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Africa

The dark wine of Patrick’s country

Thursday, 16 March, 2017 0 Comments

“I’ve a thirst on me I wouldn’t sell for half a crown.
– Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.
– Wine of the country, says he.
– What’s yours? says Joe.
– Ditto MacAnaspey, says I.
– Three pints, Terry, says Joe.”

The Guinness stout that nourished those Dublin characters in the “Cyclops” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses has been sold in Africa since 1827. Today, 40 percent of worldwide Guinness volume is brewed in Africa and the continent’s biggest markets are Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Uganda and Namibia. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinness is produced by the Bralima brewery in Kisangani.

Talking of the Congo, the Sapeurs (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes) are a group of tastemakers and elegant people who turn the art of dressing into a cultural statement. When these men go out on the town, the streets of Brazzaville are their fashion runway. Afterwards, they enjoy a bottle or two of the wine of the country.


And where will the Tunisians go?

Thursday, 3 September, 2015 0 Comments

Back in June, a young Tunisian Islamist arrived at a tourist beach in Sousse, on the Gulf of Hammamet, which is a part of the Mediterranean. “In the midday sun, Seifeddine Rezgui pulled a Kalashnikov from a parasol and opened fire on the beach, sending holidaymakers fleeing for their lives. He threw explosives at the pool area before continuing inside the Imperial Marhaba hotel,” reported the BBC. By the time the police shot him, he had murdered 38 tourists. Three months earlier, Islamist terrorists killed 22 people in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Michael J. Totten visited Sousse recently and his post, How to Destroy a City in Five Minutes, is chilling. It is especially relevant in light of the crises that are engulfing North Africa and their knock-on consequences for Europe. Snippet:

“Hotels are laying off workers. Shops are empty and many will have to be closed. The city is reeling with feelings of guilt and anxiety. Guilt because one of their own murdered guests, the gravest possible offense against the ancient Arab code of hospitality, and anxiety because — what now? How will the city survive? How will all the laid-off workers earn a living with their industry on its back? Sousse without tourists is like Hollywood without movies and Detroit without automobile manufacturing.

Even Tunisia’s agriculture economy is crashing. Prices are down by 35 percent because the resorts don’t need to feed tourists anymore.”

What will become of the the unemployed Tunisian hotel workers? How will the country’s agricultural labourers survive the winter? Despite the risks, crossing the Mediterranean may be their best option. The question then is how should they be classified: migrants in search of work or refugees fleeing the barbarism of ISIS?


Millions of migrants are on the march

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015 0 Comments

“It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next 20 years. Of these, at least 200 million will be young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.” So wrote Massimo Nava in Corriere della Sera a week ago.

The European Union is deeply divided about how to deal with the massive migration crisis that’s unfolding on its shore, in its mountains and at its train stations. Border controls are being blatantly ignored and policy is being made up on the fly. The proverb becomes reality: “Every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost).” Example: A law aimed at discouraging refugees from settling in Denmark comes into effect today.

The plight of millions of human beings, exploited by traffickers and terrorized by religious fanatics, is distressing and only a person with a heart of stone would deny refuge to the exhausted and the traumatized, but beyond the individual and group suffering there’s a bigger challenge that demands an urgent, global response. The mass migration we are currently witnessing is a consequence of the real-time disintegration of states in the Middle East and North Africa. If this is not addressed, these endless waves of the displaced will erode the stability of the host countries. Such instability would turn Europe into a very disagreeable place, for both natives and migrants.

Those who find this kind of scenario apocalyptic, should note that countries and federations that wish to protect their sovereignty and citizens (the real purpose of government, after all) must control their borders. This does not exclude sympathy for those fleeing failed states, but the solution is to stabilize and rebuild failed states, not accept massive, unplanned shifts in population.

If the citizens of Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Bangladesh and all the other places that people are fleeing from cannot have decent lives at home, they’ll try to find better ones abroad. Unless Brussels, Washington, the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN co-operate on this emergency, the situation is going to get much more frightening and Raspail’s fiction will become fact.

Syria


North and South

Saturday, 16 May, 2015 0 Comments

Combine Mozambique, Norway, Zimbabwe and Sweden and you get Monoswezi. Underpin the vocals of Hope Masike with the tenor sax of Hallvard Godal, add in mbira and bass and you get a North-South soundscape that’s traditional and modern, African and European and unique. Matatya is taken from the album Monoswezi Yanga, which will be released by the World Music Network on 25 May.


