Democratic Disease

Democratic Disease

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

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

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

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OnSafari: Dar Hell

OnSafari: Dar Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Discontent

Young Discontent

africandiscontentYou know, it’s not just US. Enormous discontent is sweeping across the most important countries in Africa with a heavy involvement by the youth.

Such generalizations are dangerous, so I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ll stop making conclusions: you make them. Let’s just survey today’s news.

Yesterday was budget day in South Africa. In Parliamentary fashion, the president is supposed to submit the annual budget, say a few words and then Parliament retires for a day before beginning a classic debate. That’s not what happened.

South Africa is a mess. The session was six hours of mayhem :screaming, fisticuffing, security officials pulling out MPs while those just pulled out snuck back in. The budget was never discussed.

The South African’s polity’s mess has a lot to do with one old peculiar man, Jacob Zuma, and one old revolutionary movement, the ANC, but many insist that it was the university students in the country who brought it to a head.

Last year’s country-wide student protests regarding fees and instructional language have moved into virtually all universities, even technical colleges.

Last year Nigeria elected a controversial old politician/general to clean up one of the most profoundly screwed up societies on the continent. I was skeptical but for the first few months things seemed to be going well.

They aren’t now. Leaks that the new president has sanctioned arresting the old president, a very public and questionable trial of a former Senate president, rising unemployment because of falling oil prices … and police and the military now battling not only Boko Haram, but students.

Tanzania’s good-guy president is suddenly behest by a host of unexpected protests, including support of indicted government officials, growing Islamic fundamentalism, and more which all probably began with the government’s stupid move to close all universities and colleges before last years presidential election.

In an attempt to avoid the turmoil of its neighbors, the president of Kenya announced yesterday he would remain neutral in the growing student protests in his country.

But what really caught my interest is the protests of youth in countries that … well, don’t allow protests.

A week of horrific student protests in Khartoum, the capital of one of the most dictatorial, autocratic countries in the world, ended today with tear gas and police shutting down the country’s main university.

And in neighboring Ethiopia, which tries hard to rival Sudan for in violating human rights, IT savvy government officials have so far failed at shutting down this internet music protest by youth of Oromo: click here.

My apologies if by the time you read this the Ethiopian government once again succeeds.

My take? The world is unsettled and it is largely the impatience of youth anxious for justice.

The Business of Safaris

The Business of Safaris

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

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

My clients have all vowed to return yet again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halisi na ukweli!

Halisi na ukweli!

iowaelectionLetter to my African Friends:

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

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

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

That’s because most Americans are afraid of change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa’s Take on Trump

Africa’s Take on Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I say: it gives democracy a bad name?

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

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

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

Racism or Stupidity?

Racism or Stupidity?

larrymadowo“Terrorists aren’t just… in Syria; sometimes they’re card-carrying defenders of the Second Amendment.”

The above is not the rant of some leftie like myself. It’s from a respected, very popular national news anchor in Nairobi.

Chastising his American colleagues for not calling the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear “what he really is, a terrorist,” Madowo in a few paragraphs explained American racism, why we go into endless wars, why black policeman are now being prosecuted, and probably a dozen other American ailments.

Larry Madowo is probably the most watched and liked young African news anchor on the continent north of South Africa. He’s witty and insightful. He writes and speaks English better than most Americans, travels constantly entangling himself in injustices that he recounts with mounds of humor.

But time and again after drilling down into some western wrong (like Dutch MacDonald’s selling their tiny packets of ketchup for 75¢) Madowo sees the root explanation as western racism.

“If [Robert Dear] was a man of colour, the talking heads and think-pieces would not have stopped theorising about his motive and how his background led to all this. But white shooters are almost always ‘mentally disturbed lone rangers’ in need of understanding and support from society.”

“Three people were killed and at least five others wounded” but because the murderer wasn’t Muslim and didn’t behead his victims “American news outlets won’t call him what he really is… because of the colour of his skin.”

It’s worth considering but Madowo has fallen into the trap of many modern media personalities: oversimplification while playing to the ratings.

Racism surely is at the root of many American evils but American media aren’t calling the Planned Parenthood shooter a terrorist not because he isn’t black but because Americans foolishly believe that terrorism is something strictly external.

We have compartmentalized foreign violence as terrorism and domestic violence as anything but, something less threatening and onerous.

