Ep. 94: A conversation with our co-hosts, Rachel Beatty Riedl and Kim Yi Dionne

We’re back with season 5 of the Ufahamu Africa podcast! In this teaser episode, Kim and Rachel share what they’ve been reading, the conversations and guests they are looking forward to, and announce that the podcast has received funding from the Carnegie Corporation.

Tune in every Saturday for new episodes that will continue to prioritize African perspectives as we learn about life and politics on the continent.

Listen to the episode below!

Books from the Episode

From Pews to Politics: Religious Sermons and Political Participation in Africa by Rachel Beatty Riedl and Gwyneth H. McClendon

Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa by Jeffrey W. Paller

Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition: Class and Ethnicity in Ghana by Noah L. Nathan

The Political Life of an Epidemic: Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Zimbabwe by Simukai Chigudu

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes by Anne Meng

Exiles of Eden by Ladan Osman

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Queering Colonial Natal: Indigeneity and the Violence of Belonging in Southern Africa by T.J. Tallie

The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution by Dan Hicks

States of Justice: The Politics of the International Criminal Court by Oumar Ba

Other Links and Articles

Poetry as Prayer by Mona Hakimi and Takondwa Semphere, found on Instagram @meshraghihakimi and @takon_dwa

“How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Fueling Ethnic Hatred,” by Jessica Gottlieb and Adrienne LeBas

“Why Race Matters in International Relations,” by Kelebogile Zvobgo and Meredith Loken

African Centre for the Study of the United States

Xenophobic Violence against Non-Nationals in South Africa by Human Rights Watch

COVID-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia Worldwide by Human Rights Watch

Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 91: A conversation with Peace Medie about gender and conflict in Africa, writing research and fiction, and more

Ep. 5: A conversation with Dr. T.J. Tallie to kick off Black History Month


Kim: Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the African continent. Welcome to season five. A lot has happened on the continent since our last episode and with our podcast and we’re glad you’re tuning in to catch up with us. I am Kim Yi Dionne, one of your hosts and I am joined by my co-host Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel!

Rachel: Hi Kim! First, I wanted to give a warm welcome and re-welcome to all of our listeners and any first-time listeners. We are so excited to be back with you for our new season and Kim and I have a lot of exciting plans that we want to share with you today. And second, we want to share our best wishes with each and every one of you in this time of global challenge. We are wishing you health and well-being and much peace. Now for some updates, Kim do you want to start us off with some news of our exciting new collaboration and support?

Kim: Yes, I am really excited to report to our listeners that the Ufahamu Africa podcast has received generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and we’re going to be using that support to bring you a better sounding podcast and to bring the podcast to more listeners and to bring more voices onto the podcast. As long-time listeners know we have really tried to prioritize voices from the continent and we’re going to make even more concerted efforts to do that in this season, season five and in the future.

Rachel: That’s right Kim, we’re so excited about that and we thank Carnegie for their support, and we look forward to what it means for all of our listeners.

Kim: And with their support we’re excited to bring on some new team members. Megan DeMint, who’s our new producer for the show who has experience in podcasting is helping us a lot with our sound and our strategies to get out to a wider audience. Fulya Felicity Turkmen, who is a PhD student at UC Riverside has joined the team as well who’s going to be working with us on research and production. And Aliou Kamau Gambrel, who’s a junior at Cornell, studying intra-African displacement, migration, and foreign aid. He is also going to be joining the team as well.

Rachel: Exactly, we are so excited for this team and all of the wonderful content that we are going to bring to you and so to that end, I also wanted to give major congratulations to Kim and her co-collaborator at The Monkey Cage, Laura Seay, for the awesome bonus content that they’ve produced over the summer with The monkey Cage at the Washington Post, which they have brilliantly entitled the African politics summer reading spectacular. And I just want to point listeners to our website or to listen to the podcast
summer production series in these bonus recordings for three great episodes. The first is on what Africa’s urbanization means for politics, in which Kim reads a review of two recent books with insights on how increasing urbanization in Africa changes or doesn’t change politics and power. So, these two books are Noah Nathan’s great book, Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition: Class and Ethnicity in Ghana and Jeffrey Parler’s new book, Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa. You can listen to our earlier conversation with Jeffrey on that and much more. The second bonus episode of the African politics summer reading spectacular is on Emmanuel Balogun’s review of The Political Life of an Epidemic.

Kim: Right Rachel, in that recording I read the review by Emmanuel of Simukai Chigudu’s book, The Political Life of an Epidemic which chronicles the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe and I’ve been on a panel with Simukai Chigudu, talking about the COVID-19 crisis and I’ve just learned so much from that book. And I’m really grateful to Emanuel for that review.

