Each year at this time one news story is repeated, analyzed, attracts more comments and fuels more anger in Africa than any other single story of at any other time of the year, year after year:
The Dallas police shootings, the massacre of protestors in Zimbabwe, the shooting of Alton Sterling, the kidnaping of British tourists in Somalia … what really is the difference?
Last night I collapsed on the couch and flipped on the TV. “Breaking News” about more shootings and … I turned it off. That was wrong. If we blindly run away from troubling things, troubling things will take us down.
Americans concerned with the security of traveling abroad have to realize this morning that foreigners feel more threatened traveling here than Americans feel traveling there.
The more important issue – a heartbreaking one – is why all this happens, anyway, not something as seemingly incidental as whether violence should alter your vacation plans. But violence isn’t usually willy nilly. It certainly wasn’t in Dallas last night or for that matter inside the car of Philando Castile several nights before. It takes organization to place snipers in the right spot or to snatch a tourist from a market in Lamu.
After centuries of discussion it seems that most violence is linked to inequity. Violence would be immeasurably reduced, in my view, if the wealth of the world were spread around little bit more.
Violence wouldn’t end, just as greed and lust for power will never end. But if hunger and want is even just a little bit reduced, if we take the butter knife and just spread that hunk of wealth a little bit more around, violence will subside. Everywhere. This is as certain for Kenya as Baltimore.
So that’s not going to happen tomorrow.
But you can read the news. You don’t have to – as I did – turn off the bad news on TV. Tomorrow you can get on a plane and fly to Paris.
The need for all of us to leave our shells is greater than ever before. It’s the only way we can begin to understand the barriers of difference which keep us from reaching equitable compromises with one another.
It’s the only way we can learn to tolerate differences and to recognize that our schema for living is no better or worse than a thousand others. With a little bit of travel outside your comfort zone you’ll discover that the similarities with those you considered foreign are much greater than the differences. Everyone wants to be happy. No one enjoys being hungry or sick.
Most of all everybody reacts to someone else’s suffering with an immediate desire to help alleviate it. However instantaneous or momentary that feeling of generosity might be, that’s what separates us from the rest of the animals of the world, empathy.
We dare not lose that.
It’s no sadder a time in America this morning than in Kenya or South Africa. The tragedy of any event collapses into its own place which seems very small and far away and very toxic to those on the outside.
We need to muster the courage to pry open those distant spheres. Realize that we all share the same awful level of sadness because we all share the same problems, human problems. We can all help one another.
After last night’s events I felt like crawling back into bed. When actually it’s time to continue packing for the next excursion, one that for many Americans might need be no more distant than Dallas or St. Paul, and for all of us means just not turning off the news.
14000? Maybe be bold and guess 765?
How about… 62.
Kenyan commentator Rasna Warah called this yesterday “a new extreme.”
It’s tough enough when a Kenyan realizes that his country’s entire GDP isn’t even as great as Chicago’s, but inequality like this converts disbelief into abject anger.
It’s no longer a matter of understandable time, time for development, time for industrialization. The collection of wealth among a few individuals has occurred with lightning speed.
In 2010 it was 388 individuals. Five years later, it’s 62, despite the fact that the world’s overall economy has grown substantially in those five years.
The collection of wealth in so few hands is terrifying.
“In a world where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, we cannot afford to carry on giving the richest an ever bigger slice of the cake,” Oxfam’s chief executive told the Guardian newspaper.
It is the respectable organization Oxfam that published the report several weeks ago.
I find it equally terrifying that I wasn’t able to learn about this from my own media. This strikes me as absolutely astounding: A commentator in Kenya that brought it to my attention.
It’s impossible to presume any logical fairness created this division. It’s just not statistically possible. Even 62 Big Blues would not be able to corner the market or coral capitalism to this level of advantage.
Oxfam, and I, believe it is structural within capitalism, and this is the reason that capitalism needs regulation. We’ve gone through a period of hyper deregulation, and this is the result.
More than $7.6 trillion of wealthy individuals’ net worth is held in off-shore tax havens.
On the one hand you can’t begrudge a wealthy person making herself wealthier. But the loopholes that allow this to occur, allow it to be freed of taxation, is often the result of the wealthy directing politics.
“These elites and über-rich individuals — and often their corporations — exploit the system for personal benefit in a way not possible for the rest of us,” one South African publication claims.
The ability of the wealthy to now direct history is mind-blowing.
Thanks to some Kenyans for letting me know. Clearly it’s not something the 62 want announced just yet.
But when is the horrible question.
The young French economist rocked the world last year with his book, “Capitalism in the 21st Century,” claiming that income inequality is intrinsic to capitalism.
