Dictators Don’t Tweet

Dictators Don’t Tweet

"Hiphop is freedom of expression" from streetball.com
Twitter and African Hiphop websites are today the main source of news about Africa’s trouble spots. And they’re better than CNN!

Like so much in Africa today where economies and cultures are developing faster than anyone could have imagined, traditional news reporting is dying and being replaced by faster information facilitated by today’s hi tech.

Excellent news sources like Kenya’s Nation Media and South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, are being eclipsed in Real Time. Can you imagine the most important, accurate news from Twitter, and not from the New York Times?

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening from Somalia, where the commander of the Kenyan invasion forces is tweeting constantly. Long before the BBC, Reuters, the Times or even local media embedded with his troops file a story, Kenyans have it wholesale.

Yesterday the Kenyan forces inched their way further towards Kismayo and routed a major al-Shabaab base killing one of the main militant leaders in Somalia. Here was the real time twitter feed from the commander of the operation, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, @MajorEChirchir:

#OperationLindaNchi During the attack, 13 Al Shabaab militants were killed while others escaped with serious injuries.
#OperationLindaNchi Abu Yahya, an Al Shabaab’s field Commander in the Southern sector, is suspected to hv been gunned down during the ambush

And when battles aren’t occurring, the Major answers everyone he can. Kenyan Victor Kurutu characterizes himself as a “dairy farmer, foodie and nature lover” and became distressed when he listened to radio reports on February 4 that more than 20 of the Major’s troops had been gunned down. He tweeted the commander.

@VicKurutu Nothing of the sort happened…propaganda

As I’m writing this early Thursday morning my time, South Africans are preparing to hear President Zuma’s State of the Nation annual address. Earlier today in South Africa the twitter hashtag, #SONA, was created for the event and most of the address has already leaked into that feed.

Right now as I’m writing as fast as I can, two or three tweets a second are coming over #SONA!

Eyewitness News @ewnupdates
If you’re in & around parliament tweet us pics of what you see. You can also send them to iwn@ewn.co.za. Remember the hashtag #SONA

Oftentimes English-speakers won’t benefit from this real time world. Although much of the tweeting that came out of Tahrir Square was in English, most was in Arabic. Similarly, today, major trouble spots in Africa are in Angola and Senegal.

Angola’s language is Portugese and Senegal’s is French. But English is a global language, and in these cases it’s HipHop websites that are consolidating and translating the news!

Today’s www.africanhiphop.com site features the trouble in both Angola and France. The site was founded 15 years ago in Senegal, so it’s particularly sensitive to what’s going on, there.

African hiphop – very much like hiphop and rap most everywhere – is driven by issues of poverty, abuse, oppression and has released what I considered not too long ago a much too timid African psyche.

Few people outside of Angola realize what a horrible regime is doing there, and how youth are beginning to organize a protest that could rival what happened in Tunisia. You won’t read about this in the BBC or even in South African media, and not because of bad reporting, but because traditional news reporters are banned.

And while there’s plenty to learn from Twitter if you speak Portugese, it’s up to a hiphop website, Central 7311 to let the outside world know what’s happening. The site is prosperous in part because authorities don’t rap! So it was left alone.

And while the site itself is Portugese, consolidator hiphop sites like africanhiphop.com will translate and disseminate.

Dictators don’t tweet.

Way South of Scott Pelley

Way South of Scott Pelley

Sixty Minutes rebroadcast of “Into the Wild” Sunday night caused many of us experts serious angst. Basically three wonderfully short thumbnails of things wild in East Africa were riveted with inaccuracy.

I’m sure that when a professor of dentistry speeds past a billboard for toothpaste he winces. Nothing wrong really with telling people they need to brush. Nothing wrong really with fluoride in the goop. Nothing wrong with a beautiful woman smiling like a bleached Mayan temple.

But probably lots wrong with everything in between, like how often, how hard, when and with what kind and temperature of water, and who knows what else.

I hope the bristles on my back as I watched the 60 Minutes show weren’t as stiff as a Number 10 toothbrush. (Admission: I watched the tape. I had calculated that the Patriots/49ers game would be less stressful. Wrong.)

There were three segments, and the most egregious was the best and first, about the great migration, the Mau Forest controversy and how it effects the Mara River, and the transformation of some Maasai land into community based tourism projects.

Most egregious because it was very, very close to the situation as I see it, but agonizingly not spot on, providing opportunities for enormous misunderstandings.

Pelley and crew were in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, which represents approximately 5% of the land area of the Serengeti/Mara/Ngorongoro ecosystem through which the migration moves. He was correct in pointing out that the migration was there “for a very short time every year” but arrogant and irresponsible in claiming this is its most dramatic moment.

Some years, yes. Most years, no. The drama moves with the weather, and the simple historical odds will place the greatest drama of river crossings at the Grumeti or Balanganjwe rivers in Tanzania, not the Mara in Kenya as Pelley claims.

Pelley said that the “few days that it takes the herds to cross the river, crocs will bring down enough food for months” implying that the river crossing in the Mara is brief and singular moment for any given group of wildebeest.

Not true. Wildebeest cross rivers back and forth multiple times for no good reason. It’s an instinctive part of their overriding component “to follow.” They might have crossed the river ten minutes ago, and another group is crossing in the other direction, and off they go. A single wildebeest might cross back-and-forth a hundred times the same river in the same year.

The problem here is that Pelley is treating the migration like so many casual observers as the sum of its parts, individual wildes on some monarch butterfly calculus of pretty constant direction. That’s just not the case with the migration.

From year to year the actual movements of the migration change massively. There are even years when it never gets to Kenya, or hardly at all. Unlike butterfly migrations, the wilde aren’t hard-wired with a map. They go where there’s grass. And grass grows where it rains. And over time there are definite patterns to this, and which right now are being dramatically altered by global warming.

I have other serious concerns, but none as important as the above: Pelley’s claim that the migration is predictable and that its “most dramatic moment” is in “late summer” when the herds cross “in a few days” the Mara River in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Kudus though, and not of the animal kind, to Pelley for a thoughtful thumbnail of the Mau Forest controversy and of some local Maasai attempts to transform a dwindling agricultural lifestyle into tourism.

Finally, a recurrent criticism I have of American media is their lack of due diligence. The show used three experts for its three different segments. Two of the experts are honorable scientists to be sure, but none of the experts are current leaders in their fields.

Most of the current leaders of field research are no longer found in Kenya, or at their foundations in the United States. They are brilliant, younger and performing exceptional scientific work, many more in neighboring Tanzania than Kenya. It pains me constantly how a lack of effort by American media leads them not to the true sages but to the hack celebrities.

Nuff said. In sum it wasn’t bad. But to be good it needed care that perhaps no American TV is capable of. BBC where are you?