Rachel: Fantastic, yeah, so I look forward to listening to that one as well. And the third one, I’m a little bit partial to and I have to say, a big shout out to Laura Seay, who reviewed our book, my book with Gwyneth Mcclendon, From Pews to Politics, which came out in late 2019. So, you can definitely take a listen to that as well and there are others that were in the African politics summer reading spectacular that we just haven’t gotten around to recording these other reviews of great books that came out.

Kim: And as I’m sure many other folks out there in the world know that the pandemic has made it a little bit of a challenge for all of us to keep on top of our tasks but the good news is we are going to publish those and perhaps share them when we have other breaks in our programming, when we take breaks throughout this season five. Talking about books, I really want to give a shout of congratulations to Peace Medie, whose book His Only Wife, which we featured in our Conversation with Peace in Episode 91, it’s gotten a lot of great press. It’s been on a New York Times book review list, it’s been on, you know Times’ Most Exciting Books for the Fall. I think People magazine just recently also put it on a list of books to check out and we’re so excited for Peace and her debut novel and we want to encourage our listeners to listen to Episode 91 to hear her talk about writing that as compared to the writing that she’s done for her research as well. We have some exciting episodes planned as well for season five. For example, Omar Ba, who I met with at the African Studies Association meeting last year. We have a conversation with him about his new book that just came out this summer. We have interviews planned with, Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué whose book is part of the African politics summer reading series, as well as Lina Benabdallah, whose book has come out this summer. Then of course, Robbie Corey-Boulet who’s written a book on LGBTQ lives and activism on the continent. Perhaps the one episode I’m most looking forward to in this season five is a conversation I’ll be having with Mona Hakimi and Takondwa about a project that they started following the transition of power in Malawi and the project that they’ve started is called Poetry as Prayer and it’s a great one hour Instagram reading of poetry and discussion of some of the poems that they’ve been reading. It’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to talking to the two of them.

Rachel: Thanks Kim, I can’t wait for this season as well and all of the great conversations we’ll be having that are coming down the pipeline and I just want to highlight two that I’m really looking forward to as well. One is to be interviewing Anne Meng, on her awesome new book, Constraining Dictatorship, just out from Cambridge University Press and also, we’ll soon have a translated episode, another kind of dual language episode both in French and English with Alhousseini Diabate, who is a faculty member in Law at the University of Bamako and he’ll be talking to us about food security and agro sufficiency, which is absolutely critical in this time of COVID-19, when transport of food and cross-border trade have been constrained or disrupted, and thinking about the juridical, as well as the kind of physical ability to have food self-sufficiency. We also wanted to give a shout out to all of our listeners! If you have ideas of people, you’d like to hear us talk to give us a tag on Twitter or comment on our website. Also, please rate our podcast.

Kim: Yes, and there’s so much that’s been coming out right now, new books, other publications or new art exhibitions… Tell us about them! Myself, you know it’s actually been quite hard to read during quarantine. I don’t know, it’s not even just a matter of not having the time I think that you know I certainly have the time. I’m obviously getting reading done for work but I’ve struggled a little bit just to keep my attention and so it’s been a little bit of a challenge to read books that aren’t books for work. And I don’t want to read articles online because I’m
already in front of a screen all day. So, I decided I was actually going to try and read shorter format writing. So, what that’s meant is that right now I’m actually reading Ladan Osman’s book of poetry Exiles of Eden and I don’t know if any listeners out there have also had struggles with really kind of getting through some reading. Or maybe I’m just really into poetry right now I’m not sure but I highly encourage Ladan Osman’s latest book and I’m looking forward to a film that is coming out that she played an important role in as well. So, I’m grateful for her poetry and for the others who are writing great works out there that we’re all able to enjoy.

Kim: What about you Rachel, have you been reading anything during quarantine that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Rachel: Absolutely! I have just finished the novel, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which is also available on audible for those who are done with the screen like Kim. I think it’s really a book for our times. The connections between mobility and dispossession, identity and connection which traverses the Atlantic and back again. It’s heavy and it’s poignant and it brought me to Ghana in mind and spirit, even when we can’t travel physically right now. So, it brought me there, but it brought me there with a different perspective and a different understanding and that’s exactly what great literature should do. So, I really recommend that one.

Kim: Yeah, that’s fantastic I first talked about that book actually in an interview with T.J Tallie, who we interviewed in season one and I hope we’ll be bringing back in season five to talk to him about his new book, Queering Colonial Natal, and I agree with you there are a lot of really deep and exciting themes in that book and it’s certainly deserving of folks’ time.

Kim: So, let’s go ahead and take a turn to the news. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover on news on the continent. We want to highlight some of the major things that we have no doubt will be returning to in future weeks. Now, there’s news of Alessane in Cote d’ivoire, clearing the way for himself to have a third term in the presidency. Rachel is that right?

