Stormzy, The Brits and Affirmative Action

(Guest article by Tom Meehan)

After no grime artists were chosen for a Brit Award, South London rapper Stormzy, hit out at the Brits’ selection with his One Take Freestyle when he said “What? None of my Gs nominated for Brits? Are you taking the piss? Embarrassing;” especially given the success of many grime artists this year such as Skepta, Lady Leshurr and Krept and Konan. Grime is a music genre featuring predominantly black artists and some believe that the lack of inclusion of talented grime artists shows the Brit Awards’ unwillingness to be open to diversity and perhaps, inherent racism.

UK Grime artist Stormzy owes his success to the hard work and the free market. He really doesn't need affirmative action.
UK Grime artist Stormzy owes his success to the hard work and the free market. He really doesn’t need affirmative action.

The lack of black or BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) at the Brit Awards led to the Twitter hashtag #britssowhite being bandied around after the #oscarssowhite hashtag was used to react to the “whitewash” at the Oscars. However, at his talk at Oxford University, Stormzy commented that he had spoken with Brits chairman Ged Doherty and has slightly altered his position. Doherty admitted to Stormzy that many of the voting panel were “middle aged white men” who seem to be unaware of UK Grime music. This has led Stormzy to believe that this may not be a racial issue as he had initially thought. Nonetheless, the grime MC believed there was still room from improvement.

There is seemingly constant pressure to increase the amount of black or BAME people in institutions, fields of study, occupations etc via a quota system or affirmative action. In the UK for example, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan’s has committed himself to such policies to get the Police looking more like the London they represent. And there have been calls to import the “Rooney Rule” to the English football league to encourage the recruitment of more black football managers. And yes, the Brit Awards promises to be more diverse at the 2017 Awards ceremony.

Hence, such a racial disparity does not necessarily mean blatant racism. Football and music, are ultimately about making money. There are more than double the amount of Asians in England than blacks, yet while there has been a multitude of black players to put on an England shirt, no Asian player has ever done so. Asians tend to be more well- represented among the cricket team. Besides, for England’s 2015 World Cup rugby team, 21 of the 31 man squad had been privately educated whereas you would be hard-pushed to find an England footballer who had received fee paying education. Already we see a great disparity among race and class in some of England’s favourite sports and it goes to show that people from different backgrounds adopt different paths.

Despite the Brit Awards efforts to be more inclusive and diverse, I have no doubt that Stormzy does not need external intervention to help on his part. The free market has already decided that Stormzy is an integral part of the UK music industry even if a few old white dudes may have been blissfully ignorant of it. While Stormzy was recording his One Take Freestyle, he had been in Japan on business with renowned Japanese DJ and record producer Nigo and has since released a song with Swedish singer Cherrie as well as crossing the pond to do a North American Tour. Not only that, but he has won back to back MOBO Awards for Best Grime Act in 2014 and 2015 respectively as well as tens of millions of hits on YouTube, his most iconic song being Shut Up.

Though, in a world where people can download music for free, less artists are making money from downloads, but sponsorship deals have made Stormzy into an Adidas athlete and the rapper can be frequently seen donning his posh Adidas tracksuits in his videos, which must be making a killing in JD Sports. To top it all off, he did all this as an unsigned artist and owes much of his success to YouTube music channels such as SBTV run by Jamal Edwards.

A Brit Award would certainly have been nice, but since he has burst on the scene Stormzy seems to have won a lot more than he’s lost. It was not affirmative action that got Stormzy into the position he’s in today, it was hard work, and if one area of the market doesn’t want to listen, then there are many, many more who will.

Kenya: Traditional Medicine and the Law

(African Research Institute)

The colonial authorities’ 1910 Medical Practitioners and Dentists Ordinance proffered tolerance towards traditional medicine, with significant limitations. The main constraint was that a clear delineation had to be made between Western medicine and traditional practices. Although over a century old, and no longer part of Kenyan law, the ordinance’s linking of traditional medicine to local culture – as opposed to science – continues to shape government engagement.

Kenya is making efforts to incorporate traditional medicine after decades of official hostility.

Colonial era reticence to traditional medicine practitioners hardened during the early independence years. It was viewed as a practice that went against the modernising vision of a new generation of leaders. Medical practitioners were particularly vehement in their opposition, but even President Jomo Kenyatta condemned traditional healers in 1969, describing them as “lazy cheats who want to live on the sweat of others”. These attitudes remain prevalent in contemporary Kenya, particularly amongst medical professionals and the evangelical churches of urban slums that often condemn the practice as ungodly; a view born from their missionary founders who ardently opposed “native practices”.

