Guest blog first-year student Eline Sleurink: Africa at the forefront of ‘firsts’

blog-eline-sleurink-2This guest blog was written by Eline Sleurink, MA student African Studies at Leiden University. Eline has won the blog competition for first-year students of the (Research) Master in African Studies! The assignment was to write a blog about what is ‘African’ in African Studies and what is your motivation to study African Studies. Eline’s blog was selected by the jury as the best among the sixteen papers submitted. The jury consisted of Han van Dijk (programme director), Rijk van Dijk (course instructor) and Azeb Amha (coordinator Research Master). Congratulations, Eline!

One of my favourite quotes about ‘Africa’ is – somewhat incongruously – not from an individual living in one of the 54 countries today, an African scholar or an internationally renowned policy maker or leader. It is not a quote by Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah or any other ‘famous’ historical figure that is often associated with carving the history of the continent. It is a quote of which the origins and meanings are debated, but which I believe can be transposed and made relevant again today:

“Semper aliquid novi Africa affert”
 

The author of this quote was the Roman administrator Pliny the Elder, who lived from 23-79 A.D. (Van den Heever, no date). Translated freely, this quote means:

“Africa is always producing something of novelty”

Pliny used this quote in his Naturalis Historia, a 37 volume work on the wonders of the natural world. The expression is found in his passage on the manner in which lions and leopards would interbreed in ‘Africa’ to create new hybrids of species. Pliny borrowed the quote from a common Greek saying, which itself was probably coined by the Greek sage Aristotle (c. 384-322 b.c.). Aristotle used the saying in his Historia Animalium (another volume on the natural world) stating that the wild animals of ‘Africa’ are the most ‘new’ in form (Van den Heever, no date). The phrase was henceforth borrowed, transmuted and decontextualized throughout time. Today, the phrase and its variants can be found in newspaper articles, journal headlines (Stein, 2012) and it has adorned the seal and coat of arms of the South African Museum in Cape Town since 1877 (Van den Heever, no date).

But why refer to this somewhat obscure and dubious saying? Why have I chosen it to answer the question of what I believe is ‘African’ in African Studies, as well as what my motivation is to pursue this master’s degree? Why refer to an expression coined more than 2300 years ago, whose author was not from Africa and whose knowledge of the existence of the continent was limited to areas north of the Sahara?

The original meaning, origin and connotations of the saying can most certainly be contested and debated. It is the sentiment that the phrase carries which renders it a metaphor for my views on the continent. To me, “semper aliquid novi Africa affert” can be distilled into the concept of novelty and most importantly, innovation. In my eyes, Africa is a continent of ‘firsts’; in the past, now and in the future.

Scientific consensus locates the origin of mankind in the East of Africa (Sample, 2015). Coffee finds its origin in Ethiopia, while the first objects of mathematical use (thought to be at least 35,000 years old) can be traced to neighbouring countries (Anyangwe, 2015). This is a continent which is said to have inspired the movement of modern art (Anyangwe, 2015) and it is claimed that “every musical element… is essentially African in background and derivation” (Gunther Schiller, cited in Anyangwe, 2015).

Isaac Mkalia, 20 years old, a teacher by profession is checking his mobil phone.

Isaac Mkalia, 20 years old, a teacher by profession is checking his mobile phone. Photo: AIF600 http://afritorial.com/2013-africa-innovation-prize/

While some of the above might be disputed, (much) more recent sources of innovation can not be. As of late, we have seen technological advances which perhaps surpass those of other continents. The rise of mobile money and use of applications such as M-PESA have led to a situation in which “paying for a taxi ride using your mobile phone is easier in Nairobi than it is in New York” (Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?, 2013).On his recent trip to Nigeria, Mark Zuckerberg argued that “Africa will build the future”, encapsulating his belief in the continent’s innovative future by visiting business hubs and meeting socially conscious entrepreneurs (Shapshak, 2016).

Technology and entrepreneurial innovation aside, the continent also offers a rich array of cultural and artistic avenues to be explored, both in its history as in present day. As I write this assignment, London’s Somerset House has just finished hosting the annual 1:54 festival, showcasing contemporary African art and attracting over 10,000 visitors (About 1:54, 2016). In late 2017 the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art is set to open in Cape Town. The museum – “Africa’s largest museum in over 100 years”- will host an enormous collection from Africa and its Diaspora and may “shift the contemporary art world as we know it” (Hancock and Page, 2016).

In essence then, change is afoot in Africa. I have only managed to scratch the surface of changes that have occurred, are occurring and are set to occur in the continent. Africa is home to such a rich and complex diversity  that is so full of nuances – on all manner of subjects – that we could study what is ‘African’ ad infinitum. But of course, this notion is applicable to any continent.

I have failed to mention the many, many atrocities, civil wars and disasters which have blighted Africa’s history or are currently dominating the headlines. These events deserve just as much attention as the positives and ‘firsts’ I have listed here. But it is my belief that Africa as a continent is entering a period of momentous change, energy and above all, innovation. We can turn to Africa’s history to learn an incredible amount about the birth of humanity – both in the literal sense (see above) and in terms of the origins of our thinking and actions. Modern day debates on colonialism and slavery continue to be just as relevant today as they were 20, 50 or 100 years ago. The question of whether ‘neo-colonialism’ is occurring in light of key foreign investors has become a controversial topic (China and the new scramble for Africa, 2016). All in all, there is plenty to discuss.

What is ‘African’ in African Studies to me, then, is the concept of innovation and novelty. It is not the concept of a singular ‘African’ identity, which I think is impossible to define. My first and foremost motivation to study African Studies is my unwavering belief and optimism that the future of Africa will bring an incredible amount of opportunity.

