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West, Central, and East Africa in the Twenty-First Century: Stories from Social Change

Discussion in 'world politics, current affairs and news' started by Idris2002, Feb 20, 2017.

  1. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    I've been thinking that what P&P needs is a new kind of thread concept, so here it is. Every so often there's an African thread that dies the death because it just deals with this or that story, and with the exception of South Africa and Zimbabwe, most people don't really follow the continent enough to comment much.

    So this thread is intended as a repository for stories of all sorts related to West and Central Africa - a very heterogeneous chunk of the earth's surface, but one where common patterns can be identified underneath all the diversity.

    For example, for several years now, a lot of people have been talking up the idea of an "African middle class", as evidence that the free market works and that everything's going to be alright in Africa. To which the rest of say, no, it's just evidence that things are going to be alright for some.

    There are people who are middle class in the western sense (in Sierra Leone and Ghana they go back to the nineteenth century) and their numbers are growing, but as always context is everything. Look at these two stories from Nigeria for example:

    Nigeria: Africa Gets Ready for its First Luxury E-Commerce Platform

    Inflation: Worry as Nigeria begins 2017 with higher misery index - Tribune

    The first deals with luxury brands, the other with reality of people (workers, street traders, and even the famous 'middle class') struggling on low wages and incomes that are meagre to begin with, and then get hit by inflation. And behind all this is social change that means increasing urbanization, new problems in rural areas (the great land-grab hasn't gone away), and environmental issues that mean that the Ebola crisis won't be the last epidemic of its kind to hit the region.

    What I'm picturing is that we can talk about this one, and when the talk gets exhausted, we can throw in other stories from the region that might be anything like the two links I've posted here, but which would still fit with the theme of social change in West and Central Africa. There may not be many Africanists on board here, but there are a lot of people who have read widely around the history of social change in Europe, North America and elsewhere - and that means that there might be more to talk about in this case than we might at first sight suppose.
  2. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Growth of African cities:
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  3. Yuwipi Woman

    Yuwipi Woman Whack-A-Mole Queen

  4. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Changed the thread title to reflect YW's post.

    That post reflects the very different local character of the continent's changes. Sierra Leone has had a railway network rebuilt since the end of the civil war, but it's solely for transporting metal ore from the mines to ports on the coast. The passenger network SL had before the mid-70s has not been rebuilt.
  5. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    A big part of social change is political protest, as people become less and less ready to put up with abuses of power committed by the powerful. The link here will take you to a story about the various forms of creative protest that have blossomed across the continent in recent years:

    Sex, whistles and shutdowns: Inside Africa’s non-protesters’ protesting toolbox | African Arguments

    What do urbanite veterans of various street battles think of these ones? (I have to admit the Liberian women's sex strike was a new one on me).
    crossthebreeze likes this.
  6. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    In 2005, I attended a conference on security in Africa . . . a conference in Moscow. Most people there took that as a sign that the continent was back on the Russian radar. Anyway, it looks like it is still on that radar, if this piece from the Russian International Affairs Council is any guide:

    RIAC :: Keeping Peace in Africa in the 21st Century

    The piece itself is rather boilerplate-ish, even though it makes some interesting points. The point is to indicate the kind of interest that Russia may have in the continent in the present moment, and into the near future.
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  7. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

  8. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Student protests in Sierra Leone lead violence, two deaths:

    Sierra Leone: One dead, two seriously injured as security forces open fire on protesting students

    S/L has a very long history of higher education - and an equally long history of it being monopolized by the elite. With the government promising to raise the country to middle-income status by the 2030s, that monopoly will have to end. Which makes the ongoing dysfunctions of the public system (lecturers at Njala university haven't been paid in months) even more problematic, and more likely to be protested by students.
  9. eatmorecheese

    eatmorecheese Rt Hon. Thingummy

    Sorry I missed this, great idea for a thread.

    One noticeable difference in recent years has been the opening up of information and journalism, allowing citizens across the continent to critically analyse dodginess at polling stations, financial misappropriation etc. Governments find it harder to control first hand information related by mobile phones directly to independent radio stations.