Read full article here.

‘Do black movies really not sell?’ Don Cheadle on Miles Ahead

(The Spectator)

On the first day of shooting Hotel Rwanda, in which he played a hotelier who sheltered Tutsis fleeing genocide, he got a call from his agent. ‘He said, “OK, there’s no money in the escrow.” “What are you talking about?” “There’s no money to pay anybody.” The producer just maxed out his credit cards and floated it until someone said, “All right.” I mean, this is not atypical.’

Don Cheedle has waited 8 years to get this MIles Davis film off the ground.

At least he was nominated for an Oscar, as was his co-star Sophie Okonedo. In a good year for black actors: Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman won gongs. So what did Cheadle make of the #oscarsowhite campaign a decade on? ‘It’s not to me about what happens in the late winter,’ he says. ‘That’s a symptom of what’s not happening where the decisions are being taken about what movies to greenlight. Junior executives are not being groomed to be in positions to make those decisions.’

There is an argument that the film industry is a capitalist enterprise pragmatically catering for a majoritarian mainstream of white teenage males. ‘Which might be synonymous with racism when you pars it and break it down and it’s put into practice. But I don’t expect [change] in a place that hasn’t ever really dealt with the root causes.’

Read full article here.

Somalia is still fragile, but fragile is progress (African Arguments)

For more than two decades, Somalia was synonymous with a failed state − a country controlled by terrorists and warlords, lacking an effective government and beset by recurring cycles of man-made and natural disasters.

Somalia is on the way up. Let’s hope that soon, they wil be able to reap the benefits of tourist attractions such as The Shanghai Old City

No doubt, Somalia remains a work in progress. But as the world’s attention has shifted to other nations on the brink of collapse such as Yemen, Libya and the Central African Republic, Somalia’s quiet progress has made a return to anarchy increasingly unlikely. Today, Somalia, one of the world’s poorest nations, is rebuilding its economy and re-establishing a functioning government.

A additional milestone on this journey was passed in January when the Obama administration nominated Stephen Schwartz, a career diplomat and longstanding Africa specialist, to become ambassador to Mogadishu, ending a 23-year lapse. This move highlights how ties between the US and Somalia have strengthened since 2013 when Washington ended two decades without formal bilateral relations.

Click here to read full article on African Arguments.

See also, “Somaliland’s quest for recognition” below:


Race, Poverty and Education (Black Africans are not all the same)

Some more examples of why we need to stop looking at Black Africans in the UK as all the same.


GCE A-level outcomes by ethnicity
Click here

The extent of white working class underachievement in education

Britain’s Somalis: The Road is Long

Worklessness by country of birth [London]

Not all Black Children are underachieving in UK schools

When lumped together, Black children seem to be doing relatively poorly in UK schools. But I believe a very different picture would emerge if we broke these statistics down into country of origin and ethnic group.


Raising the achievement of Black African pupils – Good Practice in School 2013

Academic Achievement of Nigerian and Ghanaian Students [Camden]

How are ethnic inequalities in education changing?

Magufuli orders Tanzanians to join monthly clean up campaigns

Magufuli orders Tanzanians to join monthly clean up campaigns

The Magufuli whirlwind continues with the new President’s latest public service announcement. The East African reports that the Tanzanian government has ordered all Tanzanians to join in clean up campaigns on the first Saturday of every month. The article reports:

Mr Luhaga Mpina, the deputy minister in the office of the vice president ((Union matters and Environment) issued the directive Wednesday saying the intention was to rid the streets of diseased like cholera and “inculcate a culture of self-responsibility in conserving the environment.” 

President Magufuli orders Tanzanians to join monthly clean up campaigns
President Magufuli orders Tanzanians to join monthly clean up campaigns

He said the ministry has prepared a strategic plan that will help in smooth implementation of the order including thorough follow-up in every locality across the country.

Mr Mpina said cholera cases in 2015 increased to nearly 12,000 with 194 deaths compared to 3,989 that occurred in 2014.

Cholera spreads through contaminated food and drinking water and causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. It is fatal if not treated.

Public clean ups: a recurring theme in Magufuli policy

This move comes hot on the heels Magufuli’s cancellation of the annual Uhuru (Freedom) Day celebrations in December. Instead, the President himself joined in a clean up operation, as reported by the Nation (Kenya):

“Dozens of fishermen joined in the clean-up with their president, who shovelled leaves and plastic rubbish close to a fish market near the presidential palace as a crowd of hundreds looked on.