I do not wish to dismiss the ‘problems’ the continent has and is currently facing. Nor those that it will have in the future. But I vehemently believe that endogenous, inclusive growth – particularly through innovation – can shape the future. I stand with Ashish Thakkar, Chair of the United Nations Foundation, when he says that “Africa’s time is now” (Thakkar, 2015). I believe that Africa has undoubtedly been shaped by its history, but it is its future and that which we cannot predict – the ‘unknown’ – which make it worth studying. The opportunities are endless and I believe the continent’s future will not only shape its own population, but that of the entire world.

Pliny’s reference to Africa may be more than 2300 years old, but I believe it is just as relevant now as it was then. As we can trace the origins of mankind to Ethiopia, it is my hope – and belief – that we will one day trace the origin of most of the world’s most spectacular innovations to the continent. That which we cannot predict and visualize might very well be what advances the entire being of humanity. The role of Africa in this is, in my mind, undeniable. Just as it has in the past, so semper aliquid novi Africa affert.

Bibliography:
About 1:54 (2016) Available at: http://1-54.com/london/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Anyangwe, E. (2015) 10 things Africa has given the world. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/08/10-things-africa-given-world (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

China and the new scramble for Africa (2016) Available at: http://southernafrican.news/2016/09/16/china-and-the-new-scramble-for-africa/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Hancock, C. and Page, T. (2016) Is this the new home of contemporary art? Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/architecture/thomas-heatherwick-zeitz-mocaa-cape-town/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Sample, I. (2015) Jaw bone fossil discovered in Ethiopia is oldest known human lineage remains. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/04/jaw-bone-discovery-in-ethiopia-is-oldest-ever-human-lineage-remains (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Shapshak, T. (2016) Africa will build the future says Zuckerberg, visits Kenya on First African trip. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2016/09/01/africa-will-build-the-future-says-zuckerberg-visits-kenya-on-first-african-trip/#586dd9665214 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Stein, D. (2012) ‘Psychiatric contributions from South Africa: Ex Africa semper Aliquid Novi’, African Journal of Psychiatry, 15(5). doi: 10.4314/ajpsy.v15i5.39.

Thakkar, A. (2015) Africa’s time is now. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashish-thakkar/africas-time-is-now_b_8119528.html (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Van den Heever, J. (no date) Semper aliquid.. Available at: http://academic.sun.ac.za/botzoo/paleo/africa.htm (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money? (2013) Available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/05/economist-explains-18 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Co-create South Africa? Co-create access to universities!

House of the FutureMark Rutte and 200 Dutch business representatives from the Netherlands visited South Africa in mid-November 2015. The Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria and its innovative Ambassador, Marisa Gerards, had organised a House of the Future in Johannesburg and in Cape Town, with many events that attracted a lot of visitors and much attention in South Africa. Some of it reminded me of the Africa Works conferences that we co-organised with the NABC in 2012 and 2014. Ambassador Gerards had tried to go beyond the ‘promoting business’ formula and wanted to involve the knowledge sector as well. She succeeded in involving Delft University of Technology and VU University Amsterdam, who sent 15 students from the Netherlands to work with students from South Africa on ideas to solve problems in Johannesburg. The findings were presented to the deputy mayor of Johannesburg in the presence of the Dutch Prime Minister. Five teams presented pitches about coping with the challenges in agrifood, energy, logistics, water and health, and they did so creatively. The logistics team got the prize for the best performance with a suggestion to combine a cycling plan for the city with apps for cyclists.

The Rector of the VU University and I had been invited to enjoy this example of ‘CoCreateSA’. Thus, ‘knowledge’ was added to ‘business’ and that also meant that we could talk to university leaders currently coping with a lot of turmoil in South Africa’s universities. Together with Harry Wels (VU University and ASC Leiden) and the new Rector of the VU University, Vinod Subramanyam, I was privileged to have an informative meeting with the beleaguered Vice Chancellor of North-West University, Prof. Dan Kgwadi. North-West University includes Potschefstroom Campus, which seems to be the only remaining campus in South Africa where Afrikaans is still the language of instruction (the University of Stellenbosch changed to English last month). During a lunch at Union Buildings in Pretoria, hosted by President Zuma, I sat next to Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria. Both meetings gave me an opportunity to better understand the anger of many South African students, and the explosive situation in South Africa’s universities, which is spreading to other parts of society in ways that may result in a new revolution. And a nasty one if some signs are to be taken seriously.

What's left of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in front of UCT: the pedestal. (Photo: Fenneken Veldkamp)

What was left of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes in front of UCT last April: the pedestal. (Photo: Fenneken Veldkamp)

Statues appear to have become the symbols of the student protest. At the University of Cape Town students successfully campaigned to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, that was regarded as an insult by many South Africans. “Rhodes Must Fall!”. But later, turmoil centred around the higher student fees announced – and later withdrawn – by Zuma’s government: “Fees Must Fall”. It does not take much for anger on South Africa’s campuses to descend into violence, as happened at the University of the Western Cape.

Talking to the Vice Chancellors and others during my visit, it became clear how layered the anger is, and how problematic some of the claims for redress for ‘damage done’ during Colonialism, Apartheid, and ANC mismanagement are. I can see four layers of anger, which become manifest in different places. The first one is resistance to the ‘remains of Apartheid’: the white majority of students that is still common in some of the bulwarks of (former?) Afrikaner universities (of which the Potschefstroom campus is an example) and the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction. This is perceived as an exclusion of ‘black’ students in South Africa, and ‘black’ means everyone ‘non-white’, but often ‘white women’ also perceive themselves as under-privileged as well and in need of the same policies to fight the ‘discriminatory practices’ at (some) South African universities. When SANPAD was conceived as the Dutch support programme for research and capacity building in South Africa, its PhD programme (ca 1999-2012) was open to anyone who was not a white male PhD student.