The Innovation Prize for Africa Awards

Monday, 11 May, 2015 0 Comments

Tomorrow and on Wednesday, The Innovation Prize for Africa Awards ceremony will be held in Skhirat, Morocco. A record 925 applications from 41 countries were submitted and the jury has whittled the list down to 10 nominees. Marc Arthur Zang from Cameroon is one of the finalists and his idea will be of particular interest to Mrs Rainy Day and her colleagues in cardiology:

The cardio-pad: “An affordable tablet that records and processes the patient’s ECG (heart signal) before transferring it to a remote station using mobile phone networks. The device can be used in village hospital and clinic settings in the absence of a cardiologist. ECG results can be downloaded on a tablet by the cardiologist. The examination is then interpreted using cardio-pad’s computer-assisted diagnostic embedded application, then results and prescription transmitted to the nurse performing the procedure. This will ensure effective monitoring of heart patients living in rural areas with limited or no access to cardiologists.”

For Jean Claude Bastos de Morais, founder of the African Innovation Foundation, the key word is ecosystem. “Innovation thrives when people are connected, and when they are connected ecosystems are born,” he writes. IPA “By supporting innovation ecosystems, we collectively contribute to building African innovation economies. I believe it’s achievable (and I’d go as far as to say in the very near future), if African leaders, business communities and investors can take a step back, observe the strengths and gaps particular to their nation or region, and then accordingly mobilize knowledge, expertise and funds where required.”


The Nigeria of Ben Okri

Sunday, 15 March, 2015 0 Comments

On 28 March, Nigeria will elect a president. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south of the country, is facing a strong challenge from Muhammadu Buhari, who is popular in the mainly Muslim north. John Hare was a district officer for both the colonial British and independent Nigerian governments and his essay, How Northern Nigeria’s Violent History Explains Boko Haram, is a poignant and troubling overview of nation’s past and present. Frankie Edozien, the director of Reporting Africa at New York University, looks at the pre-election landscape and concludes: Nigeria can beat Boko Haram with mercenaries but it won’t win the vote for Jonathan.

Jimi Agbaje

All this brings us to Ben Okri, the Nigerian poet and novelist, who was born on this day in 1959. He’s one of the country’s foremost writers and a key figure in what has been labeled African Traditional Religion realism. He won the Booker Prize in 1991 with The Famished Road, which is set against a background where two opposing political parties try to bribe or coerce people to vote for them. Despite Nigeria’s woes, Ben Okri believes.

The Awakening Age

O ye who travel the meridian line,
May the vision of a new world within you shine.

May eyes that have lived with poverty’s rage,
See through to the glory of the awakening age.

For we are all richly linked in hope,
Woven in history, like a mountain rope.

Together we can ascend to a new height,
Guided by our heart’s clearest light.

When perceptions are changed there’s much to gain,
A flowering of truth instead of pain.

There’s more to a people than their poverty;
There’s their work, wisdom, and creativity.

Along the line may our lives rhyme,
To make a loving harvest of space and time.

Ben Okri (1959 – )

Kate Henshaw


The sound of lesser conflicts

Saturday, 7 February, 2015 0 Comments

High-stakes talks last night between Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and François Hollande failed to produce an agreement to end the fighting in Ukraine. Attention turns now the annual Munich Security Conference in the hope that some kind of deal can be hammered out over the weekend. Meanwhile, the fighting in Mali continues.

At least 10 people have died so far this week in the country’s Tabankort region during skirmishes between the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and the rival Tuareg Self-Defense Group. And in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, French troops killed a dozen Islamic terrorists. This is the world from which Tamikrest has emerged. The Tuareg band, led by Ousmane Ag Mossa, sings in Tamashek as it mixes traditional Malian music with Western blues and rock influences. The sound offers a glimmer of hope in a region wracked by violence and plagued by despair.


