Where's the Beef?
The Beeb has posted readers' comments on whether Western fast food is "colonizing" Africa. Interesting subject.
Top Ten Reasons Mugabe Should Go
Samantha Power (author of the excellent "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide) has a piece in this month's Atlantic titled, "How to Kill a Country." It gives a level-headed explaination of how Robert Mugabe turned Zimbabwe from "the breadbasket of Africa" to another "basket case." The piece is not online, so I'll summarize her top-ten list of how Mugabe's ruined Zimbabwe:
1. Destroy the engine of productivity
Mugabe's done them all, writes Power. But she is optimistc that when he goes, Zimbabwe could come back from the brink:
2. Bury the truth
3. Crush dissent
4. Legislate the impossible
5. Teach hate
6. Scare off foreigners
7. Invade a neighbor
8. Ignore a deadly enemy
9. Commit genocide
10. Blame the imperialists
...Zimbabwe shows just how hard it is to destroy a place completely. Mugabe has done virtually everything conceivable to ruin his country, but one finds signs of redoubtable spirit everywhere.... But the mounting severity of Mugabe's crackdown is a testament to his frustration with the resilience of civil society, which simply refuses to go away. If Mugabe were to give up power, Zimbabweans insist, the country would quickly show how liberated citizens can mend a shattered land.
Until recently, Zimbabweans had a taste of relative peace, prosperity and freedom. No wonder they want them back.
Bubba's Book Club
Bill Clinton has released a list of his alleged 21 favorite books. (I say "alleged" because one of them is Hillary's Living History.) But I was surprised and glad to see that Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost made the list. Funny, The Very Hungry Caterpillar isn't there.
The High Cost of Living
Here's what a few everyday items cost in Zimbabwe on November 11. The prices have undoubtedly increased since then. To put this in context, the average Zimbabwean earns between Z$200,000 and Z$800,000 a year.
1 loaf bread $2,800
Inflation in Zimbabwe is predicted to reach 700 percent.
1 dozen eggs $3,500
2kg sugar $2,000
500g powdered milk $18,000
1kg mince $25,000
2kg chicken portions $20,000
750ml cooking oil $7,500
1 banana $500
1 apple $800
1 litre coke $2,500
1 carton cigarettes $13,000
petrol and diesel $2600 - $3000 per litre
1 mens suit $800,000
1 TV 14-inch to 36-inch color $8 million to $20 million
Bubba Come Back!
Is this item from The Onion right on, or what?
African Leaders Still Treating Clinton As President
And it turns out Clinton's foundation helped push the new South African retroviral plan. Don't remember Bush weighing in on that one...
NAIROBI, KENYA—Kenyan President Emilio Mwai Kibaki said Monday that his country continues to enjoy excellent diplomatic relations with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. "I have always enjoyed working with Mr. Clinton, and the recent international Agricultural Development Conference was no exception," Kibaki said. "And I know that [Democratic Republic of the Congo President] Joseph Kabila enjoyed meeting with him to secure an American commitment for humanitarian aid, as well." Kibaki said that none of the leaders have anything in particular against President Bush, but added that all the same, they'd rather stick with Clinton.
Alexander McCall Smith's piece on Botswana in the Sunday New York Times travel section makes me want to hop the next flight to Gaboronne. I guess I'm a sucker for semi-arid southern African countries. McCall, of course, is the author of the sleeper hit Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, which I've plugged before.
Turning up the Volume on the Silent Epidemic
South African AIDS activist Zackie Achmat describes his reaction to his government's long-overdue decision to provide free retrovirals: "I danced the whole morning."
This is going to be the largest single public health intervention the world has ever seen. [...]
Back in the states, pioneering groups like ACT UP declared that "Silence=Death." Seems that is true everywhere.
I think the consequences of the epidemic on our society makes it impossible not to treat people. Morally and economically and socially it is the right thing to do.
From a public health perspective it is even more important because fewer than 10% of the 5.3m people living with HIV in South Africa know they are positive.
People don't come forward because they don't want to find out they have a life threatening disease and receive no treatment.
We have shown that in any public health emergency if there is treatment then people come forward to be tested if there isn't treatment they do not and you have a silent epidemic.
