We don’t read a lot of good news about Africa. As I write this, and google “Africa —- News”, the top hits are:
• Convoy attack kills three children, 19 adults in Central African Republic… Bodies burnt in street….
• South Africa marks worst year in rhino killings…
• South African [mineworkers] strike at… platinum producers
• China and Japan scramble for Africa
These headlines are not representative of African reality. They’re certainly a far cry from the Africa I came to know when I lived there for two-and-a-half years in the early 1970s. To be sure, one of my earliest African memories is of being adrift — the first time I ventured outside of Nairobi’s tourist bubble — in a bewildering sea of black faces. But once I got to know Africans personally, it became clear, on one hand, that they were just people like everyone else, and, on the other, that they had ways of understanding themselves and relating to others that were distinctly African. Continue reading
Before I went to graduate school, I spent some three years working for a series of daily newspapers. I was only 22 years old when I started, and I loved the work. Being a newspaper reporter gave me a licence to pick up the phone and ask anyone any question that interested me, something I might otherwise hesitate to do. A colleague commented that journalism was an ideal occupation for shy, curious people.
In those three years, I worked a number of beats: business and labour in Marshalltown, Iowa; education in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and in York, Pennsylvania -– at the late and lamented Gazette and Daily, reputedly the only left-wing daily in the United States –- city hall and the courthouse. Continue reading
When I first lived in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, in the early ’70s, everything I saw was strange, except the little, gilded ghetto I lived in, and that was repugnant. My ghetto was the Central YMCA in Nairobi, where, for a very reasonable price, I got a comfortable studio apartment, meals in a cafeteria, and the use of a swimming pool.
So what’s repugnant about that? Kenya had thrown off European minority rule — and a racist social, economic and political system — several years earlier, but for me, my pleasant, comfortable lodgings served as a demonstration of how hard it is to dismantle a racist social system. Remove the formal rules that support racism, and informal ones take their place. Continue reading
Last week Winnipeg City Council endorsed a proposal to ask the provincial government to allow the imposition of new fees on residential and commercial development. It was the latest turn in a decades-long struggle by the city to overcome an infrastructure deficit of at least $7 billion. The proposal, followed by a quick refusal from Broadway, unleashed a flurry of news and commentary, accompanied by more than 200 letters from readers. (See links at the end of this post.)
From the start, the fees were referred to as “taxes”, and for the most part, comments, by both writers and readers, focussed on taxation. Absent from the discussion was a recognition of the fact that the infrastructure crisis wasn’t caused by insufficient revenues, and will not be resolved by the imposition of additional fees or taxes. A major, but completely overlooked, cause of the crisis is the city’s failure to draw up a coherent growth plan and stick to it. Continue reading
Renault Roho (see below)
In the early 1970s, I spent two-and-a-half years in Kenya. I wanted to gain a real understanding of Africa, but there was no point pretending that I was anything other than a white Canadian graduate student. On the other hand, I didn’t want to emulate some of my fellow Europeans, living in expatriate ice castles, being waited on hand and foot by African servants. Avoiding that turned out to be a tall order.
It was in Nyandarua District, a rural area northwest of Nairobi, the capital, and northeast of Nakuru (see maps below) that I learned to navigate my African life. The people I particularly wanted to get to know — for purposes of my research and out of personal interest — were small farmers who worked their land mainly by hand labour. Many of my academic colleagues referred to them as peasants, but it was clear that the small farmers who understood English would not wish to be referred to that way.