Statistics don’t seem to matter: exponentially more Americans are killed annually by American rebels and shooters than foreigners. Extent of destruction doesn’t seem to matter: the effect on Boston’s economy from the marathon shooters is multiple times anything foreign that’s happened in the last few years.

“Home-grown” is a nice adjective for Parisian bombers which is begrudgingly becoming accepted by the American populace as the sobriquet for the killers there, but it just doesn’t apply here.

This isn’t racism. It’s stupidity.

Another Madowo episode also illustrates this.

Madowo recently visited to the U.S. carrying two really favorite gifts for his Kenyan friends here: Ujimix and Royco Cubes.

Customs agents in San Francisco delayed him unconvinced that they were foods.

“A young black male travelling internationally always raises eyebrows. Traveling while black is to accept indignity, racism and delays because of the colour of your skin, even in a post-Obama world. Those of us village boys who grew up dreaming of faraway cities and now have opportunities to visit are resigned to that ugly downside to it all.”

It’s quite possible that the San Francisco customs agent had never been east of Vegas or north of Monterey. Anything that isn’t labeled “Hamburger Helper” is suspect.

Indeed racism is sustained by ignorance, and ignorance is what I’m talking about here. We’ve got a barrel full of problems in the U.S. as a result of a generation of negligence from a government hamstrung by crazies.

But as we begin to disentangle our rotting fibers to start applying fixes, let’s be clear about what to do. In these cases, it starts with education.

Changing Too Fast

Changing Too Fast

changingtoofastWhat happens when all the new Kenyan apartments start collapsing? Or when all the new highways cave into the earth?

The developing world might be developing too fast: Its super-development is terribly flawed and in as few as ten years everything being built now might collapse.

To understand this premise you’ve got to grasp how quickly things are developing in the emerging world, today. The already iconic internet example is from China, where a 57-story skyscraper with 19 atriums, 800 apartments and office space for 4,000 people, certified earthquake resistant, was completed in 19 working days!

The previous record was a 30-story skyscraper opened for use in 30 days, also in China.

Today a 60-story skyscraper in the U.S. normally takes 2½ years of construction from ground-breaking to open-for-use.

The Chinese records are ever so bit exaggerations, because in these two cases each floor was prefabricated and basically inset level by level into the exterior frame. But even so they represent remarkable feats.

Unless, of course, in ten years they fall down. It seems to be happening already.

In many cases it’s simple corruption, as with the collapse of the important Ugandan Katuugo-Kaweweta road only months after it was newly rebuilt.

Journalists discovered that the money for the project was massively diverted into the pockets of officials. While low-level corruption like this continues to plague much of the developing world, the more sinister prospects for new infrastructure collapsing is much more complex.

There seem to be two main reasons to expect the developing world’s infrastructure to collapse prematurely:

First is the simple notion that haste-makes-waste. The demand for new infrastructure in the developing world is unbelievable, hard to imagine by us in the developed world:

“The world is moving from agrarian to urban at a startling pace,” Michael Bloomberg wrote recently.

According to South African business developer, Wayne Duvenage, “We sit with … many costly capital expenditure debacles in Eskom‚ Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa‚ South African Airways and other inefficient state-owned entities” because “Our government’s ministers … are far too hasty in their acceptance of major capital expenditure projects” with no time for due diligence.

The second reason, though, is more subtle and more sinister.

“Urgent demand [for infrastructure] is already overwhelming adequate risk management and urban governance capacities,” according to a senior manager at the Institute for Sustainable Communities and former Director of the Clinton Foundation.

Today when a new interstate is built across America it is laid with exquisitely new technology that in many ways builds upon the old road that it lies over and replaces.

There is no old road being built over by the new highways in the developing world, but they are still being built with new practices and materials and high-tech engineering.

Modern buildings pose a similar problem, not because they may need the foundation of the older building, but because the inputs of water, electricity, internet and cable, etc., require that those fundamental infrastructures have already been built first. That’s simply not always the case.

The result is a mismatch that could prove fatal.

It’s pretty obvious, but contemporary politicians in developing worlds overseeing new infrastructure are loathe to embrace this. “Adequate risk management” is generally side-lined.

Lack of “governance capacities” is considered a liability that best not be admitted, and this leads to numerous projects being fast-tracked without adequate preparation.

“Kenya is building huge infrastructural projects [that] have been accompanied by malpractice in construction, land grabs, displacements [and] environmental degradation,” writes Kenya’s permanent ambassador to the UN, John Kakonge.