Thomas Piketty will deliver the prestigious Nelson Mandela annual lecture this weekend. He follows such eminent persons as Bill Clinton and Kofi Anan, taking a stage intended to highlight South Africa in the forefront of global development.
Piketty’s explanation for income inequality caught the economist world by surprise last year, leaving many jaws still open. His rather simple thesis is that accumulated wealth, capital, will always grow faster than the growth of the community in which that capital is held.
In other words, get rich just by accumulating wealth and renivesting it.
Piketty contends this works regardless of your financial acumen, regardless that the world around your bank account might be in a depression, and regardless of the particular currency in which your capital is held.
In other words, do nothing but reinvest.
Remember, this is a macro idea. Don’t go out and put all your marbles in the penny stock offering just appearing in your inbox. It isn’t true for every unique, individual case, but Piketty believes in the global context, it always works. There will never be enough bad unique individual cases to reverse the overall thesis.
Moreover, even if your portfolio is linked to the S&P, if the economy sinks 3% and your portfolio tumbles only 2.5%, that’s not exactly a compelling reason to embrace his theories.
Piketty therefore has no strong message for personal investors. His message is much more poignant: in today’s capitalist world, he explains why the rich get richer while the poor get poorer… no matter what.
Needless to say, this reportedly shy and now overwhelmed scientist has not received an especially welcoming reception by his peers here. Paul Krugman is an exception, embracing what he calls the Piketty “phenomenon.”
Robert Reich, now an announced supporter of Hillary Clinton, likes him …. sort of.
So Thomas Piketty hasn’t been invited to give a lecture here.
Piketty’s own data for South Africa shows that between 1910 and 1950, the top 1% took home between 22% and 25% of the national income. Though this declined to 11%-12% between 1950 and 1980, the alarming finding is that it has risen again to between 16% and 18% today.
That isn’t as bad as the chart for America from Wikipedia shown to the right. But, of course, America is the bastion of capitalism, so it stands to reason that Piketty’s theories would be most accentuated here.
So should I find it remarkable that it is a much smaller economy, albeit a very capitalist one like South Africa, that embraces Piketty?
No, because while in America the ignorant who hold much of the wealth are fostering greater ignorance, in the rest of the world the ignorant are becoming increasingly educated and powerful.
“Globally, we have rejected the equal sharing of misery that was the result of the socialist experiment,” the editor of South Africa’s top financial newspaper, Tim Cohen, wrote this week. Yet: “Personally, I find Piketty’s ideas fascinating…what I think is really unassailable is his central notion that … the disparity between economic growth and investment growth … is the foundation of inequality.”
I don’t think the disagreements over Piketty’s so obvious thesis are as complicated as critics suggest.
Economists like Cohen who embrace Piketty, like most of the South Africans, don’t want inequality. They might cherish it as much as Donald Trump, but they know in their society that it is the fuel of bloody revolution.
Economists like Paul Krugman embrace Piketty because they’re socialists who hate inequality with a passion.
Robert Reich doesn’t like inequality, but he likes Hillary, he likes being a capitalist Secretary of the Treasury and he’ll search till hell freezes over for some exception to the notion. Economists writing in The National Review know Piketty is right … and want it to stay that way.
Americans to a man are not pressed like South Africans. Our society is too stable. But when capitalism as practiced here in America begins to fall because of forward thinking from places like South Africa, we’ll have to pivot.
I don’t think that day is too far away.
I like Bernie. I like him more than Hillary and probably more than Joe and my ideal presidential contest is Trump vs Sanders.
But an American turned at least resident South African has stayed my Sanders’ enthusiasm as nothing else I’ve read.
J. Brooks Spector was an American diplomat some years ago when he decided to leave America and take up residence in South Africa. He set up some businesses in the country, taught at a major university, ran a theater and is seen on South African TV interpreting the world from a former American’s eyes.
Commenting today on the drowning of the Syrian refugee child Alyan Kurdi, he writes:
“…nobody can point to any acts by an outside power that have set off these recent waves of migration, other than the US being an economy that is growing in contrast to so many others…”
Ah-hah! I thought, and it had nothing to do with migrants and everything to do with Bernie.
For decades I’ve felt oppressed by my own beliefs, which often raise slight smiles and dismissive stares from my clients who are always much wealthier than I am. My safaris get wonderful reviews but if I lose a client it’s often, as one wrote me, “when you talk politics. Safari guiding has nothing to do with politics.”
As ridiculously incorrect as that remark is it typifies the state of American Progressivism for the last 40 years.
Until Bernie Sanders.
There really are people out there – lots of people like me – fed up with life’s stagnations. The status quo has a remarkable ability to squelch dissent. But you can put up with something being downright unfair for just so long.
It would be one thing if America weren’t growing, but as Spector points out, America versus the rest of the world is growing quite well. But … as Bernie so eloquently explains: not for the 98% and I and likely most of you reading this are in the 98%.
