The Global African-American influence

Prior to living in America, I had already visited the country a number of times. But that’s not how I am able to sing RnB songs, or how I’m able to rap full verses from artists like Common, Jay Z, Biggie and Tupac or even much older hip hop groups. It’s not how I understand African-American slang or can do certain dances in clubs. I know all of that because African-Amerian culture is broadcast into homes around the world. Despite growing up in the UK, I have been exposed to many aspects of African-American culture throughout my entire life, as have many other black people around the globe.

It can be hard for African-Americans to get a grasp of just how pervasive and global African-American culture is and has become. When I lived in Johannesburg in South Africa, for example, I was at times amused and at other times disturbed by the adoption of African-American language, fashion and music by young South Africans. I used to go a particular club that could have come from a Beyonce video. You would have thought you were in New York or Atlanta rather than Johannesburg.

People always ask me ‘how do you know these songs?’ and ‘how do you know about that, how do you know about this?’ and I tell them I know because I have been massively exposed to it all throughout my whole life. America, and by extension African-America, is constantly shown to the world on a huge scale.

Now, I wonder if African-Americans realized this, they would also feel more responsible about what they put out. I’m talking here about people like Nas and his new album, I’m talking about BET and the type of content they put out, I’m talking about all of those people who insist – through various media – in showing the worst aspects of African-American life. Not only is that stuff released to America, it is released to young impressionable black people around the world who look up to African-Americans as a beacon of success and progression.

I was reminded of this by a blog I came across in which the writer said he’d come across a shop in Malawi called ‘Nigger’ (see picture above) and how proud the owners were of their shop’s name, thinking that they were somehow in touch with African-Americans that they looked up to.

Nas is releasing his song Nigger not only to his homegrown community but to the global community. What will the effect be on the young kids in the townships of South Africa, for example, who don’t really understand the significance and nuances surrounding that word? What about the black kids in the inner cities in England who have only just, in the past 10 years or so, started calling each other ‘nigga’ – just because their favourite black hip hop artists have made the word seem cool – and who now believe that they are ‘niggas’?

The global influence of African-American culture is huge. It affects black people all over the world. This can of course be a great thing. It has unfortunately also been a negative thing. I just don’t think people get how far the reach of African America extends… If they did maybe people like Nas might really think hard about how they use that influence.



Move On Mugabe!

zimbabwe_flag.gifDemocracy is a pretty simple process, right (in theory at least)? The people vote and whoever gets the most votes wins and takes control… So the people in Zimbabwe have cast their votes. Apparently (unsurprisingly) the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, has won. In a simple world, Mugabe would shed a tear and step down. But oh no! That would make life just a tad too easy! And in African politics, things just don’t go down like that!

Will the authorities actually release the official (and truthful) election results? Maybe but who can say for sure. Why it has taken them nearly a week to do so already is troubling. Will Mugabe go or won’t he? Maybe… if he feels like it. Maybe he can be bothered to get out of his presidential bed or maybe he’ll just lie in it and sleep for another 10 years. Maybe he’ll make people vote again, in a “re-run”, just for the fun of it.

What nonsense! Mugabe needs to go. Move on Mugabe! Zimbabwe does not want you anymore! You started off well all those years ago, but your time has passed! Let Zimbabwean people live under a government that they have chosen and that can make their lives better.

This is not fair – people should not have to be subjugated in this way. Let the people’s voices be heard and let them count for something.

In the meantime, I wait with baited breath to see what will happen in Zim…. May democracy rule… and may Mugabe find it within him to let go and move on!

Entrepreneurship in Africa

My last post was on the entrepreneurial mindset…The mindset is important, because everything begins first with a thought. So if your mind ain’t right, your life ain’t right.

Recently I’ve been reading various blogs about entrepreneurship in Africa. There is a lot going on business-wise and it’s great to see. Entrepreneurship is vital to continents or countries which have experienced, and are still experiencing, hardship – whether societal, culture, financial or other. Not just for economic reasons, but for the benefit of individual and collective pscyhology and consciousness.

