Economy Stupid

Economy Stupid

economy-stupidUnending protests continue in Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and though unique issues power each country’s turmoil, the fundamental driver is economic.

South Africa and Ethiopia are both experiencing healthy growth despite the protests, while Zimbabwe is tanking. Excluding Zim’s recent plunge, all three countries were performing very much like the U.S. over the last 4-5 years: modest but steady growth and improved employment. So what’s going on?

Let’s examine their individual situations, first.

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Young Discontent

Young Discontent

africandiscontentYou know, it’s not just US. Enormous discontent is sweeping across the most important countries in Africa with a heavy involvement by the youth.

Such generalizations are dangerous, so I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ll stop making conclusions: you make them. Let’s just survey today’s news.

Yesterday was budget day in South Africa. In Parliamentary fashion, the president is supposed to submit the annual budget, say a few words and then Parliament retires for a day before beginning a classic debate. That’s not what happened.

South Africa is a mess. The session was six hours of mayhem :screaming, fisticuffing, security officials pulling out MPs while those just pulled out snuck back in. The budget was never discussed.

The South African’s polity’s mess has a lot to do with one old peculiar man, Jacob Zuma, and one old revolutionary movement, the ANC, but many insist that it was the university students in the country who brought it to a head.

Last year’s country-wide student protests regarding fees and instructional language have moved into virtually all universities, even technical colleges.

Last year Nigeria elected a controversial old politician/general to clean up one of the most profoundly screwed up societies on the continent. I was skeptical but for the first few months things seemed to be going well.

They aren’t now. Leaks that the new president has sanctioned arresting the old president, a very public and questionable trial of a former Senate president, rising unemployment because of falling oil prices … and police and the military now battling not only Boko Haram, but students.

Tanzania’s good-guy president is suddenly behest by a host of unexpected protests, including support of indicted government officials, growing Islamic fundamentalism, and more which all probably began with the government’s stupid move to close all universities and colleges before last years presidential election.

In an attempt to avoid the turmoil of its neighbors, the president of Kenya announced yesterday he would remain neutral in the growing student protests in his country.

But what really caught my interest is the protests of youth in countries that … well, don’t allow protests.

A week of horrific student protests in Khartoum, the capital of one of the most dictatorial, autocratic countries in the world, ended today with tear gas and police shutting down the country’s main university.

And in neighboring Ethiopia, which tries hard to rival Sudan for in violating human rights, IT savvy government officials have so far failed at shutting down this internet music protest by youth of Oromo: click here.

My apologies if by the time you read this the Ethiopian government once again succeeds.

My take? The world is unsettled and it is largely the impatience of youth anxious for justice.

Discounted Business Class

Discounted Business Class

eastafricanboatThe Somali war began in 1993; Ethiopia’s various versions of terror started in 1979. Yesterday, more than 450 mostly Somalis and Ethiopians drown in the sea when their refugee boat capsized near Greece.

It seems this is the first large “migrant” incident with mostly East Africans.

Why now?

I don’t doubt that many of those on board led lives as tenuous as those fleeing Syria. Over many past decades we’ve grown calloused to the sufferings in Africa. Many westerns think it’s just a “way of life” for Africans.

But on the other hand there’s no actual fighting or bombing in Ethiopia right now. Particularly why in Somalia – where it’s more peaceful than in the last 30 years – are people taking these huge risks now?

It’s simple. Europe has opened its heart, since it was unwilling or unable to open it’s military hanger. Europe is passing through a period of great guilt and it’s a piece of melancholy but hope as well for mankind.

Another reason is that ever so slowly East Africans are amassing bits of wealth. Under reported almost to the point of immorality, every migrant you hear about or see flailing in choppy seas has paid upwards of $10,000 for the chance of making it to Europe.

Many Americans couldn’t wrestle up that cash. Syrians were a rich people. Doctors, lawyers, professionals of all sorts compose the migrant diaspora.

Last August I wrote fondly of a young, educated and professional Somali refugee who made his way all the way to South Africa.

The risks he took were manifest and he undoubtedly had quite a stash of bribes available.

Now, the prospect of reaching a welcoming European coast despite all the tragedies we hear of daily is worth a man or woman’s life savings and possibly, life.

We’ve got to understand this story. We’ve got to think about why someone, anyone – anywhere in the world – would leave the place they were raised or born in and risk everything, that they would pay the equivalent of a roundtrip business class air fare from New York to Sydney to be packed into putrid suffocation on a rickety boat likely to capsize in high seas.

