Next week, China will host leaders from across Africa for a summit in Beijing. The last summit was held in December 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Chinese President Xi Jinping announced $60 billion in funding support for infrastructure development in Africa.
The upcoming Forum on China-Africa Cooperation is sure to include an eye-popping announcement of billions of dollars more in Chinese financing to build infrastructure across the continent. But these massive loans can come with steep and opaque conditions.
It’s tempting for Americans to think this is not our problem. But as African countries sink deeper and deeper into Beijing’s carefully laid debt trap, the United States could pay a steep cost in reduced cooperation on counterterrorism and job creation.
Chinese debt has become the methamphetamines of infrastructure finance: highly addictive, readily available, and with long-term negative effects that far outweigh any temporary high. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where China has become the largest provider of bilateral loans. Forty percent of sub-Saharan African countries are already at high risk of debt distress; by having so much debt concentrated in the hands of a single lender, they are dangerously beholden to their supplier.
Why does this matter? Because in Africa and elsewhere, governments have secured massive loans from Beijing using strategic assets—such as oil, minerals, and land rights— as collateral. If borrower nations find themselves unable to repay the loan, China can claim the strategic asset. Sri Lanka recently learned this the hard way and handed over control of the port of Hambantota, giving China a strategic foothold along a busy trade waterway. According to Professor Brahma Chellaney at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, “several other countries, from Argentina to Namibia to Laos, have been ensnared in a Chinese debt trap, forcing them to confront agonizing choices in order to stave off default.”
While Chinese debt diplomacy may not seem relevant to most Americans, it is a serious threat to U.S. national security. Most directly, China’s crafty negotiations and seizure of strategic assets can limit U.S. influence and access overseas. For instance, the tiny country of Djibouti is home to the most significant American military base in Africa. Thanks to Chinese loans, Djibouti’s debt-to-GDP ratio surged from 50 to 85 percent between 2014 and 2016. If Djibouti were to default and relinquish the port that resupplies the U.S. base, American military capability in Africa and the Middle East could be seriously threatened.
More broadly, unsustainable levels of debt can destabilize African states, which also compromises American security interests. Over-leveraged governments can get caught in a downward spiral of credit downgrades, reckless economic policies, and reduced spending on social services. With economic stagnation comes fewer opportunities for Africa’s fast-growing and young population. And the toxic brew of economic hopelessness and political disillusionment can drive disaffected youth toward violent extremism. That can threaten Americans abroad and, potentially, even at home.
Finally, China’s debt diplomacy shuts out opportunities for U.S. businesses. Not only do Beijing’s cheap infrastructure loans come with conditions to employ Chinese companies, they also set out technical specifications for projects like high-speed railways and wireless networks in a manner that favors Chinese firms. The combined effect of these efforts “would push the United States away from its current position in the global economy and move China toward the center,” according to Jonathan Hillman, a fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. China already earns $180 billion annually from its investments in Africa; if its debt diplomacy remains uncontested, it’s likely that even more revenues and jobs will flow to China, instead of the U.S.
But this outcome is far from inevitable. The U.S. has plenty of good options, but it needs to dramatically step up its game and support alternatives to Beijing’s aggressive finance initiatives. Perhaps most fundamentally, the U.S. needs to focus on boosting African economic growth. Helping African states to strengthen investment climates and economic governance will help them attract more private sector capital and provide more entry points for U.S. companies. A key component is assisting African efforts to increase transparency, so that all the costs and benefits of project finance options are openly known. Fully staffing U.S. embassies and offering more technical assistance to evaluate loan agreements and investment contracts would be a good start.
To date, the Trump Administration’s Africa policy has been adrift, defined more by racial epithets than any cohesive strategy or results. By comparison, China has a clear vision that will yield long-term benefits. In Africa and around the world, much more needs to be done to confront Chinese debt diplomacy. If not, the U.S. will pay a heavy price in its commercial and national security interests.
Harris is CEO of Harris Africa Partners LLC and advises companies on investing in Africa. He was senior director for Africa at the White House from 2011-2015.
