Now a Grim Tale

Now a Grim Tale

viewfrom.saruni.518.jun10‘Laikipia’ runs off the tongue into conversation exactly like the beautiful waterfalls that burst out of the high jungles over the dramatic cactus landscapes of deep canyons and endless vistas in north central Kenya.

Laikipia was a beautiful story in the 1970s, still compelling two decades later in “I Dream of Africa,” but it’s a grim and dark tale, now.

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Macabre Renewables

Macabre Renewables

newcapitalDrop some pop western culture into a poorly developed area of Africa, add a pinch of a dictatorial politic, and you get a horribly tragic ritual slaughter of three agricultural workers in rural Tanzania.

When the three field scientists from the urban center of Arusha traveled yesterday to a very rural part of central Tanzania, villagers accused them of being vampires and hacked them to death.

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Party Paradox

Party Paradox

tandonclintonAfrican intellectuals bring clarity to our current campaign: Nothing matters in this election but Establishment-Yes or Establishment-No. Obama’s failed promise of change makes any qualification heresy.

Clinton and the DNC’s very public decision not to indict Republicans, thereby reducing Democrat’s chances for a legislative majority, suggests nothing less than stale embrace of the Establishment, and by so doing, boosts Trump.

Yesterday a Kenyan. Today a Ugandan.

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Societal Upheaval

Societal Upheaval

ikundaanalyzestrump“How can a billionaire businessman who calls Mexicans rapists, …insults women, stereotypes black Americans, admires…Putin, threatens to bar Muslims from entering the country …become a presidential candidate? Surely decent, responsible, fair-minded people would not give such a national and international menace a chance to become the leader of the free world?”

To that South African columnist Donald Trump is as newsworthy as a dozen other crisis in his country this morning and hundreds across the continent.

There’s a lot of news in Africa, today. And a lot of it is about Trump.

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Democratic Disease

Democratic Disease

gabon and polioRotary Charity and Gabon Wealth, two very different issues this morning that teach a similar lesson: you can’t buy success.

The oil rich country of  Gabon remains unsettled this morning following contested elections and days of violence.  A third case of the presumed eradicated polio was confirmed this morning in Nigeria.

Two extremely different African tales share an amazing similarity. Both of them were completely predictable and for the same reason.  Let’s start with Gabon.

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OnSafari: Dar Hell

OnSafari: Dar Hell

DartrafficBPOn a two-day hiatus from my Miller Family Safari, I find myself in a Poe or King hell: Dar-es-Salaam.

The family’s foreign exchange student joined them for the first ten days. The two of us peeled off the group yesterday so that I could shepherd him onto his international flight home to Paris.

Unable to catch up with the family in Zanzibar for two days, I’m staying in Dar es Salaam. The Ramada Resort on Mbezi Beach had a good deal, and I also booked their “40-minute” transfer from the airport. It took two hours.

This was 7 p.m. on a Thursday night. My savvy cabbie avoided the main roads as much as he could. We wound our way through a maize of small streets that anywhere else in the world would resemble a walking mall, but with nano-millimeters to spare we passed giant petrol trucks and mammoth buses, but at least we were moving.

It was dark. No street lights, so the only illumination was the ubiquitous “open” and “welcome” neon signs of the myriad of shops lined up one after the other. Bridal shops, grocery stores, children’s toys to many pharmacies were doing a robust business, many with lines of people waiting to get in. People crossing the street, 3-wheel tuk-tuks and an unending barrage of motorcycles somehow effortlessly wove in an out of our two moving lines of mammoth traffic.

But this clever navigation had its limits. Three or four times we had to get back on a disastrous main road: Four, five or six lines of vehicles moved often quickly then stopped … once for 25 minutes. White uniformed policeman at several intersections wielding large red or green neon batons waved tides of vehicles forward and back in a futile attempt to unclog the mess.

Two minutes less than two hours I arrived at my destination, 11.2 miles from the airport. Taxi fee: $70 with tip.

