Patrice Lumumba

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Patrice Lumumba" (2014) by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. This is a great summary, but might have since been overshadowed by a book published the year after this one Death in the Congo (2015). Nonetheless, like other biographies in this series, it focuses on the full picture of the person, whereas that other book is more focused on his killing. A few notes:

"Responding to demands by educated Africans for special recognition of their elite status, the Belgians took steps toward granting to Congolese évolués the status of honorary Europeans and exempting them from racist regulations applying to Africans. Following the example set by France, in 1892 the Leopoldian regime had already adopted legislation providing for assimilating a select group of Africans to European status, but this was never put into practice … A carte du mérite civique (civil merit card) was introduced in 1948, only to be quickly superseded in importance in 1952 by a new status called immatriculation (matriculation), for those Africans deemed sufficiently "evolved" culturally and otherwise to be treated like Europeans." (p. 44-45)

"This chapter intends to show that if the cold war provided the ideological pretext or justification for his political and physical elimination by a coalition of Western interests, the major reason for his assassination lies in the Western-backed counterrevolution against the national liberation struggle in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 101)

"At the very time that African countries were achieving their independence from European colonial rule, this counterrevolution against national liberation was rearing its ugly head from the Congo basin all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, with mining companies, white settlers, and their backers in the Western establishment waging a vigorous campaign to preserve European interests and white supremacy in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 105)

"For Washington and its Cassandras, nonalignment was a dirty word and leaders like Lumumba who espoused it were either "communist sympathizers" or naïve about the communist threat. Using this cold war discourse as a rationalization of their hostility to independent-minded leaders, U.S. policy makers thus agreed with Belgium that Lumumba had to be removed from power. The question was "how to do it," and the answer was "by all means necessary," including hired killers, corrupt politicians, and the United Nations." (p. 108-109)

"It should be noted that UN troops stood by as Lumumba was tortured by his captors at Ilebo and in Kinshasa, on December 2, 1960, and at the Lubumbashi airport on January 17, 1961. When this is added to decisions taken by the secretary-general and his executive assistant mentioned above, it is evident that for the plot against Lumumba to succeed, the support, or at the very least the apparent neutrality, of the UN Secretariat was indispensable. At every critical juncture in Lumumba's drama, UN officials and troops were involved, by acts of commission or omission. Thus, even if the United Nations was not directly involved in Lumumba's assassination as Belgium and the United States were, it was nevertheless an accessory before the fact." (p. 129) 


Frantz Fanon

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism" (2015) by Christopher J. Lee. Unlike other books in this series, this book delves into quite a lot of detail in analyzing the writing (three full chapters). This might have been intentional, as an attempt to find a niche for a biography that has seen an increase of interest and scholarship of recent. As a support for students reading those works, this would be a useful companion for contextualization. A couple of (brief) notes:

"Violence remains the most controversial issue regarding Fanon— an intrinsic, yet polarizing, dimension of his work that has strengthened his critics and been an inconvenient topic for his admirers. It arguably explains the greater popularity of Black Skin, White Masks over The Wretched of the Earth – the latter outlining his argument for violent struggle." (p. 31)

"Violence was therefore not random, but the product of certain conditions. Or, as the critic Barbara Harlow has written, it is only random when history is disregarded. Violence continues to be an important issue to debate vis-à-vis Fanon. Indeed, it must be debated, given the strong moral reasons and considerable successes of peaceful forms of political struggle and self-determination. But, in doing so, it is important to grasp the nuanced, even pragmatic, ways in which he understood it. Confronted with a decision between continued colonial dehumanization or actively resisting it, violence as an action taken remained a necessary cost for Fanon, if true and complete liberation, in all its dimensions, was to be achieved." (p. 174) 


Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Ken Saro-Wiwa" (2016) by Roy Doron and Toyin Falola. Unlike other books that might gloss over some of the more problematic choices made by Ken Saro-Wiwa, this books claims to present the full, complex picture. In that regard, this is an insightful book, even if might change how some view him and his legacy. The book is also a useful introduction to Nigeria, as well as the biography. A few notes:

"Saro-Wiwa is best known for his activism against the Nigerian state and Shell Oil's destruction of his Ogoni homeland and his defiant stance in the face of his illegal and immoral execution, the man himself was infinitely more complex." (p. 9)