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.

Guided by a Child’s Remembrance

Guided by a Child’s Remembrance

Clemantine Wamariya, a 23-year old Yale student and Tutsi who lived through the Rwandan genocide when she was 6 years old, has been appointed by President Obama to the board of the Holocaust Museum. Is this wise?

Ms. Wamariya’s life is a fairy tale story, and I mean her no ill will. In time she may mature into this role thrust upon her and become one of the most vital advocates of justice in the world. But that’s going to be a singular challenge likely greater than her escape from being hacked to death in Rwanda in 1994.

Ms. Wamariya appears a gifted person, so there’s hope. But I am concerned that her unusual prominence displaces the masses to such a degree that she will fall prey to conceptualizing the disaster and ultimately rationalizing it … the American way, so to speak.

Because preserving facts that cannot be altered with time is the first important step to understanding genocide. Look at what a mess we have right now between Turkey and Armenia, between teams of scholars arguing what actually happened.

Even the mass slaughter of Jews in World War II comes under constant challenge.

So fixing reality in time is fundamental to any attempt to analyze and ultimately reverse the evil. Ms. Wamariya cannot do that. She was too little.

Ms. Wamariya was only 6 years old when she escaped the Rwandan genocide. No six-year old anywhere on earth has enough continuous memory of the time to be a true witness. I think it much more likely that she honestly and hopefully rigorously has worked to confirm that what she would have been told by others older than her with her at the time, was true.

Step two is to assess blame. In such massive exterminations as took place in Armenia, Germany, Russia and Rwanda, there is blame enough for virtually everyone who was living at the time. Ms. Wamariya’s capacity for functional analysis might be stellar. It’s hard to know that of a 23-year old.

Step three: prevent its recurrence.

Ms. Wamariya may be the smartest person on earth. She may have an intellect uniquely capable of piloting us away from self-destruction. Her infancy in Rwanda may provide some subconscious authenticity to her reasoning, and that would be invaluable.

But she is not a witness. And she is not yet capable of rigorous analysis. She is a product of Oprah Winfrey. And I for one could nominate many others who I know personally, also nationalized American Watutsis, who would be better for the board. Much older at the time, their memory was mature and remains in tact. Reality is preserved with them. It simply cannot be with Ms. Wamariya.

Her subsequent years in refugee camps before being rescued is that part of her story I’ve been unable to establish completely. All that’s in the record is that she was granted asylum in 2000 and came to Chicago and entered a Christian grade school.

Who brought her? Who picked her out of hundreds of thousands?

That’s the red herring, folks. And this has nothing to do with Ms. Wamariya, nor is it a commentary alone on Ms. Wamariya’s performance since or potential from this point on. But as I’ve often written of the many plagues on Africa, perhaps the greatest was the proselytizing by Christianity.

Livingstone’s famous “3 C’s” – Christianity, Commerce and Civilization – says it all. The old explorer was one of the first to know you needed buzz words to raise money, and those three ideas were interchangeable in the European mind at the time. They remain so, today, particularly among the Christian community.

Christianity as redefined by the world’s superpower elite was an untouchable first principal of how to live life. Commerce is capitalism is the paradigm by which Christians condone greed. Civilization is a presumptive elevation of self-esteem, the notion that I know what is right for you.

This soup of ideas is the perfect formula for genocide.

Christianity as carried into Africa was bad for Africa. It’s one of the most important causes of Africa’s floundering in contrast to Asia’s blooming. But Christianity seems to be an important reason Ms. Wamariya bloomed in America.

From then all it took was an Oprah to find her, nurture her and escort her into prominence.

Today’s Morning Edition on NPR featured the touching story. And it did so with all the American proclivity to redefine the past in a better light. I was annoyed, for example, that Renee Montagne claimed the genocide in Rwanda happened during its “spring.” There is no spring on the equator. There is no universal rebirth as in New York city in April. The contrast is meaningless, but was not intended to be.

Americans are wont to deny that anything is wrong. On the one hand that’s probably a positive component of optimism. But when things do go wrong, Americans more than others retreat into the fantasy that “everything will be ok.”

In my early grade school days, there was a lesson as a common denominator that was carried from grade to grade and after school from aunt to aunt. “Don’t complain, child!” (I guess I did.) And that polemic has its own good and bad inferences, but as I lived in different parts of the world I came to see America more and more as a place where if it weren’t true that things were the best in the world, we had to believe so, anyway.

The appointment of a yet to fully develop Mozart as a custodian of one of the most horrendous moments of mankind’s past may make us feel warm and fuzzy. But it misses the mark by a good decade or more.

Arusha’s Getty

Arusha’s Getty

Even Arusha has its J. Paul Getty. As we ended the Tanzanian portion of our safari, we visited Cultural Heritage, a tourist landmark that may have done more for northern Tanzanian tourism than the paved road to Manyara.

Initially a curio shop, Cultural Heritage has finally fully embraced its name. Yes, you can buy most everything you see, but it has legitimately become an exceptional museum.

The enormous complex is the brainchild of Saifuddin Khanbhai, mostly known just as Saif. He doesn’t appear as much as he used to, but you’ll never get out of his site. He personally designed this behemoth building, personally welcomed Bill Clinton and a score of other dignitaries, and if he’s around, he still personally negotiates your Tanzanite purchase.

Saif didn’t have the wild life of J. Paul. He’s a devoted Ismaili, in fact a principal liaison with the sect’s religious leaders in Asia. His family traces its Tanzanian roots back to 1836, and the Cultural Heritage complex to 1976.

Then hardly more than curio duka, Saif’s vision for Cultural Heritage was a long time in the making. The first large reopening was in the early 1990s, when the little store became a very big store on the outskirts of the city. It was linked with the growing popularity of Tanzanite, and Saif’s family had interests in at least one of the only 14 mines near Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I can remember countless client purchases that Saif personally negotiated, but the one that sticks out most amazingly was a young Chicago lawyer who after choosing his gems questioned the value of Saif’s offer.

Saif took out a FedEx envelope, bundled up the jewels and put them inside. He handed the package to my client and told him to take it home and have it appraised, and then to either put the check in the envelope or return the gems.

The envelope came back with a check.

Today adjacent a huge store with precious antiques and modern curios, clothing, books and maps and virtually anything at all related to visiting and enjoying Tanzania, there’s also a restaurant and now a mammoth four-story “museum.”

I see Saif as Arusha’s J. Paul Getty. There’s no question he’s out to make a buck, and like Getty he was the brunt of much local gossip when he first began this effort. And like Getty his first and foremost motivation is to make a buck, and an honest one, and in the course of doing so he either wants to or perforce is raising Arusha’s cultural standing.

