Beautiful Beast

Beautiful Beast

South Africa is exquisitely beautiful and culturally devastatingly complex. It’s the bitter-sweet but intense experience I try to convey at the start of a South African trip.

My job was made really easy this time. The whole massive conundrum is so perfectly conveyed by Cape Town’s new super modern art museum, anchored at the moment by Rose Tracey’s “Shooting Down Babylon” exhibition.

On the one hand we walked across the top of the Cape of Good Hope able to see for miles and miles out to see and watch all the anger boiled by the seven seas crash against giant mountains. And on the other hand the vast majority of South Africans remain captured in an asphyxiating ugly past that Tracey characterizes as “Mandela’s Dream Deferred.”
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Hawking Democracy

Hawking Democracy

I hear a giant ho-hum following the grunt-grunt of the lion walking through the night.

Two days after the election with 10% of the polling stations still outstanding the two rivals for the Kenyan presidency are divided by less than 1 percent. It will be days before we know who is President. Maybe weeks as it gets hung up in the courts. Kenya is as tense as a cocked mousetrap.

But right now the country is peaceful. Young people didn’t vote. Parts of the country – particularly heavily populated parts near the coast – hardly turned out at all. The slums which account for more than half of the greater Nairobi population and which were instrumental in past elections’ violence, are quiet tonight.
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Ma Lives Matter

Ma Lives Matter

The “unlawful and forced eviction” of up to 70,000 Maasai in northeast Tanzania has turned bloody violent. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail an initial tear-gas episode in early June has escalated into outright warfare resulting in deaths and injuries.

“Shocking in its scale and brutality” this tragic situation is hardly new: Maasai have been driven from their pastures almost continually since their ancestors fled the Nubians in the 4th century BC. This complex story is one of the lectures I give on safari atop the Serengeti ‘Singing Rock’ that overlooks what was once the paradise of the Maasai before they ceded it to the government a half century ago.

The current conflict has its contemporary roots in a relocation of about 4,000 Maasai from northeast Tanzania in the 1960s right before Independence. A generation later in 1992 Maasai leaders formally accepted the government annexation of about 1600 sq. miles of their prime pastures which until then had remained an unresolved ownership issue with the British colonial government.

It remains uncertain whether the Maasai elders who ceded this huge area (the entire “Loliondo” district) understood exactly what they were doing or whether there was a lot of sugar spilled into the chai.

The area borders Kenya’s famous’ Maasai Mara to the north and Tanzania’s famous Serengeti to the west. These truly spectacular quintessential rolling grassland savannahs are perfect for cattle grazing, the traditional lifeway of Maasai.

Following the 1992 “treaty” the Tanzanian government quickly formalized smaller portions of that 1600 sq. miles as hunting reserves for Arab royalty. They had regularly hunted the area during their own insufferable summers ever since first being invited down by the British long, long ago for who knows what nefarious reasons.

After sectioning out hunting reserves for the Arabs who to this day claim they were given the whole of Loliondo by the British, the government declared the remainder “Wildlife Management Areas” (WMAs).

WMAs were and remain (intentionally?) so confusing that everybody and their brother ran up to this beautiful, game rich area to plant their own kind of stake. Including a group I was involved with for seven years.

In the early 2000s I had an interest in a company that had a remote wilderness camp close to where the Arabs were hunting. The mostly Jordanian militias that constantly harassed us claimed we were infringing on their area, but our WMA certificate had clearly delineated boundaries professionally surveyed for our 50,000 acres. Nevertheless, anyone coming into our “private reserve” would get a little beep on their cell phone, “Welcome to the Emirates!”

Ours was not the only non-hunting camp in the Loliondo area. By my last count in 2008 there were six. No one was ever able, however, to get a written document from either the Arabs or the Tanzanian government that would substantiate their claims to the entire Loliondo area.

I never got inside the Arab’s perimeter despite several attempts. Those who did reported “a little city” with an airport that routinely accepted the most modern private jet aircraft as well as C47’s that would disgorge limos and Range Rovers.

Maasai development was soaring by the end of the last century. Casual stock herding became true cattle ranching. In 1992 the price of a Maasai cow was around $70. Today it approaches $2000, a testament to Maasai’s rapid development and professional use of modern animal husbandry.

So more and more Maasai are choosing to “stay on the farm,” turning the tide that began in the 1980s when every promising young Maasai fled to the city. There are more and more cattle, more and more homesteads and guess what, no more land.

Disputes grew more violent after we left the area in 2008. Serious “wars” with Tanzania security forces occurred in 2009, 2013 and 2019.

I began blogging about this controversy in 2009. I ended that first blog by saying, “My take is that this is not going to get better, soon.”

The largest number of physical fights — not as deadly perhaps but much more acrimonious and self-destructive — have actually been between Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai ranchers.

Originally, of course, there was no border splitting the Maasai into three countries (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania). When the rain in the south was better, the Kenyan Maasai moved their cattle into Tanzania. And vice versa. So many more ranchers much better educated and lawyered up with many, many better cows are all fighting for the same number of blades of grass that grew here when the Maasai first arrived nearly 300 years ago.

