Links and News Roundup: 12 November 2013

On the continent, despite improvements in national economies, technology, and certain human development indicators, almost 2 Africans out of 3 remain affected by poverty. The number of poor people has doubled since 1980s and among the world’s 10 most unequal countries, six are in Africa. In a recent survey of more than 50,000 people in 34 African countries about current economic conditions, half say they struggle to meet daily needs like food, clear water, and medicine. The problem with the “rising Africa” narrative is that it isn’t creating a space for their voices and struggles to come to the surface. In centering the discourse on those who are doing well, the resource-poor are written out of mainstream narratives.

Beyond narratives, I am concerned about the dismissive tenor towards the structures capable of expanding the benefits of growth and of addressing inequality — government and the social sector. The state is often presented as a barrier, a liability ripe with corruption and inefficiency that can be leapfrogged by technology and enterprise. At most, the state’s value is to facilitate an investment-friendly environment for business. Where there is a problem, business can resolve it.

The World Bank and IMF have waged a sustained assault on African public services over several decades, and have never been called to account for the profound and lasting damage they have done.

“The police realized fairly quickly that Shingles was not the shooter and knew nothing about it. But they decided to humiliate him a bit before letting him go. They said that if he wanted uncuffed, he would have to perform rap songs for them. If he refused, he would be placed under arrest.”

Can we talk about this? Here are State-sanctioned “law enforcement officers” treating a Black man as a criminal, even after determining that he was not the perpetrator of a crime, and demanding that he perform for them. They demanded his docility, servility in the form of a performance- a highly racialized performance. If he refused, then, they would find a pretext to arrest him, because, after all, Blackness is always already criminal and suspect.

The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine.

“People who don’t finish college are more likely to receive food stamps than are those who go to graduate school. The rolls of people on public assistance are dominated by people with less education. Nevertheless, the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.

During that three-year period, the number of people with master’s degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.’s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of microdata done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.”

Reading this article, I got a whiff of “I have an advanced degree! I’m not one of those poor people!” It’s true, academia and the much-vaunted “life of the mind” tends to eschew association with people who work with their hands (“blue collar”) or people who grapple with poverty. Apparently, academic pursuits are too “high-minded” (see: academic detachment or “objectivity”) for that. Anyway, I saw it most particularly in this passage:

“I tend to look at my experience as a humanist, as someone who is fascinated by human culture,” he says. “Maybe it was a way of hiding from the reality in which I found myself. I never thought I’d be among the poor.”

“If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value.”\

“Fronting a constructed group identity such as the ‘Afropolitan’ backs-up a reductive narrative of Africa and the African, which in turn continues to be an important part of neocolonial power structures. “

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