Moreover, we more stable of the 98% are very sensitive to those who are sinking … like some of our kids or friends’ kids, or important parts of our communities that we’ve been so deeply involved with for years.
Bernie wants to change that. He wants to level the playing field, right? He wants to spread out the largess, taking some of the unfair success of the few and reapportioning it to the many.
I like that. After all it is the many which provide the few with their growth at the expense of not growing themselves.
Although Spector was referring to migration, what if we expand his notion to all the world’s problems?
Then immediately we have some serious problems with Bernie’s views on trade: If farm subsidies should be reduced in the U.S., shouldn’t tariffs worldwide be reduced, or dare I say it, Free Trade? His initially welcome views on foreign intervention – “Don’t!” – become questionable: if the federal government must audit individual police departments, what about Assad?
Or let’s talk about AID. If we subsidize rebuilding I-90, what about the Suez Canal or the great new Ethiopian dam?
And so it goes. If Bernie’s hyper focus on putting our own house in order results in a fairer, bigger house for all here at home, will it be at the expense of the rest of the world growing less?
“At present, however, the prevailing international order still means that individual nations will decide what is best for them to do… within the realm of their [own] national politics. Don’t expect the impact of [Alyun Kurdi’s] death to trump individual conceptions of national interest.”
Or, for that matter, the implosion of Burundi or the rape of capitalism by Chinese moguls.
It is a pernicious contradiction increasingly evident the smaller you conceive your world.
According to the country’s vice president, William Ruto, the end of the partial ban on a variety of GMO seed will “maximise agricultural production, improve health services, conserve the environment, and basically improve the living standards of our people.”
The back-and-forth suspensions of GMO seeds throughout sub-Saharan Africa this decade reached a turning point two years ago when Monsanto agreed to unlimited free use of its Monsanto 810 by sub-Saharan African countries, currently being distributed by the Bill Gates Foundation.
The drought resistant corn embodies the entire debate over GMO. While there is no doubt higher yields in stressed environments are produced when Mon810 is used, both bug and virus diseases seem to develop rapidly and powerfully against it.
As a result farmers using the seed also must use more pesticide.
The debate is whether this is because the GMO maize itself somehow nurtures super disease, whether it is simply more susceptible because it’s a relatively new genetic strain, or even whether it’s simply climate change.
The third possibility remains plausible because statistics gathering in Africa remains poor. While there are reasonable statistics to prove that additional pesticides are required for the use of GMO crops, there are not good numbers on what climate change is doing to traditional crops.
No matter the cause, new and tougher ways to suppress bugs and viruses is required whenever a farmer begins using Mon810.
South Africa has discovered that planting every fifth or sixth row of corn with non-GMO crops considerably reduces the need for added pesticide on the entire field.
But that’s an expensive proposition, especially for Kenya.
The net financial payoff, however, remains positive in both South Africa and Kenya. The question is what is the payoff to the overall environment and this question is a much longer term consideration than growing enough food next year for the local population.
I’m no scientist, and I remain very skeptical about altering genes for agriculture or medicine. But in the absence of any similarly efficient alternative for food production, it seems terribly crass to argue against the use of GMO in Africa.
One of the most successful cocktail table books to ever be published that includes much from Africa is Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away. I’ve had the book since it’s been published and its value just increases daily.
But criticism of the book and its exponential earnings curve has reached a crescendo. Indigenous people around the world are growing more and more incensed the more popular and famous the book becomes.
The unending appearances by Nelson with his original prints, which are routinely now auctioning for more than $150,000, now regularly include indigenous people protesting outside the galleries and bookshops hosting the exhibitions.
The protest campaign is being led by Steven Cory of Survival International. The organization publishes a running critique by indigenous leaders around the world of Nelson’s book.
Cory calls the book “hokum” and “hubristic baloney.” Cory points out that the so-called “primitive people” who still exist are hardly going to “pass away” and in fact are becoming more and more politically powerful.
“If his images look like they come from the 19th century, it’s because they do,” Cory concludes. None of the peoples exist today the way Nelson portrays them: Cory documents that Nelson’s photo shoots are all carefully staged, rearranging reality to what rich westerners want to think about people in remote parts of the world.
The people who make Nelson’s book so valuable, and my clients who insist on seeing Maasai villages, are not by any means bad people. There’s a good motivation and a bad motivation resident in most of these folks’ desires.
The good motivation comes from a self-recognition, an admission if you like, of their global myopia. It’s extremely encouraging that travelers go somewhere blind, worried possibly at how little they know but hungry to know more.
The bad motivation is a deeply set racism. The tourist thinks of herself as so much more intellectual, skilled, trained and educated, than the so-called “primitive person.” She wants to see this “with her own eyes” precisely to validate this lofty presumption about herself.