It’s not so far fetched to imagine a Latino American citizen, a professional with some wealth and status, fleeing a Trump America.

But how would they get over the wall?

The Lion Returns

The Lion Returns

Tuscany 28Forty years ago today the Lion of Judah disappeared in mystery yet as the fog of time clears, his legacy becomes the legacy of Africa.

When Haile Selassie “disappeared” on August 28, 1974, a new era of democracy and freedom exploded onto the continent. All of us were ecstatically hopeful.

What a mess.

It went not so badly for 10-15 years. I’m inclined to think the culprit is the Cold War. Global politics during the Cold War courted Africa at all costs, creating and magnifying corruption. Then the end of the Cold War triggered an abrupt end to all interest whatever in Africa!

The continent was dropped on its butt from the ivory tower of global democracy.

Fifteen years after the Emperor disappeared Africa was in shambles: wars, disease and pestilence, droughts, and possibly worse of all, increasing poverty.

The Africa Condition reached its nadir towards the end of the 1990s. By the middle of the last decade things were beginning to turn around, and today The Africa Condition is the best it’s ever been in my life time.

What’s happened? The Emperor has returned, and I’m not a Rastafarian.

Haile Selassie was the 77th Solomic emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to his death in 1974, but there were many emperors who preceded his 13th Century dynastic line, all the way back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon in 3 BC.

Known by the ancients as the Land of Punt, and believed by early Christians to be the hallowed land of Prester John, the country is sealed by formidable geography. It’s the only country in Africa never to have been colonized.

The likelihood that an early Queen actually did visit Jerusalem and bring back with her legions of intellectuals and wise men is a reasonable presumption.

If her visit actually did occur in 3 BC, her initial dynasty kept contact with Jerusalem at least through the birth of Jesus Christ, because around 3 AD Ethiopia had founded much of its strength on a form of Christianity that has been retained to the present day.

But around 3 AD the last hints of openness to the world closed, again. The isolation of the society allowed the early seeds of civilization to blossom unencumbered by the wars that beset the cradle of civilization. Ethiopia grew inwards.

It blossomed with an unusual and rich language; a music with funny scales, chords and progressions; and food and drink totally unique not just to Africa but the entire world.

I very much believe that the principle engine of social change for any society comes from the outside. So while Ethiopia’s impenetrable geography ensured the country was protected from the outside world’s turmoils, it also simultaneously retarded all social development.

Nothing could come into Ethiopia. There was a millennium of peace and no social change. Emperors flourished.

The isolation grew difficult by the beginning of the 1970s. Flush with the youthful energy that ended the Vietnam Conflict and started the Civil Rights movement and fired the new technologies of communication, Addis began to shake.

What followed the Emperor’s disappearance is correctly called the “Red Terror.”

Anger had built for generations. For all practical purposes, it exploded into a horrible and brutal revolution.

We have this weird notion in America that revolution is always good, because our very, very distant past revolution heralded a good era.

Not so in more modern times, even not so in the French revolution which almost immediately followed the American revolution. Revolutions are more typically followed by terrible turmoil.

The revolution and the turmoil that followed the Emperor’s disappearance is coming to an end throughout Africa. From the ashes have emerged a couple truly democratic and free societies as in South Africa and Kenya.

But the majority is not like that: The majority is composed of Rwandas, Egypts and Zimbabwes, ruthless autocratic societies each with its own little emperor.

The Lion of Judah has returned.

Obama Visit is Just Fine

Obama Visit is Just Fine

ObamasSuperLimosKenyans have never expressed such glee and excitement as for Obama’s visit Friday, but why is our President coming?

I’m in East Africa to guide my last safari of the year, starting Saturday. Thank goodness my clients aren’t arriving Friday!

Obama’s pragmatism is driving his third visit to Kenya Friday, (with a quick and very controversial stop on the return Sunday in Ethiopia). His previous two visits to Kenya, as a student then as a Senator, were not nearly as important.

City roads – normally congested beyond belief – will be cleared for his motorcades. Social media is overflowing with pictures of his super limousines filling up with gas.

“We have filled the potholes, cleared the garbage, run the homeless street families out of town, aired the drapes, polished the crockery, beefed up security, and for the umpteenth time attempted to ‘beautify’ the landscape on the main thoroughfares into the capital city,” writes Nairobi commentator Gaitho.

The Right claims the visit is proof of Obama’s cavalier foreign policy: They wrongly consider Kenya more dangerous than Ferguson, Texas or Baltimore. And even if it were, better to thumb your nose at terrorists than cower inside Beltway fantasies.

