A Marshall Plan for Africa? Hmm…

I am feenin’ for my podcasts lately, but expensive bandwidth means I rarely get to download to my heart’s content. I took advantage of a recent Safaricom promo to get updated on all the old episodes of NPR’s Planet Money, one of my favorites. On that recent 18-hour drive from Nairobi to Dar, I had more than enough time to catch up on them.

The episode called A Marshall Plan for Africa had me intrigued. It is a criticism of Jeffrey Sachs’s approach to poverty alleviation (big amounts of planned aid) that is quite different, as far as I can see, from Sachs’s arch-critic William Easterly’s position. In the podcast, Glenn Hubbard, a former economic adviser to the Bush administration, describes his vision for lifting Africa out of poverty. Basically, he wants a Marshall Plan-style lending program to fund Africa’s middle class. (He argues that the Marshall Plan was a lending program, not an aid package.) Continue reading

Africa: the upper middle class experience

It’s not all 18-hour bus rides.

The picture of Africa’s growing middle class is sometimes lost among the breathless dispatches from more rustic corners of the continent. I thought it’s worth posting this photo I just took in the Java House in Sarit Center, Nairobi, an upscale mall in the Westlands neighborhood. Having just enjoyed a perfectly brewed latté and a blue cheese hamburger, I am now surfing the net for free on my laptop.

Java House, Sarit Center

Continue reading

Long gone bus rides


Akamaba passes through TZDuring this epic 18 hour ride from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam (really, not recommended — do it in two days) we got a flat on the high savanna below Mt. Meru, and were detained in the Arusha police station for nearly two hours. There was a passenger who was supposed to get down there but refused; the police made everyone wait while they took statements from the bus company people and the passenger. I’m not even sure what happened in the end. My eyes were red and nerves frazzled by the time we pulled into Kariakoo.

But views of vast Africa through poetically dirty bus windows, like this shot about three hours south of Moshi, made it all worth it.

Heading out again tomorrow.

More on Mwalimu

There’s been some interesting debate on the relevance of Julius Nyerere in the comments field of my blog (thanks to the input of the great TZ blog louder than swahili). On the subject, this week’s East African had a nice column about the ambiguity of Nyerere’s life and contributions, check it out. It’s hard to sum up Nyerere’s real contribution to Tanzania, but I remain impressed by his vision, which almost singularly among leaders of his era transcended tribe and the other constraints that colonialism foisted on the continent. I got more convinced of that after watching the documentary “Mwalimu: The Legacy of Kabarage Nyerere” at the Kenya Film Festival last week. (This film has almost no presence on the internet, which is unfortunately not too big of a surprise for something coming out of TZ.)

What do Lil Wayne, Jesus Christ and the Holy Qur’an have in common?

Not much! Except that a guy was selling posters of all three on a sidewalk near Kariakoo the other day. Also, check out the awesome Rambo bag distributed at the local vegetable market.

"You could love me or hate me/I swear to God it won't make me or break me..."

"You could love me or hate me/I swear to God it won't make me or break me..."

It's like they finished designing this bag and thought, "Crap, we didn't include any cpoyright violations. What can we slap on here?"

It's like they finished designing this bag and thought, "Crap, we didn't include any cpoyright violations. What can we slap on here?"

Writing about Africa: who will hold you accountable?

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff on a mini-scandal involving a guy who was quoted in several news reports as being a spokesperson for Darfur refugees. Turns out the man, who went by the name Abu Sharati (clearly a nickname, though never noted as such in the stories), was actually probably a spokesperson for a rebel group. Read the whole discussion through these posts and their links (I’m pasting straight from my Twitter feed because I’m writing this from a net cafe): via @SBengali http://bit.ly/GPQOY & @robcrilly http://tinyurl.com/y8rhy9h.

Now, I’m truly sympathetic to the pressures that international journalists are under, their limited resources and their need to rely on sources like “Abu Sharati” because there is no time and no way to look for anyone better.  In my brief foray into journalism, one thing I’ve immediately seen is that it is vastly easier to criticize media than it is to report. But the fact that this error was caught is really important. Some hedging language should have been used in the original reports. The revelation will, I hope, promote more caution in the future.

But there is a deeper issue that this discussion points to: reporting about people who will not read your work and do not pay for your stories (indirectly or directly) means there are fewer incentives for good fact-checking. There is a structural paradox at the core of international journalism, especially in Africa: our American audience’s preceived lack of proximity to the stories we produce makes it (that audience) passive about the information it receives.  Continue reading

“Confession” from Darfur group: violence was exaggerated

Al Jazeera English reported a few days ago that “a group of former Sudanese activists” had called a press conference to admit that they had exaggerated their claims of deaths and violence in the Darfur war.

A group of former Sudanese activists says some of the figures of those reported dead and displaced in the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region were exaggerated. The former Darfur rebel activists told Al Jazeera that they increased tolls and gave false evidence during investigations conducted by delegates from foreign organisations into the conflict.

“We used to exaggerate the numbers of murders and rapes,” Salah al Din Mansour, a former translator with World NGOs in Darfur, said

“Darfur groups ‘padded’ death tolls, Al Jazeera English, September 10, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have frequently criticized the distortions of the Save Darfur Coalition, which has sloppily exaggerated or misconstrued the scope, causes and duration of the conflict, not to mention advocating a military solution that I disagree with. Continue reading

There are certain things Fresh, and certain things مش

This would fall into the former category. “Africa’s rap Bruce Lee” has struck again: a free digital mixtape featuring K’naan rhyming to the music of Fela Kuti. It’s a collaboration between K’naan and J.Period, the first episode in a project called The Messengers that will apparently include K’naan alongside the likes of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan.

On one track K’naan explains that these guys are the secular equivalents of Jesus and Mohammed, رسل الله — Messengers with a capital M. His juxtaposition to the greats on the (very cool) cover art may not be a declaration of humility, but these are some nice tracks.

Download the album here at 2dopeboyz.