Dr. De Cock Praises The Cut


Who would have guessed that the good Dr. Kevin M. De Cock, director of H.I.V./AIDS for the World Health Organization, would have been so presciently named? A study in Kenya and Uganda by the National Institutes of Health has found evidence that circumcision might reduce a man’s risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex by as much as fifty percent. Dr. De Cock reckons that men should not now assume that their circumcised penis has become a kind of magic bullet which they can shove around willy-nilly. Rather, it is, he says, “… a potentially important intervention.” Alas, his caution is correct.

The very same New York Times now trumpeting The Cut some years ago reported another study whose conclusion was quite the opposite. This one after studying almost the same number of men in the US as this more recent one studied in Kenya and Uganda, found that circumcision not only does not lead to lower rates of STDs but that their incidence is actually higher among the circumcised. Quite mysteriously, it also found that circumcised men were much likelier to engage in, to quote the NYT, ‘a varied repertoire of sexual practices, including oral sex, anal sex and masturbation.’ I wonder what Dr. De Cock has to say about all this and perhaps less pertinently, but more interestingly, whether he is circumcised or not.

To digress slightly: what kind of teasing was poor De Cock subjected to in school? I can just hear the jeering chorus, “De Cock, the Cock, De Cock, the Cock…” It must have been hell for the boy, and I am deeply ashamed that I should find it so funny at my age.

Anyway, hard on the heels of the pro-circumcision study, two of the larger HIV/AIDS funds are considering paying for The Cut in high-risk countries. Daniel Halperin, a Harvard HIV specialist extraordinaire, excitedly responded, “I have no doubt that as word of this gets around, millions of African men will want to get circumcised, and that will save many lives.” That is the kind of enthusiasm displayed by a man who got The Cut as an infant in a bright shiny hospital. Not as a teenager by a circumciser who declared the use of anesthetic to be unmanly as yours truly lay trouser-less, sweating onto the cold plastic of the hospital cot and praying to the gods for a last minute reprieve and failing that at least an injection of painkiller.

I really could not have guessed that my being tricked into the little Kiambu clinic was in fact a considerate attempt on the part of my father and uncle to reduce the number of Langerhans cells I had and thus potentially save me from future HIV infection. Yes, I was tricked, deceived, lied to, bamboozled, led astray, run amuck.

I had just completed my Certificate of Primary Education exams and found my dear father waiting in his car, a big smile on his face. “Would you like to go to town for an after-exam treat at Wimpy and then go visit your granddad’s clinic?” he asked, hugging me to him. A few hours and pints of blood later, I was a man.

Perhaps a twelve-year old man who had briefly fainted from blood loss, but a man nevertheless – and it should be noted that I took the procedure with nary a sound (this is a very important fact, perhaps the most important of all to those of you unused to male pride in enduring pain for no great purpose.) I was finally free of those troublesome Langerhans that had up to then called the underside of my foreskin home. I wish Dr. De Cock had been around then so that the procedure was paid for by American money, in a clinic that insisted on the use of anesthetic and kept me far from the trickery of my father who to this day chuckles every time we drive by the stone and corrugated iron building that used to house my late grandfather’s clinic.


Craftsman Versus World

Matthew Crawford writing in The New Atlantis on why I should have paid more attention in wood- and metal-work class.

In the age of think tanks, consulting firms, and IKEA, craftsmanship seems to be in decline. Shop class is becoming rarer, and our children are told that college is the ticket to an “open future” as a “knowledge worker.” This rejection of craftsmanship wrongly ignores the cognitive, social, and remunerative rewards of skilled manual work, and wrongly assumes that white-collar work always engages the mind.


Because craftsmanship refers to objective standards that do not issue from the self and its desires, it poses a challenge to the ethic of consumerism, as the sociologist Richard Sennett has recently argued. The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new. The craftsman is then more possessive, more tied to what is present, the dead incarnation of past labor; the consumer is more free, more imaginative, and so more valorous according to those who would sell us things. Being able to think materially about material goods, hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story intimated through associations, the point of which is to exaggerate minor differences between brands. Knowing the production narrative, or at least being able to plausibly imagine it, renders the social narrative of the advertisement less potent. The tradesman has an impoverished fantasy life compared to the ideal consumer; he is more utilitarian and less given to soaring hopes. But he is also more autonomous.

This would seem to be significant for any political typology. Political theorists from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson have questioned the republican virtue of the mechanic, finding him too narrow in his concerns to be moved by the public good. Yet this assessment was made before the full flowering of mass communication and mass conformity, which pose a different set of problems for the republican character: enervation of judgment and erosion of the independent spirit. Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political. The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way. However narrow in its application, this is a rare appearance in contemporary life—a disinterested, articulable, and publicly affirmable idea of the good. Such a strong ontology is somewhat at odds with the cutting-edge institutions of the new capitalism, and with the educational regime that aims to supply those institutions with suitable workers—pliable generalists unfettered by any single set of skills.

