Link Roundup

Some non-political non-Africa distractions for your Monday.  (I’m up to my eyeballs in grading blue books!)

A challenge to stop multi-tasking via @Real_Simple (of course I’m attempting to clean a data set AND watching TV while typing this up…)

Polar Cub Cam via @Time (they said it best: “goodbye productivity)


Documentary Review: Milking the Rhino

This movie popped onto my radar when I was desperately trying to find interesting documentaries to show to my summer session class on Communities and the Environment.


We spent a few lectures studying community based conservation (and it’s faults) and I wanted to tie it all together with a documentary without having students take a little nap in my mid-afternoon just-15-minutes’-walk-to-the-beach class.

Milking the Rhino fit this description perfectly.  It focuses on two communities and their conservation efforts.  The first, Il Ngwesi Lodge in Kenya (and its senior host James Ole Kinyaga).  The second, the relationship between an exclusive lodge on the Kunene river and the local village in Nambia, and John Kasaona‘s (assistant director of Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC)) attempts to broker peace.

I’d recommend this documentary to anyone interested in any aspect of Africa, conservation, wildlife, tourism, etc.

If you do watch it, please watch for the laugh out loud moment around minute 23 where the guys are actually sweeping sand dunes to remove tire tracks.  It’s an interesting criticism of what we as tourists want when we get to Africa.

PS When searching for this video, please be sure to google milking the rhino MOVIE…

Malema Expelled

You’ve probably seen this elsewhere too, but it’s too important not to mention it.

Julius Malema has been expelled from the ANC.  Malema has been quite the controversial figure in South African politics recently.  Malema, who was suspsended in November, was arguing for mitigation of this decision when the National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) decided to expel him.

You can read more about the expulsion decision here.

And for a Malema Special report, click here.

GMO vs Organic

Like many people I enjoyed watching the documentary Food Inc.  It certainly portrays Monsanto as the big evil corporation who is out to get the little guy.  Additionally, Monsanto is responsible for much of the GMO grains we eat in the US.  As I have an intolerance of US wheat (I can eat wheat products in Africa without getting a gluten hangover) I might blame Monsanto just a little bit for not being able to eat cupcakes anymore (except from specialty bakeries of course).

So when I saw this article Judge Dismisses Organic Farmers’ Case Against Monsanto  (posted by NPR) pop up on my news feed yesterday, I was annoyed.  Until I read the article more closely.  I have to agree with this point the judge made;

Monsanto brings an average of 13 patent-enforcement lawsuits per year, which, the judge said, “is hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million.”

What do you think?  Should the organic farmers have won their case?  Or should this be something a judge decides on later if Monsanto does take these farmers to court for patent infringement?


Link Roundup

African urban spaces may be expanding rapidly, but in many mainland countries growth in urban populations hardly outstripped national population growth in the 1990s and 2000s. Data for 18 countries collected and analysed by Dr Potts and others shows that urbanisation levels declined in 4 countries, and stagnated or increased very slowly in a further 10. Only four countries – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Tanzania and Kenya – experienced rapid urbanisation.

  • Awkward… ‘If Mugabe is the only invitee who turns up in person at your party, you have a problem. (Kabila’s Inauguration in the DRC)

Historical Amnesia

Following up on yesterday’s post on AfriForum’s criticism of President Zuma’s take on a historical event, I want to post a link to Pierre De Vos’s blog where he talks about Pieter Mulder’s (Leader of the Freedom Front Plus and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) creative interpretation of history.

“Mulder is only one of a long line of white settlers who wishes to rewrite the past in order to enforce and perpetuate their own sense of moral superiority and their sense of supposed victimhood. Speaking in President Zuma’s State of the Nation debate with a chutzpa that is breath-taking, Mulder ignored the past 300 years of colonialism and apartheid to try and make a point about land ownership and dispossession in South Africa” – De Vos

De Vos also writes:

An exhortation to forget the past is really an exhortation to rewrite the past and to invent a completely new past in which white people never oppressed black South Africans, never exploited black South Africans economically and never actually dispossessed black South Africans of land and of opportunities – including educational opportunities. This Stalinist yearning to whitewash the past and to try and make us forget about the role white people played in the exploitation and dispossession which occurred during the periods of colonialism and apartheid is dangerous and infuses some white South Africans with an undeserved (and, quite frankly, bizarre) sense of moral self-righteousness and superiority which is at the heart of the continued racisms in our country.


I think it is important for South Africa that everyone is honest about the past.  Part of the problem is of course the idea that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, but part of the problem here is that we have people on each side of the argument feigning innocence and refusing to take any ownership of the actions of their forefathers.  That being said, for how long will we continue to punish the sons for the sins of their forefathers?