Unshackled by the presidency Obama was outspoken when he came before, which he is not expected to be this time. It’s unlikely he will stake any controversial policy issues.

Many groups in Kenya are hoping otherwise, however, with large demonstrations planned for support of gay rights and separately, for the end to Kenya’s involvement in Somalia.

Both issues are American driven: it’s fair to say that the recent movement throughout all of East Africa to suppress gay rights is the culmination of a number of American programs and policies promulgated under the Bush administration.

It’s widely known here that Obama flip-flopped at least on the extent of his support of LGBT rights. The Kenyan gay community hopes that he will express that tolerance as rectification of a super power, not just as an individual.

Kenya would never have invaded Somalia in October, 2011, without enormous American hardware, support and training. The country has paid dearly for that, with numerous terrorist revenge attacks in 2012 and 2013.

Women Empowerment Kenya” is leading that charge, but has wide support throughout the country.

That’s the point, friends. Obama’s presidency has been so contained by a rightist Republican onslaught on his person and policies that everything he’s done in Africa has been behind the scenes. It’s not his choice to be limited to “symbolic” actions.

It drives me crazy the way respectable media call this visit “symbolic“ implying that he’s capable of more than. Much of the world – even in London – doesn’t understand how hand strapped a president can be by Congress.

The Somali war was never a legislated program in either the U.S. or Kenya, yet it is arguably the single most profound event to have befallen Kenya in modern times.

It was Obama strategy. I’ve often written that I felt it was a bad strategy and an even worse move done as secretly as it was. But the man believes in it, and he comes to Kenya owning up to it and undoubtedly to continue to support it.

The reversal of C-Street machinations in East Africa that so suppressed the gay community was also “behind the scenes.” Obama might reverse that with this visit.

Like all Third World countries, Kenya experienced a horrible crush albeit delayed a few years from the Great Recession. But that also came at a time of civil upheaval after the troubled and violent 2006/07 election, and then the Somali revenge for the invasion near crushed the spirit of the country with nearly continuous terrorist attacks.

All that seems behind Kenya, now. Somehow, this country has emerged if not renewed at least recharged. If Obama’s footsteps onto the country do nothing more than affirm this amazing resilience, it’s worth it … for both countries.

As for Ethiopia, one of the cruelest and most ruthless autocracies on the continent and with which the U.S. really has little in common, need I say more than that China has financed the world’s biggest dam here, one that could seriously stress the flow of The Nile?

At least Obama brings the U.S. to the table. To suggest the U.S. can ignore an issue of this magnitude is lunacy. Surely it’s worth the few hours stop scheduled.

So stop the complaining. I wish we could do more, but until we have more reasonable legislators in Congress, Obama’s doing the best we can.

Devilish Democracy

Devilish Democracy

doublespeakDouble-speak infects more than Republican candidates for president. Take Obama’s undersecretary of State who just called Ethiopia “a young democracy.”

The political art of saying something you don’t believe or not saying something you believe, and then mixing it altogether to avoid responsibility for either position, is little more than a ploy that I think we all get.

For me it’s a turnoff, a reason to criticize and withdraw support. The flipside is just as definitive: it’s why I wish Americans would elect more Senator Warrens and Feingolds.

But politicians do it because it works. They bolster existing support or garner new admirers who apparently “don’t get it” that double-speak is the ploy that entraps them.

Ethiopia has an election scheduled for next month. As with all elections in communist and authoritarian states these are political shams, not real elections. There are no opposition candidates.

It is like the “caucuses” that choose the leaders for most of Chicago’s north shore communities, from mayors to school board presidents. A group of ‘learned leaders’ gets together and chooses single candidates for each position who then run in “an election” without opposition.

Obama’s Undersecretary of State, Wendy Sherman, was captured on video in Addis Ababa recently declaring that “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible.”

The Washington Post called her remarks, “startling.”

The Global Peace Index ranks Ethiopia 139 of 162 countries analyzed. The index is determined by a country’s “absence of violence.”

Ms. Sherman, undaunted, replied with a letter back to the Post which began, “Ethiopia is a valuable partner in a critical region, from peacekeeping to fighting al-Shabab to pursuing peace in South Sudan. Ethiopia, among the world’s fastest-growing economies…”

Now in fairness to proponents of double-speak, it’s not known exactly what mistake Ms. Sherman made. Did she misspeak when saying Ethiopia was developing a democracy? Or did she not intend that her remarks get home? In other words was this double-speak to build a relationship with a regime that is one the most ruthless on earth?

