Shrinking & Suffering

Shrinking & Suffering

trumpbudgethitsafricaIf there’s anything at all good in Trump’s “skinny” budget it’s that Americans might start paying attention to the sweeping power of their government. The draconian cuts will indeed effect each and every American but the budget will also lay waste much of the rest of the world.

That’s quite uncomfortable to most Americans who either don’t know or don’t care how they effect the rest of the world. A Kenyan analysis shows how the Trump budget will devastate the continent, exponentially increase suffering and death and likely lead to war. Kenyan analysis shows that the Trump budget will lay waste the continent, exponentially increase suffering and death and likely lead to war.

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Flower Futures

Flower Futures

trump-africaAfricans are putting together the first drafts of policy to deal with Trump and while it reflects the sophistication and skill of today’s African leaders, the outlook is grim. The much loved former U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, wrote today, the best Africa can hope for is “benign neglect.”

Which is unlikely if Trump twists the globe and learns there’s a continent over there. The case in point is Kenya. I implied yesterday that Kenya’s unexpected extradition of two alleged drug kingpins to the U.S. was clearly courting favor. Sycophancy aside, the country is preparing for the worse.

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Battle #1 in The War

Battle #1 in The War

assaultonfreespeechIf you’ve got something to say, say it now.

The world is contracting into conservative populism and freedom of expression is in the gun site. Trump idly suggests shutting down the internet or incarceration for flag burning, and legislators in Kenya and South Africa kick gleefully into high gear.

Stalled legislation in both countries to curtail the press and freedom of speech is moving forward, again.

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russiainafricaRussia wasted no time using Trump’s election to increase its global power. Yesterday it thrust a masterful spear between Africa and the U.S. by aligning itself with African countries threatening to withdraw from the World Court.

The renegade power’s lightning fast global moves have been reported this morning in Central America, Syria, and of course right here in America, but it is in Africa where Russia may be most successful acting so quickly.

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Another ‘Election’

Another ‘Election’

somalielectionObama leaves office having created the largest American military complex in Africa in history with operations in at least 22 African countries.

The incredible size and scope of the American military in Africa was first reported in Mother Jones in 2013, but gained no wide audience. I was surprised then and remain surprised, today. Is it because we’re safer? Or because we just don’t want to talk about it.

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Religion is Tribalism

Religion is Tribalism

kerry listeningObama is trying to be the Great Mediator in Africa having failed in America. Don’t hold your breath.

John Kerry is completing a whirlwind tour of Africa, today, dolling out money like carnival candy and telling the McCoys and Hatfields that they’ll be a lot more if they have Thanksgiving dinner together.

Kerry’s bitter sweet journey carries cargoes of carrots and sticks.

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OnSafari: River Crossing

OnSafari: River Crossing

rivercrossingBPWe were among 30 cars on one side of the Mara river – there were another 30 on the opposite side.

I don’t like crowds in the wilderness, and I avoid them pretty successfully. But this is an exception. If you want to see one of the most dramatic still truly wild components of the world’s last great animal migration, you’re going to be part of a crowd.

True, there are plenty of river crossings on the great migration route that don’t draw crowds, and I’ve enjoyed them. But the classic and most dramatic crossings are in the Mara, and there are only a couple dozen favorite crossing spots.

Unlike so many animals, wildebeest are very finicky eaters. All they will consumer is grass. Grass comes after rain. The wilde’s instinct forces them to “follow the rains,” which generally recede over the course of the year in a northwesterly direction onto Lake Victoria.

Before reaching the Mara, the great herds have crossed at least two and sometimes four or five other great rivers as they move north.

The Mara is the last and furthest northern river before the herds are turned back by developed farm fields, towns and villages. Here they cluster and start moving backwards and forwards across the river seemingly without purpose. The instinct to move is too great, and if the movement is a rebound, so be it.

