Ethiopia in the Wake of Political Reforms

Following years of protests, unrest and instability Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. After a year of optimism and positivity, the challenges put increasing pressure on a fragile transition. It was around this time that a group of scholars met to take stock of the situation and develop the ideas of what would become the book Ethiopia in the Wake of Political Reforms (2020), edited by Melaku Geboye Desta, Dereje Feyissa Dori and Mamo Esmelealem Mihretu. The collection, published by Tsehai, brings together a wide range of leading scholars, who contributed works on politics, economics, governance, foreign affairs and security. This is a 600+ page collection, beyond summary here. It is well worth picking up. 


Can Non-Europeans Think? (Dabashi)

I looked forward to Hamid Dabashi's Can Non-Europeans Think? (2015), with a forward by Walter Mignolo. Although the articles are interesting, they are a disconnected set of writings over a period of fifteen or so years. Most are former journalistic publications, which leaves academic readers wanting for references to follow-up on and dig deeper. The feature of the book is probably the exchanges that took place following a 2013 Al Jazeera article by Dabashi by the same title. I found Mignolo's forward and the opening contributions the most interesting, the others are on the topic of answer the book's question, or a demonstrations of it (yes, non-Europeans can think) but are more time and topic specific (e.g. on Edward Said, Iran, Arab Spring). Journalistic editorials, while interesting in the moment seem to lose their edge when the years have passed.

A few notes:

"This is "fast knowledge" produced on the model of "fast food," with plastic cups, plastic knives, plastic forks, bad nutrition, false satisfaction. The US invades Afghanistan and these think tanks produce a knowledge conducive to that project; then the US leads another invasion of Iraq and these think tanks begin producing knowledge about Iraq, with little or no connection with what they had said about Afghanistan, or what they might say about Iran. There is little or no epistemic consistency among the three – for these forms of knowledge are produced under duress (with tight deadlines) and are entirely disposable. You throw them out after one use." (p. 18)

"The question of Eurocentrism is now entirely blasé. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires, and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires; they believe their particular philosophy is "philosophy" and their particular thinking is "thinking," while everything else is – as the great European philosopher Emmanuel Levinas was wont to say – "dancing."" (p. 33)

"A colonized mind is a colonized mind, whether it is occupied by the European right or by the cliché-ridden left: it is an occupied territory, devoid of detail, devoid of substance, devoid of love, devoid of a caring intellect. It smells of aging mothballs, and is nauseating." (p. 103-104)

"What unites Kant, Levinas, and Žižek (among many others) is that their self-universalizing philosophies are invariably predicated on denying others the capacity to think critically or creatively by way of enabling, authorizing, and empowering themselves to think for the world." (p. 259)

"Humanity needs new visionaries to shape its highest aspirations. The principal facts on the ground – acting as a beacon to those visionaries – are the wretched of the earth, the millions of human beings roaming the globe in search of the most basic necessities of life and liberty or else in fear of persecution. Muslims and Africans face the same ghastly discrimination in Europe as Latin American illegal immigrants do in the United States, as Afghan refugees do in Iran, as Palestinians (now joined by Africans) do in Israel, and as Filipino and Sri Lankan laborers do in the Arab world. That fact is the ground zero of principled moral positions." (p. 283-284)


The Gulf Crisis, Views from Qatar

With the potential for an end, or at least easing of tensions, in the GCC, it seems an interesting moment to look back and see what the perspectives were when the crisis started. "The Gulf Crisis: The View from Qatar" (2018), edited by Miller, gives a set of perspectives on a wide range of issues, with contributions written in the first year after the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and closed borders as well as airspace with Qatar. A few notes:

One of the most dramatic shifts for Qatar has been increasing domestic production, notably for food products, but also for a wide range of other commodities that were previously primarily imported. For example, a national food security plan re-oriented the food system, with targets set for domestic production of specific food commodities (notably fresh milk and poultry are to be 100% domestic supply by 2023) and explicit objectives to diversify the sources of imported items. Dr. Ansari (p. 33) says the events will "forever be viewed as a turning point for Qatar's food system", looking back from 2021, this rings just as true today as it did then.