Sunday Dare, a deserved ministerial nomination from Oyo State | By Bolaji Tunji
Who is Sunday Dare?
Dr. Sunday Akin Dare is the Executive Commissioner (Stakeholder Management) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NC C).
Until his appointment, he was the Convener of the Social Media Clinic (SMC), a Media/Information Technology (New Media) initiative committed to educating private citizens on IT development and also in the use of telecommunication as an information tool and creating awareness on how to responsibly use the platform provided by advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). He combined this role with being the Chief of Staff / Special Adviser (Media) to former Lagos State Governor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc.) in International Studies from Ahmadu Bello University in 1991. He then proceeded to obtain a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the University of Jos. He was a Freedom Forum Fellow and Visiting Scholar, School of Journalism – New York University (NYU) in 1998. He later proceeded to Harvard University under the prestigious Harvard Nieman Journalism Fellowship between 2000 and 2001 where he studied Media and Public Policy.
In 2011 he won the Reuters Foundation Journalism Research Fellowship, University of Oxford, UK where he researched “New Media and Citizen Journalism in Africa – A Case Study: Using New Media Tools and Citizen Journalism to Investigate Corruption in Nigeria.”
Mr. Dare has decades of multimedia journalism experience spanning about 25 years (1991 and 2016) when he was nominated as Executive Commissioner.
He was the Chief, Hausa Service, African Division, Voice of America (VOA) in Washington, DC from 2001 to 2009, where, apart from directing the production of radio and online broadcast news and programs daily, he designed and implemented the adoption of new IT and Telecoms tools for international radio news- gathering and information dissemination to boost audience size and expand reach. He supervised the work of eleven (11) International Radio Broadcast Journalists based in Washington DC alongside 24 reporters/stringers based in West Africa for VOA.
He was a founding member of the Nigerian weekly magazines The News and Tempo in the heady days of the military, where he served as Editor, Tempo magazine and pioneer Online Editor/General.
He had been reporter/columnist with several international publications such as The Nation magazine in New York and a production editor/writer with the European funded Fourth Estate magazine during the struggle against military dictatorship in Nigeria.
In 2009, he became Senior Special Assistant (Media) / Chief of Staff to the Minister of Information and Communications during which he guided decisions on all media and communications related matters, government information dissemination and media policies under the purview of the Ministry. He was at this time assigned to oversee aspects of the operations of the NCC and brief the Minister of Information and Communications on issues, challenges and opportunities in Nigeria’s emerging telecommunications market. He also participated in strategic meetings between the office of the Minister, Information and Communications and the NCC leadership at that time, including being a member of the Minister’s advisory team on the sale of the 2.3GHz spectrum frequency.
Mr. Dare is a recipient of many awards and has been recognized internationally, including being identified as one of the 50 Leading Nigerians in North America 2010 in commemoration of Nigeria’s 50th Anniversary. He also won the Voice of America Meritorious Honor Award 2009 in recognition of his skillful leadership and outstanding performance; and he also bagged a Committee to Protect Journalists Citation in 2000 by the New York based organization in acknowledgement of his courage as a journalist.
His published works include; Making A Killing – The Business of War (Public Integrity Books, Washington DC – March 2003), which won the Sigma Delta Chi International investigative award; Guerrilla Journalism: Dispatches From The Underground (Xlibris Corporation, USA. – March 2007); We Are All Journalists – Africa In The Age Of Social Media (Oxford University Press, UK – 2011) the product of Mr. Dare’s research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University; and Datelines – A Journalists’ Narrative (May 2016). Ongoing works include; Butting Heads – Traditional Media Versus Social Media – Who Blinks First and Marriage that Works – The Convergence of Telecoms & ICT.
He is a member and associate of several professional bodies including the US based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) the Investigative Workshop, American University and a former Knight Fellow, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Washington DC.
TALENT is a Miserable Orphan | By Sayo Aluko
This morning, I was in the bathroom with my friend, Mr. iTunes Music player, and as usual, he was on shuffle.
Funny guy. He has mastered the art of sifting through my over 2000 songs like a McCoy, going from a zero to a hundred in a blink.
