Diasporas and other transnational communities have become particularly useful case studies for scholars interested in stretching and challenging mainstream conceptions of citizenship. It is now widely accepted that for many people around the world, physical location and formal legal citizenship may not be the most salient forms of social, political or economic affiliation. As the process of globalization continues to expand, more and more people find themselves in one place, while their lives are structured and oriented by connections to one or several other places. Some of these ‘places’ are other nation states, such as an ancestral country of origin. However, many such ‘places’ exist extraterritorially as abstract yet powerful expressions of identity, community, and belonging. Enter Afropolitanism. In 2005, Taiye Selasi authored a short piece for The Lip Magazine titled ‘Bye-Bye Babar (or: What is an Afropolitan?)’. In it, the British-born, American-raised, writer of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, formulated a definition and vivid depiction of an ‘Afropolitan’, one that has become the reference point for many enthusiasts and critics alike.
Over the past two decades the countries in southern Africa have generally had ‘dominant party systems’. Such party systems consist of one large ruling party which is dominant, in terms of seats in the national assembly or incumbent advantages, and a number of small opposition parties. The literature on dominant parties (Bogaards, 2004 and Greene, 2007) and competitive authoritarianism (Schedler, 2009 and Levitski and Way, 2010) provide useful insights for understanding the party politics of the region. The dominant party is usually a former liberation movement which fought to end colonialism or white minority rule. Nicholas van de Walle observes that opposition parties in the region lack the financial and organisational ability to compete with the incumbent advantages of ruling parties. As such, they remain small and fragmented. The dominant parties in southern Africa maintain their hold on power through a mix of co-option and coercion and are not unlike their counterparts in other competitive authoritarian states such as Mexico, Argentina and Russia. For example, mass political rallies are held to demonstrate the ruling party’s extensive support base. People are allegedly enticed to rallies with gifts in cash or kind. In addition state media are manipulated to give the ruling party more coverage and draw attention to its achievements and the government attempts to control the media through regulation or intimidation.
In the summer of 2013, Freetown’s King Jimmy Bridge collapsed. This was around a decade after the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war, and a year before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus; needless to say, the resulting deaths seemed barely newsworthy. But King Jimmy Bridge, and the tunnels that it took down with it, had particular significance to the many young people who make a precarious living in the neighbouring streets’ vibrant informal economy. The tunnels bore the marks of the chains used to imprison the victims of the Atlantic slave trade, as passages to the Ocean they were about to cross. Before King Jimmy Bridge collapsed, the tunnels served as congregation spots for young people, where discussions ensued about their current predicaments and about the plight of the youthman in a country where high rates of youth unemployment have forced a generation into marginal and irregular income-generating activities. The powerful symbolism of Sierra Leone’s historical memory of the slave trade (see Shaw 2002) was not simply embodied in marginal youths’ existence in the tunnels under King Jimmy Bridge. It was also explicitly evoked in their articulations of a political imagination based on notions of a citizens’ right to work. In the aftermath of an urban beautification project, Operation WID (Waste management, Improvement of the roads, and Decongestion), that curtailed street trading and commercial motorbike riding, young people’s frustration at this blow to their livelihoods was expressed through a poignant refrain: “We are Sierra Leoneans, not slaves!”
The push and pull of the world’s most dangerous migration route – what’s really behind the flock of thousands to Europe these days?
The Mediterranean Sea is today’s most dangerous border between countries not at war with each other. Just last week, 300 persons departing Libya on four rubber dinghies have gone missing at sea, after drifting for days without food and water. News reports in the past six months have regularly commented upon the rising number of persons disembarking on Italy’s coastline – benefiting from its search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum. Despite the increase in new arrivals from 33,000 to 200,000, the life-saving mission has now been discarded. Italian policy makers believe Mare Nostrum is as responsible for overcrowded reception centres as it is for the rising number of persons risking their lives at sea. But is it truly to blame for the surge? Because more than 50 per cent of arrivals are either Syrian or Eritrean, news commentators have provided some other potential explanations. Some point to the protracted conflict in the Middle East, whilst others highlight the strain on neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in continuing to receive thousands of Syrian refugees. “Poverty in Africa” is mentioned occasionally, and for the better informed, an oppressive military regime and indefinite conscription in Eritrea are to blame. Yet these supposed ‘causes’ of the latest wave in irregular migration to Europe are speculative at most and have in fact been ongoing for many years now. The irregular and mixed movement of persons across borders is arguably the most pressing international issue of our time, second perhaps only to terrorism. Yet the response of nations is too often reactionary and punitive towards individuals making the move, causing policies like Mare Nostrum to be cut short. By pinpointing the multiple ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ factors at play in the regions concerned it is possible to generate fresh insight on the debate on South- North migration. ‘Push Factors’ For Syrians and Eritreans on the move, the situation at home is the key reason for flight. In Syria, there are immediate threats to life, regardless of which side of the conflict you are on. In Eritrea, an oppressive military regime and a lifeless economy force several thousand to walk across its land borders every month. Ruthless and indiscriminate conscription waves can also augment departures, as can changes in border surveillance, including the reported end to the notorious ‘shoot to kill’ policy.
