Ufahamu Africa

Ep. 129: Looking back on Ufahamu Africa in 2021 and ahead to 2022

January 08, 2022 Season 6 Episode 129
Ufahamu Africa
Ep. 129: Looking back on Ufahamu Africa in 2021 and ahead to 2022
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome back to a new year of Ufahamu Africa! Kim and Rachel talk about some of your and our favorite episodes of 2021, the big events that affected Africa in 2021, and more! 

Books, Links, & Articles


Previous Episodes We Mentioned 

Kim Yi Dionne  00:03

Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the African continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, one of your hosts, and I'm joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.


Rachel Beatty Riedl  00:14

Hi, Kim. I'm so excited to be ringing in the New Year with you and with all of our listeners. Happy 2022 to everyone! Now, as is our practice, Kim and I like to start out the new year with a wrap up of last year to recap our biggest stories for 2021 and give you  some sense of what we're going to be talking about in the following year, 2022. 


Kim Yi Dionne  00:37

And I wanted to start with talking about our most listened to episode this past year and it is an episode that featured Dr. Goitom Gebreluel well on the violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which has now escalated further and is affecting the country as a whole. Now, this was in Episode 117 and as our listeners will likely know, it was the episode that was actually featured on Foreign Policy playlist. It's a really great introduction to the harms that are being committed against civilians in the Tigray region, but also provide some historical and geopolitical context for you know, how this crisis came about and, and how it's affecting other situations and issues in the Horn of Africa more broadly. Now talking about that, there was a very recent episode of The Lawfare Blog podcast that I think our listeners should also listen to, and especially those of you who haven't had a chance to listen to episode 117 with Goitom Gebreluel. Well, you might want to start actually with this episode, Scott Anderson, a host at Lawfare, is in conversation with Professor Michael Woldemariam, who's at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and Professor Hilary Matfess, who's at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Now, they are both previous guests of Ufahamu Africa, and in this conversation with Scott Anderson at Lawfare, they discussed the origins of this ongoing civil war in Ethiopia, what it's meant for civilians living there and how it might shape the country's future, as well as talking about what are the thorny issues around international intervention and trying to reach some sort of settlement or as Hillary Matfess says in this in this show, she talks about the many settlements that are going to be necessary to bring peace to the region. And so for our listeners who haven't, you know, heard these two guests on this show before, Rachel and I interviewed Michael Woldemariam, shortly after his book came out in Episode 48, where we talk about you know, at that time, it was this really exciting moment in Ethiopia when Abiy Ahmed had come in to office and had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. And you know, it's more of an optimistic interview. So if you're in need of a little pick me up, maybe start there. And then previously, we had an episode with Hillary Matfess talking about her first book on women and Boko Haram and that's in episode 36. Finally, kind of on this note, like things that have come out since that episode with Goitom, I want to encourage our listeners to read Elleni Centime Zeleke’s piece in Chimurenga. It's titled “The Enemy and Her Imagination: A Fable.” Now, Dr. Zeleke is an assistant professor of African Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. And this, this work that she's written for, Chimurenga, it's a beautiful way of showing us, you know, all the different people who are affected by this conflict in Tigray, and and how what's happening and Tigray can also be connected to what's happened in Mogadishu and like, and how there's this kind of broader fabric in which all these people are, woven into and then, you know, the person who's the enemy in your imagination is still a person and how should we think about that person? I just think it's a short read, but it's a really beautiful, thoughtful, dense piece that really causes us to think about, you know, who is involved and who is affected and how do we consider those people as having humanity? It's a great piece. 