Africa Blog Catalog
Allafrica.com is compiling a list of Africa bloggers.
Check it out.
To Hell and Bok
Way South suspects I don't like rugby. In fact, I don't really have a strong opinion, but stories like this confirm that some of these guys really should have worn head protection in their youth:
Springbok players were forced to strip naked and ordered around at gunpoint in a bizarre effort to prepare them for the Rugby World Cup in Australia.
Sounds fun. More here.
"Despite being sworn to secrecy, two players have talked about the three-day 'Camp Staaldraad (Camp Steel Wire) that took place at a location some two hours drive north of Pretoria in September," the Sunday Times said in a front-page article Sunday.
"On arrival, the players were made to strip naked and leopard-crawl across gravel before getting dressed and repeating the exercise," it said.
One Springbok, who was not named, said players were taken into the African bush, where they had to do physical labour, carrying tyres, poles and bags-- all branded with England and New Zealand flags.
"Later, the players were ordered naked into a freezing lake to pump up rugby balls underwater. Players who tried to get out, among them captain Corne Krige, were allegedly pointed back at gunpoint," the Sunday Times said.
Update: Ugh, now my Google ad bar thinks I'm a rugby blog!
Solanna over at Namibia or Bust profiles her co-workers and provides a glimpse into a few episodes in recent Namibian history:
When Julia was five years old, her mother was accused by SWAPO members of being a spy for South Africa and was then jailed in Angola (Angola supported SWAPO), where she (as was common) was not simply imprisoned, but was also tortured and subjected to terrible living conditions. Julia was sent to live in a “children’s home” (orphanage), where she lived until she was 10 years old. Other children in similar situations were adopted by German families and sent to live in Germany, a fate which Julia feels extremely fortunate to have avoided, as when these children were returned later they often had severe psychological problems and found it very difficult to “reintegrate” into life in Namibia. On the eve of independence, in 1989, Julia was sent to a refugee camp in northern Namibia. Her mother was shortly after released and went searching for Julia, and they were reunited at the camp.
It's important to note that the kids who went to Germany actually went to East Germany. They're now known as "GDR kids" and, as Solanna writes, have had trouble adapting to their "new" homeland.
The reference to SWAPO imprisoning suspected South African spies alludes to the so-called detainee controversy, which continues to dog SWAPO and its attempts at reconciliation. The most comprehensive account of this bleak episode (and the source of further controversy) is Siegfried Groth's Namibia - The Wall of Silence. (Read a review.)
Speaking of the CSM, it has an interesting piece on Uganda's hush-hush AIDS clinic for government bigwigs. Even in a country that's long been on the forefront of fighting the disease, it's not easy to convince public figures to protect themselves or get treatment.
Contrasting Beautiful Namibia
Thanks to Way South, I just came across Namibia or Bust, a blog written by a Canadian woman working in Windhoek. Her tales of beauty pageants and soya mince bring back fond memories, as does her mention of Sister Namibia magazine, which famously printed a cover depicting Sam Nujoma and Robert Mugabe kissing...
Also: A new blog by the Christian Science Monitor's Africa correspondent, as noted by AfricaBlog.
A modest proposal to reverse the melting of the Kilimanjaro ice cap: ring the mountain's summit with a Cristo-like wrap:
Getting hundreds of thousands of square yards of fabric to the mountain top would be fairly easy — pack it up tightly and throw it out the back of a transport plane. Hanging it off the ice cliffs would be tricky, and require a lot of help. But it is hard to imagine that, if the money for such a project were to be found, the volunteers would not come running from around the world. And once the hanging is done, the main job would be over.
The rest of the preservation effort might just consist of a few snow machines to keep the top surface fresh and white in the months when no snow falls. The fresher the ice the more sunlight it reflects; the less light absorbed, the less the ice will melt.
The effort to preserve a square mile of ice in the equatorial sky could become a powerful local and universal symbol. Cloaking the ice cliffs of Kilimanjaro would not just borrow the techniques of an art installation — it would be a work of art in itself. Done properly, it would be a preservation of beauty that is itself, beautiful.
Voting With Their Feet
According to this story, as much as 20 percent of Zimbabweans have tried to find sanctuary in a neighboring country. But getting over the border and making a living isn't easy.