Much of the collection strikes me as priceless. Some of the deep African masks, chairs, parts of buildings, dhows and doors, musical instruments and ancient beaded work is extraordinarily precious and has been collected from far and wide. I’m a bit turned off, though, by much of the local stuff. Some of the amateur paintings that are displayed are pretty bad, though I do understand his desire to promote local artists.

But get past the local stuff into the heart of Africa and you’ll be absolutely amazed. And there is so much, so unbelievably much for this little city of Arusha, that you can’t help but be overwhelmed.

I’ve seen museum buyers often in the store, and I imagine it takes them hours to sort treasures from trinkets, but I have no doubt the sort is worth the time!

Congratulations, Saif! Arusha owes you big time!

Brainwashing U.S. & Nigerian Kids

Brainwashing U.S. & Nigerian Kids

The first job I got fired from was after I reported to my Yugoslavian boss (during the Cold War) that UNESCO’s proposal for funding Sesame Street for Cuban National Television could be used for political, not only educational purposes. Guess what? USAid is now funding it for Nigerian State television.

And guess what else? Besides the Washington Post which originated the story, the only other major city media that carried it was the Kansas City Star. And Kansas is one of a handful (but growing number) of States that impede the teaching of evolution and promote creationism.

So would you please click here to sign the petition promoted by 17-year old high school student, Zack Kopplin of Baton Rouge, who is trying desperately to stop his state legislature from doing what Kansas has done. After which, I’ll put all these paragraphs into a meaningful idea.


Nearly 40 years ago when working for UNESCO in Paris, I realized that despite my liberal leaning that there were powerful tools that governments could use to attain acquiescence to almost anything. We dared not call it “brainwashing” but that was exactly what they were.

USAid is funding Sesame “Square” on Nigerian state television. There are 13 independent television stations and networks in Nigeria, but none can compete with NTA, the massive state-controlled network which unlike PBS or the BBC is a real mouthpiece for the government.

Mouthpiece. Nigeria has a lot of explaining to do, both currently and historically. And one of its most effective devices is NTA.

And now, it can develop in its children – with U.S. help – a tool for imbibing its messages.

America’s problems are manifold but I think easily reduced into this statement: we have empowered the ignorant.

The ignorant of America are wealthy, know how to spell well enough, and have developed social and political tools to lord over us infidels while flagrantly promoting contradictory ideas, and worst of all, embracing nonsense like creationism.

We can’t – we shouldn’t – outlaw ignorance. It’s our own fault. We didn’t pay the teachers in Oklahoma or Kansas, or for that matter anywhere, enough to do a good job. We created a generation of ardent believers … in nonsense.

The only skill you need to believe deeply in nonsense is how to read. Especially in today’s unreal, surreal and political contrary world.

Learning tools like literacy are not the same as acquiring analytical skills. That’s what’s lacking in America, and now possibly in the next generation of Nigerians. Masses of skilled kids will be made just literate enough to believe the nonsense of their autocratic rulers.

USAid could have funded Sesame Street in Nigeria in other ways – on competing networks clamoring for a voice in the country. But they didn’t. They propped up a corrupt and secular regime with a powerful additive: brainwashing.



By Conor Godfrey on April 25, 2011

Before we talk about Fela! I feel like its only right that you put on some music from the larger-than-life band leader Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

If you don’t like that—try “Water Don’t Get No Enemy.”

On April 21st, the musical “Fela!” brought the Lagos crowd to tears during the debut Nigerian performance of this headline grabbing and phenomenally reviewed Broadway hit.

Here is a sampling of reviews from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press.

After a two year run in New York on Broadway Fela!, will become the first Broadway show to be performed in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is one of the thousands of little signs that Africa is emerging on the U.S. radar like never before.

Fela Kuti was a bonified international mega-star for almost three decades, but was of course unknown to a Broadway crowd “where theatergoers’ idea of African music might begin and end with “The Lion King.” (New York Times)

Fela Kuti defined Afrobeat for an entire generation of musicians.

As for Fela’s musical genealogy, commentators have posited influences as diverse as Coltrane and Calypso, Sinatra, Ghanaian High-life Jazz, and native Nigerian Yoruba rhythms.

The main Fela! webpage lets you listen to a long list of songs performed for the show for free.

The real Fela Kuti was not simply a celebrity—the impression I get from reading about him and speaking to Nigerians is that Fela existed on a different scale—he proclaimed an autonomous republic in his club, he married 27 woman, he smoked and drank prodigiously, and he railed against the arbitrary and oftentimes brutal Nigerian dictatorships that had cowed most of the country—everything was in excess.

Whether you loved him for his brash unorthodoxy, or hated him for challenging the moral majority—you did so with a passion.

I do not have space here, but you should read this short biography of Fela to understand a bit more about the man himself and the passions he aroused.

He certainly aroused the passions of Muhammadu Buhari—the military dictator who beat, jailed and otherwise victimized Kuti, and who is now protesting the present election in the North.

Fela Kuti believed his primary goal was to resist European cultural imperialism. In this way, he echoed his contemporary larger-than-life star Bob Marley.

Pursing this mission, he blasted everyone and everything—he hated capitalist greed, and communist autocracy.

He hated the moral conformity of Arab-Islamic or Judeo-Christian values.

He hated corrupt African elites that imitated Europeans and undermined African values.

He even hated tribalism and traditional African social mores that he found constricting.

His remedy— a modern set of African values, taking some wisdom from the past, but mainly looking toward the future.

I love the fact that this extraordinary person finally washed ashore on Broadway, and get a bit of an emotional tug when I think of a sold out crowd in Lagos getting the chance to love or hate Fela Kuti one more time.

In some ways, Fela! allows the late great Fela Kuti to reach from beyond the grave and help the continent he loved engage the modern world on its own terms.

Acoustic Africa

Acoustic Africa

By Conor Godfrey on April 14, 2011
Last week I rounded up a few friends and saw a tremendous concert put on by Acoustic Africa at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Habib Koite

The show featured three African music powerhouses—Habib Koite, from Mali, whom I have written about before, Afel Bocoum also from Mali, and Oliver Mtukudzi (goes by “tuku”), from Zimbabwe.

These guys—expecially Koite and Tuku—are household names in their regions, and in some parts of Europe, but they often have to play dive bars or cultural centers for 10 bucks a ticket when they hit the U.S. (Language being the major issue for the Malians)

Last time I saw Habib Koite was in Philadelphia at a local arts council for $10. This most recent concert was a step up—they sold out a 400-500 person auditorium at $40-$50 a ticket.

And they were worth every bit of it. I swear there is something about Malian music that makes you remember what is important in life.

Listen to Afel Bocum play Gomni, a song popularized by his uncle Ali Farka Toure, and tell me that your mind doesn’t drift to a better place.

