The University of Witwatersrand recently founded this intriguing new initiative and I look forward to reading some of their most recent contributions to the field of Indian Ocean and African Studies. A center like this only reinforces that Africa as a continent has never existed 'unto itself' but has participated in a global conversation for thousands of years, with India being an integral part of that history. Unfortunately as with many things in academia, the roster of academics represented is
* Comparisons between India and South Africa on historical and current issues and challenges
* Connections between India and South Africa and the rest of Africa
* Cosmopolitanism, or the formation of a transnational public sphere encompassing the Indian Ocean
* Collaborations in applied research supporting policy and innovation for development
February 28, 2010
February 25, 2010
The Guardian speculates on the murder of a Hamas official in Dubai as likely the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization. This is a twisted story in more ways than one. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a Hamas military commander living in exile in Damascus. It seems the plan to assassinate al-Mabhouh involved the use of fake British passports. Israel has refused to comment, probably because it views Mabhouh as a dangerous enemy and claims that Mabhouh played a key role in smuggling Iranian-supplied rockets into the Gaza Strip and was involved in the abduction and killing of two soldiers 20 years ago. It re-raises the question of the ethics of 'targeted assasinations'...how is this not a terrorist act?
February 22, 2010
My friend and colleague Alex writes about contemporary politics in Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia, to name a few. If you are looking to up your game as far as African politics go, his site is a great resource.
Check out the album on Bab Kubwa (click the title)
February 16, 2010
P Funk speaks on the origins of Swahili hip hop.
February 10, 2010
Some excellent background on recent history in Yemen to put current events in context.
The Challenges of Dealing with Yemen’s Deep Crises (ARI)
ARI 29/2010 - 4/2/2010
The first decade of the new millennium was supposed to be Yemen’s best in modern times. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who came to office in north Yemen in 1978, had by the beginning of the decade survived the unification of the two Yemens, eliminated his southern Socialist opponents in a brief civil war in 1994 and solved his country’s border disputes with Oman, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia. He also centralised power in his own hands and in the hands of his very loyal sons, brothers, nephews and in-laws, and weakened all potential competitors within his family, clan, larger tribe, ruling and opposition parties, the country as a whole, and even among Yemeni politicians living in exile. While grooming his son Colonel Ahmed to succeed him, Saleh perhaps thought he had brought Yemen’s history to an end.... (CONT'D Thru LINK
Muscat Confidential has a great piece on how urban Gulf economies like Muscat are dependent on access to cheap labor from the Indian subcontinent, peep it:
OK. Lets say you are an Omani and you have a farm up the coast. What you do is apply for visa for say, 10 Bangladeshi farm labourers. You keep 2 of them for the farm, where they will live in a small hovel and work your farm all day. The other 8 you charge say, 500 - 1500 rials for the original visa plus 20 rials a month for their continued sponsorship and labor card, and release them to the wild. They then seek employment however best they can, doing the jobs described above. As their sponsor you pull in a nice lump sum up front (usually borrowed from family back home), plus get 160 rials a month for very little effort; they get to earn what they can and keep most of it. Truly entrepreneurial types can apparently pull in quite a nice bit of cash. Its a huge gimmick. Of course, some of that money will go to ensure you get the visas in the first place through people in the Ministry.
Click on the title link for the whole article, its well worth your reading.
Reuters-Kenya's Islamic Gulf African Bank says profitable
By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura
NAIROBI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Gulf African Bank, one of Kenya's two Islamic banks, turned profitable in the last quarter of 2009 after only about a year and a half of operations, its chief executive told Reuters.
Najmul Hassan said the bank's loan portfolio has grown to about 5 billion shillings ($64.81 million) while deposits are at 6.4 billion shillings since its launch in 2008.
"It is demonstrating that this is a viable business venture," he said late on Monday. "We have grown, so obviously we are taking share from some other banks or we are creating a new market. Both of these things are good."
The bank, in which Gulf Arab investors such as Istithmar, the investment arm of the United Arab Emirates' Dubai World conglomerate, and Bahrain-based Bank Muscat International own stakes, opened its first branch in January 2008 with $25 million capital.
However, post-election violence that wracked much of Kenya for the first quarter of 2008 prevented Gulf African from expanding significantly. Operations launched in June that year.
It now has 12 branches in five towns and is considering expansion into Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, Hassan said, adding that the bank's main challenge had been the lack of knowledge of what Islamic banking is all about.
The Islamic finance industry wants to grow outside its main centres in the Gulf Arab region and South East Asia to tap into Muslim minorities in Western and African countries.
Its banks cater mainly to customers who want to follow Islamic rules on avoiding direct payment or earning interest, which are viewed as usury under Islamic law.
"A lot of people think that this kind of banking is for a niche market, for Muslims, but it isn't that actually," he said.
"The key challenge is spreading the knowledge of sharia-compliant banking in the market. People are sceptical, not just non-Muslims, even Muslims are sceptical. In fact, many times they are more sceptical than the Christians."
