Africa Update for October 2021

The latest edition of Africa Update is out! We’ve got Africa’s 100 largest cities, debates on gun policy in Nigeria, 13 films on the queer African experience, an ambitious plan to refill Lake Chad,  and more.

West Africa: Sierra Leone has voted to abolish the death penalty. Algeria is expelling migrants from West Africa by driving them over the border with Niger and abandoning them in the desert.  New research from Ghana suggests that the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations, which determines university admissions, may vary substantially in difficulty from year to year.  Some Nigerian officials are calling for citizens to be armed in order to combat insecurity – but the experience of the US suggests that high rates of gun ownership promote violent crime and injury rather than reducing them.  In Mali, descent-based slavery remains a widespread problem. 

Sunset behind the Nairobi skyline
Sunset in Nairobi, by Sebastian Wanzalla via Samira Sawlani

Central Africa: The Congo River provides the main trade route between major cities in the DRC, but the boats that ply it are often overloaded and prone to sinking.  Learn more about Transaqua, a proposed 2400 km-long canal which would replenish Lake Chad with water from the Congo River.  “An investigative report says that Russian operatives in the Central African Republic who had been billed as unarmed advisers are actually leading the fighting.”  Don’t miss this thoughtful article on the class dynamics of Museveni’s rise to power in Uganda.

East Africa: What happened to the promise of Kenya’s smart city?  This is an insightful long read about the history of separatism and government oppression in northern Kenya.  Here’s how infighting within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front led to the current conflict in Tigray.  “Nearly all of Ethiopia’s original trees have disappeared, but small pockets of old-growth forest still surround Ethiopia’s churches.”  Here’s a deep dive on the origins of today’s ongoing violence in Darfur.

A map showing forces from many foreign countries operating across Africa
Map of foreign forces in Africa via Facts About Africa

Southern Africa: Zimbabwe’s rigid bureaucratic policies about identity documents and discrimination against ethnic minorities mean that nearly half of births go unregistered.  Zimbabwe has also just changed the law to allow pregnant students to continue attending secondary school instead of being expelled.  In Namibia, same-gender couples who were married in South Africa but also have Namibian citizenship are fighting to have their marriages recognized by the Namibian government.  Meet Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, the pioneering Malawian environmentalist who helped get the courts to enforce a ban on single-use plastics.

Labor & livelihoods: In South Africa, a group of mining companies agreed to pay over R5 billion / US$330 million to thousands of their employees who developed TB and silicosis after working in the mines – but three years later, fewer than 10 claims have been processed.  A group of farmers in Malawi have filed suit against two major British tobacco companies, saying they were forced to work seven days per week without pay or the opportunity to educate their children.  This is a moving portrait of the limited livelihood choices available to South Sudanese refugees in Sudan.

A graph showing that Kenya's debt has grown by 4 times over from 2012 - 2022
Kenya’s debt challenge in one graph, from Citizen TV Kenya

Urbanization: Get to know Africa’s 100 largest cities.  Nairobi is rapidly losing its green space, leaving it hotter and more vulnerable to diseases spread by rats and bats.  In Johannesburg, “mining is largely over, but the people are left. They will need to make the wealth of the future through their collaboration and imagination.”

Public health: Rwanda has legalized medical marijuana.  New research from Rwanda also finds that COVID-19 lockdowns were effective in reducing rates of air pollution in Kigali.  Dr Ambroise Wonkam has an ambitious plan to map three million African genomes and investigate the genetic causes of various illnesses.  In South Africa, people without valid national IDs or refugee status are being left out of COVID-19 vaccine plans.

Three images of beautiful natural settings with plastic rubbish scattered around them, and travel stamps in the background
Check out the winning images of the Contemporary African Photography prize, like this one from Aàdesokan

Arts & culture: The Journal of African History has an interesting new podcast, and the Goethe Institut in Dakar has released a podcast on Senegalese history.  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi recommends her five favorite books.  Check out these 13 films about the queer experience in Africa.  This is a great piece about creating archives of digital feminism across Africa.

Academics: Lots of interesting resources coming up for African scholars abroad, including the Program on African Social Research in New York, the Africa Policy Research Institute in Berlin, and the Graduate Application International Network for prospective econ MA/PhD students.  There are also new editions of Conjonctures de l’Afrique Centrale from CREAC, the Alternative Report on Africa from RASA, and Africa Development from CODESRIA.

Launch event for “They Were Us: Stories of Victims and Survivors of Police Brutality in Kenya”

The Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network and Missing Voices are launching a new book titled “They Were Us,” tomorrow at Lava Latte from 11 am – 4 pm. As MVSN describes the book:

[They Were Us] collects the stories of people who lost the ones they loved most to police killings. The book, which features photographs by Betty Press and interviews translated and edited by Wyban Kanyi, maps out the reality that those left behind by extrajudicial killings, police brutality, and enforced disappearances face: that the burden of demanding justice—collecting evidence, protecting witnesses, finding lawyers, paying hospital bills—ultimately falls on the friends and families of the murdered or survivors of violence themselves.

“Tuna Haki Pia / We Also Have Rights”: living with disability in Nairobi

The Mathare Social Justice Centre has a new report out on the experiences of people with disabilities in Nairobi’s poor neighborhoods. The summary findings from a survey of 82 disabled people are stark:

  • 90% of respondents who require sign language and braille training did not have access to it
  • Despite many respondents living with physical disabilities, 0% had access to a disabled toilet
  • 78% required some form of supportive equipment – of these:
    • 96% did not have all the equipment they require
    • 59% need mobility equipment (e.g. wheelchair) which they do not have
  • For those of working age, 53% were unemployed and 13% relied on begging for an income
  • 54% were aware of the PWD card, yet only 40% had one. Of those who had a card, very few received any benefit from it

The full report offers a rich portrayal of individual stories, interviews with government officials, building audits, and a review of the legal environment for supporting disabled people. It closes with a moving reflection:

To us, disability is not a point of individual or social tragedy, but a natural and necessary part of human diversity.  The tragedy of disability is not our minds and bodies but oppression, exclusion and marginalization.  we do not need to be cured.  We do not need charity.  We need respect, equality and access.  moving forward, the same way we have police stations everywhere, we should have centres for people with disabilities.