Afel Bocoum

When Afel came to the microphone to play this song he said—“Gomni means happiness in Songhai (language spoken in Northern Mali)…it is very difficult to be happy, even though there is so much to be happy about…so try and be happy for just this one song.”

Well said Afel.

I did not know much about Tuku before the concert, but he did not disappoint either.

The sound from Zim was much closer to the Congolese Rumba, popularized by icons like Papa Wemba, than it was to the guitar driven modern Malian music that often sounds like storytelling set to music.

Real experts on Southern African music claim Tuku has a style all to himself. See for yourself.

Oliver Mtukudzi
Tuku and his band also taught me a bit about the Zimbabwean thumb piano.

You would be surprised to hear the sound that comes out of this little guy.

If you combined a Malian Balafon (xylophone) with a gong, it would sound something like thumb piano.

Listen to someone jam on the thumb piano here.

My favorite song from Tuku was Neria, about the strength of a woman; for this he turned the lights down low, kicked the Malians off the stage, and poured a hell of a lot of soul into this ballad.

If you listen to one song I link to on this blog—make this it.

And last, but certainly not least—we get to le Maitre, Monsieur Habib Koite.

I have now seen Habib three times and he has never had an off night.

He and Afel jived very well with Tuku on stage, and everyone seemed to be enjoying some genuine pan-African good cheer while they swapped songs and made an effort to sing in each other’s languages (at least for the choruses).

Habib didn’t play too many of my old favorites this time around, but I did enjoy N’Teri, and a bunch of newer songs that I wasn’t familiar with. (I would recommend checking out the Album Afriki if you are looking to buy a Habib CD.)

Habib also just looks and acts the part.

His clothes are stylish takes on traditional gear, his speaks just enough English to make it clear that there is a lot going on inside his head, and he radiates positivity.

Oh—and my favorite part—they went for 2 hours and twenty minutes with no intermission. Lets see U.S. pop icons put in that kind of performance.

The last tour date I can find for Acoustic Africa is actually for this week: Apr 14th 2011, Clarksdale, MS USA.

Winners in Burkina

Winners in Burkina

by Conor Godfrey on March 8, 2011

I have led everyone astray by failing to warn you that the bi-annual, Pan African Film Festival in Ouagadougou (FESPACO) opened Saturday, February 24th, and ended this past weekend.

FESPACO is the most important film festival in Africa, and I would go even further and say that the festival is the most important modern, pan-African cultural event on the continent.

Every year since 1969 FESPACO has gathered African and diaspora intellectuals in Burkina to discuss the major intellectual currents washing over the continent.

The festivals highest prize, the Etalon de Yennenga (Stallion of Yennenga), goes to the film that best represents ‘African realities.’

Recent winners include Heremakono, from Mauritania, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako,

Ezra, from Nigeria, directed by Newton Aduaka, Drum, from South Africa, directed by Zola Maseko , and Teza, from Ethipoia, directed by Hailé Gerima.

This year the Golden Stallion went to Moroccan Director, Mohamed Mouftakir, for his film Pegase (Pegasus—trailer only available in French and Arabic) I have not seen it, but the reviews are uniformly positive.

Over 340 films were submitted to the jury; here are a few of the other winners.

The Silver Stallion:
Un homme qui crie
(A Screaming Man), Chad, Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

The Bronze Stallion; Le mec idéal (The Ideal Guy), Cote d’Ivoire, filmmaker Owell Brown.

Best Actor; Sylvestre Amoussou, Benin, for his role in Un pas en avant, les dessous de la corruption.

Best Actress; Samia Meziane, Algeria, for her role in Le Voyage à Alger (Journey to Algiers).

The African Diaspora Prize; Les amours d’un zombie (The Loves of a Zombie), Haiti, film by Arnold Antonin.

I’m sorry, but youtube did not come through for most of these trailers. Worse still, the only two films above available via Netflix are Drum, and Un Homme Qui Crie, and neither of those are available right away.

That means that you would probably have to order them on Amazon.com if you wanted to see them.

Be sure to post a comment if you find a way to get a hold of any of these movies.

African film is on the rise from dynamic urban spaces to the smallest villages in West Africa. Read this EWT blog written in February of ’10 about the rise of local African films tackling local issues, especially in Nigeria.

You will notice that Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry that currently produces more films than Hollywood and Bollywood combined, was not well represented on the awards podium.

Most Nigerian directors shoot with handheld or inexpensive digital cameras using a local cast and set.

While these amateur films may not make the cut at FESPACHO, they do sometimes make one thing that most FESPACHO submissions do not—money.

The rampant piracy of African films makes large, expensive productions economically unviable.

This also inhibits the creation of a class of well renumerated actors and actresses, studios, and directors. This very issue was the official theme of FESPACHO 2011—how can Africa create a long term viable film industry.

I hope someone comes up with something soon so that come 2013 we can all see a well financed, professionally produced series of films on the revolutions sweeping North Africa.

North African Film Reviews: Bab’Aziz; The Prince Who Contemplated his Soul, and Outside the Law

North African Film Reviews: Bab’Aziz; The Prince Who Contemplated his Soul, and Outside the Law

by Conor Godfrey on March 3, 2011

Every Thursday in February the Smithsonian Museum of African art opened their galleries for the North African Film Festival, highlighting films from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

I would accuse the Smithsonian of war profiteering, but I suppose they had this planned long before Tunisian president boarded his plane for Saudi Arabia.

My favorites this month were Bab’Aziz;The Prince Who Contemplated his Soul, and Outside the Law.

These are as different as two films can be; the first is a beautiful fairly tale that unfolds ever so slowly across the rolling sand dunes of southern Tunisia, while the other is an urban, visceral, action packed guerilla war epic with an elevated body count.

However, I think both put you in touch with the modern fabric of N. African life; one with the whimsical fantasy and mysticism of Sufi Islam, and the other with the legacy of pain and resistance that I have been told figures quite prominently in North Africa’s public consciousness.

Bab’Aziz (The Prince Who Contemplated his Soul)
Director: Nacer Khemir
Writers: Tonino Guerra (collaboration), Nacer Khemir
Stars: Parviz Shahinkhou (Bab’Aziz), Maryam Hamid (Ishtar)

This movie is filled with music—not just the energetic, haunting Dervish music that various wandering souls sing or play throughout the film, but also the music of the wind over the dunes, or the cackle of a fire.

Many reviewers called Bab’Aziz a “visual poem”. The entire movie centers on the Journey of Bab-Aziz, a blind dervish, and his spirited granddaughter Ishtar, as they trek through the desert in search of a gathering of dervishes that takes place once every 30 years.

As Bab-Aziz reminds Ishtar and the viewers throughout the movie, no one knows where the gathering is to be held, but everyone who has been invited will eventually find their way there.