The rest of the essay can be found here.

Is the Digital Indaba the Internet Berlin Conference of 2006?

(This post is a follow-on to a previous one on next week’s Digital Indaba on Blogging and the resulting comments that included accusations of my being racist and illegitimate)

Does the African blog-space – if there is such a thing – need codification, a coming together, a corralling under the auspices of a code of conduct or a common front? I do not think so and yet I have noticed a recent trend toward this end of trying to create a ‘mainstream’ African blog-space that confers ‘legitimacy’ on its members. Implying, if only gently, that those outside its auspices are illegitimate at worst or at best might be irrelevant to goals as varied as civil society ‘empowerment’, the creation of alternate media, etc. We are living in a world that increasingly looks to observed and enforced standards. It is almost as if the more peoples become exposed to one another, by virtue of blogging for example, the greater is the discomfort of those associated with the West (like the White so-called Africans who pissed me off by calling this blog racist and illegitimate.) They want a world where bloggers are ‘responsible citizens’, ‘legitimate’ and ‘empowerment minded.’ As noble as such sentiments sound, they have lurking behind them not an evil conspiracy but rather an instinct to occupy territory – the high ground of individual African blogging ideas and opinions – which has been much talked about in the last couple of years in the international and local media.

What organizers and conveners of events such as the Digital Indaba on Blogging refuse to recognize is the essential magic of blogging which is that every blog is THE CENTER. It is made so by the decision of one person to speak as they will, when they will, about whatever they wish. The blog’s audience, if it exists, is therefore treated to an act of one. Consider how many unique minds or perspectives can come to the fore due to this freedom. It is not that the Indaba will still the blogger. Rather, combined with others like it in the future, it will act like a force of gravity by forming positions, networks and attitudes that by virtue of advertisement and promotion occupy the centre or rather attempt to claim such occupation for themselves so that bloggers who are not ‘inside’ will presumably operate in the margins. As if there is not enough of that already within the traditional forms of media.

A central goal of these kinds of meetings is to move ideas and knowledge out of their tacit forms – where they are owned by individuals and received by individuals – to codified forms. Not for the benefit of the blogger but rather to profit the administrator who enables and ‘owns’ the codifying space. Knowledge when it is codified is made into a standardized message that is precious in the marketplace, far more in many instances that its tacit counterpart. Codification allows easy reproduction and because to do it means knowledge being more exactly described, it becomes easier to mark as intellectual property. This is a good thing since it can now be transmitted cheaper to a wider audience, creating profits and, when of a positive nature, leading to better societies. Unfortunately this is not the process the indaba represents. Let me explain.

The high costs in producing knowledge are start up ones – usually paid in the initial phase when ideas or knowledge are tacit. That is to say the writing of your blog is tougher, more expensive, than holding a conference of bloggers to come up with an organizing principle or organizational character. But since many ideas in blogs are not worth much financially, the value is to be had in the joining. By the one who claims to have created the common ground you stand on with others. The blogger who would join an ‘African Code of Conduct’ might earn some minor monies from a conference per diem or from a donor. But the one who will really clean up, in financial and power terms, will be the convener of the conference: the institution or person who boasts of ‘facilitating’ African voices, helping them ‘make a huge impact by sharing knowledge and enthusiasm and demonstrating to the rest of the world that Africa is more than a passive observer in the global village’ (quote from the website of next week’s first Indaba on Blogging)

Blogging on this continent does not need midwives. Especially not ones who want to demonstrate ‘to the rest of the world that Africa is more than a passive observer in the global village.’ It is this kind of defeatism and obsession with the opinions of others that puts paid to the creation of independent paths of our own. That we should now blog to show the world (read the West and White folks) that we are somehow worthy of their respectful consideration. What nonsense. Perhaps the way to ‘show the world’ is to have a conference of black people in the audience listening to panels basically made up of white people. You know? To hope that the authority of whiteness rubs off on the poor little African blogosphere. I wish I will be proven wrong about such panels but the defensiveness of the white Mandelas tells the tale. Ultimately though, whoever the panelists are, and despite the ‘rush for white,’ the logic of this benignly conducted colonisation of Africa’s blog universe will have plenty of rainbow colored African volunteers.

What really pulls my goat among all the ills of this ‘inclusive’ event is the corralling of bloggers – most of whom are just doing their own thing – into the donor universe. Consider once again the language of the Indaba which views blogging, at least in one aspect, thus:

Blogging, because of its far reach and networking qualities, is an essential tool in ensuring that the UN Millennium Development Goals are achieved in Africa and NEPAD remains a united and benevolent alliance on the continent.