This has been the case for at least the last half century. Before that they may have continued all the way to the Lake before turning around. The boundary is not natural in the wild sense, of course, and it results in the mass confusion, exceptional drama and photogenic scenes that have become the trademark of the great migration.

A bit further south the herds’ decisions to move back and forth across rivers is governed much more by actual rain. Particularly now with climate change, the intense micro-climates may mean a healthy rainfall a few miles to the north, or a drought, a few miles to the south.

I’ve often watched the herds move north out of Tanzania to Kenya right on schedule in June, but then return months early in August because of early, heavy rains in northern Tanzania.

Keep in mind that a wildlife documentary is simply an edited version of what the Miller Family saw this morning in person. I remember encountering a BBC/Nova film crew once shooting a river crossing here in the Mara, and there were at least 20 vehicles just in their team.
We were watching a newborn zebra being defended by its mom against a hyaena when we spotted massive clouds of dust several miles away above the river.

Our camp driver, of course, knew exactly what “favorite crossing place” was near the dust and we headed for it posthaste. Wilde will jump 20 feet into the river and then try (usually unsuccessfully) to scale the other side of a 20-foot canyon, but they prefer easier entries and exits, often dry river washes merging with the great Mara. There aren’t many, and everyone knows them.

To reach this crossing place, we had to drive through the herds, and that in itself was fabulous. I estimated between 3500-4500 in this particular group. They were racing in multiple files and converging on a plateau just above the crossing point.

We slowed down among their incessant blarting mixed with the anxious barking of the zebra. Clearly this group was getting psyched up to cross!

By the time we got to the crossing point most of the prime spaces were already taken by other cars. But our driver knew the river so well that we went down river all of a few hundred meters where it turned and found a beautiful viewing area right there.

Across the river were four giant crocs, pulled out onto the sun with bellies already bulging with previous crossings.

So then, like everyone, else, we just waited.

After about an hour, all of a sudden, we were surrounded by wilde! They came so fast the dust came after them! This wasn’t the crossing place, this was our secret viewing area, and it was very rocky and steep at the river’s edge.

Then almost as quickly, they moved away back into the riverine forest. For some reason, they weren’t going down the “favorite crossing place.”

After about another half hour some cars began to leave. We thought we would, too, but just as the engine turned on we could see upriver that the first of the group had reached the river’s edge at the end of the wash.

At first they didn’t seem to do anything but grow in numbers and drink the water. After about five minutes, though, the pressure of the racing wilde behind them forced them to start the swim across.

They walked until the depth of the river forced them to swim, and wilde do this by successive leaping. Water was splashing all of the place. I watched a croc leap out and grab the side of one wilde. It was soon mayhem. Six or seven abreast were swimming across, many getting drowned by others behind them, some actually swimming back across the river!

A half hour later it was all over. A very small group of about 25 wilde for some reason remained on the wash and didn’t cross, but the bulk had move onto the other side and were congregating on the plains and starting to graze.

We found a nice place much further down the river to set up our wonderful breakfast, but the river runs fast here, and numerous “floaters” or dead wildebeest passed by us.

The great migration is like one little muscle in Mother Earth. It’s a reflection of the ecological heritage that makes our planet so awesome. Until we free ourselves completely of our biological roots, we need to truly experience the power of our organic world so that we can concede that we’re only one piece in an infinite universe of life, beholden to the great migration as the wildebeest are to the rains.

What a Mess

What a Mess

freefallingrandLest this be too technical for those unfamiliar with Africa, this morning is a mess.

“Chaos has been unleashed and we all will be poorer,” writes a commentator this morning in the respected journal, African Arguments.

Many former British colonies in Africa are forcing calm while quietly panicking about Brexit, especially South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

I can’t see this getting better. Even if the hoped for British pivot occurs and somehow Article 50 is never triggered, the genie is out of the bottle. Economies don’t pause for politicians to catch their breath.

