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Nurturing Africa’s Monsters and Sustaining the Dystopian Narrative

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A recent concern amongst some African intellectuals has manifested in the question; why is the West so enamored with Africa’s poverty porn? There has been that proclivity. That fetish for distressing stories from Africa, which explains the unbalanced perspective about Africa in the Western media. The African writer-in-residence at an American university who has written so compellingly about malnourished children in a war-torn African country with distended bellies, twig-like limbs, visible ribs and rust-colored thinned hair has unlocked a treasure chest of grants and fellowships. Winning Pulitzer Prizes, gaining international acclaim and raising funds from cleverly presenting Africa’s real and imagined misery has been the norm for some writers, photographers and NGOs from the continent, it is always about the commercialization of pain and grief. The symbolism of the Kevin Carter story impresses this fetish even further. The photographer had gone to South Sudan in March 1993, and had photographed a hunger-ravaged child in an open field, kneeling in the dirt, head bowed as if in prayer, while a vulture watched in the hope that she was soon going to be a corpse. That picture had captivated the world, not in the sense of what it represented in its stark presentation of humanity in its most hopeless of situations, but in a curious voyeuristic interest.

Africa must begin on a wrong foot in celebrated forgetfulness, when the stage was set for the Independence of many African countries, a shadowy and an even more sinister control of the continent’s soul was tied to the goods that the West had to offer. As a consequence, Africa must sell its soul, the leaders must court the goodwill of the West and African writers must write stories that the West wants to read. Stories that must show Africa’s misery.

There is a brand of Afrocentrism that is stuck in the racial insecurity that some African leaders and intellectuals feel when dealing with the West. That brand of Afrocentrism appears very resolute in its consideration of economic handouts even in the face of privation, but it fails when there is a personal benefit that is interfaced by condescending gestures, gestures made necessary by the leverage of power. Whoever controls the money controls the narrative. Suddenly tough-talking African government officials find themselves unable to negotiate IMF loans from a position of convenience, African countries find that they cannot give political and moral support for citizens who face racism in top international organizations. It is helplessness. The same helplessness Africa feels currently in the clutch of the Chinese state. For some of the African intellectuals, it has become a tradition to criticize the continent and institutions they helped undermine from the comfort of a Parisian café or in the coziness of a hotel room in Frankfurt. The continent has problems; yet it is the job of many African intellectuals and writers to exaggerate those problems and romanticize them. They know it is in high demand, such expectations of black misery.

The West must be purged of its sins; its conscience must be clear that Africa is settled when there are indications that no one cares. The Rwandan genocide was a case in point. Colonialism had aggravated ethnic mistrust between Hutus and Tutsis just as it had been in Nigeria, ethnic mistrust which had been a fallout of the colonial arrangement had fired up a civil war in Nigeria in 1967. Many African writers fed off the horror of both historical incidents. The United Nations Security Council that could have averted the Rwandan genocide, could only cite Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter when there was a legal challenge to the jurisdiction of the court it established for the prosecution of the Rwandan war criminals.

Africa has monsters. These were teething monsters fed with the lust for wealth and power. The spiritual gratification that must appease these African monsters now grown, must be exercised in the philanthropic and charity gestures that should show the world cares about Africa’s pain and the economic emasculation of society by Africa’s poor choices.  What has not been noted is that in the beginning of things, Western colonialism of Africa started bitter wars of boundaries and political misgivings in territories marked in error and in the empowerment of power drunk bandits. Africa’s monsters have run amok in dangerous, economically reckless regimes, expressed in an obscenely corrupt elite class and in mock institutions without merit. The corruption in Africa which started on a large scale with resource exploitation had the collusion of multinationals and African leaders. One instance was the Shell and Eni corruption scandal that involved employees of both companies and a former Nigerian president. Reuters reported in 2018,that the money involved in the scandal was ‘more than the entire Nigerian healthcare budget for 2018.’

The African monsters of poverty, terrorism, famine and insecurity seem to grow in the light of their glorification, and the profiteers of misery feed off them. African leaders blame the consequences of their economic profligacy and lack of foresight on the West, but the continent is a legacy of a failed start. Could Africa have been better without a legacy of a failed start? In Nigeria, the weaponization of ethnicity for political advantage and to avoid political responsibilities started with a state with incongruent parts; a state which was the product of a colonial experiment.In South Africa, the psychology of the society is fractured in its engagement with the ghosts of Apartheid, and so violent crime became history’s gift to the people.