The long-term investment in culture, arts and sport, which long preceded the events of 2017, appear to have had multiple positive benefits for Qatar. One component relates to diversifying the economy, while another acts as a means to build linkages with partners around the world (while FIFA is well publicized, international sporting events are regularly held in Doha). 

Partly due to the external pressures of internationalization (particularly FIFA), during this period Qatar departed from the employment and labour standards from the region, such as making it easier to transfer employers and introducing a higher minimum wage. Although long in the planning, during this period Qatar also moved forward plans to introduce elected members of government (advisory council), which are scheduled for 2021. These, and a number of other domestic policy issues, were transformed during this challenging period, arguably making Qatar much better placed (e.g. investment, residency rights, work) in relation to its neighbours following the crisis (see chapter by Dr. Mitchell). However, the economic growth and investment is not outward, another domestic shift during this period was the development of domestic entrepreneurship. Dr. Tok (p. 39) argued the crisis was an opportunity to foster domestic entrepreneurship. While it is unclear how new businesses will manage in the long term if/when trade fully re-opens, what is clear is that there is a much greater recognition and support for Qatari-produced products.

One interesting contribution of this volume covers a much less reported on aspect of the crisis: its manifestation across Africa. A number of other nations followed suit (Chad, Comoros, Mauritania and Senegal cut diplomatic ties, while Djibouti, Gabon and Niger downgraded their ties). This is covered by Harry Verhoeven (p. 136-144) and should be an area of increasing focus, as the influence of the Gulf expands. As a non-tech expert, the extent of cybercrime (and its central role in the Gulf Crisis), at least in my circle, appears to attract far less attention than it should (see p. 109-118 by Joseph J. Boutros). 


Capitalism, Alone

In the realm of those interested in inequality, Milanovic and Piketty have been leading intellectual voices in the last decade. A few years ago I wrote about Milanovic's 2016 book on global inequality, this post covers his 2019 book Capitalism, Alone. In general, I think anyone interested in development economics should read this, and fortunately for the rest of us who are not specialists in development economics, this book is written for a broader audiences. A few notes:

"The uncontested dominion of the capitalist mode of production has its counterpart in the similarly uncontested ideological view that money-making not only is respectable but is the most important objective in people's lives, an incentive understood by people from all parts of the world and all classes." (p. 3).

"These gaps result in what I call "citizenship premium" and "citizenship penalty." Citizenship premium … refers to the boost in income one receives simply from being a citizen of a rich country, while citizenship penalty is the reduction in income from being a citizen of a poor country. The value of this premium (or penalty) may be up to five to one or ten to one, even after adjusting for the lower price levels in poorer countries." (p. 129)

"The same role that colonialism played then, more brutally, is played today by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, hundreds of bilateral investment treaties, and other global governance bodies: they are the guardians against nationalization and the abuse of foreign property. In that respect, globalization has created its own governance structure." (p. 148)

"The existence of the welfare state is not, in the longer run, compatible with full-scale globalization that includes the free movement of labor." (p. 156)

"By our long custom of "methodological nationalism," where we essentially study certain phenomena within the confines of a nation, we are led to the position that equality of opportunity seems to apply, and to be studied, only within the nation-state. Global inequality of opportunity is forgotten or ignored. This may have been, philosophically and practically, a reasonable position in the past, when knowledge differences among nations was vague and inequality of opportunity was not addressed even at home. But it may not be a reasonable position now." (p. 159)

"The truth is that we are willingly, even eagerly, participating in commodification because, through long socialization in capitalism, people have become capitalistic calculating machines. We have each become a small center of capitalist production, assigning implicit prices to our time, our emotions, and our family relations." (p. 195)


