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a black mass

February 26, 2013

a black mass


Nkrumah sure can dance

October 20, 2009

Thursday night turned out to be an ecstatic reverie of the Pan-African dream.  

The weekend began in a rented but sultry venue in the Swiss club that looked more like a frat house than a bastion of cultural diplomacy. Black bodies dominated the space like none other in Cairo, writhing, stamping and pulsing with the groove. From the music, a mix of Hip Hop, Reggea, Afrobeat, R and B, and Coupé Decalé, this could have have been anywhere from Abidjan to Atlanta, London to Lagos, Paris to Port-au-Prince. But it was in the deeply complex and layered Middle Eastern and African metropolis of Cairo.

After just minutes of pleasurably absorbing the scene, it dawned on me that the man who was sweating it out next to me in fervent stomps and swinging arms was none other than Gamal Nkrumah, son of the father of African Independence and the first Black African president Kwame Nkrumah. 

It’s funny because this guy is all about why I am here in Egypt. I even mention him in my proposal for this grant. The father of political Pan-Africanism marries an Egyptian woman and begets these Afrabians. Gamal, has spent much of his life in Egypt but got a Phd from School of Oriental and African Studies in London and writes on international politics for Al-Ahram Weekly. It’s appropriate that my introduction to the international black community of Cairo be shepherded in by him. 

The night’s mix was quite the patchwork. Students and diplomats from all over the Continent. Sudenese refugees and black brit rude boys. 

After my own sweaty get-down, I went to catch a breath of not-so-fresh-air on the patio. There, I met Malik, a Guinean student of economics. For him, Egypt represents embodies the jumping-off point for “not a bad amount of things.” And he felt blessed to be in the land of the Pharaohs and the land of many a great islamic scholar, even if an arab or two might express a racist sentiment. More than anything though, he was filled with a sense that he was making his way to the front lines in the charge of the Global South. His work in the Arab world would help him and his continent in the Rise of the Rest.

Cairo: Gateway to Africa

September 28, 2009

In the World Cup’s (the actual trophy) journey to South Africa, the first stop after leaving FIFA headquarters in Zurich is Cairo, Egypt. Subsequently, the trophy will travel around all of the continent’s capitols, reaffirming what many have said that next year’s tournament is not just South Africa’s World Cup, but the whole continent’s. However, that doesn’t include Somalia on the Horn of Africa. That is, because, well, it’s Somalia. And the Coca-Cola sponsored Fifa outfit would not want to go there unless “peace breaks out” according to CNN newsman Ben Wedeman. This is interesting because we all know that Coke is fearless when it comes to Africa. In fact, Coke just may be the strongest authority in Mogadishu. (It is after all probably the largest employer on the continent)

That the Cup’s first stop on African soil is in Egypt offers a potent piece of symbolism. Egypt is, in many ways, the world’s gateway into Africa. Thas has been the case historically and continues to be so today.

more ways England has a lingering impact on geography

September 22, 2009

We all know how Great Britain and France created decades-old conflict in Africa by drawing imaginary lines in Berlin. But, there are even more nuanced ways colonizers have had a lasting effect on the Continent. It is often said that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. But est we forget, the Nile is a gift of East Africa. The problem is that in times of drought, when it is most important, Egypt has leverage against countries upstream: leverage given by England and maintained by market principles.

See the Newsweek Wealth of Nations blog

By Mohammed J. Herzallah

east africa is in the midst of a devastating drought–in Ethiopia, the dry spell has left close to 14 million people dependent on food aid. When assigning blame, aid workers and politicians finger the usual suspects: lack of rain, climate change, and an underdeveloped agricultural sector. But they’re forgetting one: Egypt. Thanks to a 1929 agreement between ­Britain–­acting on behalf of its East African ­colonies–and a newly independent Egypt, Cairo holds the rights to two thirds of the Nile’s water, as well as veto power over upstream projects. The disparity is stark: Ethiopia is the source of 60 to 80 percent of the Nile’s flow, but uses less than 1 percent of it because Egypt says no to large-scale irrigation projects. And though Ethiopians might be tempted to circumvent the anachronistic arrangement, they can’t. Egyptian officials work “behind closed doors” to block funding for upstream projects, according to David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia. The Nile states want to re-negotiate the ancient treaty, but Egyptian officials have stalled for years. And there’s no sign they’ll slake their neighbors’ thirst any time soon.