Unfortunately tourism’s response is so out of whack that the initial, well-meaning desire by good folks is cast aside to the more marketable validation of primitiveness.
So there are hundreds of “villages” that charge excessively high rates that tourists dole out without a blink so that they can see sick kids in smelly, dirty homes. It’s absolutely incredible how fooled tourists can be.
It’s infinitely easier to show a tourist in a half hour a sick kid in a smelly, dirty home, than convey to them how the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition (MERC) is saving the ecosystem for the whole world or how Twaweza is providing better education to all children in East Africa.
What I’m saying is that there would be many, many fewer sick kids in smelly, dirty homes if there weren’t so many tourists paying to see them.
Or if there weren’t so many people paying so much for Jimmy Nelson’s book.
The Clinton clan minus Hillary is currently on a 9-day African tour to Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia and Morocco, and they are not getting the reception they had expected.
Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is highly vested in Africa, and so you would think it natural that from time to time the principals would come here.
“O, fellow benighted Africans! Gaze down at the bleeps emanating from your electronic device – a device powered by the marvelous coltan mined on your land. Can you not see the newsflash? Dignitaries, Big Names indeed, have come to our continent in order to help us help them help us,” famous African filmmaker and writer, Richard Poplak, wrote yesterday.
Poplak is white, South African born bred and nurtured, and like most of the intellectuals of all colors on the continent, not particularly happy with the Clintons.
“…the Grand Priests of the Clinton Foundation, the givers who give almost as good as they get, [have come] to sniff the cow dung burning in rustic villages, to pat the heads of the doe-eyed children they have kept safe from brand name infectious diseases.
“O, African, behold Chelsea Clinton, future presidential candidate of the Democratic Party… Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the billionaire boss of E.L. Rothschild… [billionaires] Jay and Mindy Jacobs are here!
“O, but Africans, there is more. No one less than Hadeel Ibrahim is here! The daughter of Sudanese-British billionaire mobile phone philanthropist Mo, Hadeel Ibrahim is a great friend of Chelsea’s, and they apparently spent a wonderful thanksgiving together at the Clinton pile in Chappaqua. All has been forgiven since Bill Clinton Cruise Missiled the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in 1998.”
Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is even more heavily invested in Africa. I believe this is Bill’s penance for having “made a mistake” (his own words) when he ordered his United Nations ambassador to vote against increasing the Canadian UN force that could have stopped the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The problem is, Clinton has piled one mistake on another in Africa. He hugely empowered Ugandan president Museveni when all of us knew that was a mistake. Museveni is now one of Africa’s great dictators, the author of the “kill the gays” bill.
“Along for the ride are many other Clinton Foundation donors… professional philanthropists, Silicon Valley whizz-kids and generally outstanding humans. The safari …will culminate in a dazzling conference in Marrakesh, presided over by that famous empowerer of women and long-time Foundation supporter, the King of Morocco.
“And it is equally churlish to think of the Clinton Foundation as a giant corrupt money suck akin to the worst African banana republics: … [The fact that] Bill Clinton seems to have helped a Canadian mining magnate hand over 20% of America’s uranium resources to the Russians while Hillary was leading the state department, does not ipso facto make the outfit rotten.”
But she would be the first woman president!
“And what does it matter to you, O African, that tens of millions of dollars have flowed into Clinton pockets from women’s empowerment centres like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, either for speaking fees or for donations?
“… it may be tempting …to imagine that the Clintons and their Foundationites are using the continent as a theatre set, and we Africans as drooling extras… It is tempting to say that this is all about big money and real politick, because Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with their Chelsea clone, serve power for power’s sake.
“You might wish to say that this all seems so garish and ghastly, millions of dollars blown by a 0.1% cabal on swanning about the continent, billions of the world’s wealth zipping over the African savannah in a legions of Lear Jets.
“But you would just be sour to think that way. Ungrateful. When the beautiful waxed SUVs zip into your village and you smell the $1,500 anti-aging cream on the frozen faces of these Kings, these Gods, remember to thank them with the appropriate deference. Remember to bow and scrape.
“If we don’t look the part, then they don’t get the money.”
Even the poorest places in Africa are trying to reduce carbon emissions. Will shame change our behavior?
I was incredibly touched with a heavy dose of admiration and melancholy when I read recently about 19-year old Tom Osborn of Kenya, the founder of a “green” charcoal briquette company in Kenya.
As a high school top performer Osborn mastered the internet and found international and local foundations concerned with Africa’s struggles, and particularly how it might develop in a “greener” fashion.
The vast majority of Africans today cook using charcoal. The unit devastation to our planet for making a meal using charcoal is significantly greater than using more refined fossil fuels like propane, but that’s simply beyond the economics of the poor.