Rachel Beatty Riedl  04:45

Thanks for sharing that, Kim. I definitely can't wait to read. I wanted to also, in connection to thinking, about everything that's been happening in Ethiopia broadly and how we're thinking about democracy under threat globally, across the continent, you know, in our own backyards, wherever our backyards may be. Many of our most listened-to episodes from last year covered specific instances of pro-democracy struggles of protest, and of moves by authoritarian leaders who were actually elected leaders but kind of turned autocratic in their practices. So one of the main episodes that Kim and I did that a lot of people tuned into was on Senegal in Episode 111. And we really encourage our listeners to stay tuned. For more on Senegal throughout this upcoming season, we're going to be featuring a number of Senegalese guests in the months ahead, including Bamba Ndiaye, who is a Society of Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University, who works on civil society movements in Senegal, particularly looking at the role of fishermen and their migration patterns, their mobility, their demands on the state and vis-a-vis competitors on the market. So that I think will be really interesting to tune in too. And our conversation last year, when we started discussing the protests in Senegal, was on the heels of thousands of people taking this to the streets in Dakar, across the country, even across the continent, while beyond Senegal, to protest the detention of a popular opposition leader it was Ousmane Sonko, who was put in jail based on a rape charge. And the situation really escalated the faceoff between President Macky Sall and Sonko as a leading opposition figure. It also really demonstrated a trend that we've seen more broadly, in many countries as a kind of creeping authoritarianism, an authoritarianism that uses the courts in particular, and other institutions of nominal democracy, the legislature to pass anti-democratic laws, special tribunals that are set up through democratic procedures to try particular types of criminals, be they criminals who are, quote, unquote, “using information incorrectly,” such as the media, or those who are accused of trafficking or other types of violations that are really enemies of the ruling class and the leaders of the country. Now, in this specific instance, in Senegal, and as Kamissa Camara really helpfully explains in the Monkey Cage article we will provide a link to. This is really an example of the ways in which long standing democracies are fragile. Senegal has obviously been a leader in multiparty competition and in alternation on the continent. So I think it's a really critical case. And it's one also it's an interesting case, because it's also one in which gender and women's rights are really at the fore and it pitted in an interesting way, in this particular case, because the consequence of the situation is many leading many to question the voices of sexual assault victims, you know, what rights they have to bring their stories to bear and how they're heard and, and how justice is sought. So I think it's a very complicated case, one that way, we want to discuss in more detail. In fact, we'd encourage our listeners to take a look at Africa’s A Country, where Rama Salla Dieng explains that the case is really allegoric of the treatment of victims of rape and sexual violence in Senegal, a country in which quote, “the bodies of women have always been an arena for political battles.” So really an important issue there. We also covered democratic backsliding in Benin with Christina Cottiero and Expédit Ologou in Episode 116. And I want to share some new resources actually, that Expédit has contributed to the West African Autocratization tracker report for 2020, which is put together with Open Society Institute and uses V-Dem data, but it's a really great in depth look at broad patterns across West Africa in autocratization, and democratization trends, the salient changes in democratic institutions and practices since 2010, through 2020, so a 10 year gap. And the first section analyzes these kinds of broad trends across the sub region, and then the second section narrows in on all 15 ECOWAS countries, so you're able to get some in depth information on particular case studies and their future progression or regression. So we'll include a link to that as well in the episode, the last thing I want to say on this topic is that in light of these questions about democracy and values more generally, another popular episode was 109 with Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin, Francis Nyamnjoh, and George Ofosu on  post-colonial theory, decolonization of the university and knowledge generation, I think that this conversation relates more broadly to the question of democratization, democracy and protests across the continent, in terms of the value base for which citizens are willing to defend particular types of political regimes, the types of movements that we see across society. And the ways in which the value base and the interest base really demonstrate that it is necessary to double down on promoting democracy from the bottom up through cross regional and bilateral, multilateral supports and there's a great piece in the American Purpose that expands on this little bit that we'll share as well.