the future of criticism

September 21, 2009
Scores of text sits throughout West Africa, uncatalouged, unanalyzed, unacknowledged

Scores of text sits throughout West Africa, uncatalouged, unanalyzed, unacknowledged

I had a few beers this evening with an Anthropologist at the American University in Cairo. He, like me, has spent some timein Senegal, specifically in Kaolack, the holy city of the followers of Ibrahima Niasse. Joe wrote his dissertation on Niasse and the Islamic movement that he started in that Sahelian town. We both know the intrepid Dr. Viola Vaughn and her dynamic work with NGO 10,000 girls that recently warranted her attentiona as a CNN hero.

Our conversation did something very important. Since being hear, I have started to forget the very deep foundations of the reason why I am hear, to uncover the intellectual heritage of sub-saharan Africa through the Arabic language. Joe has written extensively on the topic, so I did not have to explain anything to him. But with other people, I have to explain so much that I started to question if I was in the right place. But he helped me remember that I was.

More importantly, our conversation exposed a fruitful area of inquiry that I could develop a lifetime of scholarship too. There is an absolute abundance of African literature in Arabic and African languages in of Arabic script. There are also countless distinct communication modes distinctive to the West African situation. Namely, the prevalence of the paradox. This is a troupe that I would suggest without a significant of research is akin to Henry Louis Gate’s and Houston Baker’s construction of “Signifyin.‘” But even if it isn’t, an investigation into that and other discourses in this literature could be as groundbreaking as the Signifyin’ Monkey.

And as the Sanskrit-reading philosopher in our company, this area Afro-Arab literature is the future of comparative literature. South Asia has had its turn, so has Latin America and the Arab world proper. This area is wide open and I could easily make a career out of it.

This area of writing is what originally capitvated my imagination as an underclassman history major. I was using primary source documents that were always orginally written in Arabic, often by black writers. The intellectual centers of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai towered in my imagination as the source of a validation of African and by extension my humanity. The volumes of writing that to this day that sit in the semi-desert of Mali and Niger was why I had to go to francophone West Africa. Now, I’m finally getting back to it.

Sankore, an institution of higher learning of the middle ages

Sankore, an institution of higher learning of the middle ages

Africa’s new cold war

September 20, 2009

The competing spheres of influence that incited rampant conflict on the African continent in the post-independence era are reforming in a new political and security situation akin to that of the Cold War but with an entirely different set of ideological battles.

Israeli prime minister Avigdor Liberman recently made a high profile tour of strategic African countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana with the hopes to expand Israel’s sphere of influence by promising trade and technical aid. But then anything the diplomatic tour could be read as a shopping trip for Israeli businesses and military interest that also paves the way for improving Israel’s image.

In many ways, Israel’s actions is a reclaiming of former policies of the 60’s and 70’s when Israel reached out to recently independent African nations early and often. Israel led many projects, gave significant aid, and educated African students. Cheikh Anta Diop, one of the great deans of African academics received support for his pioneering work. These policies largely originated with Prime Minister Golda Meir, Israel’s Iron Lady. She seemed to have a genuine desire to help Africa. She wrote: “Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves.” Israel, like Africa could, “had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered.”

But as is the case today, realpolitik necessitated building relationships in Africa in Israel’s early days.  Without the affirmed and tested support of the US, Israel needed as many votes in international forums such as the United Nations as possible to face the Arab challenge.

However, the contest today is much more like Russia and America’s contest. But now it is between Isreal and the Arab/Persian block. Iran’s global aspirations have been gaining momentum particularly in Africa. Iran has close ties to Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and other African countries. “The Islamic Republic of Iran sees no limits for the expansion of ties with African countries,” Iranian president Ahmadinejad said in 2008 according to reporter Alex Bilda’s blog. “Iran has always sought to boost ties with African countries in all arenas,” Ahmadinejad added.