Define and Rule - Mamdani

Mahmood Mamdani has written a number of essential reading books, including When Victims Become Killers, as well as Citizen and Subject and Neither Settler Nor Native (reviews on those to come in future posts). Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity (2012) is the W. E. B. Du Bois lectures, presented in three chapters (Nativism: The Theory, Nativism: The Practice, Beyond Settlers and Natives). As lecture notes, this is a relatively short book, of 154 pages in a small size book. Nonetheless, an interesting read, and particularly interesting to see Mamdani's ideas develop from this 2012 book until his 2020 book (Neither Settler Nor Native). A lecture on the book is available here. A few notes:

"Nick Dirks has rightly argued that anthropology supplanted history as the principal colonial modality of knowledge and rule after 1857, creating an ethnographic state in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century India. Having characterized colonized societies as stationary, all efforts were invested in containing social change in these societies - and justifying it as protection of vulnerable minorities." (p. 30)

"Before managing difference, colonial power set about defining it. Nick Dirks called this "the ethnographic state," which wielded the census not only as a way of acknowledging difference but also as a way of shaping, sometimes even creating, difference. The focus of colonial power, after 1857, was to define colonial subjectivity. Thus I have titled this book: Define and Rule." (p. 44)

"With races, the cultural difference was not translated into separate legal systems. Instead, it was contained, even negotiated, within a single legal system and was enforced by a single administrative authority. But with tribes, the case was the opposite: cultural difference was reinforced, exaggerated, and built up into different legal systems, each enforced by a separate administrative and political authority. In a nutshell, different races were meant to have a common future; different tribes were not. The colonial legal project - civil and customary - was an integral part of the colonial political project." (p. 48-49)

"Did tribe exist before colonialism? If we understand by tribe an ethnic group with a common language, it did. But tribe as an administrative entity that distinguishes between natives and non-native and systematically discriminates in favor of the former and against the latter - defining access to land and participation in local governance rules for settling disputes according to tribal identity - certainly did not exist before colonialism. One may ask: did race exist before racism? As differences in pigmentation, or in phenotype, it did. But as a fulcrum for group discrimination based on "race" difference, it did not." (p. 73)

"In an era when it was fashionable to think of violence as the way to "smash the colonial state," Nyerere taught otherwise: first, that the backbone of the colonial state and its legacy was no the army and the police but its legal and administrative apparatus, and that it required political vision and political organization - not violence - to "smash" these. The creation of a substantive law from multiple sources - precolonial life, colonial modern form of the state, and anticolonial resistance - and the establishment of a single and unified law-enforcing machinery meant that every citizen in mainland Tanzania was governed on the basis of the same set of rules, enforced by a single court system. Here, I intend to focus on Nyerere's seminal achievement: creating an inclusive citizenship and building a nation-state." (p. 107-108)


Murdering Patrice Lumumba

Having recently read and posted about the letters, writing and speeches of Patrice Lumumba, I was looking forward the book by Gerard and Kuklick (2015), published by Harvard, titled "Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba". While it was well researched and interesting, it was a different book than what I was expecting, and I finished reading thinking that another book needs to be written (or maybe has been written?) that puts the Lumumba at the center, rather than others at the center in their efforts against him. The book outlines a wide array of actors seeking to murder Lumumba, with the Belgians and the CIA taking the lead, the authors end with this: "… the West could not conceive a stand-alone African state akin to European countries in its economic and political capabilities. Lumumba aspired to a greatness the West would not abide." (p. 217)

Other notes:

"The pro-Western United Nations had large debts to the United States, and in addition the United States would pay for much of the Congo operation of the UN. Its leadership regularly consulted not only with the US delegation to the United Nations in New York, but also with American diplomats in Washington. The peacekeepers would do whatever fighting had to be undertaken, and many of the African nations who contributed troops received training courtesy of the United States and purchased military equipment at a discount. More or less at American bidding, the United Nations might dampen the conflict in the just-born nation. The Americans soon had an understanding that Secretary-General Hammarskjöld would contain Lumumba." (p. 57)