Of course I was frustrated and exhausted, but I couldn’t help thinking of the people who live here, of the enormous resources spent just coming and going. Easily 1 out of 4 large trucks were petrol tankers. Sometimes my cabbie decided to turn off his car engine, but usually not. He explained that was hard on the engine and used even more gas.

What percentage of the gas was used to stand still? But that pales in comparison with the time all these people have lost of their productive lives.

Speaking with staff at the hotel I learned that most of them live in reasonable proximity to the hotel, but that was less true of management and specialty services. One woman said she spent five hours daily getting to work and back! Another has been given a room in the hotel, and “commutes” home (15 miles away) on his days off!

Most African metropolises are a mess. Urban immigration for the last two decades has stunned social anthropologists by its magnitude and speed, and Tanzania is right there at the top of the charts.

Of the estimated Tanzanian population of 55 million, nearly ten percent reside in Dar es Salaam. Add surrounding communities in the area where I stayed Thursday night and it’s likely around 8 or 9 million.

I’ve written about Nairobi’s congestion often in the last several years, and the new highway system that came on line last year did seem to help … a little. But even in Nairobi’s worst times, it did not take two hours to go twelve miles.

This was a real education for this old safari guide. All the pontificating about how to help the developing world, how to share the world’s resources, seems meaningless after this experience. Until the chaotic congestion of African cities is resolved, how can anything else begin to be done?

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.

The Business of Safaris

The Business of Safaris

Business of SafarisMy 30-day safari convinced me that Kenya’s tourism has been reborn and that Tanzania better look out, but that they both might be in trouble.

For a month I guided nonstop 17 enthusiastic travelers – almost all veterans – through my favorite wildernesses in Kenya and Tanzania. All my objectives including finding the great migration and showing off the new dynamic Nairobi were met.

My clients have all vowed to return yet again!

But such enthusiasm needs stoking, and the East African tourism industry is sorely failing in this regard.

Today think of Kenya as a splendid adventure with extraordinary comfort, and think of Tanzania as wilder but more difficult. The distinction is just what an investor needs to create imaginative programs for a wide market.

But both Kenya and Tanzania are not doing so, in fact, they may be doing just the opposite: destroying their own precious industry.

Kenya’s ability to maintain its wonderful wildernesses is extraordinary, given the contemporary pressures of its unbelievably rapid development. That development will leave Tanzania in a deep wake, but it will be meaningless if Kenya can’t get under control a number of destructive political pressures.

These include nearly laughable mismanagement of the Mara (separated from the Kenyan Wildlife Service-KWS) and the unfettered development projects like the new railway through Tsavo or the planned labyrinth of national highways built with little concern for the wilderness.

Tanzania on the other hand needn’t worry for the time being that its great northern wildernesses are jeopardized by development: Global success stopping the Serengeti highway three years ago more or less proved this.

Tanzania’s disadvantage vis-a-vis Kenya lies mostly with its very dysfunctional and corrupt management of its wildernesses. TANAPA and TAWIRA look like expelled primary school dropouts compared to Kenya’s fabulous KWS.

Both countries suffer from corruption and both country’s executives and legislatures are implementing admirable policies to stem it. But I think Tanzania’s considerably worse off in this regards:

Poor implementation of the national park Smart Card program, seriously deteriorating park road maintenance, summary ending of long-time research efforts (particularly with lions) in the Serengeti, and seemingly random allocation of land leases in wilderness territory are just a few of Tanzania’s most serious problems, all rooted in corruption.

Tanzania’s greatest asset is it wildness. Kenya’s most popular parks, Amboseli and The Mara, are over developed, a legacy of years of corrupt allocation of land leases and a dysfunctional multi-tier system of wilderness management. The animals that have survived this congested development have become extremely habituated to tourists, and that’s not all that bad.

But it means that as Kenya’s tourism increases, so will the number of cars. It’s taking increasingly imaginative itineraries to avoid the crowds even now during a tourism decline. The payback to the tolerant tourist is that at the end of the day accommodations at every market level are considerably better than in Tanzania.