Even American friendly Senegal has been dealing a lot with the “axis-of-evil” country. From the Middle East Forum’s report on the expansion of Iranian influence:

President Abdoulaye Wade has traveled twice to Tehran to meet with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, first in 2006 and again in 2008.[45] During his most recent visit, he provided a backdrop for Khamenei to declare that developing unity between Islamic countries like Senegal and Iran can weaken “the great powers” like the United States.[46] It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a rhetorical flourish: on January 27, 2008, a week after Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio announced that he, too, would visit Tehran, Minister of Armed Forces Becaye Diop met with his Iranian counterpart to discuss expanding bilateral defense ties between the two states.[47]Senior Iranian officials have returned the visits. On July 22, 2007, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi and government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham–among the closest confidantes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, respectively–departed for Dakar, where they met Wade and Senegalese prime minister Cheikh Hadjibou Soumaré. Shahroudi declared, “We believe it is our duty to expand ties with Islamic countries and use the capabilities and potentials [sic] of Muslim states to help the growth and spread of Islam.”[48] On March 12, 2008, Ahmadinejad left for a visit to the West African state.[49]

It was during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Senegal during the Summit Organization of Islamic Countries that I first noticed this game that the Muslim/Arab/Persian  world was playing in Africa. They had devoted a lot of resources to Senegal and made alot of concrete industrial and infrustructural improvements. Accordingly, Ahmadinejad was treated like a rock star, and I snapped this photo of him:

Ahmadinejad gets a rock star reception in Senegal, March 2008

Ahmadinejad gets a rock star reception in Senegal, March 2008

This is exactly what Israel wants to challenge with its latest foray into Africa. But it is not going without notice in the Arab world. In fact, its created a sense of heightened engagement. See the op-ed in the Egyptian Al-Ahram.

Israel’s ultra-right foreign minister believes he can sneak into the backyard of the Arab and Islamic world in order to deprive it of strategic depth. It is therefore essential that we expose the true nature of Israeli economic and military plans in Africa and expose their motives. The fact that Israel is physically present in occupied Palestine does not mean that the Zionist peril threatens Palestine and the Palestinians alone.

Let’s just hope the conflicting interests of the Arab/Israeli clash don’t prove as devastating as the clash between ideology.

Shooting Africans is a sound security policy, Egypt says

September 16, 2009
Ethiopian Jew gets the business from Isreali security forces

Ethiopian Jew gets the business from Isreali security forces

In a so-called “flat” world where the free movement of peoples, capital, and goods have been the raison d’etre of market economies and democratic societies, where mobility and migration is bedrock of globalization, it is absurd to hear that you could be shot for crossing a border. But then again, maybe that makes sense if the person crossing is an African or that the place they are crossing into might not have enough milk and honey. Then, the starving dark people staggering through the desert with few posessions cause a security risk. Then, it is perfectly fine to shoot and kill 14 Africans since may who, pursuant to international law, were seeking refuge and asylum.

“Dealing with these migrants is for Egyptian national security and the safety of its forces and Egypt’s international commitment to fight smuggling,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement according to Bloomberg. (Also see here.)

Because of course, most of the smugglers are Sudanese, Ertiteans, and Somalians who jump through barbed wire above ground and not the Palestinians who use complex underground tunnels.

Joe Stark of the Human Rights Watch puts it pretty well in that same Bloomberg story: “Egypt has every right to manage its borders, but using routine lethal force against unarmed migrants — and potential asylum-seekers — would be a serious violation of the right to life.”

Israel is an attractive option to live for a migrant fleeing political or economic persecution but the country has invalidated economic woe as justification for migrancy and have seince deported thousands of Africans and put pressure on Egypt to “to halt the flow of migrants,” presumably one bullet at a time. (

Despite this, Israel is ramping up once dormant activity on the Continent. with Isreali Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman week-long tour through a few countries which ended with, among other things, an accord with ECOWAS.

I will concede, however, that the security complaint might have a shred of something (I can’t call it truth). The Sinai is a volatile region and Islamist and Bedouin groups do use it as a refuge. It’s kind of like the Wild Wild Orient.