"The Belgians advised Kasa-Vubu about what they considered a coup d'état, but Kasa-Vubu used the UN to carry it out. In the aftermath of Kasa-Vubu's radio performance, the Belgians thanked the Americans for egging on Hammarskjöld, yet while Washington supported the coup, it did not intervene as had Belgium. The UN led the way, although Hammarskjöld did discuss his outlook with the Americans and presumed himself in concert with them. Whether Cordier's throwing his weight around was good or bad, the UN violated its mandate, and meant to overturn Lumumba. Hammarskjöld had written that the prime minister must be "forced to constitutionality"; then the secretary-general had pushed Lumumba out of office by unconstitutional means." (p. 103)

"After Washington decided to assassinate, Devlin made eight separate suggestions over a three-week period on how the Americans might accomplish the murder, and he enlisted other to help." (p. 151)

"Eyskens warned: "In the actual state of things, it is necessary to contemplate the eventual return of Lumumba." This fear may have inspired another murder attempt. A Greek called "Georges" arrived in Brazzaville, probably in the beginning of November. Belgians in Brussels had hired him to kill Lumumba at his residence." (p. 175)

"On the tenth day Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito rose from the dead a last time. Soete unearthed the cadavers and then used a hacksaw to sever the extremities—arms, legs, heads—from the three decaying carcasses. Soete wore a mask and gloves, and drank a lot. Three upper bodies remained. The lawman repeatedly refilled the the barrel with acid. Like the extremities, the torsos were small enough so that the grave robber could throw the chunks of rotting flesh into the vat and have them eaten away. But there was not enough acid, and flesh and bones that had not been obliterated had to be burned, although Soete held on to a few keepsakes like teeth. The butchering took two days and nights." (p. 208)


Charity in Islamic Societies

Amy Singer's book on Charity in Islamic Societies (2008) covers a wide range of topics related to charitable giving (zakat, sadaqah) and charitable institutions (awqaf), providing canonical and historical examples of them. In particular, I was interested in the parts on endowments / foundations / trusts (singular waqf, plural awqaf). Singer describes them as "specific endowed properties, the revenues of which were designated in perpetuity to sustain defined beneficiaries; the properties or capital of the endowment were managed by a specified succession of managers..." (p. 93). Quite remarkably, the author explains that "By the nineteenth century, large amounts of property all over the Muslim world belonged to endowments, including an estimated 75 percent of arable land in the area of today's Turkey, one-fifth in Egypt, one-seventh in Iran, one-half in Algeria, one-third in Tunisia, and one-third in Greece. At the end of the eighteenth century, an estimated 20,000 waqfs in the Ottoman Empire had a total annual income equal to one-third of annual government revenues, and perhaps including as much as one-half to two-thirds of arable land." (p 186). What Singer describes as the "moral economy" presents a picture of a very different socio-economic structure, one that might be unfamiliar, even unimaginable, to contemporary readers. 

This book came to my attention when I came across a report that spoke about the history of charitable foundations and trusts in Muslim contexts. The report refers to a "reliable source", which is Singer's book. However, Singer does not provide the primary data to support these facts. One has to keep reading to find a footnote and explore the sources to identify where the data might come from. One of the footnotes leads to 2001 paper by Kuran, but it too is a secondary source, referring to other papers for support (5 other publications). In the Kuran paper, the amount of land listed is 1/8th in Egypt, not 1/5th. Singer may have been adding another source, but if she was it is unclear which. Three references in the Kuran paper are to dated Encyclopedia references (1936, 1961, 1973), which are not known to be sources of primary data. Of the two remaining sources, one is a country-specific paper (about Egypt, form 1968) and the other is an article on the Ottoman Empire (from 1939), neither of which appear available online. Given the apparent inaccessibility of these sources (which may not be the origin of the primary data either), it seems some discussion about the primary data supporting these claims would be useful. I have not yet been able to track the origins of the primary data for these facts. The journey to look into these interesting facts is a reminder for us all to find original sources, and cite them accordingly. 