Let us work together to keep our country, cities, homes and workplaces clean, safe and healthy,” the smiling Magufuli said, as he picked up litter with his hands.

Street cleaning took place across the economic capital Dar es Salaam, with plumes of smoke rising into the sky as residents burned piles of litter.

Former World Bank official appointed Finance Minister

While these measures are popular in Tanzania, we perhaps learned a bit more about Magufuli’s politics following the announcement of the new Finance minister. Reuters reports:

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has appointed former World Bank economist Philip Mpango as minister for finance and planning, the presidential spokesman said on Wednesday.

Mpango is currently acting chief of the Tanzania Revenue Authority, after Magufuli suspended the previous head pending investigations into alleged corruption. He has also headed the presidential Economic Advisory Unit.

The new Tanzania Finance minister is former World Bank official, Philip Mpango
The new Tanzania Finance minister is former World Bank official, Philip Mpango

The World Bank has had a mixed history with Africa over the past few decades. In the 1980s, they pushed African countries to cut public spending and adopt ‘free market’ reforms, which many commentators argue had some disastrous results.

You could argue that Magufuli’s drive to cut public spending lines up perfectly with the ideology of the Bretton-Woods institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), and the appointment of Mpango is perhaps an indication that this will be a key component of Government policy under Magufuli’s leadership.

Nigerian diaspora sent $21 billion in remittances in 2015

Nigerians diaspora sent $21 billion in remittances in 2015

Recently-released data shows that in 2015, Nigerians living and working outside the country sent home $21 billion in remittances, underlying the critical importance of remittances in African development. The Premium Times (Nigeria) reports:

With about $21 billion sent home by Nigerians in diaspora in 2015, the country is the sixth largest receiver of remittances in the world, the Migration of Remittance Factbook 2016 has shown.

The country is also by far the largest receiver of remittances in sub-Saharan Africa, receiving a total of $34.8 billion this year.”

Nigerians in the diaspora send home billions of dollars in remittances each year
Nigerians in the diaspora send home billions of dollars in remittances each year

To begin to understand the significance of these figures, consider the following. In 2014 Nigeria received $353 million in AID from the UK, according to official figures from the UK Department for International Development (DfID). This compares with a whopping $3.7 billion sent by Nigerians living in Britain in 2015 – more than ten times the previous year’s Aid sent by the UK government. This underlines the fact that Nigerians in the diaspora are playing an enormous role in their home country, as are expats from other African countries.

Sky-high cost of sending money

The Premium Times report also highlights the sky-high costs that Africans in the diaspora need to pay to send money home:

“[T]he cost of sending money within Africa is the second most expensive in the world (the most expensive being the cost of sending money between Australia to the South Pacific country of Vanuatu).

For every $200 remitted from South Africa to Zambia, senders are charged 19 per cent. The cost is 17.4 per cent to send the same amount from South Africa- Botswana and 17.3 per cent from Tanzania to Uganda.

In comparison, it cost just 0.6 per cent to send the same amount of money from Saudi Arabia to Nepal and 3.1 per cent from the United Arab Emirate to anywhere in the world.”

What this means is that African countries such as Nigeria are missing out on enormous amounts of funding that could be used to drive advances in education, healthcare, nutrition, businesses, and so on.

Africans paying for a lack of free market in remittance services

The Overseas Development Institute highlights what it sees as the main causes for the high costs:

Weak competition, concentration of market power and flawed financial regulation all contribute to high remittance charges. Just two money transfer operators (MTOs) – Western Union and MoneyGram – account for two-thirds of remittance transfers…[and].. $586 million of the loss associated with the remittance ‘super tax’, part of it through opaque foreign currency charges. ‘Exclusivity agreements’ between MTOs, their agents and banks restrict competition and drive up prices, as do African financial regulations favouring banks over other remittance payment options.

In other words, it’s because there a few companies have a monopoly on the business of sending remittances to Africa. A great example of this is how Barclays Bank are the last remaining provider of services for transfers to Somalia. If Barclays decides to stop providing this service, as they almost did in 2013, then the Somali diaspora will have no way of sending money home.

Remittances from Diasporan Somalis like Mo Farrah play a big role in their home country's development
Remittances from Diasporan Somalis like Mo Farrah play a big role in their home country’s development

It is essential that African people at home and abroad, multilateral organisations and governments overhaul the entire industry to unlock the development capability of Africans in the diaspora. The ODI gives four recommendations on how to get this done:

“● Investigation of global MTOs by anti-trust bodies in the EU and the US to identify areas in which market concentration and commercial practices are artificially inflating charges.