Finally because of the above red flags private investment normally attracted to these mega development projects is lacking. As a result many specialized projects that should be built by the better equipped and specialized private sector are instead built by less specialized and well-equipped government agencies.

This recipe for a disaster in the offing will not be easily remedied. Certainly head-on attacks on corruption will help, but the more sinister components of over demand and mismatching current technologies with historical situations have no easy solution.

It could be the world is just changing too fast.

Lower Education

Lower Education

StudFeeProtestFree higher education is becoming an explosive issue in Africa.

Until the turn of the millennium most higher education throughout Africa was completely free, as in much of Europe it still is. The model, in fact, for most African countries was Germany.

But today about a quarter of an African university student’s costs are borne by the student. In South Africa it just became more than a third.

South Africa’s most prominent university remains closed today after protests against fees that began Wednesday.

The University’s CEO, its Vice-Chancellor, raced back to Johannesburg to address today’s massive student demonstration morning and was followed on national TV by the country’s Minister of Education, but the students have not been placated and the protest continues.

You can follow this massive and explosive event on twitter at #WitsFeesMustFall.

The 10.5% increase in fees announced last week will push a university student’s contribution to just over half of all estimated costs.

The arguments on both sides are identical to arguments in the United States, Kenya or virtually anywhere in the world where higher education is not free:

“The government needs to invest significantly more … for public universities. This is the kind of expenditure that will pay for itself… Money given to universities is money that alleviates poverty, creates employment and drives cutting-edge research and innovation,” writes student leader, Saul Musker, in today’s Daily Maverick.

“Indeed, the actual social, political and economic costs of under-investing in higher education are far greater than the additional expenditure…. If the ultimate goal of the government is to create an equal and prosperous society… this is an obvious choice.”

From the university:

Contractual costs particularly salaries are increasing much faster than government subsidies for them; utilities and other operating costs are unexpectedly high, and unique to South Africa, the Rand has fallen by 22% against the dollar and much of the university’s costs are dollar based.

In fact, government subsidies have actually fallen, as they have throughout much of America.

So as in America we have an extraordinary situation where both the protesters and their targets are in agreement. The problem, of course, is the government that funds them both.

Governments ordinarily reduce their subsidies with additional loan mechanisms and “bursaries” or scholarships. But in many places like Kenya that’s proved self-defeating, because the loans can’t be recovered and the process of awarding scholarships is cumbersome and often corrupt.

The result is a spiraling downwards of government support, as forward budgets are often based on presumptions of recovering loans while funds for bursaries are often underused for getting tangled in confusing regulations.

Opposition politicians often clamor onto the bandwagon that there should be more government support, but once in power, they become hamstrung by budget necessities.

Governments are rarely so forward-thinking as to invest in a student whose productivity is many political cycles in the future. Mature, successful governments like Germany and the Scandinavian countries should be a model for us all, but in the U.S. archaic conservative forces hold us back, and in Africa, the critical capital mass capable of this policy just hasn’t yet been achieved.

So the gap between the haves and have-nots widens even further.

Only this time it’s not just a gap of wealth, it’s a gap of intelligence.

Papal Productivity

Papal Productivity

popewithblackcardinalsPersons who consider themselves religious are declining in the world and Africa. But did you know that for the first time there are now more Catholics in East Africa than Protestants. Why do you think?

Catholics now make up approximately 18.0% of East Africa’s 194 million people, while Protestants have declined to 16.4%. This is the first survey ever where East African Protestants numbered fewer than Catholics.

Otherwise, there isn’t much good news for Christianity in Africa. Christianity continent-wide is declining significantly relative to Islam.

(The raw numbers of Catholics, Protestants and of course Muslims is all on the increase, and that’s usually what you hear from them. But relative to an even faster growing overall population, only Muslims are increasing.)

I think Pope Francis helps us understand why Catholics are now ‘outpercentaging’ Protestants: He’s an Hispanic of Italian immigrants, progressive politically, and socially and scientifically aware; and this mirrors many young Africans.

A increasingly large portion of Africans are not born where there parents and grandparents were. The massive dislocations of African populations are due mostly to a huge migration into urban areas from rural ones, although a small yet significant portion is a growing number of political refugees.

Young Africans are politically progressive, as demonstrated by the growingly powerful youth political movements in places like Kenya and South Africa, and they likely understand and embrace climate change, evolution, and even such arcane science as stem cell research.

