Category Archives: Democracy

Eritrean refugees are a humanitarian emergency

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Eritrea is regularly ranked as the most repressive countries in Africa. There is essentially no internet and absolutely no free press, and Freedom House ranks it as the 3rd “least free” country in the world. There are no elections, no legislature, and no non-profit organizations. Uniquely, obligatory military conscription, starting in the last year of high school, can last for decades. The harsh conditions during service coupled with brutal punishments for evading it constitute nationalized slavery. Poverty is grinding and, aside from remittances, immune to international bolstering now that sanctions have been put in place against the government for human rights abuses.

Eritreans flee their country at rates unmatched by any other country not actively experiencing war (e.g. Syria)—making it an “emptying nation“. Over 5000 Eritreans flee each month to then make up the 7th largest migrant population in Europe, despite the small country only having a population of 6 million.

Their trek is one of the deadliest in the world. A quarter million Eritreans occupy crowded refugee camps across the border in Sudan and Ethiopia, from which Eritrea gained independence in a civil war in 1991. They travel by foot north across the Sahara. They then constitute the majority of migrants to arrive in Italy.

But, they don’t stay.  Only 1 in 100 Eritreans in Italy applies for asylum there, most continuing on to Switzerland or Germany. There are obvious reasons for this: Italy takes a harsher stance on immigrants, has less developed infrastructure for immigrants, and works with a smaller budget.

However, there are also reasons to expect them to stay once they get there. They arrive in Italy mentally and physically exhausted, and with very little money with which to proceed onward. (This might be why arrivees in Italy are now being flown to other parts of Europe.) Also, one might expect a historical link to play a role in where Eritreans settle, as Italy occupied (but did not colonize) what is now Eritrea to create Italian East Africa before WWII. Refugees and members of the diaspora often seek out developed countries with which they have a historical connection. We see this with the Nigerian population in the UK and Algerians in France. Eritreans are not doing this. Perhaps the connection with Italy was too weak and is too far past, or perhaps they understand that other European countries are better able to meet the needs of African refugees.

Consider that Germany is concerned enough with refugee well-being that it now hosts a gender/sexuality-sensitive refugee center to help protect those with minority LGBTQ status. Too often, especially when migrants are housed with others of their same nationalities, discrimination and harassment that occurred in their home countries can also be reproduced in welcome centers and government housing. As I found in my ethnographic research on transgender Pakistani migrants, violence based on gender expression was reproduced by other Pakistanis awaiting asylum applications along with them. Gender stereotypes and differentiated roles between men and women also take root because changing a person’s location doesn’t necessarily change their ideology and culture.

Italy also cannot offer Eritreans the housing options of other European countries. Albeit with the benefit of finances impossible elsewhere, Luxembourg has managed to place many refugees with host families to support them (and after Syrians, Eritreans constitute the most asylum cases there). Italy also has a more encumbered immigration system in which cases languish longer than in the rest of Western Europe.

The good news is that immigrants now have easier access to employment in Italy, which they want. Most Eritrean immigrants are teenage boys escaping conscription who are eager to work and build a life. Previously asylum applicants had to wait six months to hold a job, and now its just 60 days.  Boredom is a mental health issue for many who await an asylum application, and the Italian government hopes that putting them to work will also help Italians to be more accepting of their presence in the country.

To try to stem the tide of Eritrean migrants, the EU and the UN have invested in a job creation program based on building industrial parks that would make 100,000 new jobs. This would change the opportunity cost for Eritreans seeking to make the dangerous land crossing across north Africa followed by the equally perilous boat ride across the Mediterranean. Ostensibly, these jobs would likely go to men, and there has been no discussion of how to improve economic security for Eritrean women. It is debatable if industrial parks can off-set widespread human rights abuses and plaguing poverty, but it is worth trying.


Idrissi Artfully Addresses Perceptions of Africa


What is the Population of Nigeria? Maybe 182 Million, Maybe.

The Economist published a comprehensive and clear piece on Nigeria’s struggles to understand it’s own population numbers. It is a more concise version of my previous post on what even makes Nigeria a state at all. It is something we may not think about often, but an accurate and up-to-date census is vital to a strong democracy.  It helps determine which representatives get power, where social and public services need to be implemented, and, truly, it separates a well-functioning government from the Wild West.

Nobody knows how many Nigerians there are.

