Penpals: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

I just came across this fascinating letter that Karl Marx wrote to Abraham Lincoln, following the latter’s re-election in 1864.

We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

… The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

On a related note, my girlfriend and I recently watched Lincoln while on a short work/fun trip to Ghana (posts on Ghana coming soon). The controversies over the historical accuracy of parts of the film aside, Lincoln is a must-watch. The movie does a brilliant job of portraying the complexities that inhabit all humans – good or bad, or somewhere in-between.

The abolitionists in 19th century America were no altar boys. Their triumph against slavery was also a triumph against parts of themselves.

Another interesting thing about the movie is how Obama-esque the Lincoln in the movie is, or it might be that Obama has read so much Lincoln that he emulates the man from Illinois. The truth is probably a mix of both. It is almost impossible to imagine that the first black president would have no influence on the production of a movie about the president who signed into law an act abolishing slavery.

Go watch Lincoln.

And Django Unchained which is also awesome – but which I had to finish watching alone at the hotel because of a skype appointment with my adviser (and the Tarantino violence which in the end was too much for my girlfriend).

An infinitely more sophisticated review of the two films (Django Unchained and Lincoln) by a scholar of their subject matter can be found here.

Will Joyce Banda become Malawi’s next president?

UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that Malawi’s vice president, Joyce Banda, was sworn in as president on Saturday, ending a tense 36 hours of speculation and confusion about the future of one of central Africa’s most enduring democracies after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday.

UPDATE: government broadcaster MBC officially declared his death in the past hour. The Office of the President and Cabinet has also stated that the constitution will be followed with respect to succession (H/T dada Kim Yi Dionne over at Haba na Haba).

The passing on of President Mutharika in Malawi raises important (and interesting) constitutional questions surrounding the issue of succession. The constitution says that the Vice President should take over in the case the president is dead or incapacitated. This means that Ms Joyce Banda is entitled to the presidency.

Source: The Maravi Post

But Ms Banda fell out with President Mutharika in 2010 and has since been kicked out of the ruling party. Mutharika then imposed his brother (legal academic Peter Mutharika) on the ruling party and declared him the party’s candidate in the 2014 election. The younger Mutharika has been the one stepping in for the president instead of the VP. As a result the delay in declaring the death of Mutharika in Malawi has been rumored to be because the cronies of the president are looking for ways to deny Ms Banda automatic ascendancy to the presidency, and a head start in the upcoming presidential race.

So will Ms Banda be able to ascend to the presidency? My answer is Yes. And I have two reasons.

First, the fact that Mutharika could not fire Banda is evidence that the idea of an intra-family succession was not completely accepted by the Malawian political elite, including those from the president’s own DPP. The president’s party got 59% of the vote in the 2009 legislative elections and could have easily engineered a vote of no confidence (impeachment) against the VP or a constitutional amendment to deny the VP automatic succession (Mutharika and/or his brother should have acted on the inside information on his health situation).

Second, the DPP is more divided than Mutharika’s almost auto-coup led on. For instance, part of the reason why the constitutional route was not taken to fix Ms Banda is because the speaker of Parliament, Hon. Henry Chimunthu Banda (no relation to Ms Banda) has ambitions for the presidency.

The government of Malawi has not officially declared Mutharika dead yet. But when they do I suspect that Ms Banda is most likely to ascend to the presidency.

H/T  Lonjezo Hamisi.

Drezner on the academic/policy divide

As someone who plans to straddle the academic/policy divide I found Drezner’s (over at FP) recent post quite interesting. Here is an excerpt:

I think the academic/policy divide has been wildly overblown, but here’s my modest suggestion on how to bridge it even further.  First, wonks should flip through at recent issues of APSR and ISQ — and hey, peruse International Organization, International Security, and World Politics while you’re at it.  You’d find a lot of good, trenchant, policy-adjacent stuff.  Second, might I suggest that authors at these journals be allowed to write a second abstract — and abstract for policymakers, if you will?  Even the most jargonesed academic should be able to pull off one paragraph of clean prose.  Finally, wonks should not be frightened by statistics.  That is by far the dominant “technical” barrier separating these articles from general interest reader. 

More on this here.

For a slightly different view of social science and its relevance check out this piece by Clarke and Primo over at the Times.

Human brutality timeline

The Times has a chat on the timeline of human brutality. Encouragingly, the overall picture appears to be that (compared to past periods) less people – as a percentage of the total – die from violence. Here is the Times on the top three most deadly human conflicts:

The savagery of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan may have culled the global population by about 11 percent; two bloody upheavals in China — the An Lushan Rebellion and the collapse of the Xin Dynasty — each may have felled about 6 percent of humanity. Those are but 3 of the 100 worst atrocities in history, as cataloged by Matthew White in “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things,” an amusing (really) account of the murderous ways of despots, slave traders, blundering royals, gladiators and assorted hordes.

More on this here.

Explaining academia’s liberal bias

According to the New York Times it is more than just self-selection. There is also screening:

“The tendency of liberals to pursue advanced education isn’t a result of higher I.Q. or less materialism or any such indirect factor,” Dr. Gross told me. He pointed instead to a direct factor: the liberal reputation of the profession since it came of age in the Progressive Era. “The liberalism of professors is explained mostly by self-selection,” Dr. Gross said, arguing that conservatives avoid fields with reputations that don’t fit their self-identity.

But many conservatives insist that a liberal reputation wouldn’t dissuade them from taking a gig with tenure and summers off. The self-selection theory doesn’t satisfy Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, a group critical of what it calls liberal bias in academia. Dr. Wood, a political conservative, is a former professor of anthropology and associate provost at Boston University.