Lift Every Voice...
Tom Tomorrow blogpal Bob Harris really digs how the South African rugby team sings the national anthem:
I only wish you all could have seen the South African side singing its anthem before each of its games. This was something beyond words for me: the entire team, multiple cultures, side by side, black and white -- all belting out words of peace and freedom in four languages (Xhosa, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English), merging multiple melodies and diverse histories into a single voice, sung with a pride and sincerity and optimism that brought me to tears, every time.
Sure beats rugby songs' usual celebration of drunkeness, buggery and violence.
Panning the Pan-Africans
I've never been real keen on the idea of Pan-Africanism. Let's start with its political manifestation, which proposes that the continent's woes could be ended by erasing the colonial borders and establishing a "United States of Africa." OK, that's a pretty reductive summary, but then, Pan-Africanism is a pretty reductive ideology. African nations do have a lot of common economic and political problems, many which have their roots in the colonial past and have been exacerbated by subsequent decades of misrule and conflict. Yet to think that the solution is to remove the arbitrary and artificial colonial boundaries and replace them with an arbitrary and artificial single entity is misguided. The kind of top-down organization neeed to make a united Africa work would only further concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. It's hard enough for ordinary Africans to get services from their local governments. So how would a continental capitol in Abuja or Addis or (shudder) Tripoli fairly represent a farmer in Angola?
Political Pan-Africanism is predicated on cultural Pan-Africanism, the notion that all Africans have a shared culture and identity. All that's preventing a giant 700-million person love fest are those pesky colonial borders and ethnic divisions that keep everyone from realizing their common Africanness. Without denying the legacy of divide and rule, there is something to be said for preserving the diversity of African culture. To me, a culturally united Africa sounds like an Africa where small languages and ethnic groups would have to bow before a homogenous mass culture. Instead of appreciating and accepting cultural differences, Pan-Africanists seem to advocate a kind of diluted, amalgamated form of African culture. When the West does this, it's called cultural imperialism.
Anyway, all this Pan-African stuff is a bit too pie in the sky for me. University of Namibia prof Tee Ngugi just got back from a Pan-Africanist conference in Wisconsin and
had this to say:
Yet, despite its intellectual and logistical success, I felt that in this conference, as in others attempting to discuss Africa, the continent had become abstracted.
In other words, let's deal with the problems at hand before we start arguing over who will be the first president of the U.S. of Africa...
I sensed a disconnection between the Africa of the conference and the Africa lived by Africans in the villages and towns.
As I sat there listening to all these presentations, it was difficult for me to see the presentation of Africa's real problems and concrete proposals to address them.
Africa - it seems to me - has become an academic or even ideological abstraction, so that, for example, one will hear talk of African unity, but a discussion of practical ways to overcome problems attendant to such an enterprise is absent.
I think Africa's ideology of change must begin - perhaps paradoxically - to de-ideologise the discussion of Africa, and to de-romanticise our culture and our societies.
It is only through eyes unblinkered by ideology and not made dreamy by romantic notions, that we can soberly diagnose Africa and make correct prescriptions.
Armed and Dangerous?
Reports of a new armed anti-Mugabe movement in Zimbabwe are circulating. According to a British activist, the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement has thousands of members, drawn from the police and military. There are reportedly no links to the MDC. Whether this is hype and whether this is a good thing remain to be seen. This could easily be used by Mugabe as an excuse for a further crackdown.
(No) Relief Map
The BBC has posted an interactive map showing the spread of AIDS in Africa (and around the world).
Tales of child slaves being used in Nigerian granite and sand mines. The survivors spoke to The Beeb.
One of the recently rescued children, Macenia Boha, says they were beaten if they did not work hard enough and also if they asked for food, even if they were hungry.
"You are always hungry," he said.
"They are bad people. They did bad things to us."
Macenia is lucky to have lived to tell his story.
A number of children are known to have died in the forest. Alexis Kesinu, who is about 12-years-old, says while he was in the forest he saw six children die.
He said the "masters" would not let the children take any time off, even if they were ill.
"When they went back to work they died," he said.
