President Trump, UN Ambassador Haley and Africa by Jeff Grischow

On September 20, 2017, President Trump announced that he was sending UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa.  Two countries were a particular concern for Trump.  At a lunch with African leaders during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Trump told them that the US Government was “closely monitoring and deeply disturbed by the ongoing violence in South Sudan and the (Democratic Republic of) Congo.”  The solutions according to Trump had to be ‘African-led,’ and to support this, Trump said, “I’m sending Ambassador Nikki Haley to Africa to discuss avenues of conflict and resolution, and, most importantly, prevention.”


But this is only part of Trump’s full intentions.  A month later, Haley published an Op Ed on CNN’s under the headline “This is why the President is sending me to Africa.”  Haley laid out three American interests in Africa: humanitarian, economic and strategic.  Haley focused on the first, which Trump alluded to above.  But rather than setting out a blueprint for US assistance, Haley proffered a threat to African leaders – and (maybe more importantly) a reassurance to the American public: unless African politicians cleaned up their act, Trump will withdraw American support for UN humanitarian missions in South Sudan and the DRC.  Underlying this threat is the American assumption that the crises in South Sudan and the DRC are entirely due to a lack of political will on the part of African political leaders.  In South Sudan, the hope of independence on July 9, 2011, was shattered within two years as civil conflict upended any chances of a smooth and peaceful transition to independence.  Meanwhile, Haley said, the DRC has been in chaos since the 1990s and there is little hope of solving the crisis.  The end result has been a steady flow of refugees out of both countries, creating a huge problem and potentially threatening to bring “dangerous results.”

Haley did not explain what she meant by “dangerous results” but we’re relatively safe in assuming she is referring to security threats – probably including threats within the United States.  Given Trump’s travel bans and protectionist (and nativist) policies, could Haley’s unnamed dangers reflect American strategic interests in Africa revolving around international and domestic security?  It’s not implausible.  On the security issue, it is also interesting that the US government has ended the Temporary Protected Status for Sudanese citizens, and (after several extensions) plans to end it for South Sudanese citizens in May, 2019 (TPS allows foreign nationals to stay and work in the USA in cases of civil conflict or natural disasters in their home countries).

Haley did not address American economic interests in her Op Ed.  But Trump reportedly did, in his characteristic style, when he met with the African leaders in New York.  “Africa has tremendous business potential,” he told them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.”  Well, that’s honest I guess.  “I congratulate you,” he continued, “they’re spending a lot of money. But it does, it has tremendous business potential, and representing huge amounts of different markets, and for American firms it’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.”  Interesting.

If we put these pieces together, the Trump’s administration’s African policy appears to relate mainly to (1) domestic security in the US; (2) being able to send African refugees back home (3) providing opportunities for American capitalists to exploit the continent’s growing markets; and (4) reducing the US’s funding to the United Nations for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan and the DRC.  Putting the blame for conflict solely on the shoulders of African political elites seems like a convenient strategy for achieving these goals.



South Sudan’s Refugee Crisis and Ideas for a Way Forward, by Jeff Grischow

On August 17, the Guardian newspaper reported that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda reached the one million mark.  Another million have fled to Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  According to Jason Burke of the Guardian, the fighting between South Sudan’s factions ‘has created the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.’  The article, like many others, provides an important record of the personal stories of some of the South Sudanese victims of the conflict.  Thousands of children have arrived in Uganda without their parents; children and parents miss their homes but have nothing to return to; refugees in overcrowded camps depend on international NGOs to meet their basic needs.

South Sudan’s crisis is one of the most important global issues of the past year, but it has not been widely covered in the press.  The Guardian article reminded me, however, of a piece published in the New York Times earlier this year, which moved beyond the regular descriptions of the conflict to present the views of some leading experts on how to move forward.  I think it’s worth sharing in this blog.

Published on January 23, 2017, the article – written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman – asked whether South Sudan should be taken over by an international body to stabilize the political situation and buy time to find a solution to the civil war that has been raging since 2013.  The strongest proponent of this idea was the well-known Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani, who proposed a six-year trusteeship period managed by the African Union with oversight by the United Nations.  Under Mamdani’s plan, none of South Sudan’s political elite would be allowed to participate.  Opposed to this plan is James Solomon Padiet from Juba University, who feels that an international takeover would be ‘offensive’ because it would exclude many good South Sudanese leaders who are ‘waiting in the wings’ for a chance to contribute to the country’s future.  Padiet also said that many South Sudanese – especially the Dinka – would oppose the idea of an international takeover and its interference with South Sudan’s sovereignty.

Taking a ‘middle position’ is Amir Idris, the Chair of the African and African-American Studies program at Fordham University in New York and a well-respected Sudanese intellectual.  Idris argues that the trusteeship option might be considered as a ‘last resort’ but that the priority should be to build a new South Sudan after removing the current political elite in its entirety.  This would open the door for a new group of South Sudanese politicians and experts to restart the development of the country along more positive lines.  Idris has written about the need for international involvement many times before, and as one of the most important scholars and activists involved in South Sudan his ideas should be considered very closely.