There is no real election coming up. It will be rubber stamping the current regime with a fraudulent tabulation of presumed voters.

Human Rights Watch explains why there could not possibly be a real election:

“Thirty journalists and opposition members” are in jail for criticizing the government, “security forces responded to protests by Muslim communities with excessive force and arbitrary detentions.

“The Ethiopian government continues to forcibly resettle hundreds of thousands of rural villagers… relocating them through violence and intimidation.”

But guess what? Ethiopia’s doing well, economically. Guess what else? It doesn’t like al-Shabaab or al-Qaeda. More and more economics and the “war against terror” seem to be the sole bases by which societies most admire one other.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will not say or will not not say whether invading Iraq was right or wrong, but through mastering double-speak they will say everything but. (I’m beginning to wonder if the real reason for the Iraq War was that GW knew without one we would fall into the Great Recession, which we did just as a new president was arriving to stop it.)

Here’s my dilemma with regards to Ethiopia – or China at the bottom of the scale of democracy and human rights – all the way up to the presumed clarion caller, America:

What if the electorate is fooled? What if the electorate is stupid? What if the electorate is illiterate? What if the electorate doesn’t even know what it’s voting for? What if results are misread like in Broward County in 2000?

Democracy can really screw up a good situation. As Ms. Sherman was quick to point out in her reply letter to the Post, Ethiopia is reducing poverty and providing social services to its population at a remarkable rate. Much faster, for example, than democratic Zambia or Liberia.

If suddenly all of China, including half the population that can barely read or write or even understand the native language of the candidates, were allowed to vote, what would happen?

Is democracy more valuable than children’s full stomachs? More valuable than peace?

OnSafari: Early Man Gets Earlier

OnSafari: Early Man Gets Earlier

homohabilisIn less than a week I take my group to the Cradle of Humankind, and it’s appropriate that yesterday a milestone discovery was announced.

In what has certainly become the paradise for human fossil hunters, Afar in Ethiopia, a Univ. Of Arizona grad student found a mandible with teeth of a creature most scientists’ first looks suggest was our oldest direct ancestor.

This homo habilis is dated to 2.8 million years old, 400,000 years older than the next oldest find so far of this species.

While it will be a while before a scientific consensus can be achieved, the way I’m reading the first reports generated from the Nature publication, I think there’s a lot of loud clapping and back slapping.

There had been a gap of about a million years between rich and varied early man fossils of 3 million years and older, and 2 million years and younger.

The older ones are universally considered pre-hominid and most have been classified as Australopithecus. The younger ones begin with homo habilis and branched into at least one other species, homo erectus, before us – homo sapiens. This is the simple view, anyway. A good number of scientists would divide the fossil record into seven or eight additional species.

But in all cases, whether there were only two early man species, or eight, homo habilis was the oldest, so the first. This find that extends habilis into the million-year gap of which so little is known gives tenure to the notion it really was the first homo.

The problem is simply with having found so few species in this epoch of time. The reason for having found so few of them might have been relatively dramatic climate change. In a time of rapid climate change the chances of anything becoming fossilized are greatly reduced.

Not coincidentally, some scientists are now considering the possibility of rapid climate change in this period as the actual reason for the speciation of homo. Homo survived, Australopithecus and who knows what else, didn’t.

I find it somewhat confusing that a number of scientists are using this find to suggest that homo habilis evolved from Australopithecus. Seems to me that’s a stretch, and that it may be just as likely that Australopithecus and habilis both evolved from something else, or even more likely, had several evolution iterations (species creations) before sharing a common ancestor.

But the fossil record of the Australopithecine is rich and varied, with little among any of the finds to suggest a different species. If it were not the evolutionary root of habilis, and habilis or its ancestors also lived then, why have so many Australopithecine been found and so few habilis?

Perhaps more light will be shed on this when a competing scientific report on this same find is published in Science next week.

Water Wars

Water Wars

waterwarsIt was inevitable. Africa is coming to blows over water. It’s no joke that it could mean war.

Nine African countries depend upon The Nile. All of them are water deprived and all of them except Egypt are subject to devastating droughts. Only Egypt – which rarely experiences rain at any time – has matured without climate catastrophes.

But Egypt is the greatest user of the Nile waters, and the last of the nine countries on the chain from Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Blue Nile. During colonial times Egypt was much more developed than the other nine countries, and Britain was the colonial master of them all.

So Britain produced a mid 1950s treaty that gave Egypt veto power over any of the other nine countries when deciding collectively how to use the Nile water.

Times have changed.