The second layer of anger consists of the fact that many ‘black’ students still find their professors and other lecturers ‘very white’, and they feel that ‘black empowerment’ in South African universities is progressing too slowly. White professors complain that the quality of non-white newcomers is not as good as it should be from an academic perspective (their academic perspective). And within the new ‘black’ staff there are many from outside South Africa (Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, etc.), compounding a degree of xenophobia among South African (‘black’) staff and students, even within campuses. The fact that so many of the most successful newcomers are South Africans of ‘Indian’ origin is also seen as a problem by many. One often hears the complaint that Zulu, Xhosa, and other ‘black South Africans’ do not want jobs as teachers and professors in South Africa’s universities because they can earn much more in government and in ‘black empowerment’ businesses.

#FeesMustFall protest march to Parliament (photo: face2faceafrica.com)

#FeesMustFall protest march to Parliament (photo: face2faceafrica.com)

The third element of anger (and particularly in the humanities and social sciences) is that the curriculum used has been copied from US and UK textbooks and experiences, and so does not reflect or address ‘African realities’ and ‘African problems’. Indeed, many South African students do not learn much about the rest of Africa, and some not even about their own country. This has led to a movement called ‘Decolonizing the Curriculum’. And our colleagues in the Centre for African Studies of the University of Cape Town have a lot of very useful things to say on this! But in the context of the student protests this ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ mantra also means resistance against quantitative methods, against scientific rigour, against examination norms, all of which is fed by a reality of relatively bad secondary schools, particularly in relation to mathematics (South Africa scores extremely low in international comparisons). Students who fail tests sometimes blame their results on a conspiracy to teach them things that are irrelevant and that will lead them to fail. Now, some students are also demanding that the ANC speeds up the process of ‘decolonizing’ ‘white privileges’ in the economy, and that includes ‘getting back our land’ Zimbabwe-style (’White Farmers should Fall’; and indeed, many have been killed since 1994). There is an ugly element of reversed racism in some of this.

Finally, the fourth layer of anger goes deeper, and is something that always exists when a social emancipation movement enters universities: students who are the first generation to study, coming from backgrounds where no one did so before. Emancipatory students often come from poor backgrounds where studying requires a relatively high investment for (grand)parents in order for their children to enjoy better life chances, only to see later that many of ‘their’ graduates do not get proper jobs. Students from a poor, non-intellectual background are often treated badly by privileged intellectuals in key positions in the university system. Sometimes in very insulting, denigrating and even very visible and audible ways; but more often than not in much more subtle ways. They simply ‘don’t belong’ and are made to feel that. From what I hear, this is also the situation in traditionally English-speaking universities in South Africa, like UCT, Rhodes (when will the name go?), and Wits. The stiff upper lip imitations, the harsh and impersonal looks one gets if one is ‘different’, the indifference in work and person.

Student leaders are now campaigning for completely free, state-paid, education: the abolition of all fees, and much wider access to universities. However, most of South Africa’s students still come from an upper- and middle-class background, where paying fees is not a major problem. It is a major problem for (potential) students from poor backgrounds (black AND white). If the ‘student movement’ succeeds in abolishing fees it will mean that the state can’t spend money on the many things in South Africa that are even more urgent. It will mean the impoverishment of universities and it will mean that the students from rich backgrounds will go to private or foreign universities (and many do so already). Wouldn’t it be much better for students to campaign for equal access (and a more African curriculum) by increasing subsidy programmes for students from underprivileged backgrounds? And wouldn’t it be wise for Europe (including the Netherlands) to contribute to those efforts? CoCreateAccess! Not only in South Africa but in Africa as a whole!

‘Heineken in Afrika’, het nieuwe boek van Olivier van Beemen

Afgelopen vrijdag, 13 november, kreeg ik het nieuwe boek van Olivier van Beemen, Heineken in Afrika, aangeboden in Atheneum boekhandel in Amsterdam. Ik heb daar de volgende toespraak gehouden.

Heineken in Afrika

Bookcover Heineken in Afrika, uitgegeven door Prometheus.

De mooiste zin in het boek vond ik ‘Transparency is beautiful if you have nothing to hide’ (op bladzijde 75), een reclamezin van Heineken in Sierra Leone en een zin die heerlijk ambivalent is.

Toen ik net directeur was geworden van het Afrika-Studiecentrum bracht ik een bezoek aan het kantoor van Heineken in Amsterdam om er te praten met Tom de Man, toen de directeur van de Heineken operaties in Afrika en het Midden Oosten. Ik trof er een prachtig Afrikaans ingerichte afdeling, een passie voor Afrika en een passie voor de ‘Company’.

Heineken had geen vertrouwen in Olivier van Beemen, omdat hij in 2011 een kritisch artikel had geschreven over de nauwe banden van het bedrijf in Tunesië met de familiekliek Ben Ali, die het eerste slachtoffer zou worden van de Arabische Lente. Ik denk dat Heineken spijt zal krijgen van haar weigering om vanaf het begin hoor en wederhoor toe te staan en met Olivier in gesprek te gaan. Niet als ‘embedded journalist’, maar om hem van repliek te dienen, en daar zelf ook weer van te leren. Tom de Man kon en wilde hier vandaag niet bij zijn, maar hij is er toch wel een beetje bij (de foto van hem in het boek Nigerian Breweries. Sixty Years of Winning with Nigeria wordt op tafel gezet, een boek dat recent door de bibliotheek van het ASC aan de rijke collectie werd toegevoegd). Ik had met Tom de Man voorafgaand aan dit praatje ook een paar keer contact.

Olivier van Beemen.

Olivier van Beemen.