Kenya’s accommodations, food, customer service and reliability are much better than Tanzania’s.

Still, the tourist who like myself is more interested in the wilderness, can hardly discard Tanzania for these shortcomings. The much less crowded parks (Ngorongoro being a singular and notable exception) means that the animals are wilder, the landscapes less scarred and – from my point of view – results in a much more exciting trip.

Both countries, though, have what could be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy tourism growth: escalating prices.

Global resellers of East Africa are either conceding market share to Asia and South America, or they are so shaving their itineraries (like OATS or Road Scholar) that all that’s left is but a skeleton of the landscape, people and animal contrasts that distinguishes a classic safari.

Wilderness travel in particular is booming in places like the Amazon jungle and Alaska where prices have actually fallen over the last decade. African safaris now vie with Antarctica as the most expensive destination in the world.

Both the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments take some of the blame for slapping high taxes and escalating entry fees on tourists, relative to other wilderness destinations. But the bulk of the blame rests with poorly schooled investors who have never bet on the medium or long term.

Short term investing requires a high return, and believe me, they’re getting it in East Africa. It also leads to knee-jerk increases in price when demand falls. I can’t think of another place in the tourism world where this is the case. No one is prepared in East Africa to “weather the storm” or “restructure” or “look to the future” when the ‘future’ is hardly more than tomorrow.

The Serengeti remains my favorite place in the world, and the myriad of almost just as exciting places in both Kenya and Tanzania can still provide the traveler with the most unique and exciting vacation on earth.

But that will not depend upon the market, but upon the East Africans who can exploit it if they want to. It’s up to the politicians to stem corruption and infuse real professionalism onto the industry; Up to the business people to begin treating the place as a home they plan on building for future generations, rather than a foreign lark easily disinvested.

I think you know what I’m hoping for.
– Johannesburg

Halisi na ukweli!

Halisi na ukweli!

iowaelectionLetter to my African Friends:

Last night I watched the first official tallies of this presidential election. I realized that meaningful social change using democracy is something possible in Africa but not very likely in America.

This because in places like South Africa and Kenya you’re tinkering with new constitutions; in Tanzania you’re considering a whole new constitution.

America’s constitution will soon be 250 years old. Unlike Europe where constitutions were changed often radically many times, most Americans believe that our aged constitution remains the best plan for running a society.

That’s because most Americans are afraid of change.

In my short lifetime unexpected hurt has beset us Americans, social pain not experienced since our Civil War almost 150 years ago. Because for most of our 250 years American society was healthier, freer and happier than almost all the rest of the world, most Americans think our current hurt is temporary and unusual, and that we should just “keep on trucking” and ultimately things will get better.

Meanwhile with each passing year our constitution ossifies even more. Every constitution tries to perpetuate itself, and we let ours get away with murder.

Here’s what I want to tell you as you fashion your new societies with democracy:

1) Executive presidencies like America’s are bad. Too much attention becomes focused on a single person. Parliamentary democracies like Europe have a much longer and more prosperous future.

2) Don’t tinker with the media. We did. We allowed oligarchy business crazies like Rupert Murdoch to buy then control our media. Our free and democratic society should have stopped him. He did too many illegal or almost illegal things to gain control, and then with time this control seemed organic, not ordered like it really was. The desperate needs of one man started to grow through the entire society.

3) Don’t be afraid to enforce the truth. This is a touchy subject, and the retort you’ll hear is that there are differing views on what’s true. That’s playing around with the language. Kutekeleza ukweli. Swahili is better for saying this. There is a truth, a reality, an ukweli. Climate change is halisi. Put them together and “ukweli na halisi” is incontrovertible truth, and we’ve lost it in America.

We allowed economic forces to deny reality. I suppose that doesn’t matter in some cases, and the argument is that the “right to say anything” is a part of free speech. But when those forces deny climate change, deny womens’ rights, deny voters’ rights, deny science, it gets rid of truth. That’s what’s happened in America.