Fresh water is as precious a commodity among these countries as oil. In 1999 the nine countries agreed that parceling out the waters of the Nile was the most important issue among them. They formed the Nile Basin Initiative, and since the formation, nothing at all has happened except bitter name calling.

Meanwhile, parts of the shoreline of Lake Victoria have receded more than 150 feet, and the depth of the lake has dropped by nearly 30 feet.

To manage their increasingly vital resource, more than 25 dams are currently planned for different parts of the Nile. The largest dam in the world is currently being built in Ethiopia, and Egypt is furious with Ethiopia for building it.

Egypt depends upon a strong flow of water along the Nile to irrigate its enormous agricultural industry. There is every indication the Grand Renaissance Dam alone will deplete this flow.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim explained. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

A year ago Egypt’s president Morsi said “all options are on the table” including “military responses to Ethiopia.”

Yesterday Kenya’s Natural Resource Cabinet Secretary ended another failed Nile Basin Initiative meeting. It failed principally because Egypt would not officially attend, although its ambassador to Kenya did show his face.

Nine of the countries less Egypt have agreed on an initiative agreement, but Egypt is balking. According to the 1999 accord, only 6 of the 9 countries need ratify the agreement for it to take effect. But Egypt is considered critical.

“That is the only way we can do this peacefully. Otherwise… we are going to be at war because of water,” Prof Judi Wakhungu, the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary told Kenya’s main newspaper yesterday after the meeting broke up.

Egypt without enough Nile water would be brought to its knees. It seems to me that much more powerful than the 1950s colonial shelf treaty is the fact that Egypt’s very existence for more than 7,000 years has depended upon The Nile. That’s quite a few grandfathers to be claused in.

I doubt there will actually be war, but not because Egypt doesn’t have the resolve if the waters stop flowing. Rather, I think Ethiopia is sensible enough to realize that turning off the spigot will cause war, so it won’t.

But there are many who disagree. Ethiopia is something of a maverick state, always has been. As the Grand Renaissance Dam starts to rise, the country’s leaders may also start basking in their increasing level of power.

OnSafari: Dispatch from Ethiopia

OnSafari: Dispatch from Ethiopia

dispatchfromethiopiaBleeding heart baboons, some of the rarest animals on earth and some of the most stunning scenery, together with Africa’s very ancient culture. That was Ethiopia hosted by EWT owner, Kathleen Morgan, completed today.

They then spent two days in the very remote Simien Mountains.

“The Simiens were wonderful. Incredibly beautiful scenery,”Kathleen emailed.

The group had a “wonderful” experience with the Geladas, the rare (although not endangered) “bleeding heart” baboon found only in these mountains. The EWT group basically sat in a field amongst them, taking pictures and watching them interact.

They also saw the endangered walia ibex and perhaps the rarest of all, the Simien Fox!

Few visitors ever see this rarest of the world’s wolves. There are fewer than 400 and, in fact, most of those are actually found in a southern Ethiopian range, the Bale Mountains, so this group was particularly lucky!

There is only one lodge in the Simien. “The lodge is ok, but it was absolutely freezing. The water heater and underfloor heating are charged by solar panels. Only two rooms had hot water, one had warm water, and the others had only cold water. Everyone’s floors were freezing. We had lots of blankets and duvets and hot water bottles! The food was ok,” Kathleen reported.

While there are not safari vehicles in Ethiopia of the sort common in East Africa, it was necessary to use 4-wheel drive Nissans to climb the 11-12,000′ into the high roads of the Simiens which Kathleen described as “awful!”

“Narrow, barely allowing two normal cars to pass, and all this with a steep drop at the edge of the road – thousands of feet down to the bottom of a valley. The drivers were incredible.”

“The drive out of the park and to Axum is stunningly beautiful,” she continued. They stopped to photograph colobus and vervet monkeys on the way. EWT guest Joan Lieb who is a veteran traveler of Africa and wild parts of the world, said the villages along the road were the poorest she had ever seen.

Ethiopia was the only country in Africa never colonized, and so it retains absolutely intact its ancient culture. That culture is eclectic, a mixture of very ancient Christianity and animism.

The common “cultural triangle” begins in the city on the southwest tip of the great Lake Tana, where ancient Coptic island monasteries are still overseen by native priests who speak and write a language, Gheez, that has existed for more than a thousand years.

On the northeast corner of the lake is Gondar, where some of the first European settlements (in this case, Portugese castles and churches) built as 15th and 16th century missionary priests, mostly from Portugal, tried to find the mythical Prester John.

