is a non-starter. GoSS President Salva Kiir calls the referendum date “sacrosanct.”

In order for the referendum to be officially recognized, a minimum of 50% of the voters plus one must vote for independence, and 60% of those eligible must have cast their ballots. Since there remains a serious gap in the estimates of southern voters living in the North, many of whom are not now registering to vote, there is a very broad loophole the North can use to disqualify an independence vote. Still, there is every sign that there will be secession no matter what the official vote tally records.

Despite a serious lack of governmental capacity, Southern Sudan has great promise for its future as an independent country. Approximately 80% of land in the South is arable, though only 10% is now under cultivation. A Japanese plan would create an oil pipeline to the port of Lamu, Kenya, with would be beneficial for the Sudanese and the Kenyans. Southern Sudan has the second highest per capita count of cattle. Gold, which supported the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army for years, is but one of its mineral resources. An of course oil will continue to provide 98% of the South’s revenue for some time.

China, Japan, Uganda, Kenya and even Iran are counting on the new nation to be born in the next few weeks. However, no one should be foolish enough to discount the strong possibility that that birth will take more bloodshed to occur. The United States, Great Britain and Norway – the triumvirate who negotiated the CPA – as well as the African Union, the United Nations and the World Bank are all engaged in a furious effort to make this process conclude nonviolently. At the same time, hardliners in Khartoum and Juba, the southern capital, won’t make that outcome so easy to achieve.

The next few weeks will tell whether the African Union will celebrate a new member or prepare to deal with yet another African war.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reaching Out to Africa’s Descendants

With the growing interest among Africa’s Diaspora in reaching back to the Motherland, the question arises: is Africa reaching out to its descendants worldwide?

The answer is yes. As we reach out to Africa, many on the continent are reaching out to us, and there is a history behind these efforts.

Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, as President of Ghana, invited members of the African Diaspora to join in the efforts to build his newly independent nation in the late 1950s. The late Pan-African leader W.E.B. DuBois became a Ghanaian citizen and is buried there. Many other Diasporans followed him to Ghana and live there today, although citizenship has come hard for them despite their length of stay. This reluctance to extend citizenship to members of the Diaspora belies the “Joseph Project,” an invitation to members of the Diaspora to reconnect with the land of their ancestors.

A decade later, Mwalimu Julius Nyrere, President of Tanzania, extended an invitation to members of the Diaspora to come to Tanzania and participate in building his new nation. In addition to the leaders of African liberations movements, Tanzania became a beacon for Diasporans, especially Black Panthers, Vietnam War resisters and others who felt the need to leave the United States. Many of those who relocated to Tanzania still reside there. Now Tanzania is exploring whether to allow dual citizenship for Diasporans who want to continue their ties to the land of their birth.

An expanding list of African countries are offering or considering offering citizenship to members of the Diaspora, including Cameroon, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. In fact, Sierra Leone provides an example of the enthusiasm of the people for a reconnection with the Diaspora and the obstacles that have prevented the flood gates to dual citizenship from being opened.

Research on the descendants of slaves brought to America from West Africa has long provided solid evidence of ties as exemplified by similarities in traditions, culture, language and even food. The Gullah people of South Carolina and Georgia have long been known to have come from Sierra Leone. James Madison University Professor Joseph Opala was instrumental in bringing 13 Gullah community leaders to Sierra Leone in 1989 for a “Gullah Homecoming.” A week of national celebrations ensued. Still, Sierra Leoneans wanted to see a Gullah family who could prove descent from their country.

Opala researched the matter, and eight years later, he was able to bring Mary Moran from Harris Neck, Georgia, who sang a song in the Mende language she learned from her mother. When a Mende woman in one village recognized the song, it connected the Moran family to that village. The “Moran Family Homecoming” was indeed a miracle caused by Opala’s dogged research. Yet Sierra Leoneans wanted to identify the descendants of a specific person taken from their land. Opala likened the challenge to “winning the lottery three times in a row.”

Great research trumped luck in this case. Opala, with the help of writer Edward Ball, combed through slave ship records and slave auction accounts and found references to a young girl given the name “Priscilla,” who had arrived in Charles Town, South Carolina, in 1956. Through plantation records, they were able to trace her descendants to the Martin family of Charleston, South Carolina. The paper trail from Sierra Leone to America was remarkably intact, and when Priscilla’s descendant, Thomalind Martin Polite, visited Sierra Leone in 2004, there was no doubt where she was from and to whom she was connected.