No census has yet arrived at an accurate figure.

NIGERIA is Africa’s most populous country, a designation it wears with pride. It had more than 182m citizens in 2015, according to the World Bank, and is poised to have the world’s third-largest population, behind India and China, by 2050. But that figure and the extrapolation are based on Nigeria’s 2006 census, which was probably exaggerated. Parliamentary seats and central government money are handed out to states based on population, giving politicians an incentive to inflate the numbers. In 2013 the head of the National Population Commission (NPC), Festus Odimegwu, said that neither the 2006 census nor any previous one had been accurate. He resigned soon after (the then-government said he was fired).

Counting Nigerians has caused controversy since the colonial era. The country was stitched together from two British colonies: a largely Christian south and a Muslim-dominated north. In the lead-up to independence in 1960, the British were accused by southerners of manufacturing a majority in the north, which they were thought to favour. In 1962 unofficial census figures showed population increases in some south-eastern areas of as high as 200% in a decade. The full data were never published and northern leaders held a recount, which duly showed they had retained their majority (their region had apparently grown by 84%, rather than the originally estimated 30%). This politicking led to coups, the attempted secession of what was then known as the Eastern Region and a civil war.

The north-south divide has remained salient; there is still an unwritten rule that the presidency should alternate between a northerner and a southerner. Allegations that the north has manipulated its way to a majority continue. The censuses of 1973 and 1991 were annulled. In 2006 arguments flared when 9.4m people were counted in the northern state of Kano, compared with just 9m in Lagos, the commercial capital. The Lagos state government conducted its own, technically illegal, census and came up with 17.5m (probably a vast overestimate). A new national census has been repeatedly delayed. It is now scheduled for 2018, but the NPC’s estimate that it will “gulp” 223bn naira ($708m) may mean the count is put off indefinitely.

Even by other methods, Nigeria’s population has proven tricky to pin down. Africapolis, a French-funded research project, used satellite mapping to estimate the population of towns and cities in 2010. It found several cities, mostly in the north, had hundreds of thousands fewer people than the 2006 census counted. But even those data are not entirely trustworthy: it later transpired that the researchers had underestimated urbanisation in the densely populated Niger delta. Until there is an accurate, impartial census it will be impossible to know just how many Nigerians there really are. That means government policy will not be fully anchored in reality and it will not be possible to send resources where they are most needed.

Homi Baba: Why We are Still Afflicted by Colonialism Everyday

For Bhaba, would internalized oppression be a form of mimicry? Or, can someone engage in mimicry outwardly while still be unaccepting inwardly of their inferior status? I have observed Nigerians engaged in what seems to be mimicry, while still maintaining intense tribal pride, e.g. the Ogonis.

The paragraph on revolting against “doubling” in India, or indigenous clerks realizing they no longer wanted to perform colonial functions, is also applicable to Africa. It is a catalyst for self-emancipation when men go away to foreign wars as soldiers. Anglophone West Africans who fought for the British during WWII returned to their countries after fighting side-by-side with White European comrades; they had been brothers in battle. Those African men reclaimed their homes with a new sense of autonomy that contributed to the golden year of independence later on—1960. I would argue that WWII helped to end some of Bhaba’s manifestations of oppression, like doubling, in that sense.

The Conversation Room

Author: Anand Bose

Homi Baba is one of the foremost thinkers of Post Colonial Criticism and belongs to the school of thought known as Post Structuralism.

Homi Baba has made intrusions into the philosophy of language where texts become constructs for post colonial criticism. For Baba Colonialism has not been a straight forward clique between the oppressed and the oppressors but an evolving semantic machine marked by psychological anxiety and tension between the oppressor and the oppressor.

Here in this article I would like to articulate some ideas of Homi Baba on Post Colonial Criticism. They are hybridization, mimicry, uncanny, doubling, difference, ambivalence and anxiety. For Baba, a nation is always in the process of evolution and a nation is not a fixed entity.

Hybridization is a process through which cultures interact, mix and develop new cultural and evolutionary tendencies. A common example can be taken is that of the…

View original post 650 more words

Peace Corps’s Grassroots Diplomacy Done Right in Africa

The above video is an example of the finest of volunteers produced by the U.S. Peace Corps. I served with Baktash Ahadi (Mozambique 2004-2006) and saw him embody the three goals of the organization: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of peoples served, to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. As his TED Talk demonstrates, Mozambique was a better place, and he was a better person, because he was there. So, why isn’t the program everywhere in Africa?

