Monthly Archives: April 2014

Who is an African Writer? Ruins, Remainders, Residues: Sierra Leonean Literature and the (De)Formation of Archives #ALAconf2014

Is an African Writer one born in Africa?

Or should she or he have lived in Africa?

Is being born to African parents a qualification?

What about non-African but highly regarded African Writers?

Is it more about acceptance?

Acceptance by who? Western literary critics or the African literary intelligentsia?

Who is an African Writer?

Separation (A poem by Rafiq Raji) #ALAconf2014

Humans desiring distinction
By race, class, education, lineage
Created free, he binds himself to the notion of betterness
Dare not impale my paleness
Separation!

Dishonouring origins for want of paleness
Is one free without roots’ pride?
Who then are your ancestors?
Debasing your ancestors on the plantations of life
Finding disciples in oppression of tribe, religion and ancestry
Separation!

Occupiers of lands without right
Awake in mind to the reality of your curse
Never to know peace while usurpers of noble dreams
Thought to kill the spirit of your hosts
Asking why He should endow them so
Separation!

Moving from land to land oppressed in spirit
Wanderings of a homeless spirit
Conscience long departed for fear of contagion
Separation!

What then when there are no more lands to conquer?
What then when there are no more peoples to separate?
Redemption fears invitation
Should forgiveness meet someone so?
Separation!

Our story lives on #ALAconf2014

Our story lives on

It lives on the tongues of our story-tellers

Great men and women nurturing the renaissance of the African self-belief

Scattered across God’s earth and yet with words so near

 

What is wrong with the African?

Ashamed of his ancestors’ garb

He devours his neighbour’s harvest

She cares for only her children

The unAfrican African, no more a savage?

 

Is Ubuntu savagery?

Am I lawless if broken laws disrespect my customs?

What laws? Those I made or those made for me

Did the African live by whim before his enslavement?

Do savages have norms and institutions?

The unAfrican African, self-loathing and lost

 

Our literary giants remind us who we once were

Who we should be, Africans! Proud of our culture and heritage

Wise enough to know that which is wrong with us

For a people can never be perfect

An African civilisation not to the credit of the real savages

But one borne out of an African self-criticism

 

What do we start with if our stories are not told?

What civilisation without the written word?

African literary giants, I salute you!

 

 

 

Journey’s Mist (A poem by Rafiq Raji) #African Literature Association Conference, #Wits

Adieus with fear and hope
The lovers’ anguish
A mother’s worry
Hope of the fruit of thy loins
Memories of vanishing strides

Await to the sound of return
Do open o door
Open to the stories of a journey spent
Not to the anguish of whispering news

Was thy journey prosperous
Did you tire of sights and sounds
Did you let go to the mystery of discovery

Hope for the fruits of thy steps
Soothing balm of beloved memories
Fatigue not tired limbs
The horizon is near

O sweaty brow of hope
O laughter of triumph
O warm embrace of return
O journey’s mist

My Big House (A Poem by Rafiq Raji) #Nigeria

My house is now big

But my children are still hungry

Warring over trifles, what now

What do you mean what now

I say my house is now big

 

Guests to the land would know who I am

My children starve all you want

I say my house is now big

 

Though my neighbor has a stronger horse

I shall celebrate my feat

I say my house is now big

 

Shall I continue to wear my dear garments

Or should I shed them that my house might have peace

So what if the furniture gives way

So what if my children starve

So what if my children war over trifles

I say my house is now big

 

Perhaps I should feed my children

Lest the guests wonder about their hobbling gait

Perhaps I should educate them

Lest the guests wonder about their husky voice

I say my house is now big

 

Perhaps I should increase my labour

Lest the guests wonder about the horse next door

Perhaps I should save more

Lest I am forced to sell my house

Perhaps I should invest more

Lest my children tear down my house

I say my house is now big

 

Perhaps I should celebrate less

Lest the guests wonder why my children are sullen

Perhaps I should worry about my hangover this time

Lest my door ajar on the morrow reveals my misery

I say my house is now big

 