"Ogoni residents refused to cooperate under these terms, stating, "Greater damage was also done to land and soil, drinking water, fishing ground, villages and air." Shell made no move to remove the oil from the infected streams and rivers because this oil was no longer economically viable, and the Nigerian government did not extend any aid to the afflicted areas. It was only thirty years later, in 2000, that a Port Harcourt fined Shell GBP 26 million for the spill." (84-85)

"Indeed, between 1970 and 2000, the Niger Delta and the Ogoni endured unrelenting suffering. The scale and scope of oil spills in the Delta are staggering. Between 1976 and 1996, seven thousand reported spills flooded the region with over two million barrels of oil; 77 percent of the lost oil became immersed in the soil and waterways. These spills were the result of both oil industry negligence and third parties rupturing pipelines to steal oil." (p. 85)

"Saro-Wiwa had to find a way to internationalize his people's predicament in a way that would resonate globally and ensure effective mobilization. His goal was to build an international coalition that would pressure both the Nigerian government and the companies doing business with it. To this end, he connected the environmental catastrophe with the idea of genocide with the claim that the environmental damage was indeed "inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" (p. 110)

"Saro-Wiwa, acutely aware of the power of language, and of the word genocide in particular, articulated grievances in a new way, driving global activists to confront offending states and forcing a reckoning with any entity, public or private, that collaborated in perpetrating genocide. Thus, Saro-Wiwa not only expanded the definition of genocide in public opinion, if not in international law, he altered the perspective of the global community in a way that directly confronted governments, non-governmental organizations, and corporations to seek justice for the aggrieved parties." (p. 150) 


Chris Hani

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Chris Hani" (2014) by Hugh MacMillan. Like others in this series, this book helps provide accessible and concise materials on leading figures that otherwise are sometimes challenging to find appropriate student readings on. This one fills that gap. In addition to the biography, the book tells a lot of the history of the ANC and uMkhonto we Sizwe. A few notes:

"We must make apartheid expensive and costly in terms of financial resources and in terms of lives. It must be made painful. At the moment it is very sweet for them but it must be made painful and bitter, especially for the whites. It is bitter for the blacks. For the whites it must be made very painful and bitter… apartheid won't just be destroyed through talking, but, since it is a violent system, it will be destroyed by revolutionary violence." (p. 102)

"I am an implacable enemy of oppression. I am a soldier for democracy and justice. Negotiations are a product of all our sacrifices – those who went to jail, those into exile, those in camps in strange countries. What is happening is the fruit of this hard worthwhile labor … We need to build strong grass roots structures. We must build a popular democracy." (p. 126)

"… the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy; building a society which cares; and fighting corruption … " (p. 128) 


Steve Biko

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I had one book from this series previously, on Thomas Sankara, and recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Steve Biko" by Lindy Wilson, published in 2011. I found this book useful as there are relatively fewer materials on Steven Biko, compared to others in the series (e.g., Fanon). The author also adds unique perspectives having done some interviews with people who knew Biko. A few notes:

"Biko was appalled at what he saw all around him in South Africa at the time: "the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man … bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity," he said. He challenged black people not to be a part of their own oppression, believing that "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed'. He defined Black Consciousness as 'an inward-looking process' to 'infuse people with pride and dignity'. 'We have set out on a quest for a true humanity,' he said." (p. 14)

"No Saso president, for example, was in office for more than a year, a precedent set by Biko. This capacity to stand back, to put others forward, to initiate new ideas, get something going and make it practical, meant that although Biko was present, he managed not to be dominant." (p. 49)

"Biko's work was to awaken the people: first, from their own psychological oppression through reorganizing their inferiority complex and restoring their self-worth, dignity, pride and identity; secondly, from a mental and physical oppression of living in a white racist society." (p. 54)

"His message was simple and clear: Do not be a part of your oppression." (p. 148)


Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism

Ashis Nandy's "The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism" (1983) is a classic postcolonial text from the Asian experience. One note I found fascinating was that this author found inspiration in the writings of African revolutionaries, finding little from what he was reading from the region he lived within. Through this we see unexpected transportations of ideas. I am often asked by students about the impact of writing critical, theoretical, or philosophical works and these are reminders that while the impact of some works are immediate (and often limited to that immediate time and geography) others take time to permeate and sink in, with Nandy citing the works of Fanon and Cabral as inspirations, who wrote decades before the writing of this book. Some notes (from the 2021 Oxford reprint):