Although Nigeria has a domestic Peace Corps staffed by young Nigerians, the United States has had a very tenuous relationship regarding PC since the founding of the American program in 1961 under John F. Kennedy. The international outreach program was plagued by a problems in its first year in Nigeria, when anti-colonial sentiment was running high. In the first months, a young volunteer dropped a postcard to her friend describing squalid living conditions there. A fellow student picked it up and upon its release, University of Ibaban students accused the volunteers of being American spies intent on a neocolonial agenda. Such political tensions remained until the program was then closed down in Nigeria in 1976. It again operated briefly from 1992-1995. Since then, there have been no substantive talks to reinstate the volunteer program there.

There are certainly challenges that the Peace Corps faces that must give us pause.  It does not tend to go to the neediest countries, hence its continued programs in Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Romania, etc., and a lack of presence in most of central Africa. Volunteers are young and inexperienced (for who else has the luxury of giving up their entire U.S. life?). I can personally attest to the disappointing medical care available to volunteers. I witnessed volunteers who faced mental health challenges living out in the bush all on their own. (However, admittedly, our 20s are often not the most stable of times anyway, and many a post-graduates in the U.S. faces their own personal stumbling blocks even at home.)

But, ultimately, I do believe the pros outweigh the cons, if only for the immeasurable and profound symbolic force that is the Peace Corps. Development and measurable impact aside, it says an immense amount about the American psyche that we can even produce thousands of young people willing to go live in poverty of their own volition. It says an immense amount about U.S. values that we spend tax money on such a program. I truly believe that Peace Corps helps improve the view of Americans in most countries that it operates in, reducing potential military expenditure based on potential tensions. In Mozambique, it makes rural villagers feel good that they are worthy of a college educated American’s talents and time. It makes them feel they matter.

I have heard the sentiment that Nigeria is too corrupt to host a U.S. Peace Corps program, and that the rate of kidnapping for ransom of foreigners is too high. There is the argument that Nigeria is too far removed from independence, that if the U.S. doesn’t implement a program in the years following independent statehood, then the country becomes intractably entrenched in its ways.

My feeling is that if the Peace Corps doesn’t go exactly where the challenges are, exactly where it is most needed, what is the purpose of the program at all?


What If You Held An African Summit And No Africans Could Come?

From NPR’s 

Photo illustration by David Malan

The African Global Economic and Development Summit took place at the University of Southern California from March 16th to 18th.

None of the approximately 60 invited guests from Africa were able to attend.

The problem was that none of the African delegates were able to get U.S. visas.

Humphrey Mutaasa from the mayor’s office in Kampala, Uganda, had organized a delegation of 11 business leaders from Uganda to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit at the University of Southern California.

He says it was a very high level group of leaders from private businesses, the Ugandan ministry of trade, chambers of commerce and the Kampala mayor’s office.

“The delegation that was coming from Uganda to that summit was very, very disappointed,” he says.

The conference was first held in 2013 and seeks to strengthen business ties between U.S. investors and African companies, says summit chairwoman Mary Flowers.

Visa problems have been an issue before, she says. In the past, she says roughly 40 percent of African invitees are unable to get the papers they need to attend, mainly due to a combination of red tape and bureaucracy.

“This year we were thinking there are going to be some rejections but some will still come,” she says. “But it was 100 percent blocked across the board.”

It’s hard to find out exactly why.

Delegations were invited from 12 countries across the continent. None of them were from the three African nations (Libya, Somalia and Sudan) covered by President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel from 6 majority Muslim countries.

Flowers speculates new vetting procedures put in place by the Trump administration are discriminating against travelers from Africa.

“Obviously because this has never happened before,” she says of the inability of anyone to come.

The White House has called for “enhanced screening and vetting of applications for visas” worldwide as part of stepped up efforts to keep out terrorists.

A State Department official on background tells NPR that they can’t comment on any individual visa applications but says all applications are screened on a case-by-case basis. And the eligibility requirements for getting a visa haven’t changed.

Some of the African delegates to the summit say their visa applications were denied because they didn’t show a compelling reason why they would return home after the event. Others say bureaucratic hurdles were so big that they were not able to submit a visa application in the first place.