If you’ve been to South Africa lately, you’ll know that potholes are a big deal.  Not necessarily because of how big a problem they are (though they truly ARE a problem) but because people like to talk about them, even people who live in cities that  have fewer potholes than my relatively upscale Southern California neighborhood.

This photo is of a provincial road somewhere in Mpumalanga in 2010.  Notice the sand that local farmers fill the potholes in with – this is a lifesaver!  Also notice the big truck on the horizon.  Now imagine thousands of those going back and forth on this 2 lane road.

A recent article cites Deputy Minister of Transport, Jeremy Cronin, as saying that heavy duty trucks are to blame for many of the road quality problems in Mpumalanga and North West.  From personal experience, I have to agree with big trucks as a major reason the roads are not holding up.  Staying in an out-of-the-way town in Mpumulanga in 2010 and 2011 which just so happens to see thousands (I kid you not, thousands) of coal trucks pass through to get to the nearby power station EVERY DAY, I can’t see any other reason why the roads look the way they do.  Part of the problem is that the railroads are no longer being used to transport coal – in some places (and I wish I had a picture to prove this to you) they have actually tarred right over the tracks.  But another, bigger problem, at least in my opinion,  is that nobody really knows who is responsible to fix which road.

Exhibit 1:  On a particularly bad stretch of road between Ermelo and Standerton in Mpumalanga Province, Msukaligwa Municipality and Lekwa Municipality have each placed signs to indicate where their municipality starts.  However, after MANY meetings with civil servants and local councilors in each of these municipalities I determined that the municipalities are not technically responsible for this specific stretch of road, as it is a provincial road.  Money for repairs should thus come from the provincial government.  HOWEVER, if you ask the residents who is responsible for this road, they place all blame on the municipal government.

Very near to this sign is this stretch of road (at least this is what it looked like in 2010 – the road was being redone when I was there in 2011):

I joked (semi-seriously) many times that I am convinced that Lekwa Municipality paid to have the sign installed that demarcated the municipal line.  Especially if you’re not technically responsible for the maintenance of this road, why would you want your name anywhere near it?  It seems like a very strange choice if Msukaligwa did choose to place this sign themselves.

And just in case you thought that all the pothole problems were solved since these photos were taken in 2010, I leave you with a picture from 2011 taken somewhere between Dullstroom and Ohrigstad (if I remember correctly.)


Unemployment rates have been on everyone’s minds here in the US given the current economic climate.  However, compare the December 2011 rate of 8.5% to South Africa’s improved rate of 23.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011.  I think this really puts the challenges South Africa face into perspective.

“Job creation is not happening in abundance or at the rate that could ever hope to materially dent unemployment. We are tinkering in decimal points whereas the substance of unemployment is not really being resolved at all. This economy is not geared to creating jobs because the environment is too hostile for small business.”- Chris Hart, Chief Economist, Investment Solutions

My research doesn’t focus on South Africa unemployment specifically, but it’s always a control variable I include.  Unemployment levels plays an important role in understanding how local governments function.  It is difficult to generate revenue & to provide services if a significant proportion of the constituents are unemployed and unable to pay for services.  But what other effects do unemployment have?  How can we alleviate both the unemployment itself and the negative consequences of this high level?  Is unemployment a variable that political scientists should pay more attention to or is it best left to the economists?

The Market for Petrol

The price of petrol is not something I think about much in the US.  About 2 blocks from my house there are 4 gas stations – one on each corner of the same intersection.  I know that I can (a) always get gas at any of these stations and (b) at least one of the stations will have a relatively low price for the area.

While driving across South Africa in July 2011 the petrol workers went on strike, preventing petrol trucks from leaving the depots and delivering fuel to gas stations across the country. Of course, this happened right as I was headed into the northernmost province – Limpopo Province – on a 400 km road trip.

Being absolutely paranoid about running out of gas somewhere in the middle of nowhere, I stopped for gas at least every 100 km.  Turns out I was lucky.  Since I was traveling between two small towns, I chose to take back-roads (the provincial highways) rather than the national freeway and found gas everywhere I stopped.

But here’s what’s been bugging me about this experience.  Nowhere was I asked to pay more than the government mandated price, despite the fact that there was a pretty severe shortage. (You can read more about last year’s strikes at Mail & Guardian).  I’m of course assuming that it is illegal to ask any price other than the government rate.  But is corruption really that rare?  Why wouldn’t gas station owners (or the guys pumping the petrol for that matter) try to extract an additional rent?

Share your thoughts.  Why did petrol prices not respond to this shock?