As you can see from my previous post, I believe that the employee mindset (forgive me for being so hard on employees) is based on conformity, toeing the line, being led, following someone else’s rules, being other-directed, and ultimately allowing someone else to profit massively from your input.

In a way, this mindset is one that Africa has been stuck in for a long time. Africa was the employee of colonialism. It has been the employee of ineffective dictators and leaders. There are many who use, or have used, Africa to enrich themselves.

But now is the time for Africa to become its own boss. It’s not just physical businesses that Africa needs to build, but an entrepreneurial mindset of self-directness, leadership, creativity, opportunity and self-sufficiency.

The aid-for-Africa model creates a continent which is a lowly, dependent employee, unable to act without instruction from the boss (the World Bank, G8).

Africa as an entrepreneur is a continent which uses its own resources creatively for freedom – and eschews the so-called ‘security’ of binding loans and regular handouts. It is a different way of thinking, a different way of acting. The entrepreneur mindset is an empowered, and empowering, one.

We need African leaders to embrace the entrepreneur mentality. By embracing it, they would stop seeing themselves both as the top dog who can exploit his workers (the people of his country), and also as the over-worked, under-paid employees of certain (usually Western) organizations and bodies.

I believe African people have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. It is what led great people like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah to fight for their countries and make such vital changes. It is what leads men and women to stand on African streets in scorching hot sun and sell shoes, sunglasses, or whatever they can get their hands on to provide for themselves and their families.

When we think of entrepreneurship we usually think of big business. It’s not just that. All Africans – leaders and citizens – need to embrace it as a way of life, an attitude.

Africa will realize its potential when it becomes an entrepreneur, setting its own terms and conditions, its own agenda, and works for itself.

Nigerian President Declares Assets…

nigerianpresident.jpgI’ve been meaning to post about this for some time, but forgot.

I was impressed by the news that Umuru Yar’Adua, the new president of Nigeria, publicly declared his and his wife’s assets, as he promised he would before he was elected. I think this is a great step, showing not only that Yar’Adua is walking his talk, but also that he taking seriously his role as a leader and role model from which others can take his lead.

He was not obliged to declare his assets in public, but chose to do so because of his determination “…to instil transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business”.

It’s still early days, but this is a good start.

United States of Africa…

gaddafi.jpgIt’s been interesting to hear what’s been coming out of the African Union summit… The call for a united Africa – a United States of Africa if you will – appears to be at the top of the agenda. Colonel Gadafi has been pretty vocal on this, calling for the creation of a federal Africa right now (which he also seems to want to run – ooh err).

I love the sentiment behind the idea of a United States of Africa, but I don’t think it is something that could, or should, happen now or in the short term future. It is naive of Gadafi to call for a federal Africa now when the present day reality is that various countries are still violating their citizens’ basic human rights, democracy is still being violently suppressed in some countries and leaders (some, not all) are  still actively damaging the economy of their own countries. That’s not even all of it.

A United States of Africa is a great thing to aspire to, and to use as a target in order to galvanize African leaders to improving their countries, but there are still many troublesome issues that individual African countries need to sort out first. You cannot have unity as a continent if you do not even have unity in your own backyard.

I think it would be great to see a consortium of African leaders who are able to present a positive, united and forward thinking front to the rest of the world. Is that not the point of the African Union?

 To be honest, I think the idea of a USA (A for Africa) is simplistic at best and does not allow for the massive diversity that is within Africa as a continent; the diversity that exists within the various tribes, religions, languages and ethnic groups that exist in each country. Many of the problems that came after Europe’s ‘scramble for Africa’ were as a result of the European’s lumping together (whilst simultaneously carving up) of totally different groups of African people without taking into account their differences.

Using America – which is made up of states, not drastically different countries –  and Europe – which is quite homogenized in terms of politics, society, religion and ethnicity – as models for a federal Africa is unwarranted. They bear no similarity to Africa in any way, shape or form and should not form the basis upon which to build a central African government, if there is to be one.

Furthermore I ask, what would be the point of uniting 53 countries? Who would preside over the United States of Africa? Would having a central currency even benefit the continent? Does Pan-Africanism even have a place in modern day Africa? Is it even necessary? Maybe – and hopefully – these are questions that are being addressed and will yield some good answers. I look forward to hearing them.