Rachel: Absolutely, Kim and obviously a lot of contestation over this third term because he had originally said he would not seek another turn um then when his kind of chosen successor passed away, then indeed that statement changed. Now, the court has cleared the way, saying that it will be legal, and protests have turned violent in several cities really as, many fear a repeat of the conflict that the country saw related to bid for presidential power that claimed over 3000 lives nearly 10 years ago. So, this is very worrisome and yet something that we’re going to be keeping close track of as the presidential election looms near on October 31st.

Kim: Right, we’ve got a lot of presidential elections to be watching in 2020, right? Not just the election you mentioned in Cote d’ivoire, but earlier when you were just talking about Homegoing it was also reminding me there’s an election in Ghana this year. We will also be bringing guests onto the show to talk about and to think about one show idea that we have as well for this season is getting an African perspective on the American election. So, for those election watchers on the continent, what are they thinking about the upcoming American election and especially as Rachel is talking about this event unfolding in Cote d’ivoire, it makes us think about the kind of global experience with democracy and to what extent we’re seeing shifts in power by or I should say actions taken by those who are seated in power and what those actions mean for the state of democracy in the world. While you know right now we’re talking about Cote d’ivoire, I’m also thinking very deeply about the country that I live in, even though it is not on the continent and I’d be really curious to hear what especially African political scientists are thinking about, for example the US election and the deficits in democracy that we’re experiencing. Some of us are, for the first time in our own lives…

Rachel: Absolutely, absolutely and I remember you know I recently saw something that Brandon Kendhammer reposted on Twitter about his experience in elections in 2000, with the contested election and coming down to the question of which votes were counted between President Bush and Al Gore and the role of the courts in determining which votes are counted, the role of the Florida governor who happened to be the presidential election contender’s brother, and all of the relationships that looked very familiar to observers where he happened to be based at the time. Also I think we could have someone from, I just became aware of the African Center for the Study of the United States based in Witts University and so it’d be really interesting as well to connect with some scholars there as we head into our own election in the United States as well.

Kim: For sure. I think that, not to center everything on the United States of course, but I do think that given the weight that the US has played in international relations over the last you know half century; I would be really curious to see you know what political scientists around the world are thinking about these U.S elections. And in particular, I think you know of course I am probably not impartial in thinking that African Studies has a lot to teach those of us in the United States but I am really curious about how we can think about what is transpiring in the United States or for our listeners who are in the UK or elsewhere in the Global North, how we might re-examine our own politics in our countries, informed by experiences in African countries.

Rachel: That’s exactly right Kim and I love the cross-regional dialogue and comparative perspective that we all bring, and I think that’s so essential to be able to continue those conversations. It also reminds me of an article that I just saw, and we’ll post a link to in our bonus materials in Foreign Policy this week, which is entitled, Why Race Matters in International Relations and the subtitle is Western dominance and white privilege permeate the field, it’s time to change that. So I just want to call out those authors Kelebogile Zvobgo and Meredith Loken and highlight their piece and thinking about the way in which the racial system of inequality at a global level has transpired both in terms of organizing world politics and in influencing how we think certainly about development. No doubt as well as things like conflict, the war on terror, who gets labeled as a terrorist versus a freedom fighter, and all of the elements shaping policy at the international level. So, that to think about cross regional perspectives and to really change the way in which we approach fields… I think it’s a piece doing good work in that space.

Kim: I agree a hundred percent! I actually heard Kelly this week on a panel talking you know referencing this essay that she wrote earlier in the summer. But she was on the panel with Omar Ba and it was being the whole conversation was hosted by the New School and so it was being moderated by Sean Jacobs. It was really exciting. I think this is a really important moment for international relations and for political science and really the academy more broadly to think about representation in the academy. And how you know in the previous version of the university where only certain groups are you know have access and whether that’s access you know to learning in the university spaces or access to teaching in these spaces is really influenced by how we think about the world, right? If we think about universities and colleges, it is shaping the way leaders think about the world and about how you know whether those leaders are political leaders or go on to be leaders in other fields. It’s really important to think about representation on faculties and when you know the existing paradigms in international relations you know giving short shrift to studying for example critical IR or seeing IR through the lens of race and racism and I think that the kind of work that Kelly, Omar, and others are doing on this front is really important. I think you know many of us who are in the academy saw for example this summer a series of a hashtag on Twitter that led us to a series of tweets, black and the ivory, and what it’s meant for our black colleagues, you know, navigating these spaces that were not designed with them in mind.

Kim: I hope you know, again, one of the one of the goals that we have for Ufahamu Africa, and this season, and going into the future is to be more mindful about representation and who we’re inviting to be
guests on our show and how that reflects our own values and beliefs about who is an expert and what does it mean to be an expert and who has something meaningful and interesting and exciting to share with our listeners.