“I randomly came across a report saying smoke from … charcoal killed more people than AIDS, Malaria and TB combined,” Osborn told an African magazine.
“That really shocked me and made me start thinking of my mom, and that maybe she was slowly dying from all the times she had cooked for us. So I wanted to try to help her.”
Osborn linked with MIT students who had published studies of turning agricultural waste into charcoal briquettes. They confirmed that briquettes from discarded sugar cane stalks, for example, produce 90% less smoke and 60% more heat than an equal amount of charcoal.
Networking was the key and one link led to another. Osborn was named as one of the “30 under 30 Forbes entrepreneurs” which gave him enormous credibility that this creative kid turned into lots of startup money.
His company now bundles the energy efficient stove with his sugar cane briquettes and has so far sold to several thousand customers.
Osborn’s GreenChar benefits from great IT assistance and has a fabulous, modern website. Osborn has mastered networking with all the right people.
Osborn is a brilliant kid.
It is completely unlikely that this company will succeed: Admiration and melancholy.
Envirofit’s stove is fabulous, but very expensive by African standards. Osborn has admitted that he has achieved his first market niche by selling below or near costs, funded by his grants.
The world is cleaner. A young man is learning the ropes. And the western world is applauding him for trying so hard, but the crashing hammer of capitalism means the effort continues only as charity or dies.
I’m elated that one day when Osborn is 30 years old he might be sitting in the CEO chair for Kenya Airways or IBM – South Africa. It’s fantastic that this kid in rural Kenya has tunneled out of poverty using in the beginning nothing more than the internet.
But hold your applause.
The day will come when unfettered cooking in Africa is achieved either by violent revolution or the radical global redistribution of wealth that prevents it. None may be in a better position to help make that choice than Tom Osborn.
Admiration and melancholy. Maybe, too, a little bit of hope.
At the bottom is starvation. At the top is freedom of speech. Sometimes they seem unlinked, too far apart to have any meaning to one another.
But not today. Towards the top are Charlies arguing that without unfettered freedom of speech it’s not worth eating.
Towards the bottom are the jihadists who achieve power by delivering bread at the expense of a word against them.
Progressive Africans are as divided as modern westerners that free speech is so important, but African governments are much less so.
Often African apologists like myself see eating as a prerequisite to doing anything. Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society, wrote today:
“I will not be joining ‘Je Suis Charlie’… these cartoonists did not … care about ordinary sincere believers who would have been deeply hurt by the violent dehumanised images of the founders of the great religions of the world.”
Dowden reminded us that many of Charlie Hebdo’s images “came close to the sort of cartoons that the Nazis drew to depict Jews in the 1930s.”
But Kwendo Opanga writing for Nairobi’s Daily Nation says, “But, somebody please educate me: does killing me and the innocents next to me make my killer a better person and my ghost or spirit a veritable tribute to contrition?”
In developing societies there is still a lot of illiteracy and below that, abject ignorance. In America lying exploits ignorance to manipulate the reigns of power but the checks of truth are powerful, too.
Developing societies have far fewer defenses against lying.
Ruling against South Africa’s Sunday Times attempt to reprint Danish cartoons offensive to Islam, High Court Judge Mohamed Jajbhay explained, “Although freedom of expression is fundamental in our democratic society, it is not a paramount value.”
Jajbhay went on to explain what might be a paramount value, such as human dignity, or … eating.
When hunger and poverty is being reduced, we focus ideas and theories that distinguish humans from other animals. That was the case for much of the last 30 or 40 years.
That 30 or 40 years was a good story… unless you live outside where it’s happened.
The global reduction in poverty came mostly from China and India, little in Africa. There was some stabilization of poverty increases in Africa, but particularly in areas of conflict, poverty increased substantially.
The difference between eating and starving is not well understood by the well fed. Those who eat less in this case know much more: Starving is the fuel of jihad.
Mosul is Iraq’s 3rd largest city and remains in control of jihadists, because of the massive development it was denied by the Baghdad government in the last decade.
That same story plays out again and again throughout Africa. Nigeria’s neglected northeast state is almost entirely today in the hands of jihadists, for the same reason as Mosul.
Cartoons are abstract, food is not. The starving may want as much freedom as those who eat plenty, but they won’t know until they stop starving.
Those with a few morsels in their mouths can dream about a better life. They, too, want the freedom to express themselves, and they grow livid with the understanding that those who denied them their bread have access to so many colored crayons.
Let the ideologues argue about ideas as they munch their croissants and sip their lattes. The real debate is less arrogant, much simpler: bread.
(To see a list of all my Top Ten stories in Africa for 2014, click here.)