In 2018 Tanzanian Maasai prevailed in the totally powerless East African Court of Justice which affirmed their historic rights to grazing throughout the area. This has sustained an increasingly articulate and powerful movement led by several courageous, young and very professional Maasai lawyers.

I think that Covid explains much of the current battle. No one came to Tanzania for nearly two years. Maasai in this area just naturally started grazing all over the place, including into the Serengeti National Park and the Arab hunting areas.

Covid’s over, the sheiks complained. Sheiks are rich and powerful. Maasai ranchers are not.

The piles of faulty treaties, questionable agreements and coerced submissions to informal modern use of deeply historical use, all compounded by an inept government that mistakenly tried to manage the area with incomprehensible regulations has just piled mess upon mess.

Untangling it is impossible. It’s time that the Tanzanian government emulate Canada with its First Nation policy or America with its modern Athabascan Alaskan policy and recognize the historical first principle of Maasai ownership of the lands and send the Arabs back in a heat wave.

Is that likely?

Haiwezakani sana…

Gutting Democracy

Gutting Democracy

Some of the best legal scholarship of our times created Kenya’s new constitution 15 years ago and South Africa’s a decade earlier.

In the end both Kenya and South Africa adopted a three-branch federal government like the United States. But both societies established a creed practical for the modern age. And it’s the reason both countries protect the right for abortion and the U.S. no longer does.
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Me Worried

Me Worried

Written years from now history will describe the fall of Mariupol not so much a military as political defeat. Then more years hence when books are written about the end of modern America, a connection will be made with Mariupol.

Then more and more cross references will weave a history of our current times as one of privileged classes intoxicated by their comfort, unmotivated to carry on the battles for everyone that got them to where they were: Coopted if not corrupted by their own satisfaction.
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Unregulated War

Unregulated War

Last night EWT’s first large group since January 2020 arrived Nairobi on Air France. Quoting the leader, “It was a LONG DAY.” PCR testing, endless lines as health officials scrutinized and tested every entrant, and sudden new regs against the Yellow Fever outbreak… “Exhausting” he said. Then…

… two hours after they were tucked asleep in their Nairobi hotel, the Kenyan Government removed most restrictions regarding Covid as a result of the enormous decline in the virus locally. All you need now is a copy of your vaccination. How we want to celebrate! But we can’t because of Ukraine.
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Simplicity

Simplicity

Six dollar-a-gallon is less painful than radiation burns. Devil in the details, of course, so celebration of America’s “ban of Russian oil” should be suspended until all the details are known. But my African friends think my ardent support for this is hypocritical. One of my favorite commentators, Joy Reid of MSNBC, last night echoed that sentiment. They’re all wrong.
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GoodvBad

GoodvBad

Africa, make no mistake: abstaining from morality is immoral. Serious moves afoot to boycott those African countries that abstained from demanding that Russia withdraw from Ukraine. This includes South Africa which by abstaining from this historic vote condemns its own courageous struggle for democracy.

The majority of African countries, as with the majority of countries worldwide, voted to demand that Russia cease hostilities and withdraw. It was a historic and brave moment for the world. The results demonstrate which African countries are weak and withering, and which are strong and prospering.
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African Cowardice

African Cowardice

“We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”

When Kenya’s Martin Kimani, ambassador to the UN, concluded his lambasting of Russia in the UN Security Council last Tuesday we waited for the rest of Africa to follow suit. They didn’t.

My surprise has turned to anger. A life of empathy with Africa’s condition riles my intellect. What the hell is wrong with Africa, the part of the world that has suffered more from foreign occupation than any other?
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Unholy Alliance

Unholy Alliance

South Africa’s repugnant refusal to condemn Russia is a dangerous over estimation of the importance of its BRICS trade alliance. As a leader of much of the African world, it’s cultish suicide.

Attempts to frame the Ukrainian invasion as just another dispute among us rich and powerful is shameful. The South African Rand plunged today. Apparently the Rand understands.
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Presses & Pandas

Presses & Pandas

Some of us took advantage of the one-two punch of Trump + Pandemic. With alternate mixtures of anger, depression and irresolvable feelings of capture we were motivated to learn a little bit about past U.S. pandemics and presidents.

My fascination with early man never reached the point of exchanging empathy with an Australopithecine, but boy do I feel brotherly closeness to the Republican reconstructionists and Boston priests and doctors conscripted for forced vaccinations! With a longer view of America than one lifetime there’s no democracy among angels. It’s been a sludge fest the whole way.
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Relax & Enjoy

Relax & Enjoy

Imagine at long last! You wiggle happily into your preferred economy seat that you agonized over buying. Not bad. As the stream of pushing and shoving passengers push down the aisle to the back of the plane you smile quietly nodding your head to yourself. Preferred economy was undoubtedly the first right decision. Sighing you just hope that all the other decisions will prove just as good!

Vacations were never as important. As problematic. As uncertain. The long time since you last left home because of the pandemic grew so depressing that it was difficult to spring out of! The first difficult decision was just to do it! And you did! Congratulations!
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