"Modern colonialism won its great victories not so much through its military and technological prowess as through its ability to create secular hierarchies incompatible with the traditional order. These hierarchies opened up new vistas for many, particularly for those exploited or cornered within the traditional order." (p. ix)

"It is now time to turn to the second form of colonization, the one which at least six generations of the Third World have learnt to view as a prerequisite for their liberation. This colonialism colonizes minds in addition to bodies and it releases forces within the colonized societies to alter their cultural priorities once for all. In the process, it helps generalize the concept of the modern West from a geographical and temporal entity to a psychological category. The West is now every where, within the West and outside; in structures and in minds. (p. xi)

"... in the eyes of the European civilization the colonizers were not a group of self-seeking, rapacious, ethnocentric vandals and self-chosen carriers of a cultural pathology, but ill-intentioned, flawed instruments of history, who unconsciously worked for the upliftment of the underprivileged of the world." (p. 14)

"I started with the proposition that colonialism is first of all a matter of consciousness and needs to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men." (p. 63)

"The word 'Hindu', T. N. Madan has again recently reminded us, was first used by the Muslims to describe all Indians who were not converted to Islam. Only in recent times have the Hindus begun to describe themselves as Hindus." (p. 103)

From the Postscript, written 25 years after its first publication:

"Do not trust authors when they talk about their books. They invariably impose a neater, intellectually more pleasing frame on their works retrospectively. I have had twenty-five years to do so in this instance. Do not also forget that a book partly writes itself and the author emerges from that experience changed - sometimes shaken." (p. 114)

"Fortunately I ran into six sensitive, brilliant intellectuals, all of whom had an African connection. While Franz Fanon and Octave Mannoni were psychiatrists, the other four - Aime Cesaire, Albert Memmi, Amilcar Cabral and Leopold Senghor - were writers and thinkers. Except probably for Fanon, who came to a small section of Indians via Jean-Paul Sartre, none of the rest were taken seriously by the aggressively English-positivist culture of the Indian academe. But they were like a breath of fresh air to me." (p. 116)

"Conformity need not be monitored, dissent has to be. In any hegemony, dissent defines the limits and the final shape of legitimacy of a system, not conformity. The colonial culture redesigns the entire educational system and the process of socialization to ensure the spread of definitions of sanity, rationality, adulthood and health that automatically stigmatize all unruly dissent as childish, irrational and retrogressive." (p. 118)

"The good English, we know from Oscar Wilde, went to Paris when they died. Well-educated, modern Indians and Chinese, if they have been good, expect to go to London or New York when they die. Colonialism has equipped them with not only a new vision of a good society, but also the wherewithal to enter the rat race of progress." (p. 119)

"The Atlantic slave trade and modern colonialism were two early attempts to globalize. The former touched four continents, the other five. If colonialism was an attempt to infantilize peoples and cultures, the slave trade was an attempt to commodify human beings themselves. The ornate prose that justified the trade, like the prose that justified child labour in Victorian England, saw in slavery redemptive features that we now consider obscene. Both abridged the meaning of the universal by claiming to be based on universal values and secular trends in history, politics and society. The demise of slavery and colonialism has given globalization, vending its own brand of universalism, a new reach and legitimacy. The battle against globalization could have been a battle to recover the universal from the clutches of the global. It has failed to beo so because the resistance to globalization has mostly remained captive to the colonial definition of the universal." (p. 123) 


The Economic Weapon

Arising out of a PhD project and focusing on the modern form of sanctions, Nicholas Mulder's "The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War" (2022) is a fascinating historical journey. I picked up this book because I teach ethics for law and policy, and during the themes of war and peace we cover sanctions. This book provides a wealth of historical insight into the intentions and justifications of sanctions, as well as the outcomes - those that were expected and unexpected. The book has a wealth of interesting contextual stories (see below on coal, for example). A few notes:

"Today, economic sanctions are generally regarded as an alternative to war. But for most people in the interwar period, the economic weapon was the very essence of total war. Many sanctionists regretfully noted the devastating effects of pressure on civilians but nonetheless wholly accepted them. Woodrow Wilson held that if "thoughtful men have . . . thought, and thought truly, that war is barbarous, . . . the boycott is an infinitely more terrible instrument of war." (p. 4)

"While economic pressure is an age-old weapon, economic sanctions to enforce visions of international order are a distinctly modern innovation. This narrower definition of "sanctions" helps to distinguish them from related but distinct tools of policy regarding trade, industry, development, technology, and aid." (p. 14)

"Due to its enormous coal exports, Britain was also the world's premier energy exporter; in the words of one historian, it was "the Saudi Arabia of 1900." Over three-quarters of the eighty million tons of coking coal, the fuel used by 96 percent of the world's cargo vessels, came from the British Isles." (p. 34)

"The fascist invasion of Ethiopia was the first occasion on which the League's economic weapon was put into full operation... League sanctions did not compel Italy to break off its war, nor did they save the government of Emperor Haile Selassie or the independence of the Ethiopians." (p. 202)

"This aim to make the aggressor "pay through the nose" emerged as a distinct model of how sanctions could cut short ambitions for war. It was a theory of attrition rather than a deterrent. The British and French governments expected that in the face of an economic threat, Mussolini would not budge as quickly as Pašić and Pangalos had done in the 1920s. But they were confident that they could wear down Italian endurance while staying clear of actual war. On the basis of this estimation, British foreign secretary Samuel Hoare and French prime minister Pierre Laval agreed at the League Assembly in mid-September to rule out more invasive sanctions, such as an oil embargo, closure of the Suez Canal, or a naval blockade, as unnecessarily provocative." (p. 212-213)

"Many of today's internationalists, too, see few alternatives. This perception has driven some of the most grievously counterproductive uses of sanctions, most prominently against Iraq in the 1990s, when its strangulation at the hands of the UN Security Council cost hundreds of thousands of lives and permanently damaged the country's social and economic fabric. These humanitarian nightmares are an important reminder of the lethal early twentieth-century origins of sanctions." (p. 293) 


Oxford Handbook of the Ethiopian Economy

Started in 2015, published in 2019, and penned by leading thinkers on the Ethiopian economy (Fantu Cheru, Christopher Cramer, Arkebe Oqubay) "The Oxford Handbook of the Ethiopian Economy" is a treasure. Standing at 955 pages, I am aware of no similar effort to cover the diversity of the country's economy. The contributing authors are a whose-who of experts, and this is really a testament to the editors and their leadership in bringing this collection together. Even listing the titles of the 50 chapters is beyond what this brief post can offer. Unfortunately, the book is not Open Access and prohibitively expensive (particularly for readers in Ethiopia), running at US$135 from Oxford University Press. 

For readers not familiar with this collection, the main sections are: (1) Context, concepts, and history, (2) Economic development, (3) Social policy and development, (4) Agricultural and rural transformation, (5) Industrialization and urban development, and (6) Structural transformations and the African context. There are some interesting gaps; khat makes only brief mentions despite playing an important economic role nearly on part with coffee, which has two chapters; FDI in the agricultural sector is also interestingly not covered in depth, particularly the large scale acquisitions (which were very apparent by 2015 when the project began). Potentially more broadly, the role of politics and governance, while it is interwoven, might have played a stronger role (not in the sense of the Growth and Transformation Plans, but more in the realm of political economy, which Clapham adds a chapter on). Readers have the benefit of hindsight on this. Compared to when the project started in 2015, it was a completely different Ethiopia when the book finally hit the market in 2019. A wonderful resource, unparalleled, and highly recommended.  