Rwanda has just completed its first Large Dam since the genocide (traditionally defined as one over 15 metres high). The Nyabarongo Dam will become the country’s primary power station and increase Rwanda’s power generation by a third. It is arguably the first singularly big development project to be completed by president Kagame’s government, and is set to be the first of many with a further four Large Dams in the immediate pipeline and the Bugasera Airport under construction. They form part of a wider effort to build large ‘modern’ infrastructures across the country, from road improvements and increased energy production to skyscrapers in the capital Kigali. So what does this drive towards big projects entail for Rwanda? Can it tell us something about the way in which the country is run and the values of its government? This article explores aspects of Rwanda’s flagship dam project that indicate the government’s wider approach to development politics.
There is an observable trend towards the abolition of the death penalty in Africa. More than two thirds of African states have now either abolished the practice or have long-standing moratoria on its use. As of October 2014, seventeen African states have abolished the death penalty by enacting national legislation. A further twenty-five State Parties have not carried out an execution for ten years. Only twelve states retain the death penalty and have recently used it, with the majority of executions occurring in Somalia or Sudan. This trajectory parallels an interpretation of international human rights law as progressively abolitionist. Although the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) made a provision for countries that had not already abolished the death penalty, it established stringent conditions under which it could continue. In those countries where it remains, international safeguards aim to ensure legality and fair trial, principles of equality and consistency, and minimum standards of protection for vulnerable groups, as well as entailing imposition only for the most serious crimes. Concurrently, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is working to attach an Optional Protocol to the African Charter for abolition. Despite these promising trends, it is important not to overlook the shadow that the death penalty still casts. Where it remains, the death penalty can be imposed for offenses that do not meet the international legal threshold of “most serious crimes”. The case of Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced to death for apostasy in Sudan, brought this issue to global headlines earlier this year. Similarly, the extensive remit of military tribunals in Somalia remains a concern.
Why is important to understand the impact and responses required for sexual violence and torture survivors in conflict and post-conflict countries in Africa?
Since 1998 I have been carrying out applied research with colleagues and African organisations with survivors of sexual violence and torture. This research argues that sexual violence perpetrated in conflict and post-conflict settings causes devastating effects to individuals as well as whole communities. It results in extensive damage to survivors’ psychological, reproductive and gynaecological health. Ongoing research reveals that more women and girl-children survive conflicts than are killed; yet with tremendous wounds to their bodies and minds; assaults on their dignity, their feelings of self-worth and their future. In contrast, there are rarely consequences for the perpetrators. Applied research carried out in Uganda, Liberia and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with colleagues and African organisations, argues that sexual violence is not solely a war crime and although extremely prevalent during conflicts, my research argues it has contaminated the post-conflict domestic sphere with high levels of community-perpetrated domestic violence and rape, particularly against young girls. Survivors’ shame and stigma is exacerbated by severe social rejection, particularly for women and girls who become pregnant from rape, former abductees and those with AIDS and HIV infection. Many resultant physical and mental health problems are not treatable by the grossly over-stretched and under-resourced health care systems. Capacity building within primary health care and justice services needs to address psychological trauma, increase resilience and recovery through support groups, trauma counselling and improvement to mental health policies. It is vitally important that service providers (who have also often experienced human rights abuses) are assisted to develop peer support and supervision groups and receive culturally sensitive training in supporting traumatised survivors and their children born from rape. In conjunction with greater protection for their work, and regular salaries this would assist to prevent ‘burn out’.
There is a tendency, even among scholars, to view civil wars as involving two actors—the “government” and “rebels.” This presumption likely arises because historical civil wars that have received the most attention—such as the American and Chinese civil wars—were generally fought between two recognized, organized combatants. Yet, many civil wars (both historical and modern) involve more than two actors. Take the current civil war in Syria. The Syrian government battles a series of rebel groups that generate a large number of acronyms—ISIS, SLA, SIF, and so on—and that frequently fight amongst themselves. These groups often seek to form coalitions to coordinate their opposition, but the coalitions are unstable and have difficulty controlling their constituent parts. The Syrian conflict also has a large level of external involvement, with the government receiving direct military support from Iran and Hezbollah plus a large number of additional external states and non-state actors seeking to turn the course of the war. The Syrian opposition’s fragmentation is extreme, but the multiparty nature of the conflict is by no means unique. In fact, many of the wars that have received the most international attention in recent decades—such as in Afghanistan, Columbia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, the Palestinian conflict in Israel, the Darfuri war in Sudan, and Somalia—have involved several rebel groups and significant external involvement.