I think this is because our system is so old it perforce doesn’t work as well as more modern systems of government, and while that isn’t ukweli na halisi it’s close. Our society is afraid of change, and so much so that it now freely allows denial of the truth.

Finally don’t think you’re without problems or that we Americans don’t have a lot to admire. We’re much less racist and ethnic than you are. Racism and ethnocentricity could very well be your Achilles Heal, just as fear of change is ours.

We are fiercely independent, and you aren’t. Many of you think of independence as courageous but pointless. We equate independence with freedom, and so should you.

Those of you reading this are likely part of the “emerging middle class.” You’re no longer herding goats or trucking Jerry cans from the river. Your society has managed to liberate you personally from many economic hardships.

Lots of your brothers and sisters aren’t where you are, yet. Don’t abandon them for your own stardom, as we so often do in America. Don’t embrace the false notion that “you pulled yourself up” so why can’t they?

There’s not a one of us that did anything alone.

Last night as I watched my hero, an old man rally his young supporters, I too felt like an old man, and that America was an old man’s home. Youth in America is a minority, suppressed and coopted. But in Africa youth is the majority!

Any energy I have left to change my own society comes only when I think of you and the changes that you can bring to our world.

Africa’s Take on Trump

Africa’s Take on Trump

TrumpOrDemocracyAfrica, like the U.S., is beginning to take Trump seriously. It’s no longer a fluke. It’s a nightmare.

“There is more to Trump than attention-grabbing outrage,” one of Nairobi’s main radio stations broadcast yesterday.

“Trump’s egregious widespread insults and total fabrications [are] on a gargantuan scale,” South Africa’s Mail & Guardian writes today.

The image above comparing Trump to Hitler was tweeted by a 20-year old in Malaysia, and was retweeted thousands of times around South Africa until one of the country’s main news services, IOL-Business, picked it up as a leader on a story about Trump.

There’s a lot of lofty debate whether Trump is like Hitler, following the provocative Washington Post’s opinion piece claiming so.

Frankly, I don’t think Africans care much whether Trump is like Hitler.

There’s always a crazy, even a veritably unhinged political leader. But it’s the texture of the popular support among the locals that defines the era.

I think what Africans like many of us are exploring is the confusion with Trump’s support, seemingly unfathomable, as was Hitler’s in his early days.

A reporter for a Nigerian newspaper was at Trump’s South Carolina rally last night. He wrote:

“Mr Trump supporters cheered and shouted in support… Rod Weader, a 68-year-old real estate agent from North Charleston …said he agreed with Mr Trump’s plans ‘150 per cent’.”

Africans have been preached to for several generations about the importance of democracy to a moral society.

Kenya’s main newspaper, the Daily Nation, summed up the paradigm brilliantly yesterday:

“If a clown like Donald Trump can campaign for the presidency, Rwanda is better off giving Kagame a third term as he has brought about a significant turnaround for his country.”

Paul Kagame is Rwanda’s dictator, nurtured by France and the U.S. because he has imposed peace on the troubled country, albeit as ruthlessly as Stalin. Technically, the constitution rammed down Rwandans’ throats in 1994 by the U.S. and France prohibits Kagame from a further term. Hm. Some conundrum, eh?

That is only one of many conundrums of democracy. People convinced to vote against their self-interest, people manipulated by a Trump to channel legitimate anger in immoral directions, dumbing down issues until they are meaningless … these all emasculate democracy.

Donald Trump brings them into stark relief in the home of modern democracy, America.

Should I say: it gives democracy a bad name?

Or should we own up to the fact that people not voting, and people voting without adequately studying the complex issues of the day, and an electorate about as stupid as you can imagine because those who weren’t stupid withdrew public educational support for two generations are the real culprits?

Democracy is not automatic. It must be earned and nurtured. To my African friends all I can say is take heed:

Donald Trump is in some ways like Adolf Hitler. When power flounders the shark attacks. A poorly stoked and nurtured democracy is the best place anywhere for strongmen to succeed.