I mean, nigaa goes 🎵Ijoooba orun, lere oniiigbagbo o🎵in one minute, putting you in celestial mood, and the next thing you’ll hear is, 🎵talo ka pata iya Teacher lo n’Ibadan, kapaichumarimarichupako, zanku, leg work, zanku, gbe bodi e 🎵.
Most times I’ll just smile and be like, “guy, guy…guy!!! how far na! Nawa for you o!”, and then just vibe on.
Back to this morning, I think I was in the middle of that eternally attendant tedium of scrubbing the back when he blazed in with the ranking single – Say You Believe Me – from the 2008 #PlanB reunion album by the Platanshun Boiz trio.
🎵 Baby believe me when I say, na you dey matter for my mind….Girl anytime I look into your eyes it’s like sapphire and diamond inside….The reason why I trip for you is that you truly truly under-under-understand me so so…And there’s many other reasons that makes me dòbálè for yoooou more and more…🎵
You should have seen how my soap-rigged self burst out moves, turned the sponge to a mic and sang along, after I had initially hailed my guy [I’m sure I’m not the only one who hails the Music Player in those moments when it comes through with one correct song].
“Washeere my niggaaa!”, I twale-d.
But as I vibed to this gem of a jam, I got re-struck with the legend of Augustine “Blackface” Ahmedu.
Re-struck because I mean, any and every knower of true sound must have been once or many times stricken by this guy’s apparent talent.
Blackface was [is] easily the most talented of that trio. His voice was [is] the scarce type. He gave different. He wrote 80% of their songs. He sang, rapped, hooked. He had the swagger we loved to see. Oh! That his creamy voice.
Below is an excerpt from a 2016 article by Obinna Fred:
“all three members of the Plantashun Boiz, their managers, record label executives and even music industry insiders are still very much alive and can explain to you the numerous roles which Blackface played in not only naming the group, creating the “Face” personas and also writing a bulk of the music, [not just] anybody can do that…”
He was [is] the most talented, and this is neither an unpopular opinion nor is it an alternative fact [thank you Trump!]
But we all know the other story. At a point, Blackface was rumored to be somewhere on unhappy street, blowing last ashes off cigars of miserable, while staring at bottles of fermented anger. We all know this story.
He didn’t really make it. Especially when compared to Innocent ‘TuFace’ Idibia, the most successful act from that group.
[No, pause. This isn’t one of those look-at-your-mate, inspire-to-aspire-to-expire articles o!]
I put ‘Say You Believe Me’ on repeat, and as largely usual in most Plantashun Boiz’ songs, Blackface sang most part of it. Right there, I couldn’t just stop thinking about whatever it was that stymied the “blow” of Blackface’s talent.
After a while of thought, the only way my mind could explain this was via a sentence – TALENT IS AN ORPHAN – without the right people, talent is nothing.
One could argue this stance for ages, but is quite clear that something wasn’t right about the kind of people who surrounded Blackface. How the hell did someone this talented didn’t get to that zenith where we’d have seen even more of him?
I had to accept that among many other reasons blinded to me, this fact of a lack of right people was top for me.
I wanted to blame the beast of piracy for Blackface’s mishap, but I realized it was a common denominator to most, if not all Nigerian recording artistes. Boom! I was back to the arithmetic of people.
What if he had his own Efe Omoregbe like TuFace does till date? What if he had his own Mama Burna as Burna Boy does, lifesavingly at that? I kept asking myself.
From Blackface’s striking legacy, I couldn’t but help acknowledge that Talent needs its parents – the right people – around it to survive the long haul.
The right people who will:
• curate the right influence around the talent
• bear the weight of the dream bore by the talent
• help find paths to survival for the talent
• become team, a beam, and not burden for the talent
• become family and like-minded advisers for the talent
• become comrades who can say NO to the talent’s vices and make it live.
Talent is not TALENT without [the right] People.
Talent is an ORPHAN without [the right] People.
Talent will end up LONELY without [the right] People.
One is forced to ask – What kind of people are teaming and teeming around one’s purpose, vision, and/or talent?