● Greater transparency in the provision of information on foreign-exchange conversion charges, drawing on the example of Dodd-Frank legislation in the United States.

● Regulatory reform in Africa to revoke ‘exclusivity agreements’ between MTOs on the one side, and banks and agents on the other, and promote the use of micro-finance institutions and post offices as remittance pay-out agencies. Governments and MTOs should work to promote mobile banking as a strategy to support the development of more inclusive financial systems.

● Engagement by Africa’s diaspora and wider civil society groups to put remittances at the centre of the development agenda. The public interests represented by Africa’s diaspora and remittance receivers should be placed above the commercial interests of MTOs and banks.” 

Diaspora Africans – Don’t just passively send money, get Involved!

The last point is of particular interest to those of us in the Diaspora. We have enormous potential influence here in countries like the UK and US. We are perfectly-placed to build dialogue with relevant stakeholders such as local MPs and other elected officials, as well as officials in international banks. Mo Farah got involved in putting pressure on Barclays to postpone its planned exit from money transfer to Somalia. We may not be globally-recognised figures like Mo, but we can surely make up for it in our numbers – espcially the millions of Nigerians our here!

The South African politician who refuses to speak English

The South African politician who refuses to speak English

Makoti Sibongile Khawula is a South African politician and member of Julius Malema’s political party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This is nice to know, but what is especially interesting about her, is that she refuses to speak in English when in Parliament. News24 reports:

Makoti Sibongile Khawula, the South African politician who refuses to speak English
Makoti Sibongile Khawula, the South African politician who refuses to speak English

“”MaKhawula”, as she is as known in the gleaming corridors of Parliament, says people are tired of others arriving in their communities and making changes that affect them without explaining what they are doing.

So, she says she will speak the language of her constituency – Maphumulo, in the Ilembe district of KwaZulu-Natal – so people can understand what is being said about and for them. For her, it is important that people understood the details of matters that affect their lives.”

This is such an important move because it ensures that the people at the fringes of society, who often cannot speak English, will be able to know what their political representative is doing. And it seems that this is no superficial gesture. The article makes clear that Khawula is also committed to bringing about real change in living standards for her constituents in an impoverished South African region:

“People are crying. There is no water. They say they are going to put (out) tanks, but now they don’t put in the tanks.”

For her, it is not the environment that is making people thirsty, it is people who are forgetting to do the basics.

“The mountains that brought us water, they are still there,” she says, waving a hand at a picture of a lush valley, taken before the drought.

Basic infrastructure is being neglected. Water disappears through leaks, and promised projects do not materialise. Water tankers arrive in the middle of the night and if people do not get up to fetch some, there is nothing left by morning.

Poisons flow into rivers, people “go to the toilet” in rivers, she continues. Her record at committees shows a litany of complaints over basic issues, such as making sure emerging black sugar cane farmers get the same access to water as their white counterparts.”

We look forward to hearing more on the progress of Khawula, who was elected in 2015. Perhaps her actions can encourage other politicians in South Africa and the continent more widely to commit themselves to defending and promoting the interests of their constituents. For the full story, visit the News24 website.


Ghana president bans first class travel for officials

Ghana president bans first class travel for officials

Ghana’s President John Mahama has banned public officials from First Class air travel, Reuters reports:

“The presidency issued the directive this week asking all ministers and other top officials to avoid “unwarranted” foreign trips on the public purse, Communications Minister Edward Omane Boamah told Reuters… 

Ghana's President John Mahama is tackling state spending
Ghana’s President John Mahama is tackling state spending

Finance Minister Seth Terkper told Reuters on Tuesday the cabinet is also discussing a financial accountability bill which would impose penalties such as dismissal or jail time for public officials who are found to violate it.”

In addition, the Government has also ordered officials to cut all non-essential foreign travel. Ghanaweb reports:

“It is needless to emphasise the serious impact the current frequent travels abroad by Ministers and public officials are having on Government finances.

“To arrest the situation, all Ministers are reminded to restrict foreign travels in their sectors to mandatory international assignments only.

“All non-essential travels are to be stopped. All ministers are to take notice of the foregoing directive for strict compliance.”

These moves will surely be welcomed by Ghanaians who will be pleased to see state officials finally being asked to live less like royalty and more like the public servants they are meant to be. But Mahama has a long way to go before he can reach the kind of levels of social-media adulation and global media coverage that Tanzania’s John Magufuli has garnered through his cost-cutting measures. Perhaps President Mahama has been keeping track of the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo hashtag!