While there are Africans whose shame over their part in the slave trade lead them to reject the reconnection with the descendants of those taken from their land, many other are overjoyed at having ancestral ties confirmed. Nevertheless, African societies tend to be family oriented. Those who live in the cities are still usually expected to be able to tell which village their families came from. This pride in heritage is at once a bond that strengthens African society and a barrier to newcomers.

Until recently, it was often impossible to make such a connection. The family of Alex Haley was able to make such a specific connection due to the deliberate transmission of his family’s African history through the generations. Many Diaspora families are not able to do so with specificity because not all slave traders and slave owners kept good records and not all families managed to maintain an oral history as accurate as the Haleys.

A desire to identity with an African country only works when that country accepts you without requiring you to document your linkage. Not even DNA evidence would be sufficient if a strict lineage test is used as it had been in Sierra Leone. Evidently, that country’s government has accepted that specific ties can be created from the blood connection established by DNA testing. On the country’s 50th anniversary of its independence on April 27, 2011, dozens of members of its Diaspora will be given citizenship.

If a blood tie to a specific family cannot be established, then we can make an adopted tie. For too long, time and distance have divided us. We must now be creative enough to make the dotted lines of lineage into solid lines of acceptance. Family, after all, is really about accepting one another as kin whether we have all the paperwork or not.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

African Women Need Broad Status Uplift

Did you hear about the United Nations request for an investigation into reports that hundreds of women refugees from Angola into the Democratic Republic of Congo were subjected to sexual abuse? It was just revealed a couple of weeks ago, but it may have faded into the many reports of sexual violence against African women you hear all too often.

The status of women in Africa is a series of paradoxes. On the one hand, women have an exalted role as mothers and nurturers of their families. On the other hand, they are not accorded many of the economic rights women have in other parts of the world and are still forced into marriages and subject to female circumcisions. Women and their children are the main victims of the various wars and civil conflicts in Africa, but they are historic peace makers, leading efforts to end these conflicts. In African countries with the most diamonds, oil, gold and other mineral resources, such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and others, women are at their most vulnerable. Women comprise an estimated 70% of economic activity in Africa countries, but they only own an estimated two percent of the land.

There are prominent women in Africa, such as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru, as well as numerous female ministers. There is World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. There is Kenyan Nobel prize winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai. One might think from their examples that the status of Africa women has taken a great leap forward. Unfortunately, these women are the exceptions to the rule for most women in Africa, who live busy lives building their families and their societies with little of the help one would expect for the glue that holds Africa together.

There is a saying: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” True though it has always been, even in the developed world, women had to struggle to achieve equal rights to men. Actually, it took the suffrage movement and the factories that were needed to feed the war effort in the 1940s to open the door that allowed women to break free from limited life choices. Still, that liberation did not spread to women in African countries, which for the most part remained as European colonies. While their sisters in Europe and North America had a choice as to the direction in which their lives would flow, African women continued to toil on with no discernable difference in how they could shape their futures.

Thomas Sankara, the late Pan-African theorist and military President of Burkina Faso, once said, “I can hear the roar of women’s silence.” Without being prompted by women demonstrating or boycotting, Sankara made adult education mandatory for rural women in his country. He was the first African leader to appoint women to government positions, including cabinet posts. He banned forced female circumcision, forced marriage and polygamy. Unfortunately, his Marxist ideology discredited his views generally among the Western governments who should have supported his enlightened position on equality for women. When he was assassinated in a coup, his policies were almost all reversed, including the status of women. Today, Burkinabe women are ruled by tradition and unprotected by constitutional law.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported that discrimination against women in Burkina Faso was responsible for a high rate of maternal death during pregnancy and childbirth because they were unable to access adequate health care. This situation is not confined to Burkina Faso, though. A thousand women in the world die each day from pregnancy-related causes, and 570 of them are African. While these deaths are preventable, they are not prevented. Reducing maternal mortality was one of the Millennium Development Goals, yet the level of African maternal mortality is actually rising.

African women more than carry their share of society’s burden and should be assisted far more than they usually are. The light of hope in this situation stems from those women who have broken through to become leaders in their countries and internationally. It also lies in the young men who have been educated to see beyond the boundaries of the culture in which they and their ancestors were reared.

