This summer, the Washington Post‘s political research blog The Monkey Cage has been running an African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular, publishing an ongoing series of posts based on books in their excellent summer reading list. With their informed and intelligent analysis of current affairs, these offer eye-opening insights and critique of African politics today. A number of authors from Zed Book’s renowned Africa list are featured, covering issues such as the growth of oil rich Sub-Saharan states to a growth in street protest across the continent. Below is a round-up of some of The Monkey Cage‘s best blogs – visit the Washington Post to check them out in full.
Governance, gender and no guarantees in Africa’s oil-rich states
In her interview with journalist Laura Seay, author Celeste Hicks discusses how, in countries rich with natural resources such as Chad, a “resource curse theory” has been developed to explain how poverty still flourishes despite great natural wealth. Hicks suggests a “governance curse” to run alongside this, saying that the problem is management, not oil per se. Part of the problem is a gender gap within the oil industry, she argues, saying that where gender equality has been part of a wider discussion, such as in East Africa, it can lead to many positive developments regarding land rights and resources. Despite this, within the oil industry, like many science, technology and engineering professions, substantive blocks mean women remain locked out.
Celeste Hicks is a journalist, and author of Africa’s New Oil: Power, Pipelines and Future Fortunes
“First, always listen to African voices, and second, don’t assume that these are monolithic” say Zachariah Mampilly and Adam Branch in their interview with Kim Yi Dionne, as they explain current street movements in relation to the anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s, and later struggles for economic justice in the 1980s and 90s. They draw a distinction between voices of the establishment, and what they call the “Political society” of ordinary Africans. Understanding this alternative polity, with its own demands and organisational strategies, is key to understanding the “third wave” of political protest in Africa. This fascinating outline analyses the causes of this divide, and how the resentment and split between civil and political society has caused an enormous upsurge in street protests. In their book “Africa Uprising”, the authors examine four “third wave” protests in details: Occupy Nigeria, post-election demonstrations in Ethiopia in 2005, demonstrations in Sudan and Uganda’s “Walk to Work” movement. Within this new wave of street-based movements, Mampilly and Branch see, at the core, hope:
It is easy to forget, especially in the post-9/11 United States, that the greatest political victories were rarely won through elections but required large-scale political mobilization. People who took to the streets managed to end wars, helped curtail racial, gender or sexual discrimination, and challenged unfair economic practices. In other words, they found ways to express their democratic rights in far more substantive ways than merely casting a vote every four years. And they do this without the permission of the elites who have fully captured the U.S. electoral process.
In contrast, many African countries are still struggling to define the basic compact between government and society and so there isn’t as much deference to the political leadership, regardless of whether they came to power via elections or not. African scholars have been talking about “choiceless democracies” for three decades now, a concept we increasingly relate to as U.S. citizens. We believe we have much to learn from African protest, in regards to both the challenges it will inevitably confront and how those challenges may be overcome.
Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change by Zachariah Mampilly and Adam Branch is out now
Laura Seay begins her interview with Alex de Waal, editor of Advocacy in Conflict, by asking him timely and pressing questions about the rise of the superstar activist.
“An authentic activism requires making the affected people the protagonist: letting them define the issues, and welcoming their complicated manifold stories. It demands asking difficult questions about the use and misuse of power by western governments and their friends,” says de Waal. He goes on to describe the ecology of advocacy and activism across the world, and specifically in Africa, such as #Kony2012, where international activists engaged in a “grossly over-simplified” campaign around the Lord’s Resistance Army, or campaigns around rare earth minerals in the DRC. In the end, he suggests, activism must focus on local actors (including within local activism) rather than external, international pressure, and in Africa non-violent organisation and action is the key to long-term social change.
Edited by Alex de Waal, Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism is out now
Keep your eye on the Monkey Cage reading list this summer for more excellent Africa coverage, including Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong by Morten Jerven, described by the Economist as “a devastating critique of the economics profession”.