The epidemic started in March and will likely continue well into this year, but the spread is slowing and increased public understandings have reduced global fears and improved people’s sensitivities to poverty and war.
Today just under 7,900 people have died of ebola from a known 20,000+ cases in seven countries: Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US, Mali and the UK.
The UK’s case occurred just this weekend as a health worker in Glasgow became sick after returning home as a volunteer in West Africa.
Of the nine people who became sick with ebola in the United States, one died; more than 3,400 have died in Liberia and 2,700 in neighboring Sierra Leone; 1,700 in Guinea and eight in neighboring Nigeria.
That makes the U.S. the only country where this specific outbreak has caused a death outside of West Africa. Not Kenya, not Tanzania, not South Africa. Just the U.S.
The public’s control of its initial panic comes from a growing understanding that the disease while extremely serious is not uniquely so.
Had polio, HIV, SARS, MERS or even the current flu epidemic in the U.S. broken out in this part of Africa at this same time, it is likely an epidemic would have occurred just as it did with ebola.
The control of the disease is relatively simple where hardly more than a basic public health infrastructure exists, as was demonstrated in Nigeria. Similarly so in the U.S., where another lesson was learned:
Health care in the U.S. – at least at one hospital in Texas – is not what it’s ranked up to be.
A month ago I wrote ebola’s “Epilogue.”
As explained then, this was not an epilogue to the outbreak in West Africa, which is likely to continue for some time. Rather, it was an epilogue to the irrational concepts of what this outbreak was exactly.
Initially, the world panicked.
Fox News, not exactly your Bible of Reality, reported in late September that there could be more than a million cases as of … today. But note that the Fox report was based, if in a skewed way, on a CDC report.
As school opened this fall, Americans in remote farm country in Nebraska were keeping their kids home.
American movies were taking over American’s minds. American greed for the macabre made it worse. Worldwide racism exacerbated notions that what was happening in West Africa was not the human normal.
In fact, what we learned was that an infectious disease is one of the best long-term indicators of the devastation of war.
Americans know of the wars in West Africa. “Blood Diamond” was released just as the wars there were finally ending. But Americans are hesitant to embrace the magnitude of these wars, just as we are hesitant to embrace the near apocalypse we’ve caused in the Levant.
It is, in fact, that near total devastation of Liberia and Sierra Leone that among so many other horrible outcomes left a densely populated area without any public health care.
Our inability to understand that parts of the world – even in Africa – might actually be better off than us came when South Africa reported it had recently and in past outbreaks adequately treated and totally contained ebola when … in Dallas, they let it walk the street.
Nothing requires public health care as much as an outbreak of an infectious disease. We learned that inside out, I’m afraid, when we first reacted to this outbreak by believing increased monitoring at airports would be valuable.
As predicted and now as proved, it was meaningless.
We learned the power of public health policy when Chris Christie quarantined an incoming health worker, and the fallacies of knee-jerk reactions that were equally meaningless.
America as the single largest economy contributes disproportionately to the health of tourism in Africa, and African companies were spinning like tops trying to figure out what to do when the ebola panic began to effect them.
Never mind that the centers of big game safari travel, in East and southern Africa, were often more distant and cut off from the ebola centers than New York. “Africa is Africa” was the juvenile mantra.
The companies responded with equally juvenile policies that tried to protect their unthreatened backsides, although that lasted only briefly. After I and many others shook Africans back into their senses, it was a simple matter of doing what any good hotelier in San Jose, California, would do if ebola broke out there.
Because, of course, it won’t.
Some tell me I’m too calloused in my blogs about ebola. They’re dead wrong.
Just because I’m as distressed with the level of child poverty or gun homicides in the U.S. or as miffed by Americans’ fear about health care while traveling in the country that performed the first heart transplant doesn’t mean that I underestimate the severity, misery and desperation that ebola causes.
It’s just that I see that same severity, misery and desperation in many places. Like Dallas.
Comedy conveys reality to Americans today better than straight facts, and last Friday’s ‘The Daily Show’ masterfully presented the real Africa.
Jon Stewart introduced his new correspondent from South Africa, Trevor Noah, who conveyed to Americans a lot more successfully than I and dozens of other bloggers have:
(1) Eric Garner and Michael Brown demonstrate more police brutality in America than in South Africa.
Moreover and more importantly, police brutality in South Africa was once much worse and is now much better, and this is not the case in America.
Noah pointed out that police brutality in South Africa was a construct of apartheid, and that when apartheid ended this brutality began to reverse.
In America, where there’s never been apartheid as such, brutality has remained high if not increased.
(2) There is more ebola in America than South Africa.
True and undeniable, but no matter how many times we say this it’s forgotten until carried in a comedy routine!