Last night, I was lucky enough to see Cesaria Evora perform for the second time. It was a wonderful show, though I recall the previous one being more lively, thanks to a larger band. Evora, who doesn't speak English, was charming and almost shy last time around. This time, she was more confident, but also less aware of the audience, for better or worse. Once again, she took an on-stage cigarette break halfway through the set, demonstrating that not all heavy smokers are destined to hack up gravel. Which brings us to her voice-- soothing, haunting, almost impossibly perfect.
I was also happy to learn that Evora has become the UN World Food Program's "ambassador against hunger". WFP feeds 100,000 Cape Verdean children every day.
Turn That Garbage Up!
This sounds neat: Sotho Sounds, a band from Lesotho that plays instruments made from found objects and junk. They recently made a big splash at the WOMAD festival in the UK.
Back to Basics
Why Africa matters:
"The politics are very interesting, not because they are nice but because they are so consequential," said Jeffrey Herbst, a political scientist at Princeton. "To say that the leader of Zimbabwe has driven millions of people into malnutrition in a country that should be exporting food is unbelievable. No matter how you feel about George Bush, you can't say he has affected people like that."
And Africa matters to more young people. Colleges are expanding their African Studies programs, according to the New York Times. This is partly due to increased interest from students (mostly white, notably). For example, more are studying in Africa. Still, it's not a lot: only 14,500 did semesters in Africa in 2001, about 3 percent of total study abroad. But those who go, come back with a more realistic view of the region.
Such issues are drawing in scholars like the economist Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a United Nations adviser, who said, "From the point of view of economic development, Africa is the most challenging place in the world."
And some academics say that Africa challenges their skills and what they think they know.
"Africa makes us look stupid," said Robert H. Bates, a political scientist at Harvard. "It makes us realize that our assumptions require re-examination and reformulation."
As one prof observes, "Once students visit Africa, they generally have a less romantic notion of the continent and want to learn more and stay connected. They realize that many of the things they are studying are not intellectual abstractions but are life and death issues for real people." I think that sums up why so many people who go to Africa in their teens and 20s retain a lifelong connection to the places they've been. Contrast that with people who spend semesters in, say, France.
Tea for Two
So now the BBC's getting in on the tea vs. AIDS story. I don't have a problem with legitimate research into the medicinal properties of green tea or other herbs. What I have a problem with is people who would hawk their untested products as cure-alls to people with serious ailments. (See yesterday's post on HIV-fighting tea.)
Yes, We Have No...
Former Zimbabwean president Canaan Banana has died. Though he's now known for his recent sodomy conviction by the famously homophobic Mugabe government, once his main claim to fame was his appealingly punworthy name. It's no surprise, then, that in 1983 Zimbabwe made it illegal to mock the president.
Update: From Mental Acrobatics: the ever-tasteful Prince Philip once asked Banana, "Did you come on your own or are there a bunch of you?" But, as MA rightly notes, Banana also had a disntinguished career despite the liberties taken with his name.
Stupidite Sans Frontieres
I wasn't planning on seeing "Beyond Borders," the latest Angelina Jolie vehicle. Now my suspicions are confirmed. NGO types aren't happy with the movie's depiction of aid workers as sexy CIA gun runners. The aid workers aren't the only ones who look dumb in the movie:
[Steve] Hansch, a researcher at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration in Washington, slammed the film's depiction of Ethiopians, Chechens and Cambodians as either passive "victims" dependent on their "white-skinned saviors" or brutal but incompetent warlords.
PS: On a related note, Harry Shearer's Le Show had the following faux-NPR funding credit yesterday: "Borders Without Doctors-- the bookstore that sounds like a humanitarian group."
I swear that the other day, the advertising bar that hovers over this blog featured an ad hawking an herbal tea with anti-HIV powers. I haven't seen it since, so maybe I misread what I saw. Has anyone esle seen this ad? If it's real, Google's ad department should invest in a bullshit/fraud detector.
Update: Found it! The ad reappeared and linked to this spiel:
REVIVO is developed in Southern China where HIV/AIDS has become a serious epidemic, starting years ago through migrant workers to Thailand. There, in Northern Thailand, the medicine has been tested first and is since then becoming very popular not only because it is the least expensive of all available drugs but also because it is restoring the immune system function of the body so efficiently that in the majority of patients the CD4 counts are getting back to normal within 1 to 3 months, and a large number of viral secondary infections are cured at the same time.