Millennium development goals? NEPAD? Ensuring that it remains a united and benevolent alliance? That, ladies and gentlemen, is called the language of the hustler. Some wise African – and he or she could be white or black – who has identified an angle, a cow to milk. And that cow is you dear blogger. You are going to be positioned, united with others, invited to liberal, black loving Grahamstown. Even before you leave, little hustle proposals on ‘empowering African voices’ will be in the mail, probably on the same flight as you. Not that you will ever get more than a few cents. What you will get though is a big, prominent logo on your site that says something like Proud Member of Indaba Code. Somewhere in the proposal will be the sentence, ‘Indaba and company, a non-profit, civil society initiative, is proud to announce that 5% of known African blogs have signed up to the Code of Conduct we established and will form an important African digital voice in the achievement of the MDGs and the sustenance of NEPAD’s profile. We now require further funding for the Indaba to expand its activities…’

In return for a few bloggers being thrown the bone to listen to ‘20 renowned and respected speakers from across the globe and a confirmed line-up that would make Silicon Valley jealous,’ many others will operate in a blog-space that is marked and demarcated territory by little people who would try and update the Berlin 1885 scramble for Africa to the digital space. My railing against this process will not stop it I know, but I think it is important to be aware that what the Indaba and like conferences represent is a grab for territory. And when the African internet Bismarcks and Leopolds can call me racist for asking a question, then you better be aware that the gloves are going to be off during this scramble. The weapons will be to meet challenges with a deafening silence; refer to them as ‘unacceptably racist and misinformed’ (courtesy of one Vincent ‘Madiba’ Maher); and the calling of even more conferences. But, blogging being what it is and since they have decided to piss off the worst Gikuyu this side of the keyboard, I will only say this: I am watching and will ask questions first and then pull the trigger to my nukes later.

Comments on “(White?) African Blogger Conference in a Week”

Below are some comments on the last post I had on the upcoming African bloggers indaba. It turned out that AB&H is racist and illegitimate. I will be back to talk more about the attempt to codify the African blog space and make it part of a kind of NGO-ish, funded civil society space with established mores. In other words, the attempt to bring it in line. Original Post

Anonymous said…
I guess you’re upset because you didn’t get a free ticket to the conference, sorry for you.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 7:53:16 AM

MMK said…
anonymous – haha. Indeed, the obvious comment comes forth. Thanks for being sorry.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:06:58 AM

Binyavanga said…
Hey,I think I read on Ory’s blog that there were scholarships, whic irritates more because why were people not asked. Maybe some would come on their own steam?
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:44:32 AM

Vincent Maher said…
The scholarship applications have closed, there were more than 200 applications and the final selections have already been made.This event was announced to the media and to several bloggers who linked to it. If you search for it on Google you will find 280 links to the web site. It was also sent out in the Poynter E-Media Tidbits list.Obviously we could not invite each person in Africa individually, and we hope that it will be successful enough for more applications next year.In general I think this blog post is unacceptably racist and misinformed but I have published my perspective on my own blog.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:55:03 AM

MMK said…
Scholarships. The assumption as ever is that Africans are broke, always in need of a (white?)helping hand. I am quite sure that the conference was advertised but as someone who spends hours online, I am puzzled that I did not run into it until yesterday. I hope that the sessions will be taped so that we can see who indeed is an African citizen, blogger, moblogger, vlogger, podcaster, hactivist and new media journalist.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:55:13 AM

MMK said…
Here is the link to a fuller explanation of why AB&H is now a racist blog that lacks credibility. The very credibility that can be enjoyed by joining the African citizens Code of Conduct.http://nml.ru.ac.za/maher/?p=137To the program of events: http://dci.ru.ac.za/documents/Draft_Programme2.pdf
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:09:50 AM

Sammie said…
LOL at “The Hustle” that is the African situation. Africa sounds so hopeless a place to live in!I believe it’s a much better place than say Europe!I was reading somewhere that the American Dream is over, and seeing how self-respecting Africans are demeaning themselves in the name of asylum in Europe, i see where all this (mis)information is coming from.The hustle is further propagated by the brain-drain, where our brilliant minds are given scholarships, and attain green cards, citizenship and stuff, only to be dumped back here when wasted. Look at our current political class. Akina Musyoka, raila, Kibs, The whole lot of them; products of the hustle, turned activists.Pole for the long comment.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:14:07 AM

bankelele said…
Ory posted it at her site about a month ago with the scholarship mention. Am happy to have been invited.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:16:36 AM

Rista said…
Binyavanga and MMK, you are clearly looking in all the wrong places 🙂 [good looking out bankele] The ‘scholarships’ are always a good idea, but they should be renamed to read something innocuous like ‘conference/travel support’.Vincent, laudable work. Thanks for lending a helping hand to blogging in africa. It’s quite clear your efforts are still not reaching a (significant?) portion of your target audience… might want to rethink the strategy. That said, I wonder how many bonafide black south african bloggers will be at this conference. I am of the old school in believing that the word ‘racist’ cannot be used to describe an african, so i’d recommend you take a different tack when blogging in the ‘african’ space.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:05:17 AM