The biggest single concern with South Africa and Kenya is the plummeting pound. Kenya is also worried that a new British executive will be less disposed to foreign aid. Nigeria’s concern is the increased dollar which puts downwards pressure on oil prices, Nigeria’s lifeblood. South Africa suffered a 1.2% retraction last quarter and Brexit is likely now to dump them into a full blown recession.

There is even widespread concern that money transfers will be more difficult, something that will effect all aspects of business and trade.

By 0730cdt this morning all the indicators were moving in terrible directions. Former African colonies’ currencies usually move with the pound. Although weaker currencies are often spun positively for manufactured exports, most former colonies import more than they export so their economies become stressed when their currency weakens.

Add to this a 10% drop in the price of oil (as of 0730 cdt) and Britain’s former colonies are in a terrible mess this morning.

“Politicians paint a very beautiful picture of a very bad idea just to ascend to power,” writes one Kenyan about Brexit, today. “They dupe [the electorate] into voting for them, knowing very well that whatever they are promising cannot work even under any circumstance. That is exactly what Cameron did.”

Most Americans have never traveled to Kenya or South Africa or Nigeria, much less even the UK. Our economy remains the largest on earth so likely the one that can be least hurt by any other. But we are not immune to the effects of Brexit, and I mean that as much politically as economically.

Every Britain should have known what a disaster this would be, but their politicians duped them, to use the Kenyan’s words. The Leave Campaigners promised all sorts of things that they are today retracting like yo-yos, essentially admitting lying.

But there were even double-dupes like Cameron bringing up the whole idea then trying to turn it back; and triple-dupes like Corbyn only half-heartedly campaigning against the Leave because he really wants it.

In the end the electorate was only given one choice: leave or not. I think what the electorate manifest was a protest vote, a No vote, a vote against politics, against the status quo, because like many of us around the world, that’s the only power we’ve been left by our hoarding, power hungry politicians.

The most terrifying lesson to learn from this mess is that Donald Trump might win.

Requiem for an Empire

Requiem for an Empire

brexittribalismBritain’s dominant tribe, the Conservatives, has been hoisted by its own petard. Long live the Queen.

As Shakespeare might say they’ve undone themselves. Kikuyu Kenyans, American Republicans, Le Pen Français and ANC South Africans better take a very hard look, because tribalism simply won’t work in today’s world.

British conservatives preached a stew of tribal policies like austerity, go-slow immigration, social services cutbacks, retraction from the EU and now they’ve eaten it. So they’re dying.

Tribalism is a cancerous phenomenon: once it takes hold it’s hard to stop. It grows much faster than other social phenomena like welfare or desegregation. It forces those around it to also become tribal, even against the better judgment.

Brexit likely means that Scotland will secede. Conservative movements throughout Europe get an enormous boost. This morning tribalism is all powerful.

One of the first western anthropologists to study tribalism was Margaret Mead, and one of her best current disciples is the Australian, Roger Sandall.

Sandall was intellectually marginalized by a now going-out-of-date notion that ethnic identity is preeminent in any social situation. He suffered unfair criticism that he’s racist.

But Sandall’s interpretation of Mead is perfect for what happened in Britain yesterday as well as the growing sentiment worldwide to retract into small social units and “go it alone.”

(Make America Great Again means building walls, voiding trade agreements and impeding immigration.)

Sandall wrote that Margaret Mead understood “culture [is] more valuable than its people… that the intellectual features of tribalism cannot be defended; that its moral code leaves much to be desired; that its economic assumptions obstruct and stultify.”

Tribalism is Africa’s greatest single plight, and I’m constantly inspired by how vigorously young Africans try to shake it but to date simply haven’t succeeded. The trend is there, however, and I’m convinced in another generation or two Africa will have become one of the least tribal areas on earth.

Then why this regression in our (theoretically more developed) world?

People are fed up. But they don’t yet understand – as the Brit does this morning – that the wealth, power and glory that they strived for all their lives is exactly why they’re in the state they’re in today. There just isn’t enough wealth, power and glory to go around satisfactorily. Everybody can’t have it.