After the Simien Mountains, the group spent two days in Axum. The priests who oversee the Church of St. Mary’s claim to be stewards protecting the Arc of the Covenant. When Kathleen’s group arrived, the choir was singing and chanting with their drums and sistra because it was a holy day.

The EWT group was beckoned forward into the choir area. The women sat off to the side, but they motioned Ed Walbridge over to a bench amidst the singers. They gave Ed a prayer stick (those tall ones you can lean on) and a sistrum. He stood and swayed and paid very close attention and swung his sistrum at all the right times.

“Everyone thought it was wonderful!” Kathleen emailed, although Joan Lieb and Kathleen expressed serious disappointment when the priests brought out a precious 500-year old Bible to show them and seemed not to treat it with the care of an antiquity.

After Axum the cultural tour ends with its climax at Lalibela. In the 13th century the dynasty of kings in Ethiopia changed when the rebel Lalibela successfully came to power, claiming he was actually more closely related to the Queen of Sheba than the previous kings.

In thanks to god he vowed to build a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia. This was Lalibela. It took 32 years and begins at the top of the ground and goes down as far as 80 feet, eleven churches carved out of a single massive sandstone.

The combination of very rare animals, remarkable scenery and ancient culture is not something easily experienced on an African safari, but Ethiopia is the place to do so!

Wheel From Wheel

Wheel From Wheel

EthiopiaSkateAfrica is fraught with innovation and in Ethiopia kids have reinvented the wheel!

Development is happening so fast, today, in Africa that the end points and beginning points are stretching further and further apart.

The dynamic is as true of wealth and poverty as it is of physical things … like cars and bikes.

Ethiopia and its capital, Addis Ababa in particular, are hyper examples. More millionaires were produced in Ethiopia in 2013 than any other African country.

And as you would expect, that meant many more modern consumer goods were sold like refrigerators, TVs, cell phones and computers. But most of all, cars. And the government is facilitating the transport boom by rapidly completing many new, modern roads and highways.

But unlike the developed west, a car is not something even the most wealthy Ethiopian kid is likely to get.

Bicycles have been around for generations, but even those are being whisked up by adults who need certain transport to work. What’s left?

Skate boards. But believe it or not, imported skate boards are more expensive than bicycles, even though there’s plenty of most of the basic materials available in Ethiopia to build them. Except tires. There’s no rubber in Ethiopia.

So as reported this month in Afrigadget.com, an Ethiopian student has designed a durable skate board wheel made from discarded old wheel rubber that is stitched around a base that can be manufactured locally from metal, fiberglass and foam.

The “gadget” is part of the creative production of IceAddis, one of several NGO offshoots of a collaboration of western companies led mostly by Scandanavian countries.

So skateboarding has come to Ethiopia! Thanks to local innovation and, by the way, the universal desire of kids to have fun while sailing through the air!

Breathtaking Fall

Breathtaking Fall

oldafricafallingfastHow fast and hard is ancient Africa falling? Take a look at Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is the only country in the entire continent of Africa that was never colonized. It was occupied for almost three years by Mussolini during World War II, but save that short episode it has had an indigenous rule since prehistoric times.

In fact, there may be few other societies in the world except parts of China and Japan where this is the case.

Geography is the main reason. The country is bordered by seas, deserts and mountains, effectively walling it from the outer world. This safety and isolation has led to a fascinating indigenous language, musical scale, methods of counting and cultural foundation unlike anything else in the world.

Only Christianity was able to penetrate the closed Ethiopian society, and because it was done so early, Judaism as well worked itself into ancient practices.

The isolation kept Ethiopia ancient throughout most of my life time. But that’s changing, and now changing fast.

And when any society changes as fast as Ethiopia is, there’s turbulence, and given where it’s headed to where it’s been, it’s mind blowing.

The violence of the overthrow of Haile Selassie was unbelievable. The Reign of Terror which followed was one of the most brutal regimes in contemporary history, and the wars with Eritrea and minuscule moves towards democracy have been agonizing.

Today Ethiopia plays with democracy but is one of the most autocratic regimes in Africa. It is also one of the most stable and most productive.

There is only one opposition member of Parliament. There are more local journalists in prison than publish each day in Addis. The current prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, succeeded Meles Zenawi who was in power since 1995 until his death in 2012, and between the two of them they have constructed the most powerful totalitarianism in modern times.

The centerpiece of the country’s modernization policy is the ironically named “villagization” of the country, which Human Rights Watch calls “Waiting for Death.” Through massive relocation of its peoples, Ethiopian planners expect to create a more workable, productive society.