This positions them as a society much like Pope Francis. Of course this begs the larger question, why? As a nonreligious person, I feel confident in suggesting an objective answer:
Redistribution of wealth, stability, and a sense of pride (which I concede is not generally considered religious) I think are the three driving factors. Catholics do much better than Protestants with these, and Muslims do much better than Christians.

I’m not suggesting these are the banner ideals for a perfect society. Indeed, freedom vies constantly with stability in Africa, and freedom does not seem to be a religious virtue but it is definitely one of mine. But in societies so terribly ravaged by war and strife for so long, stability often trumps freedom.

The modern Christian religions of Africa were determined in the mid 19th Century when European leaders eked out the continent not just for political control, but also religious control.

At that time Protestants got the biggest piece of the pie, particularly in East Africa where august men like David Livingstone gained not just the respect of the world, but of the local populations.

When independence came to Africa, many cities, towns and street names were changed back to African names from Leopoldville, Elizabeth Lane, Kaiserstrasse. But not changed were streets and towns named “Livingstone.”

Things began to shift shortly after independence swept the continent in the 1960s.

Protestantism is distinctly conservative relative to Catholicism, and even without any tenants associated to the meaning of “independence,” European Protestants warned against awarding independence to the colonies while European Catholics welcomed it.

That rather set the stage, and the Cold War accelerated protestants’ decline even more. The end of the Cold War also was another significant point, when western nations in a moment withdrew their support for much of Africa. Alas, Muslims stepped in and have never stepped out.

From my point of view, Catholic and Muslim charity does more good than protestant charity. This is simply because Catholic and Muslim charity is centrally organized while most protestant charity is composed of a multitude of small, independent projects from independent church communities abroad.

As readers of this blog know, I find it hard to embrace most charity in Africa, believing very strongly that only government-to-government assistance will ever succeed.

And that’s also why Muslim and Catholic charities are better viewed in Africa than protestant ones. Nearly two-thirds of the funds distributed by Catholic charities come from government grants. Protestant charities are reluctant, often adamantly opposed to government funding.

Government funding is much larger and comes with many more strings attached than individual church donations, and as a result, is coordinated throughout the entire spectrum of foreign aid. That makes Catholic charity far more efficacious than Protestant.

Even countries that are exceptionally protestant, like South Africa, have followed the current pope’s progressive actions with admiration. There is no single protestant leader in the world, nor really any single Muslim leader.

Personally I remain worried and skeptical of organized religion. But like many Africans, I follow Pope Francis with enormous admiration.

Train Wreck

Train Wreck

TrainDifferenceI step very gingerly on loose railway ties when we bird along the Mississippi River close to the horrible derailment last spring, wondering why Kenya can build a modern railway and we can’t.

The quick answer is that Kenya isn’t: China is, in Kenya. The second quick answer is because Republicans think they can get along just fine without government invested infrastructure.

Kenya’s 380-mile modern, fast standard gauge railway project is “running ahead of schedule.” When fully operating in 2017 it will cut the travel time between the coastal city of Mombasa and megalopolis of Nairobi down to 4 hours.

China is paying for 90% of the $3.8 billion dollar cost with the Kenyan government paying the remainder and then of course paying for the operating costs.

Railways worldwide are usually not profitable … as in the United States. That’s because they don’t have as many derailments.

Railways are understood in the sane, modern world to be a lost leader, a necessary infrastructure that builds commerce and ultimately increases tax revenues enough to justify them while providing the population with a modern service.

Like … a sidewalk.

It’s generally an idea Republicans don’t get: providing their constituencies with infrastructure. They prefer to believe the private sector will know when to build something.

“America’s sparse rail network is so far behind [the] standards in [European] countries,” the Guardian newspaper reported after our spate of spring crashes.

A private sector that prefers to clean up toxic leaking bonfires because it’s less expensive than building something that won’t crash is how America does it, today.

Kenya’s new railway replaces the decrepit “Iron Snake” that was built more than 100 years ago and is essentially useless, constantly breaking down and often taking 19 hours to travel from Mombasa to Nairobi.

The railway was one of the first undertakings of the British colonial regime, recognizing that transportation of goods and people was essential to development. The colonial power pursued similar projects in its Indian and Asian colonies.

Pity we overthrew them too early.

China has significantly withdrawn its investment in Africa since its slowdown this year, but the project was begun early last year and it appears the Chinese will see it through.

Chinese attempts to “cut corners” with a standard Chinese-designed culvert were thwarted in March by Kenyan authorities who insisted on sticking to the original British design. Work was actually stopped for several weeks until the Chinese agreed to continue with the original design.