Rachel: That’s exactly right Kim and that’s precisely why I love hosting this podcast with you so much because we have this front row seat to hear from experts from all across the continent and you know we get to continue to do that work and expand audiences in doing so on a related front… In another domain, in which I think this question about identity and exclusion is there’s a really strong cross-regional parallel between some events and phenomenon occurring in South Africa and the United States relates to the degree to which migrants or those who are perceived to be outsiders are being scapegoated, in particular during this period of COVID-19. So, the way in which xenophobia is on the rise, ways of thinking about nationalism and exclusionary categories are on the rise. A new report out by Human Rights Watch found that in South Africa, the turn against migrants is particularly acute in this moment of increased pressure on government provision of public services and the need to provide essential services. The way in which that is pushing for particular parts of the society to call for migrants to be deported and for the government to take action. In that sense and then dealing with the economic fallout of COVID-19 has then kind of increased this kind of xenophobic reaction and we really see that I think it’s a global phenomenon. It’s one that requires this kind of critical gaze and it requires us to re-examine how we see the human condition and kind of well-being at a very basic level. And so, I think that’s another area in which obviously we’ll continue to bring in experts to talk about.

Kim: I agree a hundred percent Rachel. I actually haven’t told you this, I don’t think but I am writing a piece on this issue in particular together with Felicity Turkmen, who is one of our new research and production fellows for the show. We have an essay that is still in in process, but it will be published in International Organization journal. For folks, who don’t know, it’s a journal in political science and in IR and we actually take a critical IR frame for understanding of the othering and blame that’s happening during the pandemic. We don’t look only at Africa, and we don’t look only at the COVID-19 pandemic. We actually take a long historical view of, you know, over the past century what has happened during pandemics. But the scapegoating of marginalized groups and in particular, you know migrants, we’re certainly seeing that in the COVID-19 pandemic. But I think one thing that I want to highlight about what you said is that it’s not just the othering and blame associated with disease but in this case, because COVID-19 has affected economies so deeply, that the kind of backlash that you’re seeing among populations is furthering the othering and blame that would typically happen unfortunately in pandemic outbreaks. In fact, I want to bring our listeners’ attention to a recent piece co-authored by Jessica Gottlieb and Adrienne LeBas that was in The Monkey Cage a little more than a week ago now where they actually highlighted some research that they had done in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos, being one of these major mega cities where you have lots of different kind of people from different parts of Nigeria, living in Lagos and also, people from abroad. But you know where people from the majority ethnic group in Lagos right, Yorubas. When they are more deeply affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns or you know other kind of measures to try to prevent infection, they have more xenophobic attitudes toward non-Yorubas in Lagos. So, we’re seeing kind of even at this micro level like we’re seeing these patterns that we know to have existed throughout history and across space and time but empirically registering that I think is really important to bring attention to the negative consequences of not just the pandemic but of the existing racial and ethnic inequalities and marginalizations that exist even when the pandemic is not occurring.

Rachel: Absolutely Kim and I think I can’t wait to see that article. I think these are, you know, ongoing conversations that we can bring in terms of getting different perspectives across the continent as well and how the contours of this dynamic are shared and generalizable and yet how place-based dynamics differ in terms of the way in which those elements are experienced. So, I really look forward to continuing that conversation and bringing in this critical lens.

Kim: Moving in a totally different direction, but continuing a conversation that you and I regularly have,
Rachel, about the Benin bronzes and about you know looted art generally from the continent. There was this really fantastic review of a book that I read in the LA Review of books. So, the book is titled the Brutish Museums. So, it’s a play on the British museums. It’s funny because I at first -when you know when you read things online sometimes you just go through them very quickly- I thought the title of the book was the British Museums but no, it’s titled the Brutish Museums. It’s a great introductory kind of explainer for anyone who is unfamiliar with the history of the Benin bronzes and how the events that led to their theft and removal from what is today Nigeria to museums and private collections all around the world, including of course the most famous, the British Museum. So, anyone who’s seen Black Panther and recalls that scene where Killmonger is in the museum and he talks about you know various artworks and one that he’s going to take back… Yeah, so I highly recommend this review of the book and I look forward to us finally this season having someone on the show to talk about what it means for art and artifacts that were taken to be then on display elsewhere and I look forward to reading this book, the Brutish Museums.

Rachel: Absolutely and I think we can have you know a really broad conversation in that light on reparations and thinking about the role of race and dispossession more generally in the historical legacies and their contemporary manifestations. So, we will definitely be having that in season five.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa! To find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, Soundcloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistants Fulya Felicity Turkmen and Aliou Kamau Gambrel. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcloed. Until next week, safari salama!

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