“Modern Ethiopia is a paradox,” writes David Smith in London’s Guardian newspaper this weekend. Smith is amazed that only a generation after the famine that killed more than a million people, Ethiopia is now hailed “as an African lion because of stellar economic growth and a burgeoning middle class.”

More millionaires are being created in Ethiopia annually than anywhere else in Africa. Addis Ababa, once a quaint and isolated capital known mostly for its antique silver jewelry, has today skylines with Chinese office skyscrapers and modern highways.

Advancements in agriculture developed here may actually be winning the war against desertification and prompted the IMF and World Bank to underwrite what will become Africa’s largest dam.

The scale of this dam and other feeder dams is destined to produce more electrical power in Ethiopia than exists today in all of sub-Saharan Africa down to South Africa.

And all of this rapid modernization forged by an incredibly repressive government threatens to ignore to the point of not preserving many of the beautiful and unique practices of the ancient world.

I recall traveling to a remote region of Ethiopia in the late 1970s to visit the Mursi people, and I continue to refer to that trip as one of the last I ever made where I felt I truly saw Africa in prehistoric times.

“They know that they are practically finished”, William Davidson of Think Africa Press says regarding the Mursi today.

“Their way of life, their livelihood, their culture, their identity, their values, their religious beliefs – all this is being rubbished by a government which sees them as ‘backwards’ and uncivilised.”

There’s nothing wrong with modernizing Africa. But boosting the speed of development at the expense of human rights is wrong. And doing it so fast that valuable connections with the past are lost forever isn’t particularly enticing either.

What’s the point in farming better turkeys if done at the expense of celebrating Thanksgiving?

Watch Ethiopia. Watch the “brave, new world.”

EWT’s Kathleen Morgan leads a comprehensive trip to Ethiopia late this summer. For information call Kathleen at 800-672-3274 x204.

Israeli Fauxpolitik

Israeli Fauxpolitik

NotABowIsrael’s steamy response to Obama’s acceptance of the new Palestinian government reveals a massive hypocrisy in Israel’s dealings with Africa.

Yesterday Palestine sort of came together, as Fatah (that recognizes Israel) formed a coalition with Hamas (that doesn’t).

The attempted amalgam was further complicated by the fact that Fatah is considered a wholesome government by the U.S. and much of the western world, and Hamas is considered a terrorist organization.

Complications hardly end there: mixtures of oil and water neither lubricate engines or quench thirst. It’s not clear to me the new coalition will be able to do anything but split up, again.

Be that as it may, Israel exploded diplomatically.

Israel spent 24×7 explaining to the media how hypocritical the U.S. was. On today’s Morning Edition, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. fumed.

I applaud Obama’s action because governments rarely mean what they say, only what they do, and it made me think of Israel’s long and “hypocritical” relationship with Africa.

Apartheid was prolonged, the war in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was prolonged, the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe is currently prolonged, the development of Ethiopia was inhibited and horrible men from today’s Kagame in Rwanda and Amin in Uganda were sustained … because of Israeli diplomacy, often secret, often not.

Israel’s justification in these and other similar African initiatives was basically two-fold: enhance their national security and protect and recover African Jews. And the dedication to these two missions was uncompromisable, even if it created a conflict with other established credos.

When I was guiding in a once peaceful eastern Congo (now the DRC) in the mid 1980s, I flew my clients south from Beni to Goma on DC3s that came from Israel carrying weapons to the then Rhodesia. I’ve never been clear which side they were destined for, but wherever they were headed it was illegal… and that didn’t matter to the Israelis.

The current dictatorship of the weirdo despot Robert Mugabe is legitimized by an Israeli firm, Nikuv, which “manages” the farce called national elections which keeps Mugabe in power. Many Israelis are themselves furious, calling Nikuv Mugabe’s “fixers.”

The arms shipments to Rhodesia in the 1980s were likely more political than commercial, but it seems Nikuv might be more commercial than political.

In the runup to his mass slaughters, Idi Amin was supported heavily by Israel when the rest of the world had abandoned him. Shortly after staging his coup, Amin visited Israel, since no one else would have him.

Today in neighboring Rwanda, another despot is supported heavily by Israel, president Paul Kagame. Apparently there are some in Israel who believe that Tutsis are ancient Jews.

That seems like a stretch, but it’s no stretch that many Ethiopians were ancient Jews. I’ve seen myself primitive huts 3 or 4 decades ago with Torahs in Hebrew the only book around, and totems of ancient Israeli personalities like the Queen of Sheebah. I’ve seen entire villages that speak only a local dialect and Hebrew.