This set up mirrors the quote from the Hadith, or sayings of the prophet, that opens the film—“There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth”.

A quick refresher on Dervishes.

Dervishes are Sufi Muslims following an ascetic path, or Tariqa (Interestingly enough, in the West African Fulani language spoken where I spent my Peace Corps days in the Fouta Jallon, Tarika means tale or narrative.)

Their origins are most likely Iranian and/or from the Indian subcontinent, but today Dervishes are most closely associated with Turkey and to a lesser extent North Africa.

Much like Christian monks, Dervishes can belong to any number of orders whose garb and rituals may vary.

In general, Dervishes take a vow of poverty and seek spiritual purity and enlightenment through humility and dedication to religious principles.

Back to my thoughts on Bab’Aziz.

Time seems suspended as Bab’Aziz and Ishtar wander through the dessert.

The desert becomes a transformative space where normal rules are suspended, and the Dervish aesthetic predominates.

People from the real world that wander into this transformative space throughout the movie are crushed and humbled by the immensity of the desert, and eventually driven onto the invisible path beneath the desert sands that winds, seemingly aimlessly, toward the gathering of dervishes and the unseen conclusion of whatever it was that drove that soul into the desert in the first place.

Young Maryam Hamid puts in a fabulous performance as Ishtar, the grand-daughter, and the supporting cast plays their bit roles well enough to let the “visual poem” unwind without distractions.

Some of my companions found this film beautiful, but slow.

I am sympathetic to that critique in so far as the there is almost no ‘action’ in the film, but it takes time to suffuse the audience with the music and silence of the desert. I think director Nacer Khemir hopes that viewers leave this film feeling crushed and humbled, but with the feeling that somehow they too are on a path.

Outside the Law
(Hors la Loi)

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Writer: Rachid Bouchareb
Actors: Jamel Debbouze (Saïd), Roschdy Zem (Messaoud), Sami Bouajila (Abdelkader), Chafia Boudraa (their mother), Bernard Blancan (Colonel Faivre)

Do not take a first date to this movie. Outside the Law is 220 minutes of non-stop high drama, with nary a smile for comic relief.

That being said, it is one of the best guerrilla war epics I have ever seen.

The film is also very controversial in France.

Its release drew thousands in protests in Southern France where the war in Algeria still raises temperatures on both sides.

The film opens with a split screen. On one side, jubilant scenes of V-E day in Paris, French women are kissing members of the resistance in the street, and De Gaulle is congratulating the French population on throwing off the tyranny of the Nazi oppressors, while on the other side of the screen, the French military and pied noirs (European Colonists living in Algeria) are massacring peaceful protesters on May 8th, 1945 in the Algerian town of Setif.

This same message is repeated in a myriad of different ways throughout the film.

How can the French, who have just thrown off the chains of oppression themselves, not recognize the righteousness of the Algerian cause?

How can they not see that they have become the oppressors?

In one seat gripping scene, the three brothers at the center of the film kidnap a French colonel who had distinguished himself in the resistance during the Nazi occupation.

They compliment the colonel on having fought on the right side, the side of justice, during the occupation, and ask him to make the same decision again; to fight on the side of justice, in this instance, against la gloire de la France, rather than for it.

The colonel’s decision will ripple through the lives and deaths of the film’s cast for the remainder of the film.

I am neither French nor Algerian, and do not feel entitled to the gut wrenching emotion that this conflict evokes in those whose lives were touched by it…but this film made me feel it anyway.

Birthplace of Man, and of Slavery

Birthplace of Man, and of Slavery

The last day that human slavery was legal in the civilized world was June 19, 1865, and every day since extraordinary efforts to understand and document the horrific practice have been unrelenting. Now Tanzanian scientists are debunking several established concepts about the origin and explosion of slavery in the 17th century.

Amistad and Goree Island lead most explanations of the incredible increase in slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries as principally motivated by America’s rapid development, especially the growth of the cotton and tobacco industries.

Most black Americans are descendants of West African slaves held on southern agricultural farms, and until now, documented slave trading from East Africa seemed incidental to the millions taken from West Africa for the Americas.

Last week Tanzanian scientists announced several years of ongoing work in the northern coastal regions of the country has uncovered evidence that the slave trade flourished in East Africa from as early as the 13th century, long before the West African commerce began.

Prof. Edward Mgema has discovered more than 42 sites along the Tanzanian Indian ocean coast near Tanga that appear to be ancient slave trading depots, and likely ones that were used for more than 500 years.

Mgema is challenging older established theories which hold that little slaving occurred in East Africa relative to West Africa, based mostly on the journals of ships trading into the area that rarely listed slaves in their manifest. This fact still remains to be explained if Mgema is right.

The holding areas Mgema reports were nearly all associated with ancient mosques, and the inference is that slaving in East Africa was organized or at least condoned in a religious way that might have kept it off the ship’s commercial records. This has yet to be established.

Slaving was known to exist from nearly all ports in Africa from the earliest times, but none as commercially dynamic as evinced by the slave depots and holding sites like Goree Island, and now, the mosque depots in northern Tanzania. Moreover, if corroborated by further study, the 42 Tanzanian sites predate by hundreds of years any such sites in West Africa.

Several elephant researchers, including Tanzania’s Charles Foley, have contended for some time that slaving was a natural outcome of harvesting elephant ivory. Foley contends that once the ivory was cut from the elephant, the only way to transport it to the coast for its ultimate delivery to Asia and Arabia was by catching slaves to carry it.

There is now and has always been much larger elephant populations in East than West Africa.

Whether slavery was born or ivory harvesting or as a religious practice, or both, Mgema’s recent archaeological discoveries put some real teeth into the notion that East Africa, not West Africa, was where slaving began and likely where over all time the most slaves were harvested.

Mgema has been working in the Tanga area of the north Tanzanian coast for some time. He is also the discoverer of hominid footprints that are thought to be 1.5 million years old.

It will be interesting to see if this extraordinary work by an extraordinary Tanzanian scientist can crack open some misconceptions about the origin and motivation for slavery. It isn’t often that a developing world scientist can effect a massive academic body of work mostly built by westerners.

Congratulations to Mgema and his team. No matter how this is accepted in the west, one thing has certainly been discovered at a more contemporary level. There are some really smart people in Tanzania!

Top Ten 2010 Stories

Top Ten 2010 Stories

East Africa is booming, so many of the stories of 2010 were terrifically good news. But there were the tragedies as well like the Kampala bombings. Below I try to put the year in perspective with my top ten stories for East Africa for 2010.