The African Union’s chairman apparently gave a good telling off to those in attendance at the Summit, calling the AU “ineffective” and “powerless”.  His answer to the AU’s failings is to create a United States of Africa with more legislative power. This just makes no sense to me whatsoever. It’s like saying, for example “Hey! the Liberal Democrat party is crap and ineffective, so how about we make them run the country?!”?! I think he might have done better to call for African leaders to solve their own country’s problems first, and for the African Union to take actions which would result in them becoming more effective and powerful!

As I said, I think aspiring to a United States of Africa is great. But in 2007, where Africa stands today, it is not feasible. I don’t believe it is the answer to Africa’s problems. The answer to Africa’s problems is (amongst other things) better leadership, fairer political systems and improved economies. This is something that can be done locally. Change must start at home, with each and every African president improving the lots of his own people, first.

Mugabe and his cronies…

mugabe.jpgI read an article online this morning which got my blood boiling. Jerry Rawlings, ex President of Ghana, was talking in support of Robert Mugabe. He was saying that Britain was being ‘disrespectful’ towards Mugabe by having said in a statement that he would probably end up like Liberia’s Charles Taylor in an international court for human rights abuses. He apparently said: “No British official, be he a politician or Royalty, has the right to say those words about a Pan-Africanist like Robert Mugabe.

Excuse me!!! What is Mr Rawlings going on about?! Has he looked at the state of Zimbabwe recently? I don’t think anyone – especially not an African – needs to be praising Mugabe right about now…

Last week, the US Ambassador to Harare predicted that inflation in Zimbabwe would reach 1.5million% by the end of the year, if not before! Money there is becoming absolutely worthless as hyper inflation has become the norm. Zimbabweans cannot afford to buy even basic goods. 25% of the country has left to live abroad (which is actually a good thing when you think about it). Opponents of the government are regularly and openly suppressed often through physical violence… Mugabe is messing up his own country in a big fat way! Where is the room for praise in there?! Yes he did some good back in the day, but his expiry date passed a LOONNNGG time ago.

It just pisses me off to see the reaction of some influential Africans in this whole sorry saga. It is irresponsible, in my opinion, for someone like Jerry Rawlings to use his voice in this way. Likewise, former Zambian president Kaunda spoke in support of Mugabe in a BBC article. Again – irresponsible. Don’t even get me started on the South African response which I recall to be something feeble like ‘let Zimbabwe sort out its own problems’.

I want to say only positive things on this blog, but I can’t ignore this. It’s infuriating. It angers me. Where is the condemnation? Which African leaders are openly expressing dissent? And why the hell not? Do they not care about their brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe? If we all truly want a better Africa, these people with power need to start walking their talk, not praising someone who is now clearly not contributing to the good that is going on in the continent. GRRRRRR!

Chinese expansion into Africa…

China, as most of us know, has been showing a greater amount of interest in Africa over the past few years. The Chinese have been investing heavily in the continent, and trade between the two has jumped significantly. In early 2006, China – Africa trade was up by 39% to £18bn.

Personally I do not know enough about the relationship between China and Africa, or China’s intentions towards Africa… Some commentators – such as International Herald Tribune’s Howard W. French – are very enthusiastic and see China’s growing investment as evidence that Western governments and companies who continue to go on about poverty and aid are missing out on major financial benefits, to China’s advantage.

I think it’s great that China is investing in Africa, but I must admit I am a little sceptical. I know China is also offering aid and loans to Africa…and African governments must be careful not to end up in the same situation as they have with the West who previously came offering ‘development’ money – complete with handcuffs. 

Does the importing of Chinese goods into Africa undermine production of indigenous African-made goods? And what about China’s financial support for Robert Mugabe’s destructive regime and their 2005 pledge to give him money but not interfere in ‘internal [Zimbabwean] affairs’?

A Ghanian government minister today echoed my sentiments, encouraging Africa to avoid a colonial relationship with China. Africa must remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and keep the relationship one that is as mutually beneficial as possible.