Remarkably the railway will cut right through Nairobi National Park and parts of the Tsavo national parks, but there has been little opposition.

“We can’t say to the Nairobi resident: ‘You have to sit in a traffic jam for the rest of your life’,” the famous conservationist and anthropologist Richard Leakey told reporters.

China isn’t just playing nice guy. China had lots of cash it needed to invest a few years ago. It knows that Africa often produces as great a return on investment as in its own society. And Africa has … oil and other natural resources.

But this mercantile motivation is what capitalism is all about, right? Then how come our own government won’t invest in its own people? Because the private sector is so greedy it holds all the cards?

Yeah, that’s it.

The Lion Returns

The Lion Returns

Tuscany 28Forty years ago today the Lion of Judah disappeared in mystery yet as the fog of time clears, his legacy becomes the legacy of Africa.

When Haile Selassie “disappeared” on August 28, 1974, a new era of democracy and freedom exploded onto the continent. All of us were ecstatically hopeful.

What a mess.

It went not so badly for 10-15 years. I’m inclined to think the culprit is the Cold War. Global politics during the Cold War courted Africa at all costs, creating and magnifying corruption. Then the end of the Cold War triggered an abrupt end to all interest whatever in Africa!

The continent was dropped on its butt from the ivory tower of global democracy.

Fifteen years after the Emperor disappeared Africa was in shambles: wars, disease and pestilence, droughts, and possibly worse of all, increasing poverty.

The Africa Condition reached its nadir towards the end of the 1990s. By the middle of the last decade things were beginning to turn around, and today The Africa Condition is the best it’s ever been in my life time.

What’s happened? The Emperor has returned, and I’m not a Rastafarian.

Haile Selassie was the 77th Solomic emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to his death in 1974, but there were many emperors who preceded his 13th Century dynastic line, all the way back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon in 3 BC.

Known by the ancients as the Land of Punt, and believed by early Christians to be the hallowed land of Prester John, the country is sealed by formidable geography. It’s the only country in Africa never to have been colonized.

The likelihood that an early Queen actually did visit Jerusalem and bring back with her legions of intellectuals and wise men is a reasonable presumption.

If her visit actually did occur in 3 BC, her initial dynasty kept contact with Jerusalem at least through the birth of Jesus Christ, because around 3 AD Ethiopia had founded much of its strength on a form of Christianity that has been retained to the present day.

But around 3 AD the last hints of openness to the world closed, again. The isolation of the society allowed the early seeds of civilization to blossom unencumbered by the wars that beset the cradle of civilization. Ethiopia grew inwards.

It blossomed with an unusual and rich language; a music with funny scales, chords and progressions; and food and drink totally unique not just to Africa but the entire world.

I very much believe that the principle engine of social change for any society comes from the outside. So while Ethiopia’s impenetrable geography ensured the country was protected from the outside world’s turmoils, it also simultaneously retarded all social development.

Nothing could come into Ethiopia. There was a millennium of peace and no social change. Emperors flourished.

The isolation grew difficult by the beginning of the 1970s. Flush with the youthful energy that ended the Vietnam Conflict and started the Civil Rights movement and fired the new technologies of communication, Addis began to shake.

What followed the Emperor’s disappearance is correctly called the “Red Terror.”

Anger had built for generations. For all practical purposes, it exploded into a horrible and brutal revolution.

We have this weird notion in America that revolution is always good, because our very, very distant past revolution heralded a good era.

Not so in more modern times, even not so in the French revolution which almost immediately followed the American revolution. Revolutions are more typically followed by terrible turmoil.

The revolution and the turmoil that followed the Emperor’s disappearance is coming to an end throughout Africa. From the ashes have emerged a couple truly democratic and free societies as in South Africa and Kenya.

But the majority is not like that: The majority is composed of Rwandas, Egypts and Zimbabwes, ruthless autocratic societies each with its own little emperor.

The Lion of Judah has returned.

OnSafari: Dying Internet

OnSafari: Dying Internet

touristinternetIt’s been some years since the circuit has been so busy. Today my group is in the crater, but I won’t be able to write to you about it because the internet is jammed.

Bandwidth in Africa is fractional compared to the U.S. and hasn’t seemed to be a problem on the tourist circuit until this season. I’ve always been able to post at least every other day.