1. Populace democracy grows.
2. Terrorism grows, as does the battle against it.
3. Huge stop in the mercenary purchases of Coltan.
4. Momentum for peace in the runup to establishing a new South Sudan.
5. Tourism clashes with development, especially with the proposed Serengeti Highway.
6. New discoveries of fossil fuels produces new wealth and a new relationship with China.
7. Gay Rights grow public but loses ground.
8. Rhino poaching becomes corporate.
9. Hot air ballooning’s safety newly questioned in game parks.
10. Newest early man discoveries reconfirm sub-Saharan Africa as the birthplace of man.

Theoretically, all the East African countries have operated as “democracies” except for the torrential years of Idi Amin in Uganda. But the quality of this democracy was never very good.

Tanzania was a one-party state for its first 20 years, and that same party continues to rule although more democratically today. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi experienced one dictator after another, even while democratic elections at regional levels challenged the executive.

But the end of the Cold War destroyed the alliances these developing countries had with super powers. Purse strings were cut, and political cow-towing ended. All of them moved towards a truly more democratic culture.

And in 2010 huge leaps were made in all the countries towards more truly representative government. The most important example by far was the overwhelming passing of the new constitution in Kenya in a national referendum where more than 75% of registered voters participated.

And like the U.S. election which followed shortly thereafter, and like support for national health care in the U.S. and so many other issues (like no tax cuts for the rich), Kenyan politicians dragged their feet right up to the critical moment. They tried and tried, and ultimately failed, to dissuade Kenyans from their fundamental desire to eliminate tribalism in government and more fairly distribute the huge wealth being newly created.

I see this as People vs. Politicians, and in this wonderful case, the People won!

And there was some progress as well in Tanzania’s December election, with the opposition growing and its influence today moving that country towards a more democratic constitution.

(It was not so good in Rwanda or Uganda, where stiff-arm techniques and government manipulation of the electoral process undermined any attempt at real democracy.) But the huge leap forward in Kenya, and the little hop in Tanzania, made this the absolute top story of the year.

Four smaller bombings in Nairobi’s central business district over the year were eclipsed by two horrible simultaneous bombings in Kampala bars on July 11 while patrons were watching the world cup.

Police display an unexploded suicide vest.

Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in Somali, claimed responsibility. And throughout the year Shabaab grew increasingly visible along the Kenyan border as its power in Somali increased.

I’ve written for a long time about how the west has had its collective head in the sand as regards terrorism and Al-Qaeda in particular. Long ago I pointed out that the locus of Al-Qaeda terrorism had moved to the horn from Afghanistan, and this year proved it in spades.

The country with the most to lose and most to gain in this war on terror is Kenya, because of its long shared border with Somalia. And the year also marked a striking increase in the Kenyan government’s war on terror, and with considerable success.

With much more deftness and delicacy than us Kenya has stepped up the battle against Al-Shabaab while pursuing policies aimed at pacifying any overt threats to its security, by such brilliant moves as allowing Omar Bashir into the country and not arresting him (on an international U.N. warrant). As I said in a blog, Kenya Gets It, and the story is therefore a hopeful one.

This is also a U.S. story.

The Dodd-Frank Act is our victory!
The Congo Wars continue but are abating, and in large part because of a little known provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act which now makes it almost impossible for major corporations in the U.S. to buy the precious metal Coltan on the black market.

A black market which has funded perhaps Africa’s most horrible war for more than a generation. Hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – have been killed and raped, and more than 20,000 children conscripted into brutal wars, funded by purchases of Coltan and other precious metals by Intel, Sony and Apple.

It certainly wasn’t just this little legislative move. The U.N. peace-keeping force, fabulous diplomatic initiatives by Uganda and a real diplomatic vigilance by the U.S. all were instrumental. But the year ended with the least violence in the region in more than two decades.

I may be jumping the gun on this one, because the referendum to create a new country, the South Sudan, is not scheduled to occur before next month. But the runup to the referendum, including the registration process, while labored looks like it’s working.

Allied loosely with the Congo Wars, the civil war between the North and South Sudan had gone on for generations until a brokered peace deal five years ago included the ultimate end to the story: succession of the South into a new country.

The concept is rife with problems, most notably that the division line straddles important oil-producing areas. But in spite of all of this, and many other ups and downs along the way, it looks to me like there will be a South Sudan, and soon. And this year’s new U.N. presence in Juba, donor-construction of roads and airports, all points to the main global players in the controversy also thinking the same.

The creation of a new state out of a near failed one is not the be-all or end-all of the many problems of this massive and powerfully oil-rich area. But it is a giant leap forward.

Last night NBC news aired a segment on the Serengeti Highway controversy, elevating an East African story into American prime time. Good.

But like so many reports of this controversy, the simplification ran amok. NBC’s reporter Engels claimed the motivation for the road was to facilitate rare earth metals like Coltan (see above) getting into Chinese hands more quickly.

While there may be something to this, it’s definitely not the main reason, which is much more general and harder therefore to fight. As I’ve often written, the highway as planned will be a real boon to the Maasai currently living to the east of the Serengeti, as much if not more than to the Chinese.

And as far as I know, Maasai don’t use Coltan.

Roads bring commerce and may be the single quickest way to develop a region. This region is sorely in need of development and recent Tanzania politics has aligned to the need for this regional development.

The highway is just one of many such issues which came to the fore throughout 2010 in Kenya and Tanzania. Concern that the west is just interested in East Africa as a vacation destination with no regards for the struggle for development, has governed quite a few local elections this year.

The whole concept of tourism may be changing as the debate progresses. I believe very deeply that the Serengeti highway as proposed would hinder rather than help development. But as I’ve pointed out, alternatives are in the works.

And the real story of which the highway story is only a part, is how dramatically different East Africans have begun to view tourists in 2010.

For years I and other African experts have referred to East Africa as “resource-poor.” Kenya, in particular, had nothing but potash. Boy, did that change this year!

Although only one proven reserve has been announced in Kenya, several have begun production in Uganda and we know many more are to come.

China has announced plans for a pipeline and oil port in northern Kenya at a cost of nearly $16 billion dollars, that’s more than twice the entire annual budget for the Kenya government! Deep earth techniques have matured, and China knows how to use them.

More gold has been found in Tanzania, new coal deposits in Uganda, more precious metals in Rwanda… East Africa is turning into the world’s rare earth commodities market.

A lot of these new discoveries are a result of technology improving: going deeper into the earth. But 2010 freed East Africa from the shackle of being “resource-poor” and that’s a very big deal.

African societies have never embraced gay rights but as they rapidly develop, until now there was none of the gay bashing of the sort the rightest backlash produces in the U.S.

U.S. Righties manipulating East Africa.

That changed this year, and in large part because of the meddling of U.S. rightest groups.

In what appears to now have been a concerted many year effort, support from U.S. righties is leading to a vote in Uganda’s parliament that would make homosexuality a capital offense, and would jail for long terms those who failed to out known gays.

