Last spring my favorite African journalist of all time (I actually think he outdid Stanley) published a memoir, Love-Africa, that so disappointed me I’ve taken quite a long time to think about before writing this.
It was actually way beyond disappointment. I questioned my own perspectives on Africa, wondering if I could be fooling myself as much as the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman fooled himself, and by extension, me. Was at least some of his impactful African reporting that so deeply effected me (and thank goodness, from time to time, Congress) a sham for his own self-aggrandizement? It’s complicated. But it’s time to say something.
This morning I listened to all sorts of estimates of how many soldiers we have in Africa. We’ll never know: It’s classified. But I would be surprised if there were fewer than 50,000 soldiers, private contractors, and even National Guard troops. This is a lot more than being reported in conjunction with the current tragedy in Niger.
Two weeks ago four American soldiers were killed in Niger. The delay in the discussion was not a machination of the Pentagon, which made the announcement the day after it happened. But no one wanted to talk about it until the president didn’t.
Democracy is alive and well in Kenya! Violence has already begun. Tear gas wafts through the city centers of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, the three largest cities. The main opposition party has told supporters to clear off the streets because continued police brutality has so far killed 33 protestors.
All this portends serious death and destruction starting about a week from tomorrow and continuing as it did almost exactly a decade ago for several months before slowly and painfully settling into another chapter of nervous peace, the country then more scarred than ever. Why can’t this remarkably educated, progressively developed country get it right? Tribalism.
There’s nobody looking for the big truck, anymore.
It’s hard to calibrate evil in the world today, so much bad is happening. But please note the big bomb blast in Somalia over the weekend. This headlines a new era of discord and danger. America’s unraveling is playing a big part.
Western mores regarding sexuality unmask deep hypocrisy in conservatism. Facebook – buttressed by these mores and reflected by some state laws – this week told many South Africans that their ancient traditions were wrong and had to be suppressed.
Ultimately it’s a matter of whether the people in power are good or bad. Doesn’t really matter whether they won an election or ascended a throne, whether they’re an elected judge or an appointed one. They’re either good or bad.
But as multiple African countries show, today, there’s a lot of bad running democracies. Listen quick: I’m not saying authoritarian regimes are better than democracies. I’m just saying there can be just as much badness in democracy as in authoritarianism.
Next week the House votes on a series of bills to roll back the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These are acutely, expertly crafted pieces of legislation. They will absolutely do their trick.
But interestingly if the Senate agrees and Trump signs, the effects will be devastatingly quick in Africa. A new U.S. administration might reverse the reversal fast enough – for example – to save wolves and condors and whooping cranes in America. But elephants, lions in Africa?
Today is the Columbus Day federal holiday in America.
“Columbus Day” puzzles many African readers of this blog. After all, Columbus didn’t land in America but in the West Indies. So it seems a fickle holiday in a country that’s known not to have many.
Many Americans are as puzzled as Africans and recently a movement among larger American cities is growing that would change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenuous Peoples Day.”
The idea began in Berkeley, California, where it has been the law since 1992. But there it sat languishing until just a few years ago when Sacramento, then Minneapolis and then the largest city so far, Seattle, also adopted the new orientation.
Today, regardless of what they day is called depending upon where an American lives, almost all government services are suspended, schools are closed, all banks in all states must be closed, and there’s no mail delivery. The holiday was proclaimed in 1937 on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus into the Americas.
Many large cities, including New York, have huge parades. Over the years the celebration has taken on an ethnic tone, celebrating Italian heritage.
Many of us take short road trips to country house BnB’s and tiny towns to enjoy the fall colors, because the holiday traditionally marks the end of summer, and the start of dreary fall with the certain coming of a frigid winter.
What will Ngorongoro or the Mara look like in 20 years? We ended 12 days exploring the southwest at America’s most heavily used park, Zion, for an answer.
A ranger told me that while July is normally the most crowded month in Zion, “This year every month has 20,000 (visitors). I had a wonderful time, but the African guide in me couldn’t shake annoyance with so many other people around. Both Kathleen and I were laughing hysterically as we watched 7 people on a trail taking a picture of a squirrel!
The easily accessible wild areas of the world are being overused. You hear this as often about Ngorongoro Crater as Arches or Zion. It’s a challenge to those of us who want to show people their grandeur, and it’s even more of a challenge to the conservators who want to preserve them.
As an African guide I search for those less used places that prove just as grand, so that my clients don’t become discouraged. That’s exactly how Kathleen and I approached our vacation to Utah’s parks. We hired guides who knew how to avoid the crowds but still find the treasures. We weren’t disappointed!
Autonomy is the buzzword, now. The Navajo Nation, Catalonia, Maasai Ngorongoro, Yukon First Nations or Zanzibar, and they are all wrong. This is becoming clearer and clearer to me as I tour America’s southwest and listen to the same story lines and their dismal outcomes that I have heard in Tanzania for years.
Kathleen and I spent a half-day with T.J. in his pretty beat up jeep in Canyon de Chelly, a part of the greater Navajo nation. He showed us some amazing scenery and intrigued us with closeups of Anasazi, Hopi and other Pueblo indian pictograph and petroglyph. But I was belabored with his stilted view of history and saddened not just by his own personal story, but the story of his people.
We woke to a brilliant white sunrise over an absolutely still landscape of New Mexico’s first snow. By 10 a.m. it was gone from all but the highest mountain tops.
Two days in Santa Fe is not enough. The museums are brilliant, the ubiquitous art enthralling if a mite homogenous, and the history grand and often hilarious. From Judge Tobin who spent most of his time in a bar to Kit Carson who spent most of his time in dime novels, the wild west slowed down a bit here. The native Tiwa-speaking Pueblo Indians tradition of keeping secret their past seems to have prevailed: An extremely nice Santa Fean gentleman who struck up a warm conversation with me on the plane from Dallas told me to “enjoy yourself as you never have, just don’t stay.”
Nearby Taos is a different world. My personal impression is that this is the last of hippie-dom. More crafts than arts. Sotheby’s, on the other hand, has an awful lot of multi-multi-million dollar private desert retreats for sale up the countless little desert roads around here. There’s a lot less talk and a lot more sitar than in Santa Fe. Everybody goes by their first name, but nobody seems to know exactly where they’re going.
Tonight we go to Catholic vespers at the start of Geronimo celebrations at Taos Pueblo. The Spaniards catholicized the Pueblo Indians and made St. Jerome their patron saint. The annual saint-day tomorrow is the most important day of the year for the Taos Pueblo, and for god’s sakes don’t use TripAdvisor’s conservative admonitions about not bringing children! This is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you try to synthesize modern religion with ancient beliefs. Thank goodness Geronimo won over St. Jerome!
Tomorrow we head west of the Raton Pass that the old wagons had so much trouble navigating, over the high forests across today’s modern ski country into the heart of the Navajo Reservation.
Certain Africa tribes are marginalized by their modern African societies, and this often in spite of noble efforts to reduce allegiances individuals feel towards their tribes. The Maasai are one good example.
This push-pull within a growing, modernizing society is not dissimilar to the history of native Americans. The oppressor is noticeably different: with native Americans it was the colonial conquerors; with the Maasai it’s other African tribes holding power. But many of the dynamics are the same, and I believe both native Americans and many African societies can learn much from one another.
I’m on my way to America’s great Southwest, a safari of 12 days. I should be able to post some pictures by Thursday.
The new Trump Travel ban is not as sweeping or as legally flawed as his previous, but it does nothing to increase security. Yet it has two major impacts impulsive Trump acting on his own was unable to accomplish:
Stops many refugees from entering America. Throws red meat to a deplorable base of supporters.