Het boek heeft nu al veel publiciteit opgeleverd en uiteraard zoemen journalisten dan in op de schandaaltjes die ze ruiken. In NRC van 6 november publiceert Olivier zelf zijn verhaal over het Belgische inkoopkantoor dat volgens hem niet heerlijk helder is. De dag erna publiceert de Volkskrant een stuk dat inzoemt op Burundi en waarom Heineken daar nog steeds maar blijft zitten ondanks de ellende daar. Dat werd op de maandag erna weer gevolgd door een heel mooie column van Sheila Sitalsing, wat wel een pijnlijke titel meekreeg van de koppenzetter (‘pisbier’) en als aandachtstrekker de zin ‘het is niet verboden de ploert uit te hangen’. Dat zet het boek meteen neer als een negatief boek over Heineken. En dat is het niet. Het is, zoals Olivier zelf ook aangeeft, geen ‘J’Accuse’.

Het boek is een goed geschreven reisboek geworden over Afrika, met inkijkjes in het leven in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Egypte, Algerije, Tunesië, Ethiopië, Zuid-Afrika, Burundi, Rwanda en Congo. Vol herkenbaarheid voor wie veel in Afrika komt. De energie, het levensplezier, de indrukwekkende groei van de consumptie, ook van bier en maltdranken, de kansen voor wie risico´s durft te nemen, de corruptie, de vriendjespolitiek, het gedrag van de politieke elites, de behendigheid van de zakenlieden. Het maakt het boek, ook zonder Heineken, tot een genot om te lezen.

Olivier was als onderzoeksjournalist vooral de observator en de interviewer, maar hij maakte ook volop gebruik van eerdere publicaties. En hij bedankt in zijn nawoord dan ook uitdrukkelijk de bibliotheek van ons Afrika-Studiecentrum (waar zijn boek ook geleend kan worden). Inderdaad, een hele rijke collectie. En er is veel geschreven over bierproductie en bierconsumptie in Afrika.

Maar het boek is natuurlijk vooral bedoeld als een onderzoeksjournalistieke studie over een van de meest prominente Nederlandse bedrijven in Afrika, met een product dat het moet hebben van zijn goede naam en van feel good marketing. Het maakt het bedrijf erg kwetsbaar voor negatieve publiciteit, ook in Nederland. En het boek is vooral een knappe studie over de dilemma’s waar een bedrijf als Heineken in Afrika mee worstelt. Heineken is in delen van Afrika heel belangrijk. Afrika is voor Heineken ook erg belangrijk. Ze zitten er ook al lang. En ze zitten er ook nog eens in notoir moeilijke gebieden, waar ze in bijna alle gevallen loyaal zijn gebleven, ook tijdens de zwartste dagen.

Uit Oliviers boek spreekt dan ook af en toe oprechte bewondering voor de mensen die hij heeft geïnterviewd, voor het doorzettingsvermogen, het ondernemerschap en voor de passie voor Afrika. Maar er zit ook een voortdurende ondertoon in van wat ik ‘ex-patria moralisme’ ben gaan noemen. Kritiek op dingen die niet deugen of die dubieus zijn, vanuit onze Nederlandse normen beoordeeld, normen die we zo graag als universeel geldend zouden willen zien. En daarover zou dit boek, denk ik, het debat moeten losmaken. Wat mag je nou eigenlijk verwachten van onze nationale biertrots, waarop Mark Rutte en Koningin Máxima zo trots zijn? En ‘we’ zijn niet de aandeelhouders, maar de betrokken Nederlandse bevolking die graag ziet dat een bedrijf als Heineken inderdaad maatschappelijk verantwoord opereert, ook in Afrika.

Het eerste dat je mag verwachten van een voedselproducent is dat dat veilig voedsel oplevert. Schone flesjes, schone productie- en distributieprocessen, en vooral schoon water, zoals Heineken probeert te bewerkstelligen in bijvoorbeeld Congo, met een impact die veel verder reikt dan veilig bier. De kritiek in het Sierra Leone hoofdstuk over vies, troebel bier, raakt het bedrijf dus in het hart.

Het tweede dat je mag verwachten is dat het bedrijf haar werknemers en pensionado’s netjes behandelt. En Heineken is daarmee steeds meer voorop gaan lopen. Het betekent ook dat ze niet weggaan uit een land als Burundi als het daar uit de hand dreigt te lopen. Weggaan is bijna nergens een optie, want ze laten dan niet alleen een land in de steek, maar ook de mensen die vaak al lang werken voor het bedrijf en ook al die indirecte banen die zo’n bedrijf als Heineken met zich meebrengt. Het is een kwestie van loyaliteit en langetermijnvisie. Heineken zit er niet om snel winst te maken. Dat is ook te zien aan het feit dat ze jaar in jaar uit stevig blijven investeren in Afrika. Jaarlijks tussen de 300 en 500 miljoen euro. Heineken heeft vertrouwen in Afrika, ook in haar moeilijkste gebieden.

Het derde dat je mag verwachten is een ontwikkelingshouding, waarbij zo veel mogelijk geprobeerd wordt de lokale economie te stimuleren. Heineken is dat in toenemende mate gaan doen. Het local sourcing verhaal krijgt steeds meer ruimte, maar vraagt langetermijn-commitment en het zit vol met risico’s. Maar ze doen het nu wel en met veel inzet.