Lumumba: May Our People Triumph

LeoPard books has collected the speeches, writings, letters and telegrams of the former Prime Minister of DR Congo, Patrice Lumumba in "May Our People Triumph" (2016). It also collects a set of articles written about him after his murder. The book has some editorial errors and formatting issues, but nonetheless is a useful collection to read the thoughts and ideas of Lumumba hisself (as opposed to other books that have been written about him). Most of the contents published in this book are available here. Some notes:

"Many brilliantly gifted young people turned down the opportunity to receive a higher education for the simple reason that they no longer wished to be indoctrinated by the colonialists, who wanted to turn our young men and women into eternal servants of the colonial regime." (p. 16)

"We know the objects of the West. Yesterday they divided us on the level of a tribe, clan and village. Today, with Africa liberating herself, they seek to divide us on the level of states. They want to create antagonistic blocs, satellites, and, having begun from that stage of the cold war, deepen the division in order to perpetuate their rule." (p. 29)

"Upon the arrival of two aircraft transporting Canadian military personnel, the security forces wished to check the identity of these passengers. But the latter flatly refused to produce their identification papers and hurled coarse language at the Congolese officials. And even graver was the fact that Swedish troops of the U.N. force prevented the legal authorities from carrying out the check." (p. 94)

"Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men. Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me. The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations. It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity." (p. 110-111)


The Green Book - Gaddafi

The former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explained his political philosophy in The Green Book. The Green Book is a short work (the English translation is 92 pages) presented in short chapters on a wide range of topics, organized into three parts. The first part is a critique of Western forms of democracy and a proposal for democracy rooted in people's self governance. The second part is about socialism and the third part about the social relations in society. A copy is available here. Some notes from the book:

"Parliaments are the backbone of that conventional democracy prevailing in the world today. Parliament is a misrepresentation of the people, and parliamentary systems are a false solution to the problem of democracy. A parliament is originally founded to represent the people, but this in itself is undemocratic as democracy means the authority of the people and not an authority acting on their behalf." (p. 10)

"Under such systems, the people are the victims whose votes are vied for by exploitative competing factions who dupe the people into political circuses that are outwardly noisy and frantic, but inwardly powerless and irrelevant." (p. 11)

"The existence of many parties intensifies the struggle for power, and this results in the neglect of any achievements for the people and of any socially beneficial plans. Such actions are presented as a justification to undermine the position of the ruling party so that an opposing party can replace it. The parties very seldom resort to arms in their struggle but, rather, denounce and denigrate the actions of each other. This is a battle which is inevitably waged at the expense of the higher, vital interests of the society." (p. 14)

"...society alone supervises itself. It is dictatorial for any individual or group to claim the right of the supervision of the laws of the society, which is, democratically, the responsibility of the society as a whole. This can be arrived at through the democratic instrument of government that results from the organization of the society itself into Basic Popular Conferences, and through the government of these people through People's Committees..." (p. 29)

"In a socialist society, it should not be in the form of wages from any source or charity from any one. In this society, there are no wage-earners, but only partners. One's income is a private matter and should either be managed privately to meet one's needs or be a share from a production process of which one is an essential component. It should not be a wage in return for production." (p. 44)

"The new socialist society is but a dialectical outcome of the unjust relationships prevailing in the world today. The new socialist society will introduce the natural solution - privately-owned property to satisfy one's needs without exploitation, and collective property in which the producers are partners replacing private enterprise, which is based on the production of others without recognizing their right to a just share of the product." (p. 51)

