#Everything Must Fall

#Everything Must Fall

thisiseducationSouth Africa’s respected university system is in chaos. Most universities are closed because of violent protests.

The two most prestigious, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) manage to occasionally open but violent protests disrupt most classes.

While the ostensible issue is the cost of tuition and fees, I think there’s something much deeper, reflecting a very troubled South Africa.

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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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The World Watched

The World Watched

US-VOTE-DEBATEUnbelievable coverage of the debate in the African media, and I’m struck by how often reference was made to both candidates’ “reluctant” pledge to support the outcome. In Africa respect for the outcome of a democratic election is never taken for granted.

Many Africans understand for perhaps the first time in modern history, Americans are wondering the same.

Across Africa there’s fear not of Trump but rather of the millions of Americans who support him.

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Snake Oil or Nukes?

Snake Oil or Nukes?

pastorbannedAmerica has never lacked of snake oil salesmen, but following South Africa’s banning of Steven Anderson it’s clear that we better start realizing they might be something dangerously more than just conmen.

The Tempe, Arizona, Baptist minister decided if Barack Obama won’t cleanse South Africa of “sodomites .. drinking booze .. and terrorizing God’s people,” he will. Well, guess what: South Africans are doing what we and our ratings-greedy journalists and weak-kneaded politicians won’t: Stopping American extremism.

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The Meaning of Motherhood

The Meaning of Motherhood

celeste-nurseThe daughter wants nothing to do with her mother. That statement has special meaning today in South Africa where 20-year old Zephany Nurse’s presumed mother began a 10-year jail sentence for having snatched Zephany from the hospital when she was 3 days old.

The now legal name given to Zephany by the convicted woman is not known and Zephany’s privacy is protected under South African law. Nevertheless, she said through her laywer, “Don’t you think for once that [her real mother] is my mother. Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with… think what I am going through, and my father and mother.”

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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.

Bird That Proves Climate Change

Bird That Proves Climate Change

climatecarmineIn North America we’re currently documenting the fascinating “Spring Migration.” Almost 4,000 birds fly up here to breed as spring begins.

Two months ago I was in Africa documenting a different migration. Of all the birds I’ve watched going and coming in both hemispheres of the world, one story really stands out: Africa’s carmine bee-eater.

This “migrant” makes three separate migrations, changing its direction three separate times and it tells us probably more about long-term climate change than any bird in the world.

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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.

The Year of the Beast

The Year of the Beast

impeachzumanow“T’is the autumn of treason.” Things are heating up in South Africa:

“Twenty-two years into democracy and nearly three years after Mandela’s death, the air is again thick with political paranoia… of high treason … sedition and betrayal, with talk of mysterious foreign… agents who have “infiltrated” the mass media, business, foreign multinationals, NGOs, religious bodies, opposition parties and student movements and who … threaten the state.”

The administration of Jacob Zuma is running scared and has begun to defy democratic institutions. This is new. Previously he was something of a lone gun. Now, he seems to be organizing his government into a fortress of ignominy.

From afar one wonders if a global malaise is sweeping the world. Demonstrations, impeachments and lots of name shouting in South Africa is exactly what’s happening in Brazil.

But the South African story has been building for a longer while, and I think that Jacob Zuma and the ANC party that led the country out of apartheid is sinking fast.

Here’s a quick timeline:

The current president, Jacob Zuma, was pegged a failure from the start and it was remarkable that the ANC actually brought him to power. He was instrumental in the revolution and Mandela originally named him a Deputy President.

But he was sacked from the government in 2005, ostensibly when prosecutors charged him with rape (acquitted by the High Court) but more so because he nearly destroyed a Burundi peace process that was underway at the time.

Two years later in 2007 a high court rules that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute him for a variety of corruption charges, including bribery. Most people thought his story was over.

Then, remarkably, the ANC nominates him into a position to become the third president of the country after the end of apartheid, after Mandela and Mbeki.

Although South Africans were aghast I saw it very much as our first several presidents who all came from the revolutionary movement. Maybe, I thought, he’d now clean up his act.

Anything but. He built himself a gigantic mansion using public funds in broad daylight, flaunted his public duties and appeared like playboys all around the world with a different girl at his elbow every night, sacked and appointed people at will and let cronies siphon off millions of public funds and probably worse of all, ordered in police to massacre mining demonstrators.

To call the man a buffoon is generous. What he is a too typical African potentate dictator, and that doesn’t fit modern South Africa.

Jacob Zuma is now officially on the way to being impeached. Not quite as far along as his colleague in Brazil, but far enough that he’s now lashing out, threatening arrests and implying even more if the opposition continues with its program to get rid of him.

Even more severe, the ANC is considering “recalling” him, which in the arcane and rather old-fashioned communist way forces his resignation. The ANC would do so to avoid the more public impeachment.

Like elsewhere around the world, the ANC as a dominant political party may be in trouble partially due to this global political malaise. It may indeed be “down and out” in the same way the American Republican or Brazilian Worker’s Party seem to be tumbling down. And that is, of course, an incredibly interesting story.