….. Dr. Wood wrote. “If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others.”

…….. If you were a conservative undergraduate, would you risk spending at least four years in graduate school in the hope of getting a job offer from a committee dominated by people who don’t share your views?

More on this here.

Welcoming Southern Sudan to the EAC

UPDATE: A related article on Uganda’s influence in the soon to be independent South Sudan can be found in the New York Times.

In three days the East African Community will celebrate the independence of its next newest member. Because of SPLM connections in Kenya, among other East African nations, the Southern Sudanese economy will most likely orient itself southwards.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan, for instance, will link Southern Sudan to the Indian Ocean coast via a pipeline and railway line. Oil from South Sudan is currently exported through Port Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. The planned link to Lamu would reduce that distance to 1,700 kilometres.

For Southern Sudan, economic ties with its southern neighbors will not only grant it access to much needed capital and skilled labor but also implicitly guarantee it security against its menacing neighbor to the north.

I doubt that Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda will sit on their hands if the north decides to bomb local offices of Equity Bank, Ethiopian Airlines or Ugandan retail outlets in Juba (Remember the “Kenyan” tanks fiasco?). It also helps that IGAD has suddenly woken up to the security challenges posed by proxy wars among its member states. Kenya’s president, and current head of IGAD, recently chastised Eritrea for its ties with militant groups in the region.

IGAD will provide yet another forum for the region to put pressure on Khartoum to honor the CPA and not resort to war.

Several Kenyan companies have already set up shop in Juba. About 70,000 Kenyans live and work in Southern Sudan. According to the Business Daily:

Although several major Kenyan companies like Equity Bank, KCB, UAP Insurance and many small enterprises operate in South Sudan, the independence declaration on July 9 is expected to trigger another wave of corporate movement there.

Bidco Refineries that has a dealership in South Sudan, for example, is expected to consider having a physical presence there, said the company’s CEO Vimal Shah in an earlier interview. Kenyan manufacturers are, however, discouraged by low consumption levels and shortage of power, water and sewerage systems.

Co-operative Bank of Kenya is also expected to start setting up its banking infrastructure with a new venture that will be 30 per cent owned by the Government of South Sudan.

The new bank is expected to benefit from government business as it will process salaries of government employees and enjoy business arising from the government’s shareholding in the venture. The peaceful aftermath of the January 9 referendum that voted for secession from the North has helped to improve the country’s risk profile.

africa in the news

Forget about the elections in Tanzania or the Ivory Coast. What matters for the American audience as far as news from Africa go are human interest stories such as this one which made it to the front page of the New York Times.

I echo the point of the Times piece. It really sucks being a hunter-gatherer in Botswana. And by extension, it really sucks being a citizen of Chad, Niger, Uganda or any one of the 40 other countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the “good news” (see earlier post below) things are really bad on the Continent.

Africa deserves all the bad press it gets. Period. The only problem is that Africans have not been able to participate effectively in the discourse on their continent or attempted to contextualize the bad press. The continent long lost the game of framing the narrative.

the mdgs

Since everyone is currently talking about the MDGs and how they may or may not be achieved on time here is a nice piece from Bill Easterly.

According to an Oxfam study, eliminating US cotton subsidies would “improve the welfare of over one million West African households – 10 million people – by increasing their incomes from cotton by 8 to 20 per cent”.

I may not always agree with Bill but I think his basic approach to development is spot on. Just like in most human endeavors (politics, economics, sports) systems based on human goodwill are bound to fail while those based on self-interestedness thrive. There is no magic bullet in development, but there is definitely a better approach than is currently being employed. Lets not forget that aid is supposed to eventually lead to self-reliance.

It is already clear that the goals will not be met by their target date of 2015. One can already predict that the ruckus accompanying this failure will be loud about aid, but mostly silent about trade. It will also be loud about the failure of state actions to promote development, but mostly silent about the lost opportunities to allow poor countries’ efficient private business people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Bono has a slightly less realistic more hopeful take on the progress towards achieving the MDGs.

three cheers to gettleman and his ilk

I am on record as being very critical of Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times bureau chief for eastern Africa. His sensational reporting from the region has oftentimes painted a one dimensional picture of events and portrayed east Africans as irrational and passive beings at the mercy of fate, and their sadistic rulers. That said, Mr. Gettleman and others who share in his bravery remain the only sources of somewhat credible news reports from  crazy places such as Somalia and eastern DR Congo. Listening to him on Fresh Air today reminded me that even though I may not agree with his presentation style, Mr. Gettleman is doing a brave job of reminding the world of the many evils that still define some people’s lived reality.

Obiang is back in the news

The diminutive dictator Brig. Gen. (ret.) Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of  Equatorial Guinea since 1979, is back in the news. After the UNESCO fiasco which nearly earned him the title of clown of the month of June Obiang is back again in the news, this time with an American PR agent. The Times reports that Mr. Obiang is attempting to “recast his reputation as a corrupt, repressive leader in a more progressive mold.” His agent, Mr. Davis even told journalists that “If there are political prisoners and no substantive charges against them, they will be freed.”Yeah right.

I suggest that Mr. Davis and his client start by reining in on the playboy son of the president, Little Teodoro. The younger Obiang’s lavish extravagance explains why Equatorial Guinea, a country with a per capita income of US $ 36,600 and a population of just over 0.5 million, has a life expectancy of 43 years, with 77% of its citizens living below the poverty line as of 2006.

The ONE question Obiang should be asked the next time he meets the press is: how hard can it be to run a country of 500,000 people with ALL that money?