Vincent Maher said…
Rista, you may be right regarding our efforts though right now we’re focussing on Southern Africa.I can’t agree with you on your other point about Africans being exempt from racism, I have seen a lot of racism between all different races in my life, including Africans. Obviously you’re entitled to your opinion, as am I, and I respect that.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:51:54 AM
Zephyr said…
Ai mmk, even I, who is a relative bloggo-virgo heard about it.Sometimes, it is good to first, swallow the sour grapes. then blog. I’ll provide the whisky to down them :-). Of course assuming that you can do grapes with whisky.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:59:55 AM

Alex Maughan said…
After reading your post mmk, I initially got angry. But now, having spoken about it with the people that happen to be in the room with me… wait, before continuing, let’s count the races in this room for your sake, since you are so obsessed with skin colour: 1 “Indian”, 2 “blacks”, and 1 “white” – or is he more of a grey colour due his very dark body hair? – all are Africans by the way)..anyway, like I was saying, after discussing your rationale – if that’s what one can generously call your racism (and yes, rista, black people can be racist too… do the moral maths yourself, cos I don’t feel like wasting my time on your ignorant and short-sighted claim) – I now find it quite humorous, as do the others in the room. Your claims viz. the scholarships are especially funny. So now, having had a good laugh with all in the room, I am purged of my anger and no longer feel the need to break down the logic of your argument (which would have been done easily with the use of your own ideological premises, as I wouldn’t dare impose a “white” form of deduction on your subjectivity).Thank you for reminding me that even if people like you revel in subjecting everything to a white-on-black form of racism, there are many others (such as those in the room with me) that have more sense.So in the end, I have said nothing really, other than expressing my thanks, and, I suppose, that is enough. There is so much wrong with your argument, that I’ll end up wasting my time deconstructing it, and will enivitably waste your time too (since you will never be able to truly consider my overall objection until you remove that anger-filled race card that obscures your critical thought).Other than that, congratulations on a greatly informative blog (oh wait, what did we all learn from this again?… shucks, my red-neck, honke-rambling brain just aint wat’d used to be.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 11:54:05 AM

Binyavanga said…
Oh very juicy! Are fists flying? Some honke-rambling! Anger-filled race-cards! Good lord, must log on later. Nothing like a good ole conference to set thigs alight. Ah!! I have really missed South Africa…oh the rolling minefields!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 12:37:56 PM

Nic said…
I think that the comments above all illustrate the need for what is being argued against in this post: a code of conduct. For if there was a code of cunduct this post would be well without its boundaries and be disregarded as a worth while post/blog. As for the fact that “africans” cannot be labelled racist, that is the most absurd thing i have ever heard. Many years of political studies has proven to me that although my skin colour may not be black I am still an African. Well said Alex. Furthermore, if this is the case and a multitude or colours are labelled “African” by the informed, then why should there not be white/egyptian/coloured/green/purple/yellow speakers at the conference? If they are all African then who are you to predefine what is and is not African?
Thursday, September 07, 2006 2:23:10 PM

coldtusker said…
binyavanga – Same old, same old… as in Changez… I think you are just adding fuel to the fire & having fun!mmk – I wasn’t invited either but then I didn’t look out for it! It is a enormous web out there!Wacha this “racial” angle… Mark Shuttleworth (born in SA, so what if he is white, SA damu) is arguably one of the richest guys in Africa with real (yaani, NOT stolen/embezzled) money! I bet there are thousands of “black” Africans who were just as knowledgable as MS but toiling in the “West” rather than taking the entrepreneurial road!Tafuta na utapata (Seek & ye shall find)…I was blown away by the Indian IT industry. They are willing to hire US employees so they can “learn” from them! No flase pride, the Indian BPO campuses are similar to the USA. No squalor here! Idea exchange pow-wows!Africa (White, Black, Mwarabu) better get their act in order… We are the last on any list of being IT savvy (expect Polynesia & Micronesia) thus let’s keep the African spirit going!Tata Tea bought Tetleys (UK), Infosys & WIPRO have picked up a number of US firms. Hong Kong, Korean & Taiwanese firms are world-class with LG, Samsung, Hyundai becoming household names!The Asians have becoming globetrotters in 50 years while Africa…wapi?I could say the Egyptians but hey they look more “white” than “black”??? That doesn’t fit your “view”, does it?BTW, I really enjoy your takes on your travels!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:29:33 PM