Noah said his friends warned him against going to America for fear of contracting ebola, and he replied “just because they had a few cases of ebola there [America] doesn’t mean we should cut off travel, there.”
(3) Americans believe they can “save Africa” by small charity donations. Noah remarked, “for just five cents a day.”
This sarcasm is powerful stuff. It reveals the ignominy of American charities and the naivete of American donors in the much fuller arguments that I and many others have made for years about the mistake of so much American charity.
(4) Americans think almost exclusively that Africa is a vacation destination for big game safaris. While Africans absolutely don’t, of course.
Noah then presented a game, “Spot the Africa” which was phenomenal.
A series of two paneled photographs came up multiple times contrasting Africa with America, and as you can imagine, the horrible ones were America.
This wasn’t just nitpicking. It was real.
Stewart then asked Noah, “You aren’t saying that things in America are worse than in Africa?”
And Noah replies, “No, I’m not saying that, you guys are saying that.”
I’m one of those guys.
And Noah ended with a brilliant observation that knits the reality of sarcasm to the troubled conundrum of American life:
“You know what African mothers warn their children, about, Jon? Be grateful for what you’ve got, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi.”
There is mixed information right now about whether or not the poaching of elephants has slightly slowed, but even so it remains at relatively high levels.
But the poaching of rhino is escalating and is of most serious concern because there are far fewer rhino than elephant.
Indian rhino are a particularly endangered species, and rich Indian consumers are among the Asians who purchase rhino products as medicines.
Kaziranga National Park in India’s Assam is the center of the rhino war in India.
The irony is that until just the last few years the trouble in Assam was not with rhino poaching, but Muslim extremists. I regularly visited Kaziranga in the 1980s before it was often closed to tourists because of this political extremism.
While much of the world is suffering from religious extremism, and while it continues in Assam, rhino poaching is now a bigger issue, there.
Over the last few years efforts to curb both elephant and rhino poaching have been massive, and much of this has been successful. Why, then, does the problem continue?
“Rhino horn is worth more than gold,” explains Jeremy Hance writing for the ecological journal, Mongabay.
An average-sized rhino horn is now worth around $60,000.
The price of rhino horn has never gone down, but the fluctuations in the gold price have meant that there were times – about a decade ago when gold was at historic lows – that rhino horn was more expensive.
But in today’s world, with gold above $1600/ounce, it’s astounding that a natural-product medicine – which is what rhino horn is used for – would command a greater price.
Modern Asian’s use of animal product medicines is just like American’s use of natural products bought at health food stores. Of course there are fanatics, but most of us use them as supplements, not as principal treatments.
The analogy continues to the demographics in the market. Natural product health foods in American generally are used by an increasingly wealthy upper class.
The increasing spread between the rich and the poor gives the rich much more disposable income, and that will increasingly be spent on luxury goods and ancillary and tertiary products … like rhino horn and ivory.
A rich man’s fancies are a market man’s treasure, because the cost of a hobby or a fancy escalates far faster and higher than normal consumables in the market.
The dynamic is double-edged. As the rich get richer, they play more with their fancies and hobbies. At the same time the poor get poorer and more desperate and are willing to attempt risky business like poaching just to survive.
Of course the lack of today’s societies to distribute wealth fairly has much graver outcomes than the extinction of animals, but conservationists understanding of the route cause of their battle may at last force their politics to the fore.
Climate change, health care, a minimum wage and fair earnings – these are all issues that suffer when wealth is unfairly distributed to the powerful rich people of the world.
Add to that, now, the biodiversity of earth.
The photo above of a painted frog was taken by EWT client, Melissa Michel, this year. The background of a mining waste dump is compliments of Rio Tinto.
Exact figures are hard to confirm, because the government has not defined how government and ancillary industries like educational training and direct contributions contribute to or diminish the tourism and mining sectors. But clearly mining is 3 to 5 times as important as tourism.
Historically most of this was with diamonds. Botswana is the world’s largest diamond producer, but several years ago the government recognized that “diamonds aren’t forever.”
This led to increased fossil fuel exploration and bingo, there’s a lot of it. Relative to diamonds, coals lasts forever.
The largest Botswana owned company, Tsodilo, listed on the Toronto stock exchange, recently announced plans to mine more than 440 million tons of iron ore, and with less fanfare, a rather sizeable amount of coal.
Botswana’s chief mining official said that Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining company, would be the principal in coal extraction.
“The future of Botswana mining is going to be the coal and iron ore resources…,” he said before adding as an afterthought, “and of course diamonds.”
Botswana is already the 65th richest country in the world. This will likely push it up further.
Unfortunately, much of the iron ore discovered is underneath or close to the Okavango Delta.
Although Botswana has a variety of big game habitats, it is the Delta which is the draw. Unique on earth, it’s where a desert seasonally floods. This produces extremely unusual habitat as well as major deterrents to human settlement.