Gulf African's mortgage product has been most popular with non-Muslims, Hassan said. The bank invested 500 million shillings in the sukuk portion of a government infrastructure bond issue last year and received a 13.5 percent rate of return.
Hassan said it was a good time for the Kenyan government to issue a sovereign sukuk as there was huge appetite in the Middle Eastern market, which he said was more liquid but had fewer options than conventional banks in the west.
"If the government can go for a sovereign sukuk both in dollars as well as Kenya shillings, not only will they find off-takers here but they will find there is a huge market potential to do a roadshow in the Middle East and be able to generate dollar-based financing from sukuks.
"There is a huge market for people looking for sharia-compliant returns to invest in sukuk. While the bond market is there, the pricing of sukuk may be slightly more competitive when compared to conventional bonds."
Kenya has delayed issuing its first ever eurobond because of the global credit crisis.
Hassan said the potential for Islamic banking in Africa, which has a sizeable Muslim population, was huge.
"Our own experience has been a very pleasant one. It shows that in the rest of Africa there's going to be huge demand and its going to grow very rapidly," he said. "We are looking at the tip of the iceberg." (Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Cowell) ($1=77.15 Kenyan Shilling)
© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved
February 6, 2010
This is an ambitious and frusturating book which tries to chart a course for an "Islamic liberation theology" just as Gustavo Gutteriez and James Cone did for Christianity. Essentially Dabashi argues that the ideological division of "Islam and the West" no longer has any meaning for contemporary Islamic praxis. In fact this binary division has produced an Islamic politics of opposition to Western modernity, forcing Islamic ideologues and ideology into anti-democratic stances and revolutionary excesses which mirror or even at times outdo the worst totalitarian impulses of Western thought.
Dabashi is a controversial figure because of his strong anti-Zionist stance. I found his narrative interventions provocative, in that he draws on the works of Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X (see his chapter "Malcolm X as a Muslim Revolutionary"), placing them into dialectical interplay with religious currents within Shi'a Islam. He draws on Gutierrez's notion of a "historical pilgrimage" of religion in an effort to re-historicize Islamic heritage.
Unfortunately the book suffers from a lack of judicious editing and and all too often a-historic approach to contemporary issues. He virulently re-inscribes categories like "the West" and "modernity", equating them at times with global capitalism, at times with the European Enlightenment, at times with the foreign policy aims of the US government collapsing hundreds of years of history into categorical oppositions. This all too common rhetorical approach, makes Dabashi's important arguments far too easy to dismiss because there is insufficent attention given to problematizing the ideological weight they are asked to hold in his argument. Dabashi also veers randomly between theorization and historicization, getting sidetracked in a kind of academic word-goop which obfuscates the potential of his points. As soon as you think he is going to make a good, potentially transformative point, he veers off into generalities and post-modern language of a particularly useless nature. For example, he writes, "a whole new mode of resistance movement, neither ethnically nationalist nor religiously nativist, is now needed to confront the predicament of Muslim peoples at large." (164) The reader anticipates a description of what Dabashi thinks this mode might look like, but instead is treated to agnosticism: "It is useless to speculate what precisely the particular disposition of these modes of post-national and post-nativist resistance would be. A total distrust of ideological meta-narratives is by far the most critical feature of this emerging mode of resistance." (164)
So why is it useless to speculate on a mode of resistance that is already emerging?! I interpreted Dabashi's ambivalence and slippery language, as evidence of his desire that a transnational movement for Islamically based justice and liberation to emerge. (Malcolm X is very important in Dabashi's formulation of this and Dabashi's comparison between Malcolm X and Sayd Qutb is intriguing) But Dabashi cannot theorize about this supposedly emerging global movement because its actual existence as a historical trend is much more a matter of personal perspective than Dabashi cares to admit. The world may be global and Islam may be a global religion, but there are thousands of "imagined communities" within the global umma, and the ties which bind Muslims together are not necessarily any stronger than those which tie nations or cultures together. Furthermore, don't the bin Laden's and other globally wanted "jihadists" (whom Dabashi rejects as reactionaries) view themselves as instituting precisely the kind of transnational movement he claims Muslims need (minus that skepticism of meta-narratives bit)? Dabashi dreams of a global justice movement which will simultaneously resist global capitalism, Western modernity, and Islamist totalitarianism. But isn't this a bit much to ask of any one movement?
The tension the reader observes in Dabashi's stance is symptomatic of the gap between a "skepticism of ideological meta-narratives" and the will to power necessary to carry out any project of justice and reform in the REAL world. Dabashi like many intellectuals is skeptical of that will to power, seeing in it the seeds of the demise of both revolution and reform-minded projects. Yet without it, the impulse for Dabashi's "new geography of liberation" remain words on a page.
Notable Recent Publications in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies
February 4, 2010
This is a great book. Its basically two autobiographies of two major figures of the Zanzibar Revolution and Zanzibar postcolonial politics, pulled together with an introductory essay by G. Thomas Burgess (who also edited the book).
