What we’re reading this week: authoritarianism in Tanzania, academic freedom in Malawi, genocide and justice in Namibia, and more

This image and text is from “Genocide in German South-West Africa: The Colonial War of 1904-1908 and Its Aftermath”, by Jurgen Zimmerer, Joachim Zeller and E. J. Neather, Merlin Press, published in 2007. (Public Domain/Wikimedia)

Related to the last episode‘s focus on seeking justice for descendants of the colonial genocide committed by Germans in present-day Namibia, there’s some good reporting in Deutsche Welle on the Namibian government considering suing Germany over reparations to compensate the genocide’s victims.

If our episode was the first time you heard about the genocide in Namibia, you may want to start with reading this piece I co-authored with Naunihal Singh two years ago, when the Pope incorrectly referred to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century (he must have forgot the systematic killings of Herero and Nama peoples at the hands of German colonial rule). It draws from and links to some great work by historians who study the genocide.

Michigan State University political scientist Jeffrey Conroy Krutz also highlights the Deutsches Historiches Museum’s exhibition, “German Colonialism: Fragments Past and Present,” which sheds light on some of the atrocities in colonial Southwest Africa.

To understand the context of the Herero and Nama groups’ demand for reparations, it’s helpful to take a wider look at the larger context of reparations. First: what the Herero and Nama are doing in demanding reparations is not novel nor far-fetched. There is precedent.

Germany has previously rendered reparations in the world wars as well as to Holocaust survivors. The United States and Canada have also paid reparations to communities of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians, as well as some groups of indigenous populations. 

To learn more about the reparations debate as it surrounds the U.S. legacy with slavery, read University of Virginia political theorist Lawrie Balfour‘s 2005 article, “Reparations after identity politics.” It begins: 

On a 1998 trip to Africa, President Bill Clinton almost apologized for the slave trade. “Going back to the time before we were even a nation,” he observed, “European-Americans received the fruits of the slave trade, and we were wrong in that.”

Many communities, specifically African communities, seem to be perpetually on the verge of receiving that elusive apology but never quite. It only took 23 years for the Catholic Church to accept some responsibility for the actions of their members during the Rwandan genocide.

In that same vein, last week Ignacio Villalon and Lina Benabdallah — whom we interviewed for our fourth episode on China in Africa — co-wrote a piece in Africa is a Country: “French elections and France’s colonial war in Algeria: What’s in an apology?” The short piece opens with:

In a recent interview on a private Algerian TV news station, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron called France’s colonial history an act of barbarism and a crime against humanity; if elected head of state, he would issue an official apology to all victims of colonialism.

Villalon and Benabdalla remind us that such admissions of guilt, however simplistic, are long overdue and can  also be polarising, since they are often the first step towards seeking redress.

What else are we reading that we mentioned in the last episode?

  • This piece in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog by Yale University political scientist Constantine Manda (@msisiri) on the authoritarian turn Tanzania’s government is taking. Constantine writes about the scandals surrounding the recent dismissal of Tanzania’s information minister and the detention of a popular rapper, and he shows how these are not singular events, but rather a broader pattern of the concentration of power in Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli. (We’ll be going in depth on these issues and more with Constantine in our upcoming episode — so don’t forget to tune in this Saturday.)
  • There was some unsettling news out of Malawi this morning when Dr. Boniface Dulani, shared that the government served a warrant to search his office. Dr. Dulani is a political scientist and lecturer at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, as well as a leading practitioner in the design and collection of public opinion survey data through his years of work with Afrobarometer. While the warrant issued by the Malawi Revenue Authority accuses his polling firm of evading tax payments, it is hard to de-link this search from the recent dissemination of findings by Dr. Dulani of the president’s declining popularity among Malawians.

Finally, here are a couple of things we came across but didn’t have a chance to share in this week’s episode:

  • Check out these drawings by Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley — you’ll think they’re photographs.
  • See also this profile of Lydia Polgreen, who was previously a New York Times reporter based in Africa and now kicks ass for another outlet, like a boss — literally… she’s the boss.

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