En dan betekent net ondernemerschap ook dat je gewoon belasting afdraagt aan de lokale en centrale overheden. Dat zijn vooral accijnzen, maar daarnaast van alles en nog wat en natuurlijk zitten er spanningen tussen wat je lokaal afdraagt, wat je aan je aandeelhouders uitkeert en wat je investeert uit de winst. Die financiële kwesties zijn technisch erg ingewikkeld en volgens Tom de Man slaat Olivier hier door gebrek aan technische financiële kennis de plank af en toe mis en komt hij tot onjuiste conclusies, bijvoorbeeld in zijn stuk over de Belgische inkoopdochter. Ik nodig bij deze Tom de Man en Olivier Beemen uit om bij ons op het ASC in debat te gaan over die interpretaties en de dilemma’s waar een bedrijf als Heineken tegenaan loopt. Daar speelt natuurlijk ook een rol dat Heineken in bepaalde landen, zoals Burundi, relatief zo belangrijk is geworden dat een groot deel van de staatsbureaucratie en dus ook de politieke elite op het bedrijf leunt. Dat is ook een effect van in Afrika niet verboden, maar duivels lastige (bijna)monopolieposities. Hoe moet je omgaan met zeer dubieuze politieke elites, die volkomen verknoopt zijn met alle economische belangen in een land. Je wilt vermijden dat het too close for comfort wordt, want je moet ook verder met de opvolgers die er een keer zullen komen en die mogelijk uit de politieke oppositie komen. Maar je kunt ook niet om die politiek-zakelijke elite heen en je kunt er niet buiten. Dat was een enorm dilemma in Tunesië, waar het voor Olivier allemaal begon.

En ten slotte. De laatste tijd ligt er veel nadruk op de noodzaak voor bedrijven om veel arbeidsplaatsen te scheppen, vooral voor al die werkloze jongeren die anders naar Europa dreigen te komen. Maar Heineken moet ook rekening houden met de concurrentie en met de noodzaak om technisch zo geavanceerd mogelijk te produceren en te distribueren. Een dilemma is ook waar je je materiaal en je reserveonderdelen vandaan haalt. Heineken heeft een paar hele dure lessen geleerd toen ze ook op dat vlak in gingen op verzoeken om toch vooral lokaal materiaal te kopen.

De vraag wat je van een bedrijf mag verwachten als ze actief zijn in Afrika is dus een vraag waarbij je moet proberen reële antwoorden te krijgen. En het is heel onverstandig om Heinekens rol te zien als die van een overheid. Het zijn de overheden (in Afrika zelf, in Nederland en mondiaal) die de grenzen moeten aangeven en die leiding moeten geven aan de moraliteit van het verhaal. Daar waar die overheden zwak en corrupt zijn is het een echt dilemma van de koopman en de dominee. Het is de vraag hoeveel positieve impactvinkjes een bedrijf dan wel moet zetten om goedgekeurd te worden door de kritische onderzoekjournalistiek, zoals die van Olivier. Ik hoop dat juist daarover het boek een stevige discussie gaat losmaken, waarbij ook Heineken zelf en veel andere bedrijven, betrokken zullen zijn.

Ik vond het boek Congo van David van Reybrouck een van de beste Nederlandstalige boeken die ik ooit over Afrika heb gelezen. Ik heb aan dit boek net zoveel plezier beleefd. Inderdaad, ik heb het manuscript met rode oortjes gelezen! Ik verwacht en wens Olivier en de uitgever toe dat heel veel mensen hetzelfde zullen vinden.

Uneasy knowledge: Egypt’s potential collapse

Palacký University, Philosophy Faculty courtyard (photo: Wikipedia/Darwinek)

Palacký University, Philosophy Faculty courtyard (photo: Wikipedia/Darwinek)

The African Studies Centre in Leiden is part of both AEGIS, the European Association of African Studies, and EADI, the European Association of Development Studies and Training Institutes. Every year, EADI organises a directors’ meeting and this time it was in Olomouc in the Moravian part of the Czech Republic. Its Palacký University is one of the oldest centres of higher learning in  Europe. It was established in 1573, two years before Leiden University! And currently it has 24,000 students. The hosts were the Department of Development Studies and they did a wonderful job. They also invited us to attend a conference about ‘Searching for Sustainable Living’. They invited the Energy and Climate Advisor of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, Juraj Mesík, and he presented what could be called ‘uneasy knowledge’. There is much more to say about the directors’ meeting and about the conference, but let me focus on what Juraj had to say.

Juraj shared his worries about Egypt. Many of us have been following events in this African/Arab country on Europe’s doorstep  since its ‘Arab Spring’, and many observers fear that it is on the brink of a political disaster. But perhaps we are missing the point by focusing on the political side of things. As a political environmental geographer I am trained to look at current (political and social) developments through the lens of population growth, changes in resource use, environmental and climatological dynamics and longue durée changes. What Juraj showed us was really threatening. Let me summarise his argument and show you some of his illustrations.

Egypt population 2014: 86,9 million. Data: U.S. census bureau IDB. Graphic: Mazamascience.com

Egypt population 2014: 86,9 million. 33% growth since 2000. Data: U.S. Census Bureau IDB. Graphic: Mazamascience.com

During Pharaonic times, Egypt had about 3 million inhabitants, already organised as a society based on irrigated agriculture using a very small part of the country’s vast area: the Nile and its Delta. Even then, ups and downs were related to the institutional organisation of its grain production. In 1897, the population census showed that the Egyptian population had grown threefold – to almost ten million – and many observers warned of the risks of a very delicate people-resources balance. However, since then, Egypt’s population has increased to 87 million, with one of the highest birth rates on earth. Predictions show that Egypt may reach 150 million inhabitants by the year 2050.

Egypt aerial photo

Egypt’s Nile, aerial photo (geophysics.ou.edu)

Egypt’s arable land is only 2.9% of its total surface and per Egyptian there is just 0.036 hectare available for cultivation. No wonder Egypt needs to import most of its food. However, the Nile waters are increasingly being claimed by upstream countries and climate change analysts predict that major providers of Egyptian imports (primarily the US) will be hit by major droughts and severe heat conditions in the not too distant future. How does Egypt pay for its essential food imports? Basically, there are four ways: by selling oil, by selling its beaches and pyramids to tourists, by exporting its manpower and getting remittances in return, and by getting ‘assistance’, not least from Saudi Arabia. All four are under severe threat.