This extreme is not African, it is American. Mostly an insidious attempt by those unable to evince such insanity in their own society to go to some more manipulative place. The story isn’t over as the vote has yet to occur, but it emerged and reached a crescendo this year.

Poaching is a constant problem in wildlife reserves worldwide and Africa in particular. Rhino are particularly vulnerable, and efforts to ensure safe, wild habitats have been decades in the making.

Dagger from rhino horn.

This year, they seemed to come apart. It’s not clear if the economic downturn has something to do with this, but the poaching seems to have morphed this year from individual crimes to corporate business plans.

This leap in criminal sophistication must be explained by wealth opportunities that haven’t existed previously. And whether that was the depressing of financial goals caused by the economic downturn, increased wealth in the Horn of Africa where so much of the rhino horn is destined, or reduced law enforcement, we don’t yet know. But 2010 was the sad year that this poaching exploded.

Hot air ballooning in Africa’s two great wildernesses of the Maasai Mara (Kenya) and the Serengeti (Tanzania) has been a staple of exciting options to visiting tourists for nearly 30 years. That might be changing.

Is it Safe?

A terrible accident in the Serengeti in early October that killed two passengers and injured others opened a hornet’s nest of new questions.

After working on this story for some time I’ve personally concluded 2010 was the year I learned I should not step into a hot air balloon in East Africa, at least for the time being!

There were not quite as many spectacular discoveries or announcements about early man this year as in years previously, but one really did stand out as outstanding and you might wonder what it has to do with East Africa!

Representation by Tomislan Maricic.

DNA testing of Neanderthal proved that early man from Africa didn’t wipe them out after all, but absorbed them into the ever-evolving homin species.

And that absorption, and not massacre, happened outside Africa to be sure. But it finally helps smooth out the story that began in Africa: It’s likely that Neanderthal were earlier migrants from Africa, and absorption was therefore easier, physiologically and biologically.

It’s a wonderful story, and fresh and exciting, unlike the only other major African early man announcement about Ardi which was really a much older story, anyway.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my loyal readers, with a giant thank you from me for your attention but especially your wonderful comments throughout the year. See you next year!

Wiki Tells It Like It is!

Wiki Tells It Like It is!

The several thousand WikiLeaks about East Africa so far tell us very little that we didn’t already know or deeply suspect. I actually find it rather refreshing.

Basically, East Africans are publicly affronted by the frankness with which Wiki frames the obvious failings of East African leaders and their positive actions as American motivated. And basically American diplomats are shown as being a bit more juvenile than adult when it comes to getting (or not) their way.

Wiki basically shows that the Big Boy got his way with the little toughs. Good. I’m glad we did. And I think most East Africans are, too. From time to time, the Big Boy ain’t so bad.

American policy in East Africa from the end of the Bush years through the present has been right on as far as I’m concerned (except for one significant item: the soon new Southern Sudan.) In the main, an A- overall.

But Wiki takes the charm out of the politics. When all the polite language is peeled from the events, when “convinced” becomes “bribed” and “suggested” becomes “threatened” there’s no question any more that American power bludgeoned its way in East Africa over the last few years:

We bribed Kenyan leaders to be democratic and we bribed them to fashion a more moral constitution. We threatened sanctions if they didn’t bring the proposed new constitution to a vote. We targeted Kenyan youth with a campaign not dissimilar to Obama’s get-out-the-2008-vote, because they were the most energized and least likely to actually vote. And so we got them to vote ..the way we wanted (which was the right way).

We raised a normally behind-the-scenes ambassador to a very public level. We did everything short of leaking ourselves the names of top Kenyan politicians we believed were principally responsible for instigating the violence following the 2007 elections, to the point that these guys became so universally known that real criminal prosecutions against them in The Hague may begin shortly.

Once outed, our ambassador was given other public tasks we hailed as “transparent.” When food that we were delivering to a famine area of Kenya was delayed at the Kenyan port of Mombasa because the bribes paid to off-load it weren’t enough, our dear ambassador took a camera team onto the gangways and started off-loading the grain himself.

We lamented that so much time had to be spent with Kenya’s growing up into a full democracy that we have let Uganda and Tanzania slide. But that doesn’t seem to matter, because they are neither as powerfully geopolitically or as economically powerful as Kenya.

OK. Take a deep breath. Wiki just ratted on the Teacher to that troublesome but promising Pupil. The rest of the class (Tanzania & Uganda) always knew Kenya was the favorite and that it was a tense relationship.

But it’s working, if you concede that current American interests are almost as vital to East Africans as Kenyan interests. I do.

So… This has all been good. Good for East Africa and good for America.

So, WikiLeaks, what was bad?

What Kenyans are currently all upset with is the derogatory name calling carried by U.S. diplomatic cables. Both the president and prime minister of Kenya are called beneficiaries of a network of old boy corruption “feathering” their fortunes “with impunity.”

Yeah. So?

That’s not news. It’s been said in public by many former officials world-wide, much less Kenyan journalists themselves. Frankly, I think this, too, is changing although it was much less evident earlier this year than now. So, anything else, Wiki?

We and Britain publically decided to embarrass Kenya in October, 2008, when a ship carrying 33 Ukrainian T-72 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates, then freed (after ransom) off the coast of Kenya. Kenya claimed at the time that the tanks were for Kenya, despite journalists claiming otherwise that the Kenyans were creating a corridor for arming southern Sudan.

As then, I still have this intuitive feeling that we’re involved in this, but Wikileaked cables suggest we were affronted by the revelations. The cables paint Kenya as the culprit and us as the surprised school-mom and either way, this is enraging Kenyan leaders who are working so hard to making the January, 2011, elections in southern Sudan work.

I don’t like war, anywhere, but without some military hardware southern Sudan will not survive any attempt at Independence.

Wiki also underscores something I’ve been saying for a long time: China is beating America at the Africa game, the East African parlor in particular.

There’s a lot of name calling, again. One top diplomat, Johnnie Carson, referred to China in Africa as a “pernicious economic competitor with no morals.” (Agence France Presse). “China is in Africa for China,” Carson said as well to a group of Nigerians, insisting there was nothing moral or altruistic in their very large recent economic involvement in Africa.

Yeah. So?

Why is the U.S. involved in Africa? To bring righteousness and moral rectitude to the Dark Continent? Why did Stanley broker for the malicious King of Belgium? Why has any foreign government ever been involved in Africa… or anywhere else foreign for that matter?

In diplomatic niceties we say “self-interest.” When the niceties are dropped, Carson goes on and on castigating China for trying to buy UN votes and other allegiances, something that America is the ace at, especially during the Cold War.

I think this is revealing. I think this is something we as Americans should study. What these leaks reveal in the unrelenting American diatribe against China in Africa is that we’re jealous. We don’t have the cash, anymore, and China does. For years – especially during the Cold War from our government, and right until the economic downturn from our megamonolithic corporations, America spent more in bribes than anybody else.