MMK said…
Dear Alex Maughan, Vincent Maher and Nic. Welcome to AB&H. Never doubt the old adage that says living long enough allows one to see the impossible become real. For instance, the surreal sense I have of being called racist by white people in South Africa for asking whether a conference that announces itself as African is in fact disproportionately white. Racism used to be King Leopold’s administration killing 10 million Congolese, or 12 million slaves being carted off to the Americas or even apartheid. Now, so benign is it that it has become the act of hurting the feelings of white people by asking whether this conference is basically a bunch of them mouthing off with a few black tokens strewn here and there. The post for your information was actually meant very tongue-in-cheek; an intention that the fury of your response has now changed to an actual desire to probe further into the little talk shop that you are going to hold in a week’s time. Let us not suppose for even an instant that the label African is so problem-free that all one has to do is invoke it to be clothed in the armor of victimhood which Mr. Maughan and Mr. Maher wear so comfortably. Seeing that those to be empowered by the conference can be Nic’s ‘white/egyptian/coloured/green/purple/yellow’ African gladdens the heart. Where was I all those years when being called an African in South Africa and in Kenya was an insult to anyone without a dark brown skin – was actually being legally consigned to poverty and exclusion? Happily though, the troubles are over. Nirvana is here and all you have to do to join this racial paradise of harmony and fairness is pronounce yourself African. Especially when the whip and the fangs of the dog are safely locked away in history’s vault.

Let me ask the question in simpler and even more racialist language: How many black Africans are represented in your panels in percentage terms? You seemed to be quite willing to supply a painstaking enough count of even those participants who are a ‘grey colour due to his very dark body hair.’ Surely then it would not be too difficult for you to just tell me how many black panelists you have compared with the white/gray ones. Your spirited response to a post on my blog suggests that I have touched a raw nerve. And it must be one that is very often fingered in South Africa where racial positions and language are upended so that black folks are demanding access to influence and opportunity on the basis of race and ability to address decades of apartheid racism. I hate racial labeling myself but I do not kid myself that this is a dead and buried matter, that somehow South Africa and Africa have moved on from white privilege clothing itself in the virtue of helping the ‘darkies’ and speaking in their stead. In conference after Africanist conference, the black Africans from the continent are too often consigned to the sidelines. To be spoken for as they give good service as native or local informants to the important (white) thinkers who are made ‘African’ by the sheer love they lavish on the Dark Continent.

Thanks by the way Mr. Maughan for your kind compliment on my blog at the end of your angry comment. I felt sorry that you would so brutally flay yourself by writing of yourself as having a ‘red-neck, honke-rambling brain…’ This kind of masochism is really sad to see especially when it is a transparent attempt to simultaneously make you appear to be a victim and to enable you to hold onto that delicious frisson of racial pain. I doubt that you are a red-neck; at least not in the way you seem to understand this phrase which I hate. I associate nowadays not with the white violence during the reconstruction period in the American South but rather with a contemporary liberal America that has cast poor white people beyond the pale. Heaping on them all the evils of racism both present and past while they bask in the glow of good deeds – especially in Africa – untouched by the very real racism that is alive to this day.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:38:37 PM

MMK said…
coldtusker – have one on me please; I am craving a cold Tusker badly. This is not about invitations anywhere but rather about the anger and defensiveness of people who claim to be about opening up spaces on this continent. The power of blogging is precisely about being able to ask questions as an individual. Especially when I notice a concerted attempt to codify the African blogosphere and make it part of a tired, exhausted white liberal civil society with a few ‘native’ voices to spice it up.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:51:27 PM

coldtusker said…
mmk – Tusker…History:Initially brewed by a couple of white brodas in Kenya… I think one of them got gored thus “Tusker” the name was born…It was primarily Kenyan owned for many years until KBL ran into financial trouble. Guinness came in as a white knight & bought a huge stake by pumping in some Sterling…Regardless of Guinness’ control, Tusker is as Kenyan as it gets!So I use Tusker as my mascot (Of course, I love the rich taste!)…It represents all in all, the best of Kenya which does not necessarily mean “black” or “african” or “white” or… just great taste & quality.Oh, they beat the crap out of the S.Africans (fronted by njenga karume who made his money off a KBL distributorship)! I’ll take a Tusker over castle or miller or bud any day!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:10:58 PM