If you are interested in learning more about the current conflict in South Sudan, including historical and contemporary perspectives, here are a few sources that I consider especially worth reading:

Newspaper/popular media articles:

Amir Idris, Identity, Citizenship, and Violence in Two Sudans: Re-imagining a Common Future (Palgrave, 2013).

Douglas Johnson, South Sudan: A New History for a New Nation (Ohio University Press, 2011)

Douglas Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, 3rd edition (Boydell and Brewer, 2016).


Africa and Puerto Rico: Reflections on Loiza and Hacienda La Esperanza By Heather Smith, Wilfrid Laurier University

On June 2 and 4, the students in my travel course ‘Themes in Puerto Rican History’ visited two field sites with deep historical connections to Africa: Loiza, one of the most prominent Afro-Puerto Rican cities (chronicled in my previous blog entry), and Hacienda La Esperanza, a 19th century sugar plantation.  Here are the reflections of one of the student, Heather Smith, who is majoring in History, Medieval Studies and Music.

Jeff Grischow, Tshepo Institute, Wilfrid Laurier University

Loíza: June 2, 2017

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see a diversity of sites in Loíza. From a cathedral with a prominently featured St. Patrick, to the house of Samuel Lind, to learning to dance the bomba—it was a fascinating experience which is quite possibly my favorite day thus far. In terms of my overall impressions of the day’s events, one of the most significant aspects of the Puerto Rican narrative I noticed today was the difference in the depiction of the Taino origins. Samuel Lind himself emphasized the idea that the goddess after which the town is named – Loíza, or Yoisa, was present in the lands and could be felt in the caves. To this point, Lind’s depiction of the Loíza in clay looked very different from depictions we have seen in earlier days, and appeared much more “African” and less stereotypically Spanish. This was fascinating to see. Lind brings business and tourism to Loíza through his work, as our visit exemplified. Thus, the narratives which he both speaks and depicts through his art carry weight in terms of public perception. As such, he can be viewed as a cultural intermediary of sorts, communicating Loíza’s story to those who visit him and purchase his work. A cursory view of his facebook page reveals again, this emphasis upon Puerto Rico’s African roots and his mission to bringing awareness to that vision, as well as how this aligns with his view of the Taino culture as perhaps implicitly being connected to this African heritage. At the cave was a circle of stones with “Taino” drawings and symbols. This, alongside the drummers playing off to the side implicitly connected African culture and the site, with the Taino narrative.


Samuel Lind’s Studio, Loíza

What struck me the most across all of the cultural sites was the regional pride of Loíza. In contrast to our previous visit to Caguas which emphasized the Taino roots of Puerto Rican culture in conjunction with Spanish and African cultures, this Loíza vision very much deemphasized the Spanish: there was no mention of colonialism in all of our tours and events, except in association with slavery and Smith the bomba as an escape from oppressive day-to-day conditions. Altogether, the colours of Loíza, the patron St. Patrick (whom Lind depicts as African, and refers to as ‘our boss’ on his facebook page), and the sense of triumph over slavery, combine to create the sense that Loíza is perhaps a microcosm of still another vision of Puerto Rican nationalism. This might more aptly be referred to as “regionalism” if such a term could be coined. I am very interested to further diversify this Puerto Rican idea of “African” through our tours in the coming days.

Hacienda la Esperanza: June 4, 2017

On June 4, I our Laurier group visited Haceinda La Esperanza.  Our guide delved very deeply into the history of slavery at the site (much more than the guide the coffee plantation Hacienda Buena Vista, which we visited the day before) and was willing to answer virtually any question. Representing the slaves’ voices, as well as social classes using a collection of knives was an innovative approach as this provided a tangible and tactile way of conveying the concept of social class and slavery through material culture. Our guide explained how the knives with ornate handles would have belonged to wealthy citizens, while the most basic and unornamented belonged to the slaves. It was also fascinating to have the story of the slave Cecilio, whom we read about in an article by Astrid Cubano Iquina’s article,* recounted by our tour guide in the physical location where these events occurred.

McInnis Esperanza 2

Sugar Mill Steam Engine, Hacienda La Esperanza

One interesting aspect of the site which more closely resembled the approach at Hacienda Buena Vista, was the emphasis on technology by the slave owners. Of all of the questions asked, our tour guide bristled somewhat at the question surrounding the legalities of importing the machinery to build the steam mill engine machine. Afterward Papo revisited this by mentioning that as this machinery was illegal, it was not discovered by the U.S. during the Second World War. Thus, it appears that the curators of the site may have specifically omitted this fact in the attempts to keep the focus on promoting the technological innovations of the past. Overall, the site was more balanced in its focus upon both the history and the conservation elements of the site than Hacienda Buena Vista. Still, the overarching focus was on the technology and the processes used at both sites. Thus, it is somewhat a missed opportunity to tell more of the stories of the slaves, as Iquina’s article did admirably.

*Cubano Iguina, Astrid, “Freedom in the making: the slaves of hacienda La Esperanza, Manatı´, Puerto Rico, on the eve of abolition, 1868–76,” Social History 36(3)(2011): 280-293