RIP Terence Ranger

Airport Farewell at Deportation of Professor Terence Ranger in 1962: Left to right: T. O. Ranger, Shelagh, Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Robert Mugabe, and John Reed (Photo courtesy of David Wiley, African Studies Center, Michigan State University)


2015 began with the sad news of the passing of Terence Ranger (85) – one of the most reputed scholars of Zimbabwean and African history.

Ranger’s is perhaps best-known for the volume on “The Invention of Tradition” (1983) which he co-edited with Eric Hobsbawn (another towering figure in academia). Ranger’s essay in the book: “The Invention of tradition in colonial Africa” generated and intense academic debate – and Ranger himself revisited these arguments a decade later.

Ranger began his career as lecturer of Medieval and Modern History in the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1957. In 1962, following the country’s unilateral declaration of independence, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia and he established himself in newly independent Tanzania, where he directed the  University of Dar es Salaam’s History Department. There he assembled a stellar academic line-up that included John Iliffe and Walter Rodney.

In many ways, the origins of the modern African history scolarship can be traced back to those ‘Dar es Salaam school’ days and to Terence Ranger.

One of the many things for which he will be remembered.


PS You can read a very extensive and extremely interesting inverview with Ranger done by Diana Jeater in 2009 here.

On blogging hiatuses…

So, yeah, that was a long one!
Blogging is usually rather irregular (unless you are very disciplined, or do it for a living), but a pause of 2 years and 5 months is something pretty big for any blog. And it deserves a bit of an explanation. In fact, I am sure that most of the people reading this (if there is any) actually thought this was a dead blog. Another one for the virtual cemeteries.
But no. Not yet in any case.

The reasons for such a long pause are many (some good, others not so). The fact is that life has changed quite a bit for me in the intervening period. Since July 2012, when I last posted here, a great deal has happened: I got married to M (the love of my life, with whom I have been together for over ten years now); I changed jobs and moved countries as a result (I stopped working for FRIDE in Madrid after getting a job in the European Parliament and moved to Brussels); I traveled to some African countries (many of them for the first time): Mali, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa; we adopted a dog (Max, a lovely Jack Russell); went to back to Waterford in Swaziland where it all (my interest in Africa, my relationship with M) started ten years ago. And plenty more, as you can imagine!

All these changes – especially the professional ones – meant that I did not know whether, or how, to continue blogging. So I stopped. Yet, I kept thinking that I would re-start at some point, so I did not delete the site. And it seems that now I am ready to retake On Africa (I hope this is not an ill-fated New Year’s resolution!). Nonetheless, the changes of the past two and a half years, will undoubtedly be reflected in On Africa. I will also slowly tweak things here and there (starting with this new layout) to fine-tune the blog visually and adapt it to this new period.

So, what to expect from On Africa now?
Well, the truth is that I am not really sure, although I have some ideas. For starters, more frequent updates and posts! Also, the blog will continue to look at issues arising from or related to some or all of the countries in Africa. Nonetheless, the blog may have a less political focus (I do this this during my day job, so it is good to keep things separate – this blog reflects purely personal views). Instead, I would like to include more cultural notes; some general reflections on society, technology, economy, etc in Africa, and (hopefully!) a lot more posts on ideas and debates that are emerging and important for the future of Africa and beyond. Because I am now even more convinced that Africa will be able to provide answers not only to the challenges facing its own societies, but also to many important global questions. So, we better start paying careful attention!
On Africa hopes to become my humble contribution to this.

Las políticas de la Unión Europea y España hacia el Norte de África

Hace unos días FRIDE publicó mi último policy brief, “Las políticas de la Unión Europea hacia el Norte de África ¿Cuál debe ser el papel de España?” escrito junto a mi compañera Ana Echagüe como parte de un proyecto para la Secretaría de Estado para la Unión Europea del mismo nombre. Para la redacción de este informe hemos hablado con diversos responsables de la política exterior española hacia a la región y argumentamos que:

España debería estar en primera línea de unas políticas europeas globales que respalden las reformas en los países del Norte de África. Debería adoptar una estrategia a largo plazo –aunque ello implique ciertas pérdidas inmediatas-, que identifique los intereses mutuos y fomente la interdependencia entre los socios euromediterráneos.

La publicación puede descargarse en español y en inglés desde la web de FRIDE, pinchando aquí.

Además, para aquellxs interesadxs, Cristina Casabón de la oficina en Madrid del  think-tank ECFR, ha colgado un podcast en el que contesto a unas preguntas sobre el tema, y que está disponible en el blog de ECFR y también pinchando aquí.