I heard Blackface is back on his grind now though, and I had to go to his Twitter page to see those efforts – I wish him the best and can’t wait from whatever cooks from that kitchen.
To me, and as I said earlier, to a lot of people who legit sabi, Blackface will always be remembered as a pluripotent multi-genre artiste – who can rap, sing, create roots reggae music as well as dancehall, some sprinkle of Idoma tunes and sometimes gospel. I’ll remember him as a social activist who has always used conscious music as a weapon to speak for the vast majority of masses [we can’t forget the single with Alobai ‘Hard Life’ in a jiffy], and most importantly, a songwriter who penned arguably the greatest and biggest R&B song in Nigerian and African contemporary music history – African Queen.
PS: I have relieved my guy, ITunes Music Player, off its shuffle job today. It’s gonna be an all Blackface Naija weekend….
🎵…it’s a hard life wey dey live for Naija, ja ja ja…🎵
Universities should ban PowerPoint. It makes students stupid and professors boring | By Paul Ralph
Do you really believe that watching a lecturer read hundreds of PowerPoint slides is making you smarter?
I asked this of a class of 105 computer science and software engineering students last semester.
An article in The Conversation argued universities should ban PowerPoint because it makes students stupid and professors boring.
I agree entirely. However, most universities will ignore this good advice because rather than measuring success by how much their students learn, universities measure success with student-satisfaction surveys, among other things.
What’s so wrong with PowerPoint?
Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes, and do homework is unreasonable.
Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and thousands of problems.
A review of research on PowerPoint found that while students liked PowerPoint better than overhead transparencies, PowerPoint did not increase learning or grades. Liking something doesn’t make it effective, and there’s nothing to suggest transparencies are especially effective learning tools either.
Research comparing teaching based on slides against other methods such as problem-based learning — where students develop knowledge and skills by confronting realistic, challenging problems — predominantly supports alternative methods.
PowerPoint slides are toxic to education for three main reasons.
Slides discourage complex thinking. Slides encourage instructors to present complex topics using bullet points, slogans, abstract figures, and oversimplified tables with minimal evidence. They discourage deep analysis of complex, ambiguous situations because it is nearly impossible to present a complex, ambiguous situation on a slide. This gives students the illusion of clarity and understanding.
Reading evaluations from students has convinced me that when most courses are based on slides, students come to think of a course as a set of slides. Good teachers who present realistic complexity and ambiguity are criticized for being unclear. Teachers who eschew bullet points for graphical slides are criticized for not providing proper notes.
Slides discourage reasonable expectations. When I used PowerPoint, students expected the slides to contain every detail necessary for projects, tests, and assignments. Why would anyone waste time reading a book or going to a class when they can get an A by perusing a slide deck at home in their pajamas?
Measuring the wrong things
If slide shows are so bad, why are they so popular?
Universities measure student satisfaction but they do not measure learning. Since organizations focus on what they measure and students like PowerPoint, it stays, regardless of its educational effectiveness.
Hospitals measure morbidity and mortality. Corporations measure revenue and profit. Governments measure unemployment and gross domestic product. Even this website measures readership, broken down by article and author. But universities don’t measure learning.
Exams, term papers, and group projects ostensibly measure knowledge or ability. Learning is the change in knowledge and skills, and therefore must be measured over time.
When we do attempt to measure learning, the results are not pretty. US researchers found that a third of American undergraduates demonstrated no significant improvement in learning over their four-year degree programs.
They tested students in the beginning, middle, and end of their degrees using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an instrument that tests skills any degree should improve – analytic reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving, and writing.
Any university can deploy similar testing to measure student learning. Doing so would facilitate rigorous evaluations of different teaching methods. We would be able to quantify the relationship between PowerPoint use and learning. We would be able to investigate dozens of learning correlates and eventually establish what works and what doesn’t.
Unfortunately, many key drivers of learning appear to reduce student satisfaction and vice versa. As long as universities continue to measure satisfaction but not learning, the downward spiral of lower expectations, less hard work, and less learning will continue.
By Paul Ralph, University of Auckland.
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