"The possibility of a socialist revolution starts by producers taking over their share of the production. Consequently, the aims of the producers' strikes will change from demanding increases in wages to controlling their share in production." (p. 53)

"Freedom means that every human being gets proper education which qualifies him or her for the work which suits him or her. Dictatorship means that human beings are taught that which is not suitable for them, and are forced to do unsuitable work." (p. 82)

"Education, or learning, is not necessarily that routinized curriculum and those classified subjects in textbooks which youths are forced to learn during specified hours while sitting in rows of desks. This type of education now prevailing all over the world is directed against human freedom. State-controlled education, which governments boast of whenever they are able to force it on their youths, is a method of suppressing freedom. It is a compulsory obliteration of a human being's talent, as well as a coercive directing of a human being's choices. It is an act of dictatorship destructive of freedom because it deprives people of their free choice, creativity and brilliance. To force a human being to learn according to a set curriculum is a dictatorial act. To impose certain subjects upon people is also a dictatorial act." (p. 85)

"This does not mean that schools are to be closed and that people should turn their backs on education, as it may seem to superficial readers. On the contrary, it means. that society should provide all types of education, giving people the chance to choose freely any subjects they wish to learn. This requires a sufficient number of schools for all types of education." (p. 85-86) 


Sankara, An African Revolutionary

If you have heard of Thomas Sankara but don't know much about him and his life, Ernest Harsch's "Thomas Sankara: An African Revolutionary" (2014) is a useful introduction. However, the book is quite brief (152 pages in a small sized book) - it is part of the Short Histories of Africa series. For a more detailed understanding, I would recommend the publication of his speeches and writings (which I will blog about in a future post). What this book does, which his speeches and writings do not, is provide some context, such as his time in Madagascar). Some notes:

"Sankara advanced his political education through more than books and discussions. He was able to personally witness revolutionary change. His last year in Madagascar coincided with an unprecedented period of political upheaval marked by peasant revolts, general strikes, huge public demonstrations against a conservative pro-French regime, and finally a military takeover that steadily brought ever more radical officers into high positions of power." (p. 28)

"There was little difference between colonial rule and "neocolonial society," Sankara said, except that some nationals had taken over as the agents of foreign domination. While the twenty-three years of Upper Volta's independence was "a paradise for the wealthy minority, for the majority - the people - it is a barely tolerable hell."" (p. 54)

"Although the northeast had unexploited manganese deposits, the World Bank and other donor agencies considered extension of the railway to be uneconomical, and therefore declined to fund it. The Sankara government hoped to change their minds by building an additional 100 kilometers of track from Ouagadougou to Kaya through its own financing and labor mobilization." (p. 76)

"At a time when many African leaders behaved like supplicants eager to do anything to attract Western financing, the Burkinabe government insisted that national priorities came first. As the five-year plan put it, Burkina Faso's development strategy had to "base itself on national resources, both human and material, to build the new society."" (p. 91)

"Justin Damo Barro, who was finance minister during Sankara's first year, later revealed that he had tried on four occasions to persuade the president to ask for assistance from the International Monetary Fund, but Sankara declined on the grounds that IMF "conditionality" would spell the end of the revolution, by shifting decisions over basic economic policy away from Burkinabe and toward an external entity." (p. 92)

Regarding seeking partnerships with other governments, Sankara said: "What is essential is to develop a relationship of equals, mutually beneficial, without paternalism on one side or an inferiority complex on the other." (p. 112-113)

"...many African countries originally took the loans, at steep interest rates, on the advice of Western financial experts, who ultimately bore responsibility for the mushrooming of the debt. "Those who led us into debt were gambling, as if they were in a casino. As long as they were winning, there was no problem. Now that they're losing their bets, they demand repayment." Individually, African countries would be too weak to refuse to pay, Sankara pointed out. So he proposed that African leaders stand together and create a "united front" against the debt. The OAU never followed Sankara's advice..." (p. 122)

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