Africa’s monsters were created by colonialists, and they are nurtured by African leaders without vision; without a sense of nationalistic responsibility toward the states they govern. These African leaders in collusion with their marionette intellectuals have ruined the continent, and they keep ruining the continent in the dystopian narratives they help peddle to a willing Western audience who have closed their minds to the good that might come from the African continent. New narratives about inventors and young smart people trying to fill in the gaps in countries where the leadership has failed must be made known. Africa needs new set of leaders, and as much as it needs new narratives of victories out in the wild; Africa needs to know that it is not a hellish place, but a continent with peculiar challenges. Africa does not need thinkers who mock their own people in narratives that rob the black body of dignity, but thinkers who would explore the mystery of the continent in ways that can inspire the continent and bring the world to understand the mysteries and beauty of the continent.

Olalekan Moyosore Lalude is a Nigerian lawyer, thinker, essayist and short story writer. He is a currently a doctoral student at the School of Law and Security Studies, Babcock University. He has been published under the name Mark Lekan Lalude in the AfricanWriter, Kalahari Review, WTBP Anthology and Face2Face Africa.

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‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday. 

More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR

The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency. 

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva. 

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added. 

According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.  

‘Needs continue to grow’ 

UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.  

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers. 

Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch. 

UNHCR has also issued an emergency fundraising appeal, through which people can help provide urgent, lifesaving assistance to refugees. Click here to make a donation

‘On standby’ in Tigray 

Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.  

“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said. 

UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow. 

The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.  

“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.

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Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan

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Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.

According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”

It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.

As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”

The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.

During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.

On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

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Will South Sudan follow its northern neighbour’s lead?

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As the world watches to see whether President Trump accepts the US election results, few have noticed thatcivil war is looming in Ethiopia, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he was sending troops to the Tigray province. This imperils not only Africa’s second most populous state but its neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, as well.

Sudan has had a good run recently and is in a better position to weather any regional conflict. In a surprise movelast month, President Trump announced Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST)in exchange for normalising relations with Israel. The US is understood to have sweetened the deal with a raft of economic and political incentives, including humanitarian assistance and high-level trade delegations. It would also support Sudan in its discussions with international finance institutions on economic and debt relief.

Since the toppling of President Bashir in 2019, the new transitional government, led by Prime Minister Hamdok, has focused on reviving Sudan’s economy and managing its $60bn debt burden. Hamdok faces a severe economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation and the worst flooding in decades, that has affected more than 800,000 people and destroyed homes and large tracts of farmland just before the harvest. Food, bread and medicine are in short supply.

Thesanctions removal means that Sudan can now expect substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bankand unlock investment into its fledgling economy.

This is good news for Sudan. But where does it leave its neighbour, South Sudan?

The international community had high hopes for South Sudan when it announced independence in 2011. But its optimism was misplaced. It never understood the Sudanese conflict that began with British colonialism and erupted after the British left in 1956. It wasn’t just a war between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudanese rebels. Nor was it a fight between the Islamic North and the Christian South. It was a fight over resources and power.

South Sudan continues to fight. After its first post-independence civil war in 2013 and its endless cycle of violence and retribution, South Sudan is now as unstable as it was before it seceded from Sudan. To accommodate the different factions and keep old military men in power, the South Sudanese government and bureaucracy is peopled with those loyal to the former rebels.

Few have the skills needed to manage the country properly. They have squandered their oil opportunity, through mismanagement and corruption. With falling oil growth demand, oil is unlikely to remaina sustainable revenue source. This will challenge the South Sudanese economy which is 90% reliant on oil.

South Sudan is also facing multiple sanctions. In 2014, the international communityimposed travel bans and asset freezes, as well as an arms embargo. In 2018, the EU designated sanctions against individuals involved in serious human rights violations, alarmed  by “the outbreak of a destructive conflict between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces in December 2013.” Most recently, the US added First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai to its Global Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.

If US foreign policy towards Sudan was driven by religious and ideological interests in the 1990s and 2000s, what we are now seeing is a shift to transactional diplomacy. There is no reason to think that President Biden would change course.

South Sudan is watching closely. It may be why it has instructed a US lobbying  firm to allegedly lobby for their own sanctions removal. It is also why it welcomed a peace deal between Sudan and five rebel groups in September, paving the way for increased oil export cooperation with its neighbour. 

But stability in the youngest African state is fragile. Even with a recently signed peace agreement between former foes, President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, violence is always lurking. South Sudan is plagued with the same environmental challenges of flooding and poor harvests.  The fighting in Ethiopia will not help. 

As South Sudan looks to the North, it will see a New Sudan, unshackled by the weight of its history and benefitting from international goodwill. Will this encourage South Sudan to look forward instead of back? Or will it unleash demons from the past? 

Let’s hope that the international community pulls itself away from Trump’s horror show and starts paying attention to East Africa. It may be a long winter.

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