Why do the guests visit on my neighbour’s horse

Is my house not big enough

Is my horse not strong enough

What should I do

Should I celebrate or reflect

I say my house is now big

Africa is not yet ready for free trade #EUAfrica Summit

A lot has been written on why the EU’s open regionalism is really another scramble for Africa. It is curious that none of the stated objectives of the Cotonou Agreement mentions explicitly how the EU would provide assistance to help resolve the supply-side constraints that Africa faces. Especially as it helped former Soviet countries in this regard. These constraints (rules of origin, sanitory and phyto-sanitary standards, poor transport, lack of access to telecommunication infrastructure, low labour productivity, lack of economies of scale, absence of functioning capital markets) make it premature for full trade liberalization in Africa. African countries were and still remain largely unable to benefit from free trade and would probably remain so for a while. The EU and Africa are unequal partners. That is a fact. However, what is heartbreaking is how much African leaders underestimate the amount of leverage they have (and in fact, some are complicit in the distorted arrangement). The EU, albeit a superior negotiating party, needs Africa. It needs Africa’s markets for its goods and services. But it seems some African leaders just find EU aid (and market access for some) so irresistible. Of course, there have been suggestions in the literature that some of them were essentially “persuaded” to accede to EPAs. The literature is awash with examples of the devastating consequences of EU and US dumping on numerous African economies. So, there is no point stressing that angle of the argument.

Although the Cotonou Agreement is a marked improvement from the Lome and Yaounde Conventions {exports to the EU from African, Carribean and Pacific Countries (ACP) actually declined from c. 7% to c. 3% during the period (1978-2002) of the Lome Conventions (1975-2000)}, it is a sub-optimal deal for Africa. The stated objectives (poverty reduction, institutionalisation of democratic principles, respect for the rule of law and human rights, good governance, peace building, conflict prevention and regional integration) are all very well. They, however, pale in comparison to what Africa really needs: Industrialization. African countries need to move up the value chain of industries where their resources are major inputs. Job creation is what would accelerate poverty reduction in Africa. By one’s reckoning, labour-intensive manufacturing offers the best chance of achieving this; at least for now. Not cash transfers or dividend payments like some very admirable and well-intentioned economists at the World Bank/IMF are considering.

Historically, countries that have succeeded in achieving industrialization have tended not to abide by the stated objectives of the Cotonou Agreement; at least during the early stages of their evolution. These countries had commonalities of either war, strong single-party or monarchical/military rulership during the early stages of their industrial evolution. There are a few exceptions, of course. Also, it turns out the African countries that have made some (albeit very little) effort at pushing for more value addition of their resources before exports turn out to be longstanding rulers. The irony is that although they likely made these policy moves for political gain, they were able to do it (in spite of the potential backlash from developed nations) largely because they were African big men.

Truth be said, it is not the responsibility of the EU, US or other developed countries to watch out for the interests of African countries. Leaders of African countries must be butts of jokes in Paris, Brussels, London, and Washington when they visit these capitals with all the pomp and ceremony walking with puffed up pride just to show how independent they really are. Well, if you are really independent, don’t ask me not to negotiate to maximize my interests. I mean, it’s silly. It must be said, however, that there are lots of people in these capitals who are genuinely eager and desirous to see Africa develop. They wear their frustrations on the grey hair that some have developed through decades of hard work fighting and campaigning on African issues. Progress has been slow.

If the EU really wants to help Africa, it should make tangible commitments towards helping these countries resolve the supply constraints that hold them back from enjoying the benefits of free trade. That is an irrational request, however. It is foolhardy to expect the EU to diminish the advantage it has. Trade with Africa may not be attractive otherwise. The task thus falls on African leaders. The beginning of the solution lies not with boycotts and posturing; but to protect selected industries and insist on minimum value addition to minerals and other natural resources before exports. If a country has crude oil, it should insist that the MNOCs build refineries (Uganda’s policy in this regard is exemplary). If you produce copper; well there are many uses for copper. How about producing some of the finished goods in situ. The list is endless; iron-ore, coffee, diamonds, gold, cocoa, etc. But of course, these policies should be backed by resolving the logistics nightmare (and numerous other issues) on the continent.

Thus, as African and EU leaders start their two-day trade summit today in Brussels, let our big men and women bear at the back of their minds that it is not too late to re-negotiate. The solution does not require any complicated legalese. It is simple. Import liberalisation for African countries (as early as 2015) is premature. African countries should protect selected markets and ensure that trade and FDI revolves around value-addition. The postponement of the signing of EPAs by some African regional blocs (and the outright refusal of some African countries to accede to one) should be used as an opportunity to revisit some of the terms in the Cotonou Agreement. Every and any Agreement, no matter how strong or binding, can be renegotiated. African countries should see this Summit as an opportunity to start the process of reviewing the EPAs and in fact every facet of the EU-Africa economic arrangement. If none of the EPAs are signed and no African (or ACP) country makes any unilateral arrangement, the EU would have no choice but to re-negotiate. African (or ACP) leaders have more leverage than they realise. They should use it!