Humphrey Mutaasa in Kampala says the online application is complicated. You can’t even see how long the process will take until after you’ve paid a $160 application fee at a local bank. Then you have to wait a day to get a confirmation code to book an interview at the U.S. embassy.

“Then when you’ve finished that and you have the codes from the bank … there are the challenges of internet connectivity,” he says. “When you get online then the calendar [from the Embassy] will tell you the whole of February, there are no appointments, You can only secure an appointment after the 15th of March.”

Which meant he wouldn’t have a ruling on his visa until after the three day conference had concluded.

The end result of this year’s visa outcome, says Flowers, is going to be fewer connections between American business and the continent.

“I don’t know whether there’s some secret message going to the U.S. embassies in these African countries but it’s ridiculous,” she says. “The [visa] process was already somewhat discriminatory against the African nations in the past. We don’t know what the story is now but I do hope that America remains open to the world.”

One of My Presentations on Women’s Protests

Below is an excerpt from part of a talk I gave on women’s role in Nigerian protests against oil extraction. Oil activities are blamed for environmental destruction, police violence, corruption, and lack of economic growth.

One of my research findings on Niger Delta oil politics was what I termed “positional arbitrage.” This means that local chiefs and male elites used their positions to help incite protests against oil companies and the government at times, as they were well positioned to gain from women’s demonstrations.

The talk also covers some other details about the oil reform movement in the region.

Are U.S. border officials really qualified to test IT knowledge?

The following story has just emerged about a Nigerian software engineer who was made to answer computer engineering questions at New York’s JFK airport, as a way of testing the validity of his work visa to enter the U.S. This is a bizarre and untested way of confirming the validity of a visa, a product of the new “Wild West” of U.S. immigration policy.

It is troubling because it targets a highly skilled professional with the ability to fruitfully contribute to the American economy and human capital. To have been hired by this American firm, Celestine Omin must have valuable IT acumen. To impede his work for a U.S. company is a detriment to the American IT sector, the  spread of knowledge across borders, and the millions of consumers who benefit from IT development. The story is below.


US immigration officials force Nigerian software engineer to complete written test to prove his computer knowledge

It looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: ‘Questions to ask a software engineer’

US immigration officials forced a Nigerian software engineer to complete a written test on binary search trees to prove his computer knowledge.

Customs and Border Protection officers, took Celestine Omin, 28, into a room for further

He told them he worked for Andela, a tech start-up with offices in New York, Lagos, Nairobi and San Francisco, which claims to take “the most talented developers on the African continent” and link them with potential US employers.

The firm has offices in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, San Francisco, New York and the Nigerian city of Lagos, which was visited by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the  officers then presented him with  a piece of paper and a pen and told to answer these two questions to prove he is actually a software engineer:

“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”

“What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?”

In computer science, binary search trees are a particular type of data structure that store items such as numbers or names.

Omin told Linkedin that he thought the questions could have multiple answers and looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

After spending about 10 minutes working on them, he handed in his answers only to be told they were wrong.

As time passed, he said that he expected to be sent home to Nigeria, only for the official to let him go.

“He said, ‘Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me,’” Omin said. “I didn’t say anything back. I just walked out.”

It later emerged that the officers had phoned Andela to verify his story.

Nigeria is not one of the included in US President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The U.S. Travel Ban on Muslims, Nigeria, and Why It’s Such a Bad Idea

Although Nigeria has little potential (at this point) to make the U.S. travel ban, Trump’s Executive Order signed last week is bad news for everyone. There is great potential that it will last beyond the initial 90 days. I don’t believe Nigeria would ever be considered for the ban, despite the coverage of the 2012 “Underwear Bomber” and Boko Haram’s activities. The oil-based trade relationship between the countries is too important (5% of all U.S. oil comes from Nigeria). Trade in oil is also the reason that Saudi Arabia is not on the travel ban list, despite the large role of Saudi attackers in 9/11. Additionally, the travel ban gives preference to visas for Christians, which comprise a large number of Nigerian applications.