Kim Yi Dionne  11:04

Yeah, I just wanted to just jump in and say one thing that I have been wanting to say for a while and that is, congratulations to Christina Cottiero who you just talked about in that episode, about Benin, I understand that she has accepted a position to become an assistant professor at the University of Utah next academic year, and so congratulations to Christina a lot of hard work and excellent work and research that you've done and so early in your career to be, you know, engaging with the public and sharing your knowledge about what's happening in the Benin for us on the show, but also, you know, a lot of public engagement as well, you know, she's she wrote a piece about what was happening and Benin for the Monkey Cage. And, she's been writing about Chad and Benin. You know, it's, I'm excited about the, you know, what her research trajectory is going to hold for, for her and for all of us to learn from in the coming years, her work on regional integration is really important and really interesting, and I'm so glad that that you were able to talk to her and Expédit on the show. And that, you know, this is just kind of a central theme of the show, right? We'll be talking about democracy and what democracy, you know, what it what it really means, what it is in practice. And, you know, we, you know, we were talking, you know, I think a couple episodes ago about the Democracy Summit. And it's really, it's really hard, I think, as an American, to think about that given you know, I mean, Rachel and I are recording this on Thursday, January 6, which is a one year anniversary of, you know, perhaps one of the most dangerous political events in recent American history. And, you know, this kind of culmination of democratic backsliding in the US, leading to, as I'm alluding to, the insurrection on the US Capitol, on January 6, 2021. So, you know, democracy is really central to you know, what we talk about here on the show and so there's a lot of recurring themes. I'm not surprised that we had a lot of episodes about it. But just talking in particular about the Democracy Summit, you know, I want to point our listeners to a December essay, written by Lina Benabdallah, where she compares the US and China's policies towards Africa. So in it, Lina writes, “Many US officials, policymakers and experts have raised concerns about China's loans, investments and infrastructure projects worldwide. In response, the Biden administration announced the Build Back Better World program or B3W, a global infrastructure program to counter China's influence in the Global South, so in Africa, including Africa I should say, at the G7 meeting in June 2021. B3W is designed to outperform Beijing by offering alternative investment projects intended to entice countries into choosing the US over China as their preferred partner. The administration's plans, however, reflect a narrow understanding of China's global role. Although Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects across the developing world. It has also invested heavily in developing relationships and people to people connections with political security and business elites in many African countries.” Now, I'm reading to you  at length from Lina’s essay, because it's really important and it's squarely what her first book has been about. We've been fans of Lina’s work since early in the show's history. She was actually in our first season on episode four. And we talked to her again after the publication of that book Shaping the Future of Power Knowledge Production and Network building in China-Africa Relations, which was published just about a year and a half ago now by the University of Michigan Press. We talked with her about that book and episode 97. And for those of you don't know, Dr. Benabdallah is an assistant professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, and is really, you know, a leading researcher and thinker about how we should characterize Chinese-African relations and, and kind of how we should think about South-South relations more broadly. Now, we recently recorded Laura Seay's review of Lina’s books. So for anyone who hasn't had a chance to read, Shaping the Future of Power, and they want a quick way to get some of the highlights, you can listen to that review that we recorded, it was actually our top bonus listen in 2021. So more people listen to that than listen to some of our episodes. So, you know, it's a great introduction to Lina’ s work, but also to thinking about US-Africa policy, right, China- Africa policy and how we think about the US and China, both in Africa. And, you know, also for listeners who, you know, are curious to learn more about this, also point you to my interview with Jamie Monson. You know, back in the days when we could travel to conferences, and I had a chance to sit down with her at the African Studies Association, in episode 84. You know, Jamie Monson is a historian at Michigan State University, and also the director of the African Studies Center there and so she puts this China-Africa relationship in a broader historical perspective. And, you know, it's not new. Right. And, you know, she's, of course, you know, her a lot of her most recent work is focusing in particular on the development of railways. So, when you see these fancy bullet trains, that, you know, trying to help develop in Nairobi, or other major African cities, know that there is a long history of collaboration between China and African countries in building railways, and it's important to put those contemporary events in that historical context.


