history channel perpetuates misperceptions of africa

Reminiscent of the 1800s, a new History Channel show describes a team of explorers, dressed in their colonial khaki, set out to discover the perils of the African continent.

Four modern-day explorers retrace the most famous search in history through 970 miles of hell. They face countless dangers from predators and insects to disease and nature’s own fury. Check out the television event of the summer!

Miles of hell in Africa, oh my! Don’t forget the natural danger!

Between Zanzibar and Ujiji, there are 970 miles of high seas, steep hillsides, scorching plains, fast-moving rivers and mud-filled swamps. Danger lurks around every corner, and any step could be their last.
(Expedition Africa, History Channel)

The webpage for the expedition show describes how the explorers will be following in the footsteps of the great explorers, “heroes” to some of these ‘modern-day’ explorers, Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone.

Stanley a Welsh journalist, who spent a number of years of his life in the US, is best known for finding Dr. Livingstone after he was thought lost in the African bush. Regarded as one of the premier African explorers, a little known fact about Stanley’s African exploration is that he laid the foundation, through his exploration, for the takeover of the Congo (now DRC) by King Leopold II of Belgium. The King was interested in spreading Western civilization and religion to the region as well as claim land. This has led to a still destabilized region where some of the longest running African conflicts are located. Allegedly his expeditions were marked by violence and brutality. He is quoted, “the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision.” On a health related note for the central African region, the spread of trypanosomiasis is attributed to the movements of Stanley’s enormous baggage train.

Livingstone’s African exploratory era was marked by the greatest European penetration of the continent. He began his African explorations as a Protestant missionary, but supposedly did not force his preaching on unwilling ears as his main interest was exploring. He was known to travel lightly and was able to negotiate with local chiefs. Livingstone was a man in love with the continent and popularized the search for the source of the Nile. After being ‘found’ by Stanley he refused to return without completing his mission. Just 50 years after his death, colonialism exploded across the continent and was able to penetrate further into the interior due to his work. However, this also allowed missionaries to provide education and health care services to more central Africans. Livingstone was also a staunch abolitionist and made many friends among the African chiefs and populations.

Both men are examples of the Western colonial mindset scarring the African continent. While Livingstone was perhaps a step forward in Western engagement of Africans, Stanley is far from a figure to emulate. The History Channel fails to take note of the important contributions these men made to the destruction of the continent. Instead they focus on the meeting of the two in a popular media tale of discovery in the African wilderness.

Four Westerners with varying experience with the African continent will be followed on their journey that will pit them against the harsh natural environments of Africa. But, this show isn’t about Africa, learning about African peoples, remembering African history or highlighting the difficulties faced in Africa. The show makes generalizations about the continent and perpetuates the myths of Africa as primarily a place of danger. It focuses on Africa as “the unknown, the interior of Tanzania.” If I’m not mistaken people have been living on the African continent longer than any other place on earth. It may be a dangerous, unknown hell full of nature to outsiders, but it is far from a mystery to those who live there. The show seems to be all about these four privileged individuals and the story of their personal journeys. The explorers are worried about mosquitos, disease, death, and surviving. Rightly so in some regards, but what if the story included the people that actually live there?

When will Africa cease to be represented solely by its nature, its dangers and its forgotten history?

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog.

Advertisements

burundi: the agricultural dilemma

Topping out at an HDI value of 169, the country of Burundi is far from attaining the coveted term of “developed.” Life expectancy sits at a young 44 years, adult literacy is about 60% of the country with school enrollment at just 36% of the population in either primary, secondary, or tertiary education, and Burundi’s GDP per capita wallows at $677. Burundi’s GDP is roughly $39,000 less that that of the US. ‘Why?’ you ask. Burundi has a history of ethnic conflict much like is neighbor Rwanda, it has faced overpopulation problems, and large numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Germany gained the Burundi region in the partitioning of Africa, however after the First World War the region was given to Belgium. As part of the Belgian Colonial Empire, Burundi remained apart from the clutches of colonialism. In this regard Burundi is unique because it is not a product of colonialism. The country was ruled by a monarchy with a dynasty of kings. Colonial Belgium made a pact with this dynasty in order to control the people, however this dynasty faced numerous coups and a fragile rule as the polarization of ethnic groups continued. Burundi gained independence in 1962, but did not democratically elect a President until 1993. The President was assassinated before his first 100 days in office were finished.

The unique conflicts that Burundi has faced created an interesting economic situation for the country as well. Agriculture is the main source of profit with over 90% of the country being subsistence farmers. Therefore Burundi’s import purchasing power relies heavily on the weather conditions for growing coffee and tea and the international prices for their top commodities. The Tutsi minority controls the government and benefits from the coffee trade at the expense of the Hutu minority (85% of population). Since ethnic tensions have subsided, civil war has ended, and political stability has returned aid flows have increased along with economic activity. However as the CIA World Fact Book states, “[…] underlying weaknesses – a high poverty rate, poor education rates, a weak legal system, and low administrative capacity – risk undermining planned economic reforms.”

Burundi could have benefited from the ‘development’ agreements of the various UN bodies, some failed and some still existing. UNCTAD seeks to promote “the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy.” Yet UNCTAD’s main activity is to gather information and data to promote policies that could possibly benefit ‘developing’ countries. As far as the NIEO, I have to agree, just this once, with the words of former President Reagan that the NIEO is dead. The NIEO began with great plans to bring multilateral policies to the ‘developing’ world. It would stabilize and raise the prices for ‘developing’ world commodities of the G-77, which are the countries relying on foreign exchange. This would have improved the purchasing power of ‘developing’ countries with the creation of a commodity trade market. Burundi would have especially benefited since it relies completely on the trade of coffee and tea. However the NIEO died when the G-77 made concessions in order to gain the support of the ‘developed’ world.

ISI and EOI are in direct competition, however EOI gains the upper hand in the way of success stories. ISI, although it relies on trade in the economy, is considered a development policy as it promotes a mercantilist idea of keeping trade local or within the country instead of importing goods. EOI is attributed to the success of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