Binyavanga said…
Let’s get to a juicer subject. Rhodes University…been a while since I sampled that particular brand of nonsense. “We didn’t knoooow..we never kneeeew. If only we kneeeeeeeew what the Afrikaners were doooing. Our heads were in the sand, positioned nobly in with good intentions.”Travelling down the Eastern Cape in the 90s, I ended up having more respect for the redneck towns of the border, where black people were clearly tagged and demarcated – but at least recognised as even a threat a viable possibility, the boycotting people. Those silly “they they” attitudes of that leedle town called Grahamstown – where the township was the flithiest I had ever seen, the poorest and the most invisible. And the town: church-spiring and boater wielding, kind to blacks – a kind of island of civility that can only come from real violence – for it lives as if there is no threat, in a country still gaseous with possibilities and the whole messy angry “really so racist” country called South Africa was not in Rhodes, (RHODES) but out there but Rhodies (shall we call them) bravely read Cryyyyyyyy – The Beloved, Beeeeloved. Country. Then a friend telling me how her wide eyed and liberal friends at Rhodes used to thank the “Aunties” at the end of term by having them stand in a chorus and sing for the Undergrads. Some of these women were grandmothers. When she complained she was told, “Ohhhh they really love doing this!”I have often wondered how that little town which by sheer force of will decided to be Cambridge at Cape for over a hundred head-in-sand years, suddenly discovered over the final minutes of the Rugby World Cup that it was African, and African was a wonderful rainbow with free and easy membership.Oops. Not sure. Have I broken the code of conduct? Is the code of conduct actually going to specify who can use the term African; and demarcate where it is right and where it is wrongly applied?Oh Dear MMK…bad blogger. Bad Bad blogger. You have broken the code!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:43:34 PM

Ntwiga said…
Interesting post that has generated a ton of comments. While I agree somewhat witht he content of the post, I cannot subscribe to the way in which it was presented – but again, thats just me. Some thoughts;1. Being white and being African are not mutually exclusive so that part of the argument may be facetious.2. Arguing that this post is racist smacks of “but I have lots of black friends, how can I be racist”ism.There are so many ways of looking at this that it would be insulting to try and pretend to cover them all in a comment.It is however possible to do a quanlitative analysis: I count 6 out of 19 as being black. Does that mean that this counts as another Live 8 type event?Strike1here & here2Ory Okolloh3“Ashraf Patel” nothing here really – but there are lots of Africans named Patel so I make that three4Fackson Banda5 Emaka Okafor, just ignore the basketball player.6 Ramon ThomasStrikeMike StopforthTom Johnson – Nothing definite comes upStrikeRay HartleyJuanita Williams – Nothing definite comes upChris RoperStrikeAlex HoggStrikeIan GilfillanStrikeAndrew RensStrikeVincent Maher or hereStrikeAndrew Heavens ((l to r) Andrew Heavens, Ethan Zuckerman, Rebecca MacKinnon) from here.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:05:49 PM

Vincent Maher said…
As I said in the comments here, this conference is the first of it’s kind, it is going to be a lot of fun and it will be a step in the right direction for blogging on this continent.

I was born in Africa, lived here all my life and consider myself an African. I hate the colonial enterprises, the World Bank and whoever else has damaged this continent and I was not old enough to vote during apartheid. If anyone has a problem with that, tough.

Every year people travel down to Highway Africa to learn from people who have a certain type of media production experience and exchange their own experiences. It is a confluence and it works, so maybe you had better experience it before you shout from the sidelines that it’s a white thing. I certainly don’t think of a conference organised by black Africans as a black thing, so maybe that says something.

What I am tired of is being categoried along with the Eurpoean butchers and oppressors, if you met me you would know that I don’t fit into that category.

Friday, September 08, 2006 9:16:15 AM

sokari said…
BH is right in his assessment that this conference is white and not even African white for that matter and is an “attempt to codify the African blog space and make it part of a kind of NGO-ish, funded civil society space with established mores. In other words, the attempt to bring it in line.” – well said and anon- yes not particularly original in your thoughts. well we know two Africans, ory and bankelele who are the rest?
This fits in well with why I left GV last June – too many big white mothers and fathers – same old same old

Saturday, September 09, 2006 1:21:52 PM
sokari said…
BTW – zimpundit isnt attending after all for his/her own personal safety – understandable.

Binyavanga said…
The new thing is now that this whole brouhaha is based on the dea that “some people” (MK and Myself?) are bitter that they were not give scholarships and Mahler is upset at the entitlement of this. I am really loving all this. I am not even a blogger! Oh how anger reveals! So MK – do you want a scholarship to INDABA? At the lovely Rhodes? Will that pacify your bitterness? Man – I had really forgotten SA – that your objection to the premise behind something is an attempt to put your hand out and receive Black Empowerment? Is the shit there so cynical now? So now the voice is sanctimonious – saying that they can’t with all integrity bend to your subversive request for inclusion.

What would happen MK – if you write a hand-wringing private email to them and say you have “unresolved issues” and you “acknowledge them” and “your history and personal poverty and general desparateness for a scholarship” made it difficult to appreciate what “a sensible and earnest” thing it is that they are doing – what would happen?

Because that is the script.

cirdan said…
MMK, this guy is an African, if anybody is.