Rachel Beatty Riedl  16:59

Absolutely, Kim, and I think you know, that looking at a series of conversations really also makes me think about the relevance of China and Africa relationships, which every time I think about it, I come back to this episode from just over a year ago with Cyril Obi, Episode 103, which was in part about his research about the natural resources that Africa possesses that are fueling the new green economy. So every time we talk about new tech, solar power, batteries, emerging opportunities to transition away from oil, coal, and gas, all of this relies upon specific types of minerals that are generally found, largely in Africa. Right. And, and China has known that for a long time other people have other countries, I've known that for a long time, and the types of relationships that are emerging, present a new paradigm potentially for thinking about natural resource use, and whether or not the relationships between particular African countries that that have these resources and multinational exporters will follow the same patterns as the as the oil industry, or whether there'll be negotiated according to new types of power relationships. And I think that that's really the key question that Cyril poses and others are posing as these strategic bargains continue to be struck. And many citizens across the continent coming back to our earlier discussion about the importance of protest are asking those questions about what are we getting for the export of our natural resources and what lies under the ground in our territories. So as we know, from This Week in Africa, I think did a really nice their year-in-review, thanks to Jeff and Phil did a great summary on this in terms of the rising demand, in particular for copper, bauxite, and coltan, we know that the demand for these materials is very high, and particularly when we look at the rising demand for electric vehicles, and Democratic Republic of Congo is really at the center of this geostrategic game. So there are a couple of great links that suggest the way in which Congo is playing out the game quite differently, but also how the mining of minerals is quite different from the infrastructure involved in a kind of oil extraction regime. So how that presents different types of possibilities structurally for relationships to be developed. So China's definitely putting its money where the copper, bauxite and cobalt are, as Jeff and Phil put it and, and that's driving rising copper prices, which as we know has huge effects on the political economy of places like Zambia, we saw a huge democratic transition this last year in Zambia. So the political economy and the autocratization versus democratic victories is so tightly woven, but it's not necessarily as one to one as we might have thought in the past. So something definitely to keep our eye on as we move forward.


Kim Yi Dionne  20:36

For sure. Yeah. And when you were talking to you about, you know, coltan, DRC, it was reminding me again, like going back to Season One, Laura Seay, you know, her, you know, in episode nine, we talk about her research on conflict, and minerals in DRC. And what I love about Laura, and her, you know, form of public engagement as it really is, you know, she, she can really can make clear the connections between important things, like, for example, the Dodd Frank Act, which was meant to try to reduce the potential for conflict by, you know, kind of regulating which minerals and, you know, could be legally treated, you know, if you're a US company, and but, you know, shows how that can have negative consequences, right can actually backfire can can have these unintended consequences. And it is, it's making me recall, and an article that was actually published in 2018, but I only read it recently. You know, I'm a bit slow this pandemic and getting my reading done. But it's a research article published in PLOS ONE by Nik Stoop, Marijke Verpoorten, Peter van der Windt.  So Peter van der Witt, who is a friend and colleague of ours at NYU Abu Dhabi, and has done a lot of research in Democratic Republic of Congo, the three of them have this article, titled “More Legislation, More Violence?,” the impact of Dodd Frank and the DRC. And it's just a really, a really well done analysis of how we can think about that. And this kind of put, you know, legislative solution, I'm saying in air quotes, and what the real consequences are, and like how we can, how we can look at existing data to try to give us a sense of like, what, what really is happening here. And so yeah, so I love thinking about, you know, what cool research has been done in the last few years that is going to help us think through, you know, the solutions we thought we had. And, you know, talking about violence, which, you know, I don't like to talk about on the show, but it comes up because violence happens everywhere in the world, including in Africa. And one of our most popular episodes in 2017, was actually an interview that was in the wake of some violence. So it was with Dan Eizenga following the surprising battlefield death of Chadian President, Idriss Déby. So it was great. Dan was so kind to, you know, meet with us. So shortly after the death of the Chadian President to give us a sense of like, Who is Idriss Déby? How did he come to power? What does his death mean, for the future of power, and Chad, but also in the broader region? Because Chad is one of these countries where external influences wield a lot of power, *cough, cough,* France. And you know, what is what does it mean that, you know, that Emmanuel Macron shows up to the state funeral of Idriss Déby and sits next to Mahamat Déby, the son of the former president, who is now you know, the person who is essentially leading the country as this kind of convener in this transitional Military Council. And now, you know, this event, made France 24’s list of significant events that shaped Africa in 2021. And I was looking at this list that France 24 had put together and it's, I mean, can you believe that Yoweri Museveni won reelection in 2021? That seems so long ago to me now, or maybe I'm just remembering all the many elections that Yoweri Museveni since taking power in Uganda in 1986. I don't know. But, but there's, you know, it's a great list to look back on, you know, all the different things that have happened. Well, not all I should say it's some of the most significant things that have happened on the continent. And, and one thing I'd like to bring up, that is also, you know, an important event that shaped Africa 2021 And that is the addition of Congolese rumba and Senegal's thiebou dieune to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. So Stéphanie Trouillard  writes for France 24, Rumba specialists trace the music’s origins back to the Kongo kingdom, where a dance called Nkumba originated. Rumba in its current, modern form dates back hundreds of years. It has been made famous by musicians like Papa Wemba, Grand Kallé, Wendo, Franklin Boukaka. I'm naming, of course, like famous Congolese musicians. So, you know, it's, I don't know, I love to dance in the idea that Congolese Rumba is finally getting its due respect as something that's really important to the world. But then also, UNESCO added thieboudienne, Senegal's national fish dish to its intangible heritage list in December, so I'm super excited about this upcoming interview where we'll talk about fishermen, because I just cannot imagine Senegal, without fish. And so of course, fishermen are really important. Because, you know, the national dish is thieboudienne, which, you know, if you haven't had it, you know, you don't have to live in Senegal to eat it. It's available in many places around the world, including for those of you who are in the great state of New York, like my dear co host, Rachel Beatty Riedl, I'm sure you can find a wonderful place in the city of New York to get, you know, in fact, more than one place where you can have competing dishes of thieboudienne, it's often a lunchtime dish, that families will eat family style and restaurants all across Senegal. But like I said, you can also get it in New York.


