The official visits to Paris during the first week of July by three African heads of state raised more questions than answers about the Africa policy of François Hollande, the newly-elected French President. On July 2 it was President Alpha Conde of Guinea, on July 5 Ali Bongo, President of Gabon, and on July 6 President Macky Sall of Senegal. Presidents Conde and Sall came to power through elections generally recognized as free and fair, but the 2009 elections that brought Bongo to power, succeeding his late father Omar Bongo, who had served as Gabon’s President for 42 years, were widely thought to have been rigged.
This series of visits came as something of a surprise, François Hollande having promised to put an end to “Françafrique,” the web of political, economic, and military links between France and its former African colonies, links that maintained France’s sphere of influence and allowed it to continue to think of itself as a world power. In the words of former President François Mitterrand, “Without Africa, there will be no history of France in the 21st century.” Françafrique, though it came to have a negative connotation, had already been official French policy since the founding of the Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle. [click to continue…]
The New York Times reported yesterday that one in seven Americans now lives in poverty. There are a lot of “statistics” floating around out there that I have some trouble believing. Can it really be true that one in four American women are victims of sexual assault or that 12 million illegal immigrants commit 2,200 of the roughly 15,000 murders a year in the U.S. (which would make them nearly four times as murderous as the average U.S. resident)? But this is not one of them. This is the Census Bureau, telling us that the poverty rate has risen in each of the past three years as a result of the recession, climbing from 13.2% in 2008 to 14.3% last year, and that the number of people receiving food stamps has jumped from 39 million at the beginning of this year to 41.3 million now. The official Federal poverty level in 2009 was $22,050 in pre-tax income for a family of four, $14,570 for a couple, and $10,830 for a person living alone. [click to continue…]
The Johannesburg Mail & Guardian reports that two weeks of vandalism and violence in the townships show few signs of abating and that President Jacob Zuma appears unable to do much to stop it. Zuma was selected as ANC Party Chairman in late 2007 and won April’s Presidential Election on promises to do more to help the poor in one of the most unequal countries on Earth. Black South Africans still reflexively support the ruling ANC, the party that liberated them, but less enthusiastically than before, after 15 years of crime, and growing inequality. In the current protests people have held up signs saying that life was better under white rule.
In the Mail & Guardian’s words, “In the past week, scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era have returned to the townships — clouds of acrid black smoke rising from burning tyres, police turning on residents with rubber bullets, sirens wailing and — most symbolic — official buildings and vehicles being set on fire.” [click to continue…]
It is rare, though in recent months it has become much more common, for a bit of economic data to make you weep, but here is one that may. In 1993, when I was in Madagascar to review progress on the privatization of state enterprises, I came across a report stating that if the current set of reforms (privatization, trade liberalization, public sector reform) worked as hoped the country by 2010 would get back to the same level of per capita GDP it had in 1970. In the event, that optimistic scenario failed to materialize. According to the World Bank, Madagascar’s per capita GDP in 1970 was $473. In 2007 it was $320. That’s 40 lost years, a period in which two generations have been born and grown to adulthood in a shrinking economy that offers them almost no hope. [click to continue…]