The belief that these “Falasha” were the Lost Tribe of Dan resulted in 30 years of Israeli involvement in Ethiopia so that it could repatriate 40,000 of the Falasha. The mammoth undertaking ended last year.

In order to facilitate this undertaking, the government of Israel was the only government except the Soviet Union that supported the barbarism of ruthless Ethiopian leaders in the 1980s.

My point has nothing to do with whether these Israeli efforts were right or wrong, but that they were practical to an extreme.

Obama’s search for peace in The Mideast is not practical to an extreme, it’s just practical. Israel’s condemnation? The pot calling the kettle black.

Soldiers At Bay

Soldiers At Bay

Commie or DespotRevolutionaries make lousy politicians, and that’s why South Sudan is so unstable.

Five theoretically democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa were born of revolution: Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Africa and South Sudan.

(Modern Rwanda, which rose from the pyre of the 1994 genocide, never pretended to be democratic. Kenya’s election violence was too short-lived and geographically contained to be considered revolution. And The Congo and Somalia aren’t finished, yet.)

Of the five, South Africa is doing just fine if awkwardly so. Ethiopia is a far, far distant second, and Uganda and Zimbabwe are now lost causes. South Sudan, the newest, is still figuring out its peace land legs and right now, doesn’t look too good.

These five countries provide an excellent study of modern day transition from revolution and suggest what South Sudan must do to succeed.

All five countries sustained a revolution against their previous regime for a generation or more:

South Africa’s ANC was the revolutionary, fighting arm against the Nationalist government that blew up the factories and staged a couple fire bombs while figuring out ways from time to time to close the mines. The ANC is now in control of South Africa’s politics and has been since Independence twenty years ago.

The Ethiopian regime is composed of a segments of rebel groups pursued by the Terror Triumvirate, which assassinated Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

The current Ugandan and Zimbabwean regimes consolidated power after violent ousters of repressive regimes (Idi Amin in Uganda and Ian Smith’s UDI in Rhodesia).

The South Sudan is the newest, created from a 2005 peace deal with (north) The Sudan that led to independence in 2011.

All five countries pretend to be democratic and are founded on constitutions based on democracy. Only South Africa is.

Uganda and Zimbabwe are iron-clad dictatorships. Ethiopia is more communist than dictatorship albeit with a pretty wide net of political involvement across various segments of Ethiopian society.

We can predict what might happen to South Sudan based on what happened to the other four.

In all cases, the men (and it’s exclusively men) who shot guns and murdered adversaries of the ancien regime are now the political leaders. As George Washington summed it up when leaving a single term in office, soldiers do not make good democratic leaders.

Foreigners are eager to cast these country’s difficulties as ethnic, and to be sure the internal adversaries are clearly ethnically different. But I think as suggested by Hilary Matfess in an article in Think Africa Press, today, there are other more important reasons.

Once fault lines occur in a society, ethnic groups tend to congeal on one side or the other, and that’s certainly what’s happened in South Sudan. But that doesn’t mean the ethnicity or racism is the actual cause.

Ms. Matfess argues that it’s the constitutional makeup, but I argue that the constitution was made up by soldiers, and that’s the problem.

In a country as diverse, successful and developed as South Africa, soldiering onto the political stage worked well for the ANC, but soldiering into governance is not working so well. Nevertheless in South Africa, autocratic moves by politicians have been checked.

South Africa will do just fine as soon as these old soldiers go, and they are slowly but surely dying or being forced out.

Uganda and Zimbabwe, however, weren’t able to make the transition that I’m sure South Africa has, and both have devolved into despotic regimes.

I see Ethiopia as trying very hard not to slip into a despotic character, and the way it’s trying to do so is by a very restrictive, highly controlled mostly communist system that is forcing the old soldiers to stay at bay. Certainly without this very powerful central authority in Addis, the country would start fighting, again, and one or other of the soldiers would come to power as the despot exactly as Museveni and Mugabe have in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

This is South Sudan’s option, I’m afraid. Lacking the development and diversity that South Africa had historically, South Sudan must figure out “how to keep the old soldiers at bay.”

The only way is by a centrally restrictive “communist” government. All that democracy will do is facilitate war.

This is exactly the opposite of what Ms. Matfess believes, even though I’m using her argument to suggest it. But democracy cannot work until the population is educated enough to engage its mechanisms.

So if The West wants peace in South Sudan, it’s going to have to accept communism.

Now there’s a twist.