But the main story in South Africa is squarely the story of Jacob Zuma. Whether it’s coincidental that his buffoonery dove-tails with global revolution, or whether he is organically a part of the virus bringing revolution to the world, right now Jacob Zuma is in deep trouble.

And for the good of South Africa and its revolution, he better fall quick.

Symbol Savvy

Symbol Savvy

Trump as a symbolAccording to a successful white South African male progressive, “Anyone who cares about gender equality [should vote for] Hillary Clinton, irrespective of her policies and …whether Donald Trump is the alternative.”

Jarred Cinman argues on a number of fronts, but the one that struck me right away was, “Her symbolism is more powerful than her presidency ever will be.”

Cinman is head of NativeVML, an up and coming South African ad agency whose impressive clients include many of the high-end spirits (like Chivas Regal) and several important banks (like Nedbank). His Hillary endorsement appeared yesterday in South Africa’s most popular, out-of-the-mainstream digital media, the Maverick.

Few understand discrimination as those who live in South Africa, and few can wrestle with their guilt as well as a white South African male.

But Cinman’s principal argument, that Hillary Clinton is a symbol of womens liberation, is the sort of the argument I’ve been using for Bernie: Don’t despair that he won’t get anything done, it’s what he represents.

So if we reduce our support to symbols, then which is more important? A Woman President. Or a Socialist President?

Cinman comes from a part of the world considerably more socialistic than we are. That might explain why he doesn’t see the matchup as I do.

Many, many well educated people I meet around the world don’t know, for example, that America doesn’t provide universal health care.

But for the sake of argument, presuming Cinman is not one of these foreigners with American starlight in their eyes, what is so powerful about the symbol of a Woman President?

First, he presumes correctly that the “male power elite” runs everything, runs the whole world for that matter. Well if a Woman President is so powerful, why is the male power elite still running India and Brazil, or framed a different way, how much really will a single Woman President change this?

Slap, slap. How much would a single Socialist President change this?

Symbols often fade quickly when too easily thrust into importance. Cinman himself discusses this unintended emasculation. When symbols finally make it, they:

“do not have the resources, self-esteem, networks and context to actually take control.”

Further he argues that this starts to institutionalize the original discrimination:

“The truth is many black people in South Africa still believe themselves to be inferior.”

The oppressed take on the character of the oppressors: “They strive toward the same prizes… This striving often benefits the very people they sought to outmanoeuvre.”

So let me get this right.

Vote for Hillary because she’s a woman. You don’t need any other reason. The symbol of a Woman President is so important, that:

1) She won’t be able to accomplish anything.

2) Other women will be marginalized or ensconced in their previous roles.

You see, this isn’t totally fair of me. Cinman’s argument is poorly made and ridiculously vacuous. Mostly, it’s incomplete.

Had he simply also pointed out that Hillary is an incredibly accomplished person, whose list of political accomplishments is very impressive and who has bucked the establishment and won (Benghazi Hearings), the symbol starts to shine.

And because he neglected doing this, even eschewed doing so, I think his brand of thinking may be similarly being applied by Bernie’s opponents to Bernie.

So let’s move beyond the symbols, OK?

Revolutionary Religion

Revolutionary Religion

mboroThe world is itching for a fight. Not another war – although they seem inevitable – but fights within societies, bangers and busters, revolutions, civil wars. This is how some South Africans see the world today.

Recently Nechama Brodie of South Africa’s “Mail & Guardian” charged a highly respected American research organization with promulgating controversy and hate through media manipulation.

M&A charged that the widely respected Pew Research Center inflamed religious tensions in the U.S. by republishing a research study they didn’t do and giving it a more provocative title.

Pew – which concentrates much of its research on social and religious trends – reported on a 2015 study by the Demographic Institute and retitled it as a Pew Report, “Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group.”

M&A pointed out that the original studies – a behemoth of research by a huge collection of social scientists – had no intentional focus on what particular religion might or might not become the dominant one. The report’s mission was specifically to study persons who consider themselves unaffiliated to any religion.

But PEW took that research and rebranded it in an inflammatory way. It didn’t skew or misinterpret the research, it simply looked at it from an unusual angle differently from what the original designers intended. Brodie calls this “hyperbole” and I agree.

I expect Pew will simply argue this is creative mining of data. But to what end? To the same end that media excuses itself from all such inflammatory reporting: it’s what the public wants.

That means the public wants inflamed religious tension. That means the public wants disruption, bangers and busters, revolutions, civil wars.

In another closely related South African story, Pastor Mboro was snatched from his Easter service in Johannesburg by a beam of light that took him to heaven where he took selfies of himself and Jesus ‘hot’ Xhosa wife.

The Prophet Mboro later recanted his story when confronted by South Africa’s CRL Commission. The Commission was set up specifically to counter the growing fanaticism among South African religious groups.

So South Africans know a little bit about religious ridiculousness and we should take heed. Prophet Mboro earned a tidy sum from his journey to heaven by selling a lot of his selfies for $350 each!

That exceeds most Americans’ monthly tithing to their churches, but it’s a lot less than Pew researchers get paid daily! By the way, Pew is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, an endowment of oil company heirs.

Got enough kindling? Feel the Bern?