Now, Wiki explains, China does.

We’re jealous. But the great revelation is the following:

China is spending OUR money. The money from the purchase of toys, car parts, solar panels, and kitchen utensils.

It’s ironic and terribly revealing. We’re still bribing, but not necessarily in our own interests. Rather, in China’s.


Are You a Guilty Tourist?

Are You a Guilty Tourist?

Tourists have always stood out in the Third World as eccentric, rich visitors. But until now they were neither resented or impugned. That may be changing.

Is it right that you as a tourist pay $1500 per day to stay at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge when that is more than the average wage earned by a Tanzania in a year?

Sunday, a respected journalist in Kenya admitted that the publicity over Kate and William’s engagement tugs his “instinct to look at the dark side of acres and acres of land still reserved in the Kenyan countryside for the occasional pleasures of visiting monarchs and aristocrats, and the local privileged class.”

And while it’s a bit hard to tell from an email address if someone is white or black, I venture that the critical comments left after Otieno’s column were from white Kenyans and that the blacks were supportive or equivocal. More or less.

Until this year, tourism revenues in Kenya were constantly vying for the top foreign currency earnings with tea and coffee. But Kenya is growing rapidly, and manufacturing, mining and service industries look like they will all surpass tourism within just a few years.

Tourism is no longer the sacred cow it was for at least several generations.

Otieno used the publicity about Kate and William’s engagement as the vehicle to discuss the question: are the privileges given the tourist industry fair?

The royal proposal was made while the two were on holiday in Kenya.

I for one was glad to see Otieno’s column. He began politely enough but ultimately used his talent as a writer to make a very strong case. Otieno penned that “the future tribal king of the British” had stirred up a hornet’s nest in Kenya about privilege, land ownership and income inequality.

“I thought we particularly looked good out there on CNN where the local correspondent ably re-enacted a Jesus-born-in-a-manger scene complete with a muddy footpath and a humble cottage where the royal romance miraculously blossomed,” Otieno joked.

But the joke is right on. Christian charity? Christian fairness?

Do the west’s Christian values apply to the extraordinary tax breaks given &Beyond? To the ownership/management of fertile lands normally unavailable to foreigners? To the visa waivers for foreign managers to live and work in Tanzania?

The answers always used to be, Yes of course. Because the benefits to East Africa, mostly in terms of employment, were large enough. But the discrepancy has gotten bigger, not smaller, over the years.

Kenyan GNI from the UN.
Lodge STO Rates: likely effective average amount received per one night stay from one tourist.

Since &Beyond opened Crater Lodge in the late 1990s, the wealth of individual Kenyans has roughly doubled, impressive yes. But the price of Crater Lodge has increased 400%!

Now in fairness to &Beyond, not all that increase has been pocketed by its stakeholders. But in fairness to East Africans, neither is that increase justified by increased prices or taxes. The truth is somewhere in between, but it seems to me definitely skewed to Crater Lodge’s advantage.

And I think that’s what Otieno is basically referring to.

Honing in like a lasek laser Otieno writes the wealth of a foreign tourist “…symbolizes the kind of inequality and ostentation despised by a large section of the Kenyan society.”

This is only the beginning of the debate, but it’s important to expand, and the bitter voices of foreign managers that dominate the comments following Otieno’s blog are disturbing. That kind of vitriol is not going to help our “tourist cause” one iota.

It’s a real issue. Let’s deal with it.

Hot Cocoa is Pure Kaka!

Hot Cocoa is Pure Kaka!

Roibos Tea! Owned, Discovered by Nestle!
The thousands of little kids like me sent to a freezing winter bed at night with a steaming mug of hot cocoa now have to contend with the fact that their benefactor is one of the most thieving, villainous multinationals in the history of the world!

Nestle (which is now as most things in the U.S. owned by foreigners) is quietly trying to become the global owner of a plant that has grown wild and free in South Africa for as long as there have been bushmen: Roibos.

Or, as properly spelled in South Africa, Rooibos.

Rooibos as a live thing is not attractive. A field of them before they begrudgingly bloom once annually for 5 or 6 seconds looks like a microscope’s eye view peering into the netherworld of bacteria: a bunch of smallish thornless cacti covered with soiled socks.

And whatever truly living thing ever thought of consuming it obviously was climbing a wrung in human evolution. Most things won’t touch it.

I was first introduced to Rooibos when I was working in South Africa in the early nineties. After my first cup of Rooibos tea I felt that I was joining apartheid in a certain death.

But strangely, joining Marmite and Vegemite as healthy food that kids love at first taste, my suitcases coming home were filled with Rooibos tea for my son and daughter.

It took me about 20 years and a genius move by my local grocery store to add ginger to the brew, and I, too, now drink Rooibos. It’s all over America, now. Usually called “Red Bush Tea.”

(Calling Rooibos “red” is like calling the goo left on a wildebeest carcass before the vultures get it red.)

But enough personal ughing.

Rooibos is actually Good for the World. And Nestle has requested an international patent on the organic molecule that makes rooibos Rooibos and it’s found nowhere else on earth!

This is biopiracy and rape in its highest form.

South Africans of every disposition and color have been benefitting from rooibos for hundreds of years. The plant grows only in the Cedarberg Mountains of The Cape Peninsula. Scientifically known as fynbos.

South Africans believe that it can cure acne, slow ageing, inflammation and hair loss, and alter the course of your investments.

Except for the last attribute, the others are explained by rooibos’ explosive antioxidant, Aspalathin. “Most scientists believe the property is available only in the rooibos plant,” writes South African Khadija Sharife who first reported this story in the South African press.

Sharife writes in the current issue of Pambazuka that Nestle has applied for five 20-year patents claiming that it – the multinational – is the “discoverer” of how to extract Aspalathin, and several other molecules from rooibos and a close cousin, the honeybush plant.

And here’s the real affront. Nestle, a Swiss corporation, is not applying for the patent in South Africa, but in Switzerland!

And the Swiss patent office has the authority to issue patents that achieve instant worldwide global enforcement, including in the U.S.!

Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But there is a wave right now of multinationals trying to patent biological agents, like molecules, all a seeming natural progression of the patent process of genetically altered agriculture.

Fortunately, this little end run on The Cape has been revealed. Natural Justice in South Africa, a South African based not-for-profit got on to the theft and has gotten the South African government involved.

It may not be enough. I for one can understand why no one wanted to patent Rooibos, but I guess we should listen more carefully to our kids. No one has tried to patent Rooibos before. Nestle is the first. That seems critical in the Swiss decision.

So Nestle is reported ready to fight South Africa in Swiss courts for a Cape plant.

What next? Kaka?