Egypt oil: 2014 imports increased by 132%. Data: BP Statistical review 2015. Graphic: Mazamascience.com

Egypt oil: 2014 imports increased by 132%. Data: BP Statistical review 2015. Graphic: Mazamascience.com

In 2010 Egypt became a net importer of oil. At the same time, its tourist industry was hit by images of terror and tourist income dwindled. The  Libyan economy collapsed, this was followed by Syria, and a lot of Egyptian manpower returned home and remittances dwindled. Finally, the low oil prices and dangerous situation around Saudi Arabia make it unlikely that Saudi Arabia will continue supporting Egypt at the same level. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is preparing for a confrontation with the Shia arch-enemy, which, in political-geographical terms, is increasingly surrounding the kingdom. Consequently, Saudi Arabia needs its remaining oil funds to bolster its own military strength. So how can Egypt maintain its food sources? It can’t.

Juraj posed a number of pertinent questions: Would Egypt’s (or the wider Arab world’s) collapse trigger events with devastating global repercussions? The near-collapse of Syria, a relatively small state, is already shaking the EU and its ability to survive as a political entity. Imagine the migration wave that would be the result of a famine in 90-million-strong Egypt or that could affect the 360 million inhabitants of the Arab world as a whole? Imagine the global oil shock caused by (civil) war in Saudi Arabia/the Gulf countries? Imagine an all-out religious war between well-armed and hungry Sunni and Shiite Muslims –  and with nuclear power Israel involved? …

Food provision is a foundation of security. When I talk to our military experts, I hear them make the crucial link between food and security. And they are worried about Egypt. Worried about the Middle East. Worried about Africa. Africa, where the population is predicted to rise to 2.2-2.4 billion in 2050 and 3.9-4.4 billion in 2100. Africa has become a net food importer, and this situation will only get worse. Currently, world food prices are at a low. What if they reach the 2008 levels again, or even higher?

Thank you, Juraj, for telling a story I don’t want to hear. But I had better listen. We should all listen! Maybe, as you concluded, the die has not yet been cast – “Alea iacta est”, but we are getting closer.

 

 

Guest blog: ‘Publish or Perish in African Studies: new ways to valorize research’

Stephanie IAIThis guest blog was written by Stephanie Kitchen, Managing Editor, International African Institute. With Hartmut Bergenthum (Frankfurt University Library), she convened a panel entitled ‘Publish or Perish in African Studies: new ways to valorize research’ during the European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 6) on 8 July 2015 in Paris. Full abstracts of the panel are available here.

The well attended panel (with standing room only) raised a number of salient points and debates about publishing in Africa and African Studies. Hartmut Bergenthum introduced the panel that aimed to bring together academics, publishers and librarians to discuss the changes from traditional (print) to new (digital) publishing models and how they are used to support and valorize research.

Stephanie Kitchen (left) listening to Jos Damen's (ASC Library) presentation.

Stephanie Kitchen (left) listening to Jos Damen’s (ASC Library) presentation.

Jos Damen (ASC, Leiden) helpfully identified the main current models of journal publication. Journals are funded by (i) subscriptions, (ii) organizations and institutions, or (iii) are open access funded by authors; or else they are a hybrid of these models. Looking at the top ten journals in African Studies as measured by Impact Factor, it is noticeable that only one of these is fully open access – Africa Spectrum, funded by the German GIGA Institute of African Affairs.

Not reaching out enough in Africa
Vincent Hiribarren (King’s College London) discussed the dissemination of academic research online, notably on Africa4, a blog that Vincent co-edits and that has been set up for academics to discuss research in a wider sphere. The blog is part of the French left-leaning newspaper that is influential amongst academics, Libération. He spoke interestingly about the different writing styles for blogs versus academic books. Books tend to be considered ‘authoritative’ whereas blogs may be more ‘subjective’. Paragraphs in blogs are shorter. Less jargon is used. Vincent felt that journalists have much to offer academics in learning how to write for the web. In terms of dissemination, it is a truism that more people will read blogs than books. Vincent argued that Africanist lecturers are not reaching out enough in Africa and yet are under pressure to demonstrate ‘impact’. The challenge is to mix popular and research modes of writing.

Peer reviews a ‘waste of time’?
Godwin Siundu (University of Nairobi) used the case of the journal he co-edits, Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies, to discuss the sometimes contradictory pressures inherent in such an intellectually ambitious publishing project in East Africa. Journal editors may encounter institutional resistance and be confronted with a lack of publishing skills and capacity on the one hand. On the other, they operate within university systems of recognition and reward that prize respected peer review publications. At the same time, established academic faculty may not ‘take editorial comments kindly’, sometimes pronouncing peer review to be a ‘waste of time’ at the same time as judging newer journals to be too ‘young’ to confer authority.

Driving a research agenda from the South
Roshan Cader (Wits University Press – WUP) identified the leading South African scholarly publisher (WUP) with driving and disseminating a research agenda from the ‘South’. The onus on Wits Press is to be visible (on international databases, with citation tools), and to go digital in a climate where there is insufficient buy-in from universities to adopt new technologies. One option Wits is exploring is establishing a digital platform of scholarly presses in South Africa. Wits Press’s position on open access is that there is ‘not enough evidence to support open access’ (‘evidence’ in the sense of making it work economically at Wits Press); and that they therefore do not yet have a fully fledged open access policy.