However, about a quarter million Americans claim Nigerian ancestry. Some of those may well be trying to bring family members to the U.S. There are tiers of prioritization of family-based visas, from Family First (minor children of citizens) to Family Fourth (brothers and sisters of citizens). I found a report from last year showing that Africans make up just under 4% of all family visa requests, far eclipsed by those from Central America. Here is the list by region:


To visually show you African applications compared to other regions:


Although this may seem like a low number of application, Yomi Kazeem points out that Nigeria “may be caught in diplomatic cross-hairs of Trump’s ‘America First’ visa policies. In 2015, Nigeria accounted for 32% of the nearly half a million non-immigrant American visas issued to nationals of African countries and received more visas than the four other countries that make up the top five in Africa when combined.”

He also argues that with the understanding of reciprocity, Nigeria and any other country has the capacity to treat American visa applicants in the same manner that the U.S. treats their foreign citizens. Securing my Nigerian visas was an incredibly difficult feat several years ago, and I can’t imagine what it will be like if there are any more demands on applicants.

Why the Travel Ban Makes No Sense At All:

Although The Executive Order currently only includes three African countries—Somalia, Sudan, and Libya—it is disastrous on so many levels across the globe.  It endangers U.S. citizens by fostering animosity among those who are already anti-American, and alienating potential Muslim allies. (Why would pro-democracy Afghanis or Iraqis support our cause on the ground now?) It stokes the irrational fears of Americans who fail to recognize that less than 70 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorism (attackers included) since 9/11. Most clearly, it denies refugee status to those who would otherwise become important actors in the U.S. economy, and instead created furthers the burden on our ally countries in already-taxed Europe. Or worse, it forces immigrants and refugees back to the very countries that are an environment that is ripe for radicalization.  It is much safer for Americans to have teenage boys from Syria trying to build a life in the U.S. than leaving them to the Aleppo streets, where their options for radicalization are infinitely greater.

Did I yet mention how the travel ban creates a “brain drain” for us as we lose thousands of talented PhDs, scientists, engineers, and technology experts from the Middle East?  The U.S. is now turning away people who could find the cure for cancer, create more energy efficient buildings, and revolutionize the way we understand the world. Even if the ban is lifted after 90 days, many may not want to return to a hostile environment.

Ethical and legal implications aside, the travel ban is inherently…irrational, in both the everyday and the economic sense.Then again, no one ever claimed that a politics of fear makes sense.

African Immigration’s Future in the Age of Trump

The number of African immigrants arriving to the United States has roughly doubled each decade since the 1970s. There are almost 2 million African immigrants currently living in the U.S., accounting for about 4.5% of the immigrant population. Although this is not a large number, they have the fastest growth rate of any immigrant group.  Almost half of all Africans are Muslim, which means a notable portion of the African immigrants arriving to the U.S. each year are too. This is significant considering Trump’s stance on Muslims in the United States.

Under a Trump administration, there would certainly be a reduction in the number of refugee and asylum statuses granted, including to Muslims seeking protection from fundamentalism in their home countries. The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, almost 40,000. Most of them were from the Middle East, however, and I have not been able to find numbers on African Muslim refugees. Trump argues that allowing Muslims into the U.S. puts the country at risk for terrorist attacks, although there is no evidence that this is true.  Anecdotally, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been perpetrated by those on student visas or those with long-time ties, including citizenship.

Cutting off a safety route to Muslims who are seeking to separate themselves from the homelands that have oppressed them is exactly the opposite of what a security-minded Trump should be doing to minimize terrorism.  By allowing Muslims to enter the U.S., we strengthen ties to global Islamic communities, improve our image, and separate disaffected Muslims from the places that foster malcontent towards Americans. African countries from which the U.S. would be wise to accept more immigrants include those with growing extremist tendencies, e.g. Sudan, Nigeria, and Mali. Barring such individuals’ entry into the U.S. system keeps them in fundamentalist locations, where they can then live with a much more jaded view of the West.

These are all hypothetical concerns because, although Trump will be arguably the most powerful head of state in the world, bureaucracies are still bureaucracies. He will (hopefully) still have to make such inhospitable immigration changes within the confines of a government slow to change.  He will be bolstered by a Republican Congress, but it is yet to be determined how much GOP support he will enjoy. Since he is divisive among his own party at this point, he may very well get in his own way when it comes to realizing his goals of isolating Muslims from the American mainstream. Let’s hope that is actually the case, that he, and his ill-chosen words, is his own greatest obstacle. If not, if he does what he claims he wants to do, American-Muslim relations can only become more precarious.