Rachel Beatty Riedl  26:21

Exactly. Kim.  for anyone who's about to dig into some thieboudienne right now, just say, “bissimilah.” So to that is a really exciting development, it really, really important to see and it actually relates so dramatically to many of the things that we've been talking about on the episode today in terms of changes in fishing practices, the relationship of China to Africa, for example, and off coast, fishing trawlers that are really changing the quantity and types of fish that are available off the coast, and migration patterns of multi-species migration patterns, right,  


Kim Yi Dionne 27:00

Not just people. Fish.  


Rachel Betty Riedl 27:03

Exactly, absolutely. And what Bamba’s work will show is right that as you have less and less fish available to fish that drives human migration as well, right, because the fishermen then seek alternative means of survival and turn to, sometimes protest and civil society movements. So, it's so interlinked with everything that we've been talking about the political economy, and the geopolitical environment related to ecosystem change, and multi species survival. So Kim, and I will have a lot to follow in 2022. Some of the things that we're looking forward to sharing with you are an in depth look at the protests in Sudan. What is happening in terms of the political climate.  So we'll bring in a few experts on that. Kim, what are you most looking forward to talking about in 2022?


Kim Yi Dionne  27:58

Well, I definitely want to feature something on my show about Sudan. So I'm glad you brought that up first. And it's exciting. You know, we have a non-resident fellow. So Samah Fawzi actually based in Khartoum, and you know, so in addition to featuring an episode, I think, kind of putting the mass movements and the political violence in Sudan in perspective, I think, featuring other other parts of life, beyond politics that are happening in Sudan, I'm looking forward to what Samah is going to be bringing to the show and our other non resident fellows and what, you know, what life in politics looks at, looks like from their vantage point. So I'm looking forward to that. I'm also you know, I can't stop talking about how excited I am about this episode we're going to have with Yang Yang Zhou, and about her research and her research is really broad. And you know, about migration. And, you know, I'm excited about that. But mostly, I'm excited to talk about football. Because, you know, in 2021, we were supposed to have the African Cup of Nations, right AFCON was scheduled for 2021 but because of the pandemic and gotten pushed back, and so it is supposed to happen in the next couple of months. So I love the way people think about you know, the countries to which they form allegiances, you know, they they, whether they are from there or not, you know who they're going to be rooting for in AFCON. And so I'm excited about Yang Yang's episode, but I'm also excited to talk about AFCON and football and politics and life coming up in 2022.


Rachel Beatty Riedl  29:46

Absolutely, so for all of our listeners, stay well, hang in there and keep on tuning in to Ufahamu Africa.


Kim Yi Dionne  29:56  

Thanks for listening to this week's episode of Ufahamu Africa. You can find more episodes, show notes, and transcripts on our website ufahamuafrica.com. This podcast is produced and managed by Megan DeMint with help from production assistants Jack Kubinec , Chukwufunanya Ikechukwu, and Manuel Tah Pech or non resident podcast fellows are Chido Nyaruwata, Wanjiku Ngugi, Samah Fawzi,  Gretchen Walch and Soinato Leboo . We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and received research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin MacLeod. Until next week, safiri salama.