    Out and about atm, will bookmark this thread :)

    My optimistic side sees this as a positive development, the evolution of wider political spaces. My pessimistic side observed how easily and destructively these channels can be manipulated by governments and other sellers of ethnic hatreds, as in the Kenyan elections a few years back.
    Idris2002 likes this.
  10. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Guinea: trickle-down economics haven't worked, but that's not even half of the story.

    The myth of the trickle-down effect: What Guinea’s recent upheavals intimate about the country, by Joschka Philipps

    The key thing from this blogging post is that the country exhibits a 'multi-faceted distance' between the various insiders and outsiders, e.g. trade union bosses and the rank-and-file workers, or the president and the masses, etc. The author doesn't really expand on that one, but I think it's a way of thinking about social polarization that definitely has legs.
  11. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

  12. gawkrodger

    gawkrodger Well-Known Member

    top idea for a thread. Don't think there's much I can contribute (except maybe a little on urban informality) but will be interesting to read
  13. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Well, maybe I should have specified in the original post that it wouldn't be necessary to be an expert on the continent to comment on this one.

    We may not all know much about Africa, with some exceptions, but we do all know something about the history of the transition to modernity, as seen (for example) in the rise of urbanization. So that would allow for comment on cases like (for example) the integration of long-term refugees into the urban centres of Senegal.
  14. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  15. eatmorecheese

    eatmorecheese Rt Hon. Thingummy

  16. ViolentPanda

    ViolentPanda Hardly getting over it.

    Yep. Rather than taking the usual and simplistic "X against Y" formula, it possibly presents a more nuanced and segmented/stratified way of viewing the various linkages and conflicts between different actors.
  17. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  18. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  19. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

  20. eatmorecheese

    eatmorecheese Rt Hon. Thingummy

    A fair article, the point about how legions of IMF economists divorced their patchy economic analysis of 'middle class' from African social realities hits the nail on the head for me. Beyond the tiny percentage of fabulously wealthy people who have more in common with the residents of Knightsbridge than they do with you, me or the average African, the class divide in some areas can be as basic as having a bigger portion of rice for your meal. In economic terms, at least. The $2 definition of middle class is pretty risible.

    It made me think of those young, 'bright' economists working for the IMF who would write the structural adjustment plan for an entire country whilst seeing little more of their assigned country than their hotel room at the Sheraton, and copying it out of a monetarist textbook. Did they predict the dramatic rise in mobile phone penetration across the continent or believe even rural Africans would have the financial resources to afford them and to buy airtime? Did they not understand that in some countries the elites, having no faith in the brittleness of local institutions and little faith in investing at home, pump it off to Europe, the US and various tax havens? Are the 'middle class' of, say, Angola, interested in having a transformative effect on their poorest millions? And can earning, say, $4 a day in Luanda (looking at cost of living) make someone a transformative member of the global middle class? No to all of the above, imo.

    Rambling, apologies for truisms and generalisations :oops:
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  21. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Now Ghana has launched its first satellite:

    Ghana launches its first satellite into space - BBC News

    (I passed through the Ghanaian capital Accra in 2011. It reminded me of stories of Dublin in the early '60s - still obvious poverty, and even in some cases extreme poverty, but also an obvious growth of wealth and capital as well, as expressed through a building boom).
  22. eatmorecheese

    eatmorecheese Rt Hon. Thingummy

  23. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  24. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  25. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

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  26. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    The landslide was a disaster, but it wasn't an accident.

    Sierra Leone: fears of second mudslide as week of national mourning begins
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  27. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    One part of the Irish story was getting American style fast food. And that's now a story being repeated in Ghana:

    Obesity Was Rising as Ghana Embraced Fast Food. Then Came KFC.

    "It's as if we have become mentally enslaved". What the NYT story doesn't really mention is that this is something for the elite, and for a fraction of the new middle class. Most of the broad masses will still be excluded from this, which will be literally life-saving in their case.
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  28. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

  29. petee

    petee i'm spartacus

    they look like they're inviting you to climb into the turbine.

    I've flown Ethiopian, about the best service I've ever had.
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  30. Idris2002

    Idris2002 A kick up the Arás

    Story from South Africa; google was taking down videos in which South African women were dancing bare breasted - and dancing in ways that were not sexualised at all.

    ‘Hey Google, our breasts aren’t sexual’

    Eventually the techbros saw sense, but it's another interesting episode in the kind of social changes this thread is concerned with.
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