How to document tweets
Peter Limb (Michigan State University) concluded the panel presentations with a wide-ranging discussion encompassing the value of digital outputs and the challenge of curating digital sources. Librarians were bounded to ‘anticipate the new’ – how do librarians deal with documenting tweets, for example?

publish-or-perish1I introduced and chaired the open discussion, first bringing to the fore some key points that emerged from the publishing stream at the 2014 ASAUK conference (African Studies Association of the UK). First: that knowledge production in Africa remains a challenge going beyond the ‘encounter with the West’. Second: that higher education in Africa is still marked by crisis, with a consequent impact on quality of research and publication output. Third, that African-published journals typically suffer from ‘resource scarcity’ whatever the publishing model, granted that the evidence shows institutionally funded open access journals to be gaining in reputation and dissemination. In the North, meantime, in common with the case presented by Roshan Cader, monographs are shifting to digital. But it is unlikely that a single dominant model to support open access monographs will emerge for some time.

Junior scholars’ dilemma: how to publish the thesis?
The audience discussion was the most lively part of the panel. Early career scholars raised the oft-repeated though nonetheless career-crucial dilemmas they encounter in decisions about publishing the full text of their theses online immediately, and/or whether to publish in article and book formats.
There was a good discussion about peer review cultures. With the northern journals there tend to be established patterns, of expectations on academics to review the work of their peers, recognition being achieved via editorial board membership and journal editorships. This is not always the case with African journals, where peer reviewers may expect payment. The editors on the panel (from Wits and IAI) pointed out that reviewers of their book manuscripts were paid whereas journal reviewers are not paid.

‘Digital divide’
Members of the audience questioned the extent to which a research agenda from the global South/South Africa was sufficiently broad to encompass the priorities of the African continent more widely. And evidence of a North/South or ‘digital divide’ was present in our discussions with the audience. Although this is perhaps alternatively expressed in terms of unequal access to the resources (funding, knowledge, skills) on which the ‘digital shift’, advocated particularly by Peter Limb, ultimately depends. The Dar es Salaam-based publisher Walter Bgoya stressed that African publishers and authors were abreast of and held views on the questions about digital paradigms that this panel was raising. But just as they were listening to the experts on the panel, he also asked that they should in turn listen to the more fundamental issues still confronting the publisher in Africa, starting with editorial capacity and language of publication.

As the co-chair of the panel, I found this to be an informative and stimulating session that brought together divergent interests. As editors, scholars and curators of knowledge on Africa we have much in common wherever we are working; but we also need to be aware of how unevenly (digital) resources are spread – and ways in which this can be redressed.

We will take forward some of these debates in the Publishing Stream being planned for the next ASAUK conference in September 2016.

Stephanie Kitchen
Managing Editor, International African Institute, sk111@soas.ac.uk 

African students go abroad, but hesitate to come to the Netherlands

PIE-seminar-1African students wanting to study abroad don’t want to study in the Netherlands. This was the core message of my keynote lecture at a seminar organized by the Platform International Education and the Dutch Higher Education Network for International marketing. Here you’ll find more info about the seminar: http://www.pieonline.nl/dhenimpie-roundtable-discussion-marketing-recruitment-africa. For the first time, the seminar brought together ‘capacity development experts’ from Dutch universities and other centres for higher education with marketeers wanting to sell the Netherlands as an attractive destination for students from abroad. The language of development assistance and subsidies merged with the language of profit, pride and rich parents paying for their children’s education abroad as so-called self-paying students. The PIE-seminar-2marketeers have gained a great deal of experience about Asia, and – like so many others – they are now discovering Africa. A number of them were aware of the thought-provoking talk I gave in Brussels, in December 2013, at a conference organized by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA).

Let’s examine some data. Harvard’s assessment of the higher education situation in Africa shows that in 2007, there were about 3 million higher education students in Africa as a whole. This amounts to about 5% of the age cohort. Higher education in Africa is currently demonstrating the most rapid growth of student numbers anywhere in the world. Taking into account Harvard’s assumed annual growth of 15% per annum, we can be certain that there are now many more than 3 million students in higher education on the continent. According to UNESCO, in 2012 there were 380,000 African students studying abroad. It is interesting to note where they were studying: the majority were in France (115,000), followed by South Africa (44,000), the UK (35,000), the US (34,000), Germany (15,000), Malaysia (15,000), Morocco (7,500), Angola (6,500), Russia (6,400), Brazil (4,600), Portugal (4,000), Saudi Arabia (3,000), Belgium (2,800), Ghana (2,100), India (2,000) and the Netherlands (1,200). So what do these figures tell us about the Netherlands?

To judge a country’s success in terms of attracting African students, we must look to the number of African students per million inhabitants in the host country. For the Netherlands, with a population of almost 17 million, 1,200 African students gives a score of 71 per million. This is very low! Compare it with France (with a score of 1741, twenty-five times better), South Africa (846/million), the UK (536/million), Malaysia (517/million), Portugal (376/million), Angola (361/million), Belgium (248/million, more than three times better), Morocco (234/million), Germany (183/million, more than twice the Dutch score), the US (105/million), Saudi Arabia (103/million), and Ghana (84/million).

So, before starting a big marketing campaign to attract more African students to come to the Netherlands it is important to listen not only to the opinions of those who have already come here but also to those students who have gone abroad but did NOT choose the Netherlands. I haven’t done that type of marketing research, but I can make a bold but educated guess as to the outcome.

Why don’t African students choose for the Netherlands?