Cell towers are everywhere and virtually every property, even a tented camp, has satellite wifi. But now according to my manager friends, use especially by Americans and Europeans is so demanding that basic business conducted by the properties on the internet has been jeopardized.

You can hardly fault visitors: they’re doing nothing abnormal. It’s just that there are a dozen more satellites over America than over the entire continent of Africa.

So properties are taking steps to limit high usage. Several new IT companies in major African towns have developed at remarkable speed bandwidth filters that block use for a variety of possibilities.

Most, for example, now block Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But the more sophisticated filters block usage by usage. In other words, if you’re trying to stream a video or upload a .raw image, you won’t be able to.

iCloud apps and access are blocked.

And so … am I. As soon as a tear opens in the cloud, you’ll hear from me! Stay tuned!

OnSafari: Dr. Frank

OnSafari: Dr. Frank

DrFrankFrom time to time people get sick on their vacation, I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. It happened to one of my clients today on safari.

It doesn’t happen often and today’s case is a classic example of when it does. Years ago I worried endlessly about the food and water, the cleanliness of the beds and so forth, but those worries ended long, long ago.

The lodges and camps on the safari circuit are probably more hygienic and germ-free than most lodging a person would find in an American city today, so that’s fortunately no longer my concern.

My concern is when we get into remote areas, medical care is limited and when it’s needed – for whatever reason – it’s expensive and time consuming to arrange. The larger upmarket properties like Crater Lodge or the Mt. Kenya Safari Club will have medical staff on duty, often a fully credentialed physician.

But upmarket camps, for example, are just too small to offer this. So remoteness is the key worry.

Our safari left the last vestige of civilization today, as we left the town of Karatu and headed into Ngorongoro Crater for the final week. The further we got from Karatu, the more difficult it would become to arrange adequate medical care.

No one comes on safari not knowing this. In fact it amuses me the numbers of people who presume this is the situation the moment they disembark their airplane in Nairobi or Kilimanjaro, areas with modern hospitals and medical care.

So I suspect most travelers have a very good handle on medical preparations and precautions. I think travel clinics within hospitals often over prescribe and are overly cautious, but from these I know that travelers are usually well prepared.

Proper insurance is also very helpful. It minimizes or completely eliminates the worries of expense that increase the more remote one gets. East Africa has a wonderful network of air medical services for very reliable and quick medivac.

So today as the group prepared to leave I get a knock on my door. The spouse conveys how ill her husband feels. We are at lovely Gibb’s Farm in Karatu. Spouses are usually – not always but usually – the best indication as to the seriousness of a situation.

In this case she seemed more concerned to me than she was letting on or was told to convey to me. So I persuaded the patient to go with me to the excellent FAME clinic at the outskirts of Karatu, and sent the rest of the group on its way as planned.

The clinic is run by a man famous in the area, Dr. Frank. His business card says no more than that, but he is an incredibly generous man, a former cardiac anesthesthesiologist in California. His wife, Susan, and he came on safari more than a decade ago and after a close to critical experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, fell so deeply in love with the area that they decided to radically change their lives.

And the lives of the people of Karatu.

Dr. Frank’s clinic is modern, exceptionally staffed and beautifully efficient. It serves all the people of Karatu with extraordinarily modern medicine. There is a prenatal clinic, an operating room, patient wards and well stocked pharmacy.

And tourists – and NGO expats – can … “break the queue” and this is because the exceptional treatment he has provided them is routinely returned exponentially. FAME clinic is privately funded mostly from the U.S. and mostly from small family foundations.

My client was seen, given a battery of tests and diagnosed by Dr. Frank with a very serious infection, probably in the lungs. He had brought the infection from home was part of the diagnosis and as often happens with those who get sick on vacation, the relaxation that accompanies a vacation is often the entree for the sickness to finally get the attention of the patient.

His infection had also led to dehydration, the illness I see most effecting travelers. So he was put on an IV for four hours and given massive doses of antibiotics and fluids, then released onto his safari with a box load of medications.

He looks better and feels better, but as Dr. Frank explained, it will take some time to fully recover, and Dr. Frank knows better than any physician at home that the safari lodging will be just fine for his rest and recuperation.

FAME clinic helps many, many more people locally than the occasional tourist like mine. But the relationship that’s built with the foreign tourist is what fuels the project.

So we caught up with our group which had climbed Olmoti Volcano today, and tomorrow we head into the crater for a game drive, thankful for the FAME Clinics and Dr. Franks of the world!