Book of the Year: “Submergence” by J.M. Ledgard

Tuesday, 31 December, 2013 0 Comments
Book of the Year: “Submergence” by J.M. Ledgard

J.M. Ledgard leads a double life. As a journalist, he covers East Africa for The Economist, but he’s also a novelist and the multitasking narrator of Submergence, James More, reflects Ledgard’s twofold career. Ostensibly, he’s a water engineer based in Nairobi, but that’s just a cover for his activities as a British intelligence agent. When we meet him, he’s been captured by a Somalian affiliate of al-Qaeda, which keeps moving him back and forth across the bleak African terrain, trying to hide from American drones while planning jihad. James is sustained in his suffering by the memory of a brief affair in a hotel on the French Atlantic coast with Danielle Flinders, a brilliant and carnal bio-mathematician, who studies the luminous creatures of the ocean floor. As James sinks deeper into the desolation of his captivity, Danielle prepares for a dive that will take her to the extreme depths of the Atlantic. Submergence mixes language, science, politics, geography and love in a superb story about deserts, oceans, desire and terror.

Saif, the leader of the jihadist group, constantly talks of martyrdom. At one point, he says, “I expect to die soon. I welcome it. I expect you’ll be killed too. That is why I want you to convert to Islam.”
“No,” James said, firmly.

This exchange is followed by a truly extraordinary lyrical passage:

“There was no chance he would convert. It was not just a question of Islam, it was the way life was constructed. A man lived his threescore years and ten, less than a whale, less than a roughy fish, and the only way to come to terms with his mortality was to partake in something that would outlive him: a field cleared of stones, a piece of jewellery, a monument, a machine. Every man was a loyalist for what he knew. Even tramps fought for the tramping life. Life was too short for him to renounce the English parish church, once Catholic, with their knights’ tombs, prayer cushions, flower arrangements, the brass lectern in the shape of an eagle. No, the quiet of those places — the ancient front door, the graveyard, the meadow, the damp — gave him a sense of belonging. He was loyal to them. It was too late to abandon the English canon, from Chaucer to Dickens, the first World War poets, Graham Greene typing through the smog and the drizzle… He had said it before: he was an intelligence officer who reached out, spoke Arabic, read widely, but if the Crusades were invoked — and Saif was invoking them — then he was a Crusader. If he had to die at the hands of fanatics, he wished to remain familiar and coherent to those whom he loved and who loved him.”

J.M. Ledgard has partaken in something that will outlive him and he’s to be congratulated for writing such honest and moving prose. If, in 2014, we are to suffer pain and loss, let us remain familiar and coherent to those whom we love and who love us.

desert


Mandela’s long walk to freedom

Friday, 6 December, 2013 0 Comments

Given South Africa’s resources, the late Nelson Mandela had the power to become an even greater tyrant than Robert Mugabe. Instead, Mandela decided to become a secular saint. We can only hope that all leaders would act as he did. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, remaining there for the next 18 years. This snippet is from his Long Walk To Freedom:

“June and July were the bleakest months on Robben Island. Winter was in the air, and the rains were just beginning. It never seemed to go above forty degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the sun, I shivered in my light khaki shirt. It was then that I first understood the cliché of feeling the cold in one’s bones. At noon we would break for lunch. That first week all we were given was soup, which stank horribly. In the afternoon, we were permitted to exercise for half an hour under strict supervision. We walked briskly around the courtyard in single file.

Robben Island had changed since I had been there for a fortnight’s stay in 1962. In 1962, there were few prisoners; the place seemed more like an experiment than a full-fledged prison. Two years later, Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system. It was a hardship station not only for the prisoners but for the prison staff. Gone were the Coloured warders who had supplied cigarettes and sympathy. The warders were white and overwhelmingly Afrikaans-speaking, and they demanded a master-servant relationship. They ordered us to call them ‘baas,’ which we refused. The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.

From the first day, I had protested about being forced to wear short trousers. I demanded to see the head of the prison and made a list of complaints. The warders ignored my protests, but by the end of the second week, I found a pair of old khaki trousers unceremoniously dumped on the floor of my cell. No pin-striped three-piece suit has ever pleased me as much. But before putting them on I checked to see if my comrades had been issued trousers as well.

They had not, and I told the warder to take them back. I insisted that all African prisoners must have long trousers. The warder grumbled, ‘Mandela, you say you want long pants and then you don’t want them when we give them to you.’ The warder balked at touching trousers worn by a black man, and finally the commanding officer himself came to my cell to pick them up. ‘Very well, Mandela,’ he said, ‘you are going to have the same clothing as everyone else.’ I replied that if he was willing to give me long trousers, why couldn’t everyone else have them? He did not have an answer.”