The African Union turns ten: time for a reality check*

An image of the 17th African Union Summit held last year in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (Photo: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea)

The 19th African Union Summit starts today, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the pan-continental body. Despite this symbolism, African leaders will most likely close the summit next Monday with an anti-climatic message that will be met with a collective yawn across Africa. They may even fail – for the second time – to elect a new head the African Union Commission. An underwhelming performance that contrasts with events across the continent: South Sudan, Africa’s newest country, also turns one today amidst important development and security challenges. Egypt and Senegal have overcome domestic turmoil and peacefully elected new Presidents, and Libya just held its first elections in over 60 years. Less positive developments are also visible in Nigeria, increasingly threatened by terrorism; eastern DRC, where conflict has flared up; and Mali, where a coup d’état back in Marchled to the country’s partition.

The AU certainly lacks capabilities but also, more worryingly, appears out of sync with most Africans’ preoccupations. Its focus on continental economic growth is welcome, but it needs an accompanying political narrative. The “United States of Africa” discourse that gave birth to the AU in 2002 belonged to a generation of leaders such as Thabo Mbeki and Olesegun Obasanjo that have now exited the scene. Continental unity has been reduced to a motto of “African solutions to African problems”, which struggles to translate into real actions. The EU supported this new impetus through the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) but progress remains limited. Even where greater progress has been recorded, in the peace and security domain, challenges persist with an AU dependent on sub-regional and extra-regional actors. Mali is a case in point: ECOWAS is leading the political dialogue and putting forward a 3,000 strong military contingent. And the recent UN resolution on Mali was drafted by France – a country which supported intervention in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire against the AU’s criteria.

These and other challenges have put the AU on a defensive position that converts the demand for “African solutions” into a flat rejection of external interference. This makes the AU defend regimes that not only are undemocratic, but also face domestic opposition. Sudan is a good example: whilst protesters are taking the streets against al-Bashir’s government, the AU provided him with an inestimable backing in choosing to move the location of the AU summit from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa after the Malawian President refused to host the ICC-indicted Sudanese president. This reflects the inability (or unwillingness) of the AU to recognise the magnitude of the changes taking place across the continent.

External partners also need to clarify their approach vis-à-vis the continent. The EU supports continental integration through the JAES, but carries out substantial negotiations with Africa (e.g. Economic Partnership Agreements ) on a sub-regional basis. And its vocal support for democracy and human rights is often contradicted by moves to strengthen EU ties with African regimes of questionable democratic legitimacy. Global reordering and domestic transformations will make Africa a very different continent ten years from now. The AU, the African leaders that form part of it, and its external partners should all recognise this and act accordingly or risk sinking the institution into irrelevance.

* This post was originally written for The FRIDE blog

Top stories of the week (2 – 6 July)

Global Voices Summit begins today (Global Voices)

Photo: Global Voives / Flickr)

300 bloggers, activists and technologists participating in the Global Voices Summit 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya have just been seated for a two-day meeting of public discussions and workshops about the rise of online citizen media movements worldwide.

Among the highlights in today’s program is the opening panel on the Global Rise of Citizen Media led by Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman.

We will also be introducing Kenya citizen media, discussing the rise of #Occupy movements around the world, and exploring the influence of diaspora populations on citizen media and national public debates.


Somali Presidential Elections: six ways to win power (African Arguments) Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (25 – 29 June)


“I have today become the president of all Egyptians” – Mohamed Morsi’s speech (The Guardian)

My people of great Egypt, who today celebrate democracy in our country; those of you standing in the public squares, in Tahrir Square, and all the public squares of Egypt; my dear people, big family, brothers and sons, you who are awaiting the future, who want security and safety, goodness and revival, and development and stability for our country, I turn to you praising God for having brought about this historic moment.

This is a shining course written by the hands of Egyptians, by their will, their blood, their tears and their sacrifices. I would never have been able to stand before you today as the first elected president by the will of free Egyptians in the first presidential elections after the revolution of 25 January, nor I would have been able to stand before you now with this overwhelming happiness that extends to the four corners of our beloved country without the support of God almighty and the sacrifices and precious blood of our noble martyrs and the noble, wounded citizens. …

Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (18 – 22 June)

Fighting in the Kivus divides the UN Security Council (Congo Siasa)

Rwandan involvement in the recent fighting, which is still confined to a tiny patch of land of about twenty square kilometers, has fueled much debate in recent weeks. Most foreign diplomats in Kinshasa – as well as some in Kigali I have spoken with – privately agree with the conclusions of Human Rights Watch, that Rwanda is helping M23 recruit soldiers, and is possibly also supplying the rebels with food, weapons and free passage through their territory.

Kigali, however, has vehemently denied the allegations, and aside from expressions of concerns by diplomats – including a letter from Washington a few weeks ago – there have been few concrete demarches by capitals. Meanwhile, after a week of calm, the fighting saw a brief peak again on Thursday, when M23 was almost able to take a large military camp at Rumangabo and cut off the Bunagana road. Sigue leyendo