  • The Netherlands does not have a colonial past in Africa and, unlike France, the UK, Belgium, and Portugal, who still maintain some of their colonial recruitment ties (and lavish subsidies in some cases), the African diaspora in the Netherlands is small and very few of them work as university lecturers/researchers.
  • The Netherlands’ higher education sector has become much too expensive for non-EU citizens. There are no longer generous subsidy programmes or easy possibilities for part-time work for students from abroad, e.g. as student assistants, or a generous private sector support programme (as in the US).
  • There is strong price competition from France, Germany and Belgium, and the attractiveness of higher education for students from abroad has improved a lot recently (e.g. a growing number of courses in English in Germany and Belgium).
  • There is strong marketing competition from the UK, which has maintained its generous subsidy programmes, but has also become a preferred country for self-paying students, despite the fees that are often higher than in the Netherlands.
  • Attitudes and visa practices at Dutch Embassies in Africa tend to be unwelcoming and off-putting. Students and their parents or other sponsors often feel humiliated.
  • Dutch universities and the wider Dutch population are not very welcoming to students from abroad (in terms of housing, specific support, earning possibilities).
  • Alumni policies and practices are generally very weak and there is a lack of NL branding. All Dutch universities and universities for applied studies as well as other centres for higher learning (such as KIT, MDF, MSM and others) are competing with each other.
  • There is not an effective utilization of the goodwill created from generous Dutch support for capacity building and development assistance. The Dutch private sector abroad does not adopt the role of goodwill ambassadors and Dutch embassies have not always been very helpful. Indeed, the Netherlands’ good name has recently been destroyed in many African countries due to clumsiness (the Netherlands is not very good at ending institutional arrangements – e.g. embassies, or support programmes – in a decent and respectful manner).

I believe we should reflect upon and learn from this at the ASC, particularly in terms of our role in the Research Master’s and Master’s programmes in African Studies, neither of which is attracting the number of African students we would really like to see!

Africa in Qatar – Qatar in Africa

image5

Doha skyline with the Museum of Islamic Art.

A delegation of the ‘Africa in the World’ research group of the African Studies Centre in Leiden visited Qatar recently, and had discussions with people in various universities, Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, The Netherlands Embassy and a number of Qatar charities. Qatar is one of the ‘South-South hubs’ of today and an interesting one if one wants to understand the possibilities for Africans to ‘negotiate’ the new global, polycentric world.

With Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi of Qatar University, College of Arts & Sciences.

At Qatar University, with Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi (on the right) of the College of Arts & Sciences.

More Africans than Qataris in Qatar
Qatar is full of surprises. The population living there consists of 2.3 million people, but only 12% of them are having a Qatari passport. There are more Indians and more Nepali in Qatar than there are Qataris. What’s more: there are more Africans in Qatar than there are Qataris (the majority of the Africans being Egyptians and Sudanese, but there are also many people from Ethiopia, Tunisia, Eritrea, Morocco and Kenya). We were told that it is virtually impossible for foreigners to get a Qatari passport, unless you are a sportsman, as Qatar would like to impress the world with ‘its’ sports accomplishments. The atmosphere in capital city Doha is very cosmopolitan, with an explosion of colourful architectural highlights forming the skyline. In the ‘old’ market one can see niqabs alongside Western dresses for women, and suits and hoodies next to the white robes and white-and-red head dresses for men. One gets the impression of ‘everything goes’ and an open, tolerant and very safe public space. At the same time, Qatar wants to be a major player in the Islamic world (and partly in competition with other Gulf states) and is known to support various Islamic groups, including some Islamist groups. The Taliban has an office in Doha. There is major support for Hamas. And there are connections with groups that pledge allegiance to the ideas of Islamic State.

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Emblem of the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al-Thani Charitable Association.

Development assistance
The State of Qatar started its own Department of International Aid in 2007 and spent more than 1.7 billion (US) dollars on ‘development assistance’ in 2013 alone, of which one third was given to Africa. Total aid money would be 740 dollar per person living in Qatar, or, if we only count people with a Qatari passport: more than 6,000 dollar per person. In addition, most non-Qataris send a lot of remittances back home, and Qatari charities are known all over Africa (and elsewhere) for their generosity. One can see the donation boxes of the various charities in central places in Doha.

Al Jazeera
Why would a small country on a peninsula in the Gulf do this? We were told that the former Qatari Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the ruling family realised how vulnerable their family business had become after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia could do the same with them; a reason to do so could always be found. So Qatar needed friends elsewhere, and it needed trumpets to tell the world: here we are! Some people told us that that was the main reason why (in 1996) the Emir decided to fund the Al Jazeera news network, which put Qatar on the world map of journalism. Others told us that it is much more complicated than that. Later, the Qatari elite decided to attract lots of foreign researchers (the Qatar Foundation is rich!); to fund numerous sports and cultural highlights; and to build a city full of special features. They can pay for it. In 2013, Qatar exported for 137 billion dollars’ worth of products (mainly gas and chemical products) and it only imported for 27 billion dollars. That truly means a huge balance of payment surplus. Japan, Korea and India are its major customers; the USA and China the major providers of goods and services. Although Qatar used to be a British colony, Europe’s role in imports and exports has become quite limited. At the same time, trade with Africa is very small (although growing): only about 1%. In 2013, Qatar’s major African trade partners were South Africa and Kenya for its exports, and Egypt and (again) South Africa as providers of some of its imports.

Visiting the Netherlands' Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef - van Eechoud (second from left).

Visiting the Netherlands’ Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef-van Eechoud (second from left).

Peace broker
Trade and aid are clearly not much connected (yet?) and one can see Qatar’s aid policy as one of its methods of ‘impression geopolitics’, and ways to export its cultural-political ideas. And that is full of controversies and surprises. In 2011, Qatar supported almost all Arab Spring uprisings. And currently, Qatar’s foreign policy is full of attempts to be a major peace broker in Africa and the Middle East: the ‘Norway’ of the Middle East. With Qatari aid money surpassing Qatari trade money (imports and exports) in most of Africa’s countries, Qatar’s embassies in Africa and Africa’s many embassies in Qatar, we see a form of aid diplomacy that must be familiar to Dutch diplomats who dealt with Africa in the 1980s and 1990s and who did not have to promote Dutch businesses too much in those years, with the exception of diplomats in African oil countries like Nigeria. It was trade or aid; not trade and aid. And it was about exporting an ideology. Like Qatar nowadays; although the ideology is different of course. Africans nowadays can make choices. And they do so ever more…