(White?) African Blogger Conference in a Week

Word on the street, the Khartoum one where I am for the week, is that there is a Digital Citizen Indaba on Blogging conference being held in Grahamstown, South Africa. It is a shock that there should be this kind of meeting without AB&H being told about it. From the list of speakers, listed below, it appears to my untrained and possibly quite mistaken eye that their last names are not very black African; at least they wouldn’t be in East Africa. (Whisper: Will it be a roomful of white folks working for the betterment of the African? Please, I beg you, do not tell massa that I asked cause I know how much he is trying to help me speak and develop into a full, happy human being.)

I feel that I have no choice but to trash it; what is blogging if not a weapon for attacking the virtuous? This admittedly may be difficult because the conference actually seems quite interesting. It appears from the program that the attendees will be treated to dispositions from lawyers versed in internet issues – whatever those are – and that there is even a session to establish ‘an African Citizens Code of Conduct.’ Now that last one I find weird. The power of the internet and blogging is precisely that it is not being planned or coordinated centrally or even subject to a particular point of view. In any case are Africans so misbehaved or even depraved that they are always being subject to codes of behavior? Is the governance agenda and its associated funding buzzwords now to seek us out even in the digital world?

Whenever African is combined with words like empowerment, development, agenda, code, The People, plan, unity, globalization, and a conference is convened, I suspect a hustle. The same kind you would encounter in any brothel bar or illegal drinking den in any city on the continent. You know the guy who sidles next to you, face drawn and haggard with worry, and then says, ‘excuse me please, I came to the city and had all my money stolen. Now I just need help with a little bus fare to return home.’ Or ‘hey, you want good time? I will show you good, clean girls – or boys if you like.’ These hustles precisely match the ones that go something like this: ‘Funding this conference to develop the girlchild’s access to blogging will enable her African voice to be heard in the era of superpower driven globalization.’

As always, the ‘establishment’ in the form of the traditional media and academia, not to mention the political classes, come to the latest advances in expression late and with all manner of grand pronouncements heralding shifting paradigms and revolutionary action. This very worthy meeting to which I would again observe AB&H is not invited seems to fit the scheme exactly. I am sure there will be moans and sighs over the disproportionately low number of bloggers in Africa; and firm declarations to close the ‘digital divide’ and ’empower’ Africans. Out of the conference will come a flood of little proposals to every development agency in the land – ‘help us speak to the world’ will be the theme. There are 20 speakers invited:

Ethan Zuckerman (Global Voices, USA) – Alaa Abd El Fattah (Blogger & Activist, Egypt) – Pieter Verweij (Senior Lecturer, University of Utrecht, Netherlands) – Matthew Buckland (Publisher, Mail & Guardian Online) – Ory Okolloh (Blogger & Activist) – Ashraf Patel (ICT Programme Officer, OSISA) – Zimbabwean Pundit (Political Blogger) – Fackson Banda (SABMiller Chair of Media Democracy, Rhodes) – Emeka Okafor (Blogger & Business Journalist) – Ramon Thomas (Managing Director, NETucation) – Mike Stopforth (Communications Strategist) – Tom Johnson (Institute for Analytic Journalism, USA) – Ray Hartley (Deputy-Editor, Sunday Times) – Juanita Williams (News Editor, IOL) – Chris Roper (Online Editor, 24.com) – Alec Hogg (CEO, Moneyweb) – Ian Gilfillan (IT Author & Blogger) – Andrew Rens (Intellectual Property Legal Expert) – Vincent Maher (Director, New Media Lab, Rhodes) – Andrew Heavens (Photojournalist & Blogger)

You may have noticed that 13 of the 20 do not appear to be bloggers; I hope the speeches are put online so that I can savage or praise them with due consideration.

We can clamp down on antisocial children before birth…

Tony Blair has said it is possible to identify problem children who could grow up to be a potential “menace to society” even before they are born.
Setting out plans for state intervention to prevent babies born into high-risk families becoming problem teenagers of the future, the prime minister said teenage mothers could be forced to accept state help before giving birth, as part of a clampdown on antisocial behaviour.
Mr Blair defended the need for state intervention and said action could even be taken “pre-birth” if necessary as families with drug and alcohol problems were being identified too late. More>>

Less Kids in Africa Equals Better Security for America

Jeffrey Sachs who leaps over tall buildings in Bolivia and Russia in a single bound and lands in Africa to solve its many problems is at it again (read article in Scientific American). Where he once promoted the power of unfettered markets, advising the Russians on the ‘shock therapy’ that left a bulk of state assets in the hands of a cabal of crooks, he is now an environmental activist urging benign state intervention in economic development. His latest campaign involves helping the environment by helping poor people in Africa and the Middle East whose numbers are rising too fast according to this descendent of Thomas Malthus.