Below is an excerpt from the memoir of Ali Sultan Issa:
In the 1930s(and even now), however, Zanzibar Town was divided into two main areas, Stone Town and Ng’ambo.The well-to-do people lived in Stone Town, and the less well-oﬀlived in Ng’ambo. Ng’ambo started as a poor man’s land on the other side of the creek from Stone Town.That is what Ng’ambomeans in Swahili,“the other side. ”Stone Town had stone buildings three and four stories high, but Ng’ambo mostly had ground-level buildings constructed of mud, cement, and thatch.The more prosperous had roofs made of corrugated iron. Mostly Arabs and Indians lived in Stone Town; very few Africans lived on that side of the creek; they would come for work in the day and return to Ng’ambo in the evenings. Ng’ambo was more ethnically mixed than Stone Town. There were Arabs and Comorians living near the creek, but the further you went into the interior,the more Africans you encountered.
I had to keep moving with my mum when she could not pay the rent. I lived in probably seven or eight diﬀerent places in Stone Town and about ﬁve in Ng’ambo. My mother also remarried several times, so I had a number of stepfathers. These were short marriages: as soon as the husband tried to dominate her, she asked for a divorce. My mother married several men from the mainland, in Dar es Salaam, Tanga, and Mombasa, giving birth to four more children. My mother caned me for little things, and I feared her because she was huge and strong. Once she sent me to the shop three times to get diﬀerent things for our dinner. After the third time,I said to her, “Why don’t you decide what you need ﬁrst,so I can get everything in one trip?” She got mad and took a piece of ﬁrewood from the ﬁre and hit me on the head, and I bled. She tore oﬀmy shirt as a bandage, and she cried over the wound.I laughed and said,“You hit me,and now you cry.”
As a young boy, I was rather naughty. I would not be bullied,and despite my small size, I was often chosen as a leader. As children,we played ping-pong,cards,and dominoes. We also went swimming, but sometimes my mother would beat me because she thought I was going to drown.
At high tide,we would jump oﬀ the waterfront at Forodhani or in front of the old English Club. Cinema was also very popular in those days. We’d go to the Majestic Cinema, the Empire Cinema, and the Sultana Cinema. I saw Bogart, Sinatra, Dorothy Lamour, Ava Gardner, and Elizabeth Taylor. I liked Western ﬁlms more than Indian ﬁlms because I could not understand what was happening in the Indian pictures.
I spent most of my years attending primary school in the home of my grandmother in Ng’ambo. She was verystrict, tidy, and clean; she would sweep outside the house, and anyone who came, she would chase away. She had the cleanest toilet around, which everyone in the neighborhood knew about. Since she once lived in the sultan’s palace, I used to walk and play in the palace, but I also played with the local African boys. I had no established roots and no allegiance to one part of Zanzibar Town or any particular racial community. I was proud of myself and of my family, but not of my race. I did not belong to the school of thought that Arabs had achieved great things in Africa. What had they achieved? Nothing, except the accumulation of wealth for some and poverty for others. Whatever progress was achieved in Zanzibar was the product of historical accident.
Once when I was veryyoung,I dreamt my grandmother took me to Pemba and introduced me to old ladies standing in a vast clearing, all with their earlobes pulled down to their shoulders.This was at Giningi, a place famous in Pemba for where wachawi [witches] like to congregate. There, in front of that gathering of wachawi, she asked them to protect me from evil for the rest of my life. In the morning, I told her about my dream, and she said “Shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone.”I was very young, an innocent boy less than seven years old, but since then I have been a survivor.
My friendship with [Abdulrahman Muhammed] Babu began at a very early age. Babu, who became the brains of our political struggle here in Zanzibar, was several years older than I and lived just across the alley from our house in Malindi. He would tease me whenever my family served rice because he could see I liked to eat ukokoand matandu, which was the rice crust that would collect on the earthen pots after boiling. I liked to dip the rice crust in curry,but Babu would joke with me about that because normally people would not eat the matandu; they would just leaveit for the servants.
I was seven when World War II started, and food was very scarce since most of it was imported, except cassava and bananas. Ships did not run during the war, so bread and other imported foods were rationed. The British made it compulsory for each family with land to plant some sweet potatoes and cassava, and if the family did not, they were arrested. Around ﬁve in the evening, we had our meal, which was our last food until the next day. In the mornings, we had just a cup of tea. I never
Knew how my mother managed to support us; maybe she received money from her boyfriends. I never asked. I think that is why later I became more sympathetic with the working people, because of that experience of hardship. It was during the war that racial discrimination became very apparent in Zanzibar. According to the colonial rationing system, the Africans did not receive any imported rice or bread, but the Asians and Arabs got rations of rice and wheat ﬂour of equal quantities. I remember because my mum sent me to the shop with the ration card. Because of this system, I think the British were responsible to a great extent for racial prejudice in Zanzibar. If, when the British came, Arabs were already predominant, they continued Arab dominance for their own ends.