Catching up links: Davidson’s death and the LRB, insiders on Nigerian and Kenyan politics, and more

First, story that I missed at the time, as I was surronded by boxes, but I wanted to share. The death of historian Basil Davidson. One of the first African historians I read, and a man with an incredible life. These are some excerpts of the obituary written by Jeremy Harding at the London Review of Books (LRB) blog, but the piece is worth reading in full to grasp the significance of Davidson’s work:

By the 1950s Davidson was in Africa and soon intrigued by the strange foreshortening of the continent’s past, which only appeared to begin with the arrival of outsiders. Slavery, European imperialism and settler colonialism were the benchmarks of African history; there was little, as far as he could tell, to confirm the richer story of which archaeology offered tantalising glimpses (…)
He saw no point, as he said in the LRB, in ‘writing the history of Africa without the Africans’. He wasn’t thinking only of his own excavations. He meant, too, that it didn’t pay to ignore the people who stood at the margins of power in contemporary Africa, a little behind the tree line: they had a way of appearing unexpectedly on the open plains and making for the centre. The figure he had in mind was the obscure rebel Laurent Kabila, precipitated through the chaos of Zaire to become another undistinguished head of state in 1997 (…)

The LRB, who has also recently been news after a controversial piece written by R.W. Johnson, and which the editors were forced to take down after a number of scholars wrote a letter denouncing it for being clearly racist.

On Nigeria and scholars, the always interesting Africa Works blog, written by G. Pascal Zachary, recently had a piece criticising the suggestion made by Stephen Biddle, Fotini Christia and Alexander Their on the Foreign Affairs magazine, in which they argued that perhaps Nigeria could be a model for Afghanistan. This, Zachary thinks has no basis but:

rather seems like another example of the penchant for highly educated non-Africans to say anything about Africa, or anything that appears to support their own political views. Debunking the dumb things said about Africa and its people by Americans could be a fulltime job but it isn’t because such debunking doesn’t help enough Americans score their own debating points. In the end, the question being answered is “What has Africa done for us lately?”

Also, Naijablog reprints an extremely interesting article, originally published on The Guardian, written by former Cross River State Governor, Mr. Donald Duke and in which he details the process of vote rigging in Nigeria. Again, the full article is worth reading, but here’s some of what he says:

There is not a polling booth that is more than five hundred (ballot papers). So only two hundred people appear here, three hundred there, one hundred there, fifty there, four hundred there, at the end of election what happens. The Presiding Officer sits down and calls a few guys and says, ‘hey, there are a few hundred papers here, let’s thumbprint. This is the real election. Well, this is not a PDP thing. I am not here to castigate the PDP; it’s a Nigerian thing. This process may sound comical and jovial, it happens throughout the country, whether its Action Congress or APGA it’s the same thing. We are all the same. They start thumb-printing, some are overzealous. So at the end of the day you find some voting more than the number of people that were registered to vote (…)
We need a critical mass of Nigerians to get out and vote. It is important because the more ballot papers that are legitimately used on election day, the fewer available to be used to rig the vote, that’s the truth. Don’t keep to yourself and think that they will announce results. They are more sophisticated than that. And that’s why the aspirants who felt cheated and had the resources to employ forensic personnel, like those elections had the elections upturned in Edo and Ondo, because they could establish multiple voting by thumbprint.

Still on the subject of former civil servants sharing their views on the political proces, the Mars Group blog reprints a lecture delivered at Lloyds, the Insurance market, London by Edward Clay, British High Commissioner to Kenya between 2001 and 2005. Clay famoulsy said on a speech – as he remembers on this lecture that, the Kenyan

corrupt government appeared to think we would not notice or mind if their gluttony in stealing public funds caused them to vomit all over our shoes. The shoes of all of us, incidentally, not just donors’; and including the feet of those without shoes. Not just members of the Kenyan elite, but in Whitehall, too, some found my campaign discomfiting. On the whole, many more others reacted positively to it.

A lecture which is a recommended read for the variety of aspects he touches on, and his command of numerous facts and details.

And more on Kenya; Kumekucha has a post on the figure of William Ruto, the Higher education minister and who seemed on an ascendent trajectory to the top of Kenya’s political elite, but seems now to have fallen out of favour after being “caught” appearing to support the campaign for “Yes” on the referendum, despite formally defending the “No” position. Ultimately however, according to Chris, the reason for his lack of success is a change in the political culture in Kenya:

Now incase you are not aware, ordinary Kenyans at the grassroots level have taken the draft constitution very seriously indeed and a huge number of them have actually read right through the bulky document. Things are actually very different from what they were in 2005 when one Raila Odinga led opposition against the Bomas draft and used it to lift himself politically. Fast forward to 2010 and William Ruto is trying to use the same strategy to position himself for 2012. And so he has been using some of the tactics Raila Odinga used in 2005. Like telling the people blatant lies about the draft constitution. It worked well for Raila in 2005 because people swallowed everything hook line and sinker. A poor excuse of a Kenyan interviewed on TV then even admitted that as long as Raila had read the document and decided it was bad, he had no business reading it for himself.
But 2010 is a different ball game. Apart from it being a lot more difficult to cheat Kenyans, there are things like the Ukweli (truth) meter (in the committee of experts’ brilliant campaign to create awareness on the constitution). Then we also have Citizen TV moving from village to village across the country entertaining Kenyans as they educate them about the draft. Newspapers too have been occasionally telling Kenyans what politicians are saying and comparing it to what is in the draft constitution. The result is that Ruto has been challenged several times during his rallies by ordinary people in the crowd who have screamed back “uwongo” (lies).

Finally, just noting that, the British publication The Economist has a brand new blog dedicated to African affairs, named Baobab (not a very original name, they must admit). While so far they have touched on a number of topics, without a doubt their “star-story” so far is Somalia, on two versions – the success in Somaliland and the growing importance of Al-Shabaab after the Kampala bombing. The past post, for example is titled “What happened to those offensives against the Shabab?” in which they repert the growing impatience of American forces with both the TFG and the AU force, and their reluctance to launch an offensive against the islamist group.

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