Posts Tagged ‘African history’

Freeeeeee Nelson Mandela

12 February 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I woke up this morning with a song in my head. ‘Freeeeeeee Nelson Mandela. Free. Free. Freeeeee Nelson Mandela.’ Twenty years and one day since the ANC leader left prison? Now there’s an anniversary worth celebrating. Too often in recent times we in the West have been quick to criticise the rainbow nation. Has violent crime damaged the reputation of a diverse and massive country, confusing Cape Town with Durban or Johannesburg in the minds of Westerners? Yes. Will the World Cup be ruined by the noise of the vuvuzela? No. Did Thabo Mbeki talk a lot of nonsense about HIV/AIDS? Undoubtedly. Has the polygamous Jacob Zuma sent out a stereotypical message about African men? Probably. Could both have done more to halt Robert Mugabe’s destruction of neighbouring Zimbabwe? Yes. Has the concentration of economic power in the hands of a small group of businessmen caused difficulties for the country’s continued growth? Possibly. Is positive discrimination hindering economic and social development? Maybe. Was it better under apartheid? Eh, no.

There have been thousands of column inches, a film, and much hot air expended on the Mandela anniversary, but there’s one interview that stands out as the most interesting thing I’ve read, seen or heard in the last two weeks. On 22 January the Financial Times published a chat over lunch with FW de Klerk, the man who as South African President made the decisions to lift the ban on the ANC, release Mandela from prison and begin the process that led to majority rule after the first free elections in South Africa four years later. By then de Klerk had won a Nobel Peace Prize (1993) for his initiatives. But did he, in 2010, believe that apartheid was wrong? Read More

It began in Africa: a brief history of NGOs, the media and emergency aid

21 January 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

To most of us in the developed world, disaster, emergency relief and development aid are integral to our understanding of the global South. Mention Africa and we think of Ethiopia, Live Aid, Bob Geldof and a tactless Wembley stadium belting out ‘We are the champions of the world’. We remember Somalia, Rwanda, bulging Trócaire boxes, Concern fasts in the parish community centre, Oxfam shops, missionary collections, the Far East and the GOAL Christmas Day run. In the evening we put up with ads for World Vision and a gentle voice imploring you to ‘sponsor’ a child named Ndugu disturbing the break between instalments of football, Friends and Sex and the City.

Timeless though it seems, this system is a relatively new construct. It began just over forty years ago in West Africa, on 12 June 1968, when ITV broadcast a series of heart-breaking scenes from civil war-torn eastern Nigeria, renamed Biafra by the secessionists. Among the over-crowded masses of refugees it showed starving children close to death, lying on rickety hospital beds, with little or no access to food and medicine. To today’s viewer the images are sadly familiar; but in the history of aid and emergency relief, Biafra and the massive media coverage it spawned mark an important turning point. Read More

Top Five: African history

7 January 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

With a nod to Nick Hornby, John Cusack and High Fidelity, this post is the first in an occasional series of introductions to lesser-explored corners of history.

Martin Meredith, The state of Africa: a history of fifty years of independence (London: The Free Press, 2005)
Never far from the eye in the history section of your local Waterstones, Meredith’s book has become the book of choice for the uninitiated. And for good reason; The state of Africa is a brilliantly written, accessible introduction to the history of the continent from a knowledgeable and vastly experienced author. For those of you looking for some extra detail, try Paul Nugent’s Africa since independence: a comparative history (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Richard Dowden, Africa: altered states, ordinary miracles (London: Portobello, 2008)
Like Meredith, Dowden draws extensively on his first-hand experience of Africa, from his time as a teacher in Uganda in the early 1970s to his work with the Independent, Times, Economist and latterly as director of the Royal African Society. The result is an expertly nuanced mix of personal experience, history and investigative journalism bound together in a subtle narrative of a continent of many contradictions – its war, corruption and poverty, but also its abundant generosity, hospitability and ingenuity. Read More