So when some Joe gets his hands on it, he has to do everything possible to keep it from the rest of us.

One of Joe’s most successful ways of doing this is to flaunt his wealth, power and glory, to convince us nincompoops that we can all be like him if we just do what he says.

And what he says in clever ways secures his wealth, power and glory at the expense of us ever being able to achieve it. He convinces us to act, to vote, against our own self interest.

That’s lying. That leads to a whole new set of techniques to make us think it isn’t lying, or that lying doesn’t matter.

So against simple commonsense, straight-forward grammar and very complex economic data, the poor British sot just chose to make his life infinitely worse.

That’s too bad. But it could be good for Kikuyu Kenyans, American Republicans, Le Pen Français and ANC South Africans. If the pound tumbles quickly enough there might be time enough to witness the British sot getting sotter before these others start to destroy themselves, too.

Ultimately tribalism won’t work. Mead and Sandall are correct. The requiem for British conservatism is now our formal example. American Republicans might be the next.

Soweto Anniversary

Soweto Anniversary

hectorpietersonToday perfectly demonstrates how America helps lead Africa out of the ignominy of racism and bigotry.

Africa often moves with about a ten to fifteen year lock-step delay to America’s own progress on cultural rights. Today is the 40th anniversary of the Soweto uprising that began the last great offensive against apartheid. Twelve years earlier America adopted the powerful Civil Rights Act after a decade of protests.

Today the LGBT community in Kenya lost their first high court battle against the country’s anti-gay laws, yet the very fact it reached the court indicates that LGBT community’s growing influence. Consider how fast the LGBT movement’s successes have occurred here.

In fact cultural changes throughout much of Africa are happening with even greater speed than they did in America, because much of emerging modern Africa is hardly a few generations into self-governance.

It’s Youth Day in South Africa. The moniker honors the mostly primary and secondary school students who 40 years ago marched in protest to new apartheid laws and got massacred by South African police.

The horror of the mass slaughter of hundreds of children was immediately transmitted around the world with the photo taken by photojournalist Sam Nzima showing the dying student child, Hector Pieterson, being carried from the protests.

Each time I take a group to South Africa we visit the incredibly moving Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto. As in the Apartheid Museum many displays are mostly black-and-white, such an appropriate adjective for the times and the struggles which ended them.

The Soweto protests attacked an apartheid regulation requiring non-white South Africans to be taught in Afrikaans rather than English or any of the native languages.

Many protested – as so well documented in the Hector Pieterson Museum – for very practical reasons: Soon to graduate students had spent their lives being taught in English but were suddenly confronted with final exams in Afrikaans.

Today quite a few South Africans are remarking on this Youth Day that it is the youth, again, who are integral in the country’s current protests, this time like 40 years ago, fired by controversies over the language of public education.

Most of the horrible apartheid laws were passed in the 1950s to virtually no opposition from the outside world. The end of World War II gave Afrikaans leaders sufficient cover to legislate a horribly repressive regime.

But as the anti-apartheid movement grew within South Africa, there was a wicked resurgence of new laws and regulations that greatly tightened the noose around South Africa’s majority non-white population.

Yet even by 1976 South Africa remained under the public radar of most of the world. The western world was in the depths of the Cold War and South Africa was considered the lone and essential partner in a continent increasingly socialistic.

But the Soweto protests began the galvanization process worldwide. European sanctions came not too long afterwards, and President Reagan suffered a humiliating defeat when Congress overrode his veto of American sanctions against the apartheid regime.

So it was the Soweto protests more than any previous event that moved the anti-apartheid forward.

Equality irrespective of race is a human value that because of our Civil War probably has more currency in American society than any other. The battle never ends, of course. The racist backlash in our current political discourse is proof enough of that, and the current student protests in South Africa are as well.

But for as long as we uphold and protect these civil rights, the unthinkable murder of Hector Pieterson will not have been in vain.