Can Tech Repair the World?

The blog “Africa is a Country” ran an essay last fall about (white) Bay Area residents and their/our often-tech-related efforts and desire to “save Africa”. As you might well expect, the article dwells on the idea that they/we are repeating the same old patronizing, silencing, colonizing rhetoric and practices of previous generations. While I don’t see anything particularly new in the essay, I think it’s worth reading because it keeps in front of us the idea of technology’s limits for solving social ills, as well as the hubris of some of Tech’s loudest boosters. Here’s the article: UPDATE: Silicon Valley and its Awkward Relationship with “Africa”, by Chad McClymonds.

Kenya Votes, Partial Returns

Still no news in the Kenyan election, and there are technical breakdowns that have slowed vote counting. The major news organizations are reporting that there is likely to be a run-off between Kenyatta and Odinga. I am watching tallies by the Electoral Commission. Click on the top image in the sidebar to see what’s happening, or click here.

I’m wondering how reflective of the whole country the voting patterns in Nairobi are. If they are representative, then it suggests that funny business is occurring. But in reality I don’t know, and there are still a lot of votes left to count.

Map of the Sahel

This map is very disorienting. I’ve been looking at it, on and off, for the last 9 months, and it’s all the more relevant since the French military intervened in Mali and terrorists attacked a gas plant in Algeria last week.

It takes a while to focus on the map without mentally zooming in on the political boundaries, but give it a shot.

Look at the arrows indicating resource routes. Look at where the oil and gas lie. Think about the unstable regions and see how they all hug or lie within the Sahara: Algerian gas fields, Northern Mali, Northern Nigeria (land of Boko Haram), Darfur, South Sudan…not to mention the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

Now think a little bigger: refugee boats trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, xenophobic riots in Greece, Libyan weapons in Gaza and Mali, etc.

No one is yet equipped to respond to these challenges. Scholars like Jeffrey Herbst and Igor Kopytoff have identified the central challenge to political order in Africa as “the projection of power over distance.” Western countries are coming up squarely against this problem, too, and this time we feel our citizens’ lives – and our countries’ energy security—are at stake.


DRC Photo Essay

In addition to Jeffrey Gettleman’s article in the New York Times today, there is also a remarkable photo essay of photographs by Richard Mosse of the ongoing war (anarchy) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was shot on infrared film, lending an eery, surreal cast to the images of war and fertile landscape and thereby drawing the viewer to take another look at images that might otherwise look like many that came before them.RichardMosseInfra

Multi-media pieces about Kenya

One of Kenya’s great authors, Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote a piece on BBC Africa suggesting that Raila Odinga and his party, ODM, have organized the violence against Kikuyus. This echoes comments made by Kibaki’s party. Ngugi, although a Kikuyu, is no stooge of Kibaki’s, lending his claim more credence.

It’s a tough day for the far left when I agree with one of their positions. But this spoken essay by Mumia Abu Jamal on Free Speech Radio — he’s an intellectual and a controversially convicted cop killer — does a nice job of explaining the idea that violence by one ethnic group against another (he calls this “tribalism” or “negative ethnicity”) is instigated by political elites for their own private purposes. [BH — care to respond?]

A BBC video from a Nairobi slum explains why some relatively young Nairobians say they are fighting: so that the United States and Britain will put pressure on Kibaki to undo the election. Their words are strikingly eloquent, but still dripping with violence. The main speaker offers a second explanation as well, namely, “We kill Kikuyus so that Kibaki [who is Kikuyu] will pay attention.” I wonder if this is really true: do people committing violence calculate their actions in order grab attention, or do they act in anger and vengefulness?