Allowing that people in the rich countries live on about $30,000 per year, well above the global average of $10,000, which itself is substantially more than most Africans consume and earn, his suggestion is that giving birth to less poor people is the best course of action in the future. Sachs is worried not about the suffering of the unborn poor should they live like their parents in scarcity and ill health but rather that they may actually manage to fulfill their economic aspirations. At present growth rates by 2050, according to UN forecasts (not usually worth the paper they are printed on by the way), world population will be 9 billion with 2.5 billion of this number born in the poor countries. If this ‘surplus’ somehow finds a way to earn and consume today’s $10,000 average, it would by Sachs calculations cause untold environmental stresses especially due to the fact that cruel fate has chosen to locate ‘biodiversity hotspots’ among the unwashed masses. He worries of the unhappy fate of these hotspots especially since they are a critical part of the ‘Global biological heritage’ a phrase that irritates me to no end because it consigns our part of the world to a perpetual poverty only relieved by the trickle of Birkenstock wearing nature tourists and their cousins, gigolo hungry European grandmas in Mombasa. Our economies are not supposed to grow, or if they do only slowly, according to this view. The African the environmentalist would love to see come to be is a gentle soul who wants nothing more than to live in rude but serviceable shelter, to consume a little food he has grown in the small plot out back, provided it does not kill off that rare species of caterpillar, and who in all things is guided by the desire to live ‘sustainably’. Sustainability for the west to be exact. Not for that African – who thank God will never be – access to the comfort and security that comes from building of wealth. They are going to have their nature even if it requires that they get rid of the hungry, ambitious, dare-to-want-to-survive poor’ – before they are born.

Sachs appeals to American national security and economic interest. His argument in summary is that the more poor there are the angrier the number of young men willing to take up arms against prosperous America. He bewails the Bush administration’s ‘religious right’ inspired refusal to support fertility control in the poorest countries. Better to invest in fertility control now he urges: it is the best use of dollars for a more militarily and economically secure future for America. He is kind enough to stress that this should be voluntary fertility programs. Heaven forbid that under the ambit of national security women and men in Africa should be led into little hospital rooms and rendered infertile. As usual Sachs is never one to pursue his arguments to their logical ends. Couched in his kindness is a kind of neo-eugenics: rid the world of the poor by ensuring that they do not give birth to more like themselves; we are running out of room for you especially if you are from the poor nations (which I read to mean brown nations.)

If it is really a matter of national security then under the present American administration’s pre-emptive doctrine against emerging threats, surely there is a need to limit the number of children that the poor have. Yes, this might be achieved by voluntary measures. But foremost will not be the issue of helping the volunteers improve their lives, it will be as was true in all eugenics programs, an attempt to protect ‘society’ from the undesirables. It might appear to be a bit much for me to be comparing this kind of well-intentioned policy advocacy with the eugenics movement, but I believe that Sachs’ call folds neatly into those of a century ago and that once the more hysterical and less politically correct types make it, all will be much clearer to you poor, over-breeding buggers.

The humanitarians of the day are like the European missionaries of the nineteenth century, providing justifications for colonial misadventure ‘for the good of the poor, native blighter.’ They increasingly join their mission with the ‘imperial’ promotion of the west’s interests. So much so that western NGOs are now a critical tool in their military’s strategy, helping to blunt the impact of the bombs and bullets poured into a target population. It does not surprise me in the least that with the likes of Sachs running around aid agencies are increasingly being targeted as non-neutral in many battle grounds. The toothless and rudderless left to which Sachs is an honored member has become the sheep’s clothing for a hawkish, domineering constituency that needs fodder for its military adventures. What could be more convenient and humane than to save the poor from themselves while being able to pursue imperial goals clothed in the Good Samaritan’s robes?

In 1807, William Hazlit accused Malthus of making himself ‘conscience-keeper to the rich and great, especially to those of them who are not of a giving disposition, all in coining or at least popularizing for their use the magical phrase or formula ‘surplus’ or ‘redundant’ population.’ Sachs too acts to promote the interests of the rich nations but, with a perpetual nod to political correctness and disingenuousness, he would rather he appeared to be regarded as promoting the interests of the poor themselves. He therefore urges the rich to give even more, despite much of this money coming to no good whatsoever and even being harmful in a lot of cases. The animating spirit of his ideas is a restless ambition to be counted first among the rich and great by opining as an expert on regions and matters where his knowledge is thin and mostly involves advocating policies that have been tried for decades and found wanting. Joined by the other hapless musketeers, Bono and Geldof, his is a media game joining concern for poverty with the celebrity bandwagon for the selfish pursuit of personal plaudits and the conscience cooling balm of the ‘feel good factor’. To hell with the poor made to swallow his bitter medicines no matter how ill it makes them.

As Samuel L. Jackson would say of Sachs: ‘How smart can he be? He’s peeing into the wind.’