We are entering the second decade of the 21st century, and communications technology allows us all to see how life is lived throughout our world. Even rural women in Africa are seeing past the limits placed on them by societies holding desperately onto the past. Young women on the continent will not be held back by the conventions of the past, and young African men are increasing less willing to try to hold them back.

There was a time in many societies on the continent before the colonial powers took control that African women and men had an equitable distribution of responsibility and walked side by side in partnership. Perhaps history is about to repeat itself – albeit in a more modern way.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Postelection: Africa Still Matters

The lamentation over what the incoming Tea Party Republicans will do to American government has begun. The concern over what will happen to U.S. Africa policy has not yet ginned up, but it will. There is every reason to be concerned that, in a budget-cutting Congress, funding for Africa will suffer. However, that need not be the result of last Tuesday’s voting.

The fiscal conservative wing of the Republican Party has long viewed spending, perhaps especially spending on foreign affairs, to be an often unwarranted drain on national resources. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, once called aid to Africa “money down a rat hole.” He changed his tune after the Constituency for Africa convinced his constituents to protest this view. In recent years, the national security wing and the social conservative wing have had control of the party’s policies, but the fiscal conservatives found the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be too costly and the fights against abortion and gay marriage to be distractions. Their resurgence puts funding levels for everything squarely in the target zone of legislators.

So now there will have to be battles to justify spending on Africa. The byword for the new American political landscape on aid programs is self-sufficiency. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) grants have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to developing countries, largely in Africa, so that major projects can be undertaken. The point must be made that the MCA process forces governments to work with their private sectors and civil societies to devise a plan that is broadly beneficial with benchmarks to determine progress.

When fiscal conservatives last took over Congress from Democrats in 1995, they approached welfare reform much in the way they are likely to approach foreign aid. The goal was to set a limit on the funding going to welfare recipients by building their capacity to work and even providing day care for their children. Therefore, a time limit could be set on how long one could receive welfare payments. In this case, the MCA model of having government bring in the private sector and civil society to devise plans that help build the country in the long run with the funding provided will likely be favored. The incoming members of Congress will tend to look more favorably upon countries that use the funding wisely and don’t have to repeatedly receive funding for the same unresolved issues.

This expands accountability and puts the burden of making the grants work on not just government, but other segments of society. If we are to avoid a resumption of the “rat hole” view of aid to Africa, accountability and transparency must be a significant part of the message to Congress. President Obama has signaled them as major elements of his Africa policy, so he won’t be caving in to fiscal conservatives to promote that policy.

The Obama Administration currently seeks to shift the burden for HIV-AIDS services to African health care systems which unfortunately are not yet prepared to undertake that burden. Congressional budget cutters will find such a policy almost irresistible to support. If the Administration is ready to push responsibility onto African governments, preparing those governments to shoulder that burden must be a priority. That will not be easy unless it is described as enabling the shift in burden to take place.

Not much is being done yet to curb the current land grab trend in Africa, but if it is not opposed soon, there will be a terrible price to pay down the road for Africans without food or jobs because of their governments’ short-sighted policies. The mid-2008 food price spike led many countries unable to feed themselves to secure available land in Africa to meet their needs. The promises of enhanced infrastructure and shared food products to their African hosts remain to be fulfilled. If prices rise further in the future, such generosity will be unlikely to be honored. Moreover, if jobs are denied Africans due to the importation of foreign workers who then stay on to compete with African entrepreneurs, then the economies will be too weakened to benefit sufficiently from any new infrastructure or food sharing. This must be effectively explained to Congress as helping to prevent humanitarian disaster in the future.

There has been support for assisting in the recovery of African countries coming out of conflict, such as Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Continued aid will have to be tied to measures of success. Yet what about countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and the new Southern Sudan? They will need help to get back on firm footing, but you can be certain that their natural wealth will be held against them. Some formula must be considered to justify outside help for those countries who have oil, gold, diamonds or other resources of value. It will no longer be possible for generosity to countries who fail to use their existing resources to help themselves.

At the recent Africare dinner, World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the audience that “Africa does not want to continue to be dependent.” This is true, but Africa’s supporters also must accept this principle and use it to maintain aid for Africa in this time of budget cutting. An Africa that wants a hand up rather than a handout can still get help.