Over the eons vast numbers of endemic species have arisen in The Delta, many which remain to this area alone. These are mostly plants, amphibians and fish, but the area is also outstanding for more notable, rare and larger animals like sitatunga and wild dog. Many water fowl absolutely depend upon the Delta and many are extremely rare, like the Wattled Crane.
The world’s growing appetite for fossil fuels is as undisputed as the fact that most of them will come from Africa.
Why should Botswana be denied compromising its ecosystem for greater wealth, as Alaska and California did big time last century?
The answer is usually that the world’s just come too far. Time is not on their side, as it was with the Rockefellers and early gold diggers: The global warming apocalypse takes precedence.
That’s such a subjective argument it falls on deaf ears in Africa. South African environmentalists, however, are trying more clever answers.
Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Desmond D’Sa recently explained that the argument that mining will “create wealth for the people” was fallacious. “We’ve seen the mining industry in South Africa, hundreds of years, has created impoverishment and poverty… The majority, the 99 percent of us in the country, are poor, are living in abject, poor conditions.”
And that’s true and compelling … for the instant. But what happens if – as many of us hope – this changes and there is a real redistribution of wealth? Like in China?
Reversing the world’s poverty is going to take a lot of industry. Protecting the unique ecosystems under which that industry is fired will be no small task.
The violence along Kenya’s coast just seems to get worse and worse. Although 28 of the 29 deaths this past weekend occurred outside established tourist areas, one fatality was a Russian tourist in Mombasa town who resisted an attempt to rob him of his wallet.
In Arusha, the hub for Tanzania’s famous tourist industry, a third violent attack this year happened Monday night when an IED was thrown into a popular Indian restaurant in the center of town.
No one was killed but eight people were hurt. The Verma Indian restaurant is attached to a popular city gym and is frequented by Arusha’s more affluent residents, including many foreigners.
In Chicago 16 people were killed and 80 others seriously wounded in gun battles that raged through the city’s south side for most of the weekend.
What are we to make of all this?
The Kenya violence is a continuation of the Muslim/Christian world war, a specific retribution by al-Shabaab for Kenyan occupation of Somalia.
Kenya has suffered three such attacks monthly for more than the last year alone. The Kenyan invasion, encouraged and outfitted by the Obama administration, has done much to pacify Somalia and reduce the terrorism threat to the United States, but at Kenya’s peril.
In Chicago the violence strikes me as a result of increasingly lax gun ownership restrictions. Chicago’s top cop said this to CNN. Of course why there is such anger and frustration that utilizes the available guns is the more profound question, and unlike Africa, it isn’t a Muslim/Christian war.
It’s more akin to a poor/rich war, which in fact could be the explanation for the Arusha bombing last night.
Tanzania has not participated in the war in Somalia, and so unlike Kenya and Uganda which have, Muslim groups have not claimed any responsibility for attacks seen on the Tanzanian mainland.
But the three attacks in Arusha over the past year have been political or religious. A prominent and popular Arusha politician and his wife were hurt at a political rally, and a Catholic church was bombed in a second attack.
Monday’s attack in Arusha targeted what’s considered an expensive restaurant, owned by Indians, in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. Throughout the last several centuries Indians in Africa have often been the brunt of attacks against political systems that favor business and the rich.
This suggests three completely different motivations for the violence in Arusha over the last year.
In the end, the simplest explanation for all the attacks is that weapons are too easily available. The next level of explanation is that identifiable groups of people feel marginalized:
Muslims in Africa. Poor in Africa. Poor in Chicago.
Some believe this in insoluble: that there will always be poor feeling marginalized, that there will always be one or another religions that feel oppressed by other religions.
I disagree. There are not enough poor in Sweden or Denmark or many, many European countries for there to be a problem of rich vs. poor in those countries.
Recent progress in Ireland proves that enmity between religions isn’t eternal. And even when some friction continues, as in Quebec, it rarely if ever becomes violent.
But taking a vacation is different from social activism. I’ve said for some time, now, that I feel the danger to vacationers in Kenya has broken at least the threshold of perception of visitors’ safety, so I can’t recommend traveling there for most people.
But to Chicago or Arusha it’s simply a matter of knowing where and where not to go. Don’t visit Chicago’s south side. Don’t eat in a downtown Arusha restaurant. Those are fairly simple tools for staying as safe as one has ever been.
The point is that this violence so far has not been random: The perpetrators are motivated by ideology, and their footprints are clearly tracked.
Visitors are not the intended targets. Only in Kenya is the violence so widespread that visitors have in fact been victims and this specifically because the focus of much of Kenya’s tourism is the coast where the religious conflict is centered.
There is still good news and bad news, and this is the bad news, today.