The Life of a Reluctant Nationalist

Compared to other leaders of the struggle for dignity and freedom, Cabral has been covered less. I have posted about a few books: Davidson wrote a book in 1969, a 1977 book covered some of Cabral's work, and a 2013 edited book was inspired by Cabral. Antonio Tomas presents a biography of Cabral in "The Life of a Reluctant Nationalist" (2021), a few notes:

"The thinking of Salazar and his collaborators, in drawing up the Colonial Act, was based on social Darwinism. For them, humanity was divided into hierarchical categories, with the white/Western man at the top. Armindo Monteiro, one of the most prominent ideologues of Portuguese colonialism, who replaced Salazar as minister of the colonies (in this post from 1931-35), thought that "a great part of black societies, across the African continent were immobile within [the] old structures of organization" and that white man had to act fast in order to save these societies from death. For Monteiro, civilization was a long slope, at the top of which only the most skillful society could arrive. As the march of progress was unstoppable, natural selection would run its course. In a dozen or so years, he triumphantly added, the black races which could not scale the slopes of civilization would be wiped from earth." (p. 26)

"In one of the meetings with this group, Cabral was assigned a very dangerous mission. During a trip to Angola, between August and September 1959, he was given the task of recruiting eleven youths to be sent to Tunisia, where they were to receive training in guerilla tactics. The idea was once they were back in the country, they would form the "core operational group to jumpstart the armed struggle." The offer had been made by Frantz Fanon, at that time advisor to the GPRA, who, during the second Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome between 26 March and 1 April 1959 met with the Angolan representatives, namely Viriato da Cruz, Lucio Lara and Mario de Andrade, in the basement of a small coffee bar. Fanon, who was yet to write his famous The Wretched of the Earth, explained to them that he meant to export the "Algerian model" of anti-imperialist struggle to Angola as a way to scatter the forces of NATO, which supported France in war against the Algerian nationalist." (p. 69)

"Che Guevara met Cabral on 12 January 1965 during his trip to Africa, and they forged a lasting link. However, effective military and humanitarian aid only came after Cabral's first trip to Cuba to take part in the Tricontinental conference in Havana, in January 1966. Fidel Castro was impressed with Cabral's speech and took him on a personal trip to the Escambray Mountains. During this trip, Castro committed to assisting the national liberation movement in Africa with supplies namely tobacco, cotton, sugar, uniforms, trucks, and ammunition. Castro also sent drivers and mechanics to operate and maintain the trucks. but more importantly, Castro sent a group of Cuban doctors, who, during the war, were the only doctors to operate in the interior of Guinea." (p. 180) 


Know The Beginning Well

Lifelong development worker, K. Y. Amoako reflects on a career with the World Bank and United Nations in "Know the Beginning Well: An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development" (2020). The book is interesting in that the author shares inside views, but lacks critical reflection and does not offer any bold or new calls on 'the development question'. A few notes:

"The issue of racism and discrimination in the World Bank predated my arrival and outlasted my departure. I've mentioned the difficult environment that Africans faced in the 1970s, but the truth is that people of color - whether born in Africa, America, or anywhere else - have always had a tough time reaching the Bank's highest levels. According to data compiled for an internal review in 2003 and reported by the Washington based government accountability project in 2009, Black Bank employees were 36 present less likely to hold a managerial grade relative to equally qualified, non-black employees. Numbers like these are indicative of a pervasive imbalance, which the Bank has taken increasing steps to address: a racial equality program in 1998, an office in diversity program in 2001, and a code of conduct in 2009 that addressed discrimination and diversity, still the issue persists." (p. 45)

"Kofi Annan turned toward Meles and spoke before anyone else could. "I'm sure some men in your cabinet turn out to be incompetent," he said. "Why not give women a chance? they have a right to be incompetent too." (p. 237)

"He looked back at the most powerful men at the IMF and World Bank and told them point-black that African countries disliked working with their institutions - but had no choice. "Gentleman," he added, "if we were not poor, we would not come to you for help." That acknowledgement, a surprisingly raw statement that no one saw coming, summed up years of frustration for policymakers in developing African countries: without external lending and aid, there can be no long term development-but at what point will lenders start treating borrowers as partners and not beggars?" (p. 381)

"I issued a special invitation to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, an exceptionally thoughtful and forthright leader. True to his reputation, Meles deconstructed a litany of problems with the onerous business of donor assistance: the bureaucratic requirements, the contradictory conditions, the lack of clear criteria for compliance, the process of trying aid to the purchase of goods and services from donor countries, and the practice of seeking political influence through assistance. All these issues and more imperilled the effective use of aid, Meles argued, and they needed to be addressed alongside any discussion of ODA flows. His ultimate point was that donor accountability for development financing meant so much more than big commitments." (p. 395-396) 

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