Sure. And I've got a case of Pearl Omega I'd like to sell you.
Nujoma to Take Supporting Role?
Namibia's Sam Nujoma has been vague on whether he's running for a fourth term, a move that would qualify him for the President for Life Club. The New African magazine claims Nujoma assured it, "No fourth term for me." Let's hope so. The Namibian, not one of Nujoma's biggest fans, thinks the New African piece is just a glossy puff job. It also describes his recent autobiography in terms that remind me of reviews of Hillary Clinton's book:
Nothing in his book 'Where Others Wavered' tells us anything about the heart and soul of the man who is President.
I doubt whether the film will be anything other than a straight hagiography. But I hope it's simply an ego-gratifying tribute to a retired statesman rather than propaganda for the permanent resident of the State House. Either way, its producer promises that it will be a “dramatic, action-packed true life story.”
It is a clinical, almost detached account of the struggle for Namibian Independence: the 'official' version of the struggle.
Hopefully, the film will give us something more.
The Washington Post reports on Kenya's new hip literary magazine, Kwani?. It's evidence of a post-Moi cultural thaw. And it sounds pretty promising:
Kenyans say the energetic and provocative 291-page quarterly called Kwani? -- which means So? in Sheng, a slang mix of English, Swahili and several tribal languages -- is an exciting sign of new freedom for writers. Booksellers used to be terrified to sell anything more contentious then East African coffee-table volumes on wildlife or the commissioned and glowing biography of the autocratic former president, Daniel arap Moi. [...]
"It's been such a long time for writers in Kenya," said Yvonne Owuor, who won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for a story about Rwandan refugees in Nairobi published in the literary journal's first issue. "For political reasons, I feel so strongly there was an aching depression that made it difficult to be creative. People lost hope. They said, 'Why bother?'
"But now there's a wonderful energy, and a lot of outsiders feel it," she said as she drank a beer alongside her editor. "It's infectious. We aren't going to wait for the government to change." [...]
The magazine includes photography, poetry and short stories, capturing the energy of the Nairobi art scene's urbane youth, who are known as hipsters. In the diverse mix is a dialogue among women at a Nairobi hair salon in 1970 discussing their role in society; a satirical essay on how to become a macho European Kenyan, known here as a Kenyan Cowboy; and a short story about a coastal romance in Mombasa.
"We want to be relevant," said Kairo Kiarie, a marketing executive for Kwani? "For so long the older generation dominated. Now, young people out there have worldviews that are very different."
Meanwhile, Outside the Bubble...
The situation in northern Uganda is not getting any better: 18 years of civil war, thousands of children kidnapped as soldiers or sex slaves, a million people displaced. It's far worse than Iraq, says one UN representative. But in our "one international hot spot at a time, please" culture, it will be hard to get Americans interested, much less involved. We don't like to think too much about African conflicts unless they relate to our (often self-interested) concerns. This is a lesson for liberals and conservatives alike; as the UN guy notes, Iraq is not the center of the world. For those of us who opposed the war in Iraq and question the handling of the current "slog", Uganda is a reminder that things elsewhere are pretty horrible and deserve our attention. For those who supported the war in Iraq and the administration's post-war policies, Uganda is a reminder that in much of the world, our "war on terror" is meaningless. Places like Uganda should matter to us, not just when they involve WMDs or al Qaeda or our soldiers getting killed. I'm not arguing for intervention, just a bit of perspective.
As heard on NPR this weekend, David Robinson, son of Jackie, runs a fair-trade coffee farm in Tanzania. His Sweet Unity Farms sounds like a cool outfit. Let me know if you try their beans.
Italy is returning a stolen/looted/borrowed/appropriated (choose one) obelisk to Axum, where it rightfully belongs. Wonder what other souveninrs Mussolini took from Ethiopia.
Coming Back to D6
A few families will be moving back to Cape Town's District Six, years after being forcibly evicted by the apartheid government. D6, as it was known, was an interracial neighborhood until it was declared whites-only and paved over. If you want to know more, check out the District Six Museum or try to find a copy of Richard Rive's Buckingham Palace, District Six.