Mandela


Word of the Year: littoralization

Wednesday, 20 November, 2013 0 Comments

We have to admit that “selfie” is not just a more popular choice, but it’s also easier to spell than “littoralization”. The phenomenon of people snapping smartphone self-portraits and then uploading the photos to social media websites is very much in synch with our narcissist times and research shows that the frequency of “selfie” in English increased by 17,000 percent in the last year. By choosing “selfie”, the Oxford Dictionaries were reflecting the reality of a language that’s being driven by innovation.

And “littoralization”? It means the tendency of things to cluster on coastlines. Today, 80 percent of our planet’s population lives within 100 kilometres of a coastline, and of the world’s ten largest cities, all but two are on a coastline or a coastal delta. The term came to our attention when reading Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen, and he gives it a central role when explaining the origins of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when Pakistani terrorists killed 164 people in a merciless crime against civil society. Kilcullen writes, “the attack could only have occurred in a highly networked, urban, littoral environment — precisely the environment that that’s becoming the global norm.” After Mumbai, Kilcullen turns his attention to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, located on the Indian Ocean coast, and he introduces the reader to the word “urbophobia”, which was used by the Somali writer Nuruddin Farah when describing the state of the city. “If Mogadishu occupies an ambiguous space in our minds and hearts,” Farah wrote in 1988, “it is because ours is a land with an overwhelming majority of pastoralists, who are possessed of a deep urbophobia. Maybe this is why most Somalis do not seem unduly perturbed by the fate of the capital: a city broken into segments, each of them ruthlessly controlled by an alliance of militias.”

Further up the coast, another alliance of militias turned the town of Eyl into a pirate haven at the beginning of this century. The raiders would sail their hijacked ships to Eyl, take their hostages ashore and hold them until a ransom was paid. That was the piracy strategy for the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama but the crew thwarted the plan and the result is now showing in cinemas near you. Both Tom Hanks as the eponymous Captain Phillips and Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader Muse deliver fine performances in the film of the story. At one point, Captain Phillips says, “There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.” And Muse replies, “Maybe in America, maybe in America.” Which brings us back to littoralization and David Kilcullen, who lists the megatrends — population growth, urbanization, littoralization, and connectedness — that will “define the environment for future conflict, and for every other aspect of life, in the next generation. How do we react to this? How should we think about the coming environment, how can we prepare it, and what can we do about it?”


Kofi Awoonor, victim of Islamism

Thursday, 3 October, 2013 0 Comments

There’s a page on Wikipedia that lists “mortalities from battles and other individual military operations or acts of violence, sorted by death toll.” When it comes to the section titled “Terrorist attacks,” we can see that eight of the top 10 life-destroying atrocities are attributed to “Islamism”. With 67 victims, the 21 September massacre in the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi doesn’t make the top 100, but it is attributed to “Islamism” and among the victims was Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet and author who was attending a literary festival in Kenya at the time. These lines from his Songs of Sorrow are tragically prescient:

I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house;

When death, in the form of Islamism, made war upon the house of civilization in Nairobi and claimed the lives of children, women and an old poet from Ghana, the liberal elite could not bear to call out the culprit. The perpetrators cannot be called “terrorists”; we must use “militant” instead and rather than blame their religious perversion, the absurd Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian claimed that shopping malls are responsible for their murderous hatred:

“The modern urban obsession with celebrity buildings and high-profile events offers too many publicity-rich targets. A World Trade Centre, a Mumbai hotel, a Boston marathon, a Nairobi shopping mall are all enticing to extremists. Defending them is near impossible. Better at least not to create them. A shopping mall not only wipes out shopping streets, it makes a perfect terrorist fortress, near impossible to assault.”

Followers of Islam must finally confront and denounce the extremists who kill in the name of Allah. Until that happens, innocents will continue to suffer. Blaming shopping malls, hotels and marathons for the actions of the jihadists offers a cowardly fig leaf for terrorism and insults the memory of Kofi Awoonor, who once wrote: “On such a day who would dare think of dying? So much Freedom means that we swear we’ll postpone dying until the morning after.”