Down on the Farm
No farm invasions in Namibia... for now. Of course, the land issue isn't going away, but hopefully a better solution can be found.
Firebrands & Brand America
An interesting Q&A with George Packer, who wrote a nice piece in a recent New Yorker about the Ivory Coast and the influence of American pop culture on its young militants. He's got a good way of making the situation in West Africa relevant without dumbing it down.
You worked in the Peace Corps. How good a job is America doing, through the U.S. Information Service or other means, of conveying a broader picture of AmericaÂ—one that would, for instance, include Thomas Jefferson as well as Jay-Z?
America has done a terrible job in this department. We've shut down embassy cultural centers all over the world-- which shows that, if we are an empire, we're an incompetent one. When I was in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer, the American Cultural Center was a place where Togolese spent hours reading, studying, and just breathing in the air of a country they knew they wanted to experience. The one in Lome still exists, but I know that we've cut back in other countries. After the September 11th attacks, when exporting democratic ideas became a matter of national security, the State Department hired a Madison Avenue executive to "brand" America for Arabs and others. But I think we've left the war of ideas open to our bitterest critics and enemies. The success of our pop culture in places like Ivory Coast shouldn't provide any comfort at all. If anything, it's part of the same phenomenon.
Dr. Death Back in Court
Well, not entirely. But the South African government is trying to appeal his acquittal. It may not be easy. Worth keeping an eye on.
Habesha Patch Dolls
Ethiopia is getting its first mass-produced doll, named Senzero. And the TV ads were inspired by the infamous "dancing baby":
The boy-- who on screen is computer generated-- has a traditional Ethiopian haircut, and just wears a pair of white cotton shorts with the Ethiopian colours as trimming.
Well, at least li'l Senzero is a heckuva lot cuter than that creepy Baby Chacha. Hope this doesn't mean Ethiopia's going to do its own version of "Ally McBeal."
Senzero does a traditional Ethiopian dance-- the boy moves his shoulders up and down, pushes his head backwards and forwards, and lifts his knees in the air in the style of dancers from the west of the country-- with Ethiopian countryside scenes rolling across the background.
[Says the inventor:] "First of all I saw Baby Chacha, which is a dancing boy and I was dreaming to have an Ethiopian boy to be dancing the same."
Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is perhaps the best current illustration of how a liberation movement can become the very thing it ostensibly fought to overthrow. Revolutionaries turning their back on their revolutionary ideals is nothing new, but I find it especially disheartening in the context of post-apartheid nations like Zimbabwe and Namibia. As Henning Melber writes in the current Pambazuka newsletter, there may be some structural reasons for this:
[A]rmed liberation struggles operating along military lines in secret underground conditions were not suitable breeding grounds for establishing democratic systems of governance. To be successful, the forms of resistance employed in the struggle were themselves organised on hierarchical and authoritarian lines. In this sense, then, the new societies carried within them essential elements of the old system. Thus it should come as no surprise that aspects of the colonial system have reproduced themselves in the struggle for its abolition and subsequently, in the concepts of governance applied in post-colonial conditions.
Some might argue that these activists-turned-authoritarians were never committed to the ideals they espoused in the first place, that their talk of democracy and human rights was just window dressing for their real ambitions. Perhaps. The ideals behind the Southern African liberation movements were real enough, but they were twisted by circumstance. Note the difference between Nelson Mandela and Sam Nujoma, who were more or less part of the same generation of anti-apartheid activists. Mandela was effectively removed from the ANC's leadership before its many years as an underground militant group, and thus emerged from prison with much of his democratic ideals intact. Nujoma, who headed SWAPO in exile and oversaw its military campaign against South Africa, eventually became something more like a warlord.
The same could be said for Mugabe. Ultimately, I think this pattern is as much a question of psychology as structure.
Update: For a first-hand account of one observer's disillusionment with the direction of another liberated state, read Dan Connell's lengthy (but worth it) reflection on Eritrea.
Nimerudi! (I'm back!)
Phew-- looks like quite a lot of cobwebs have accumulated here while I went on hiatus. Well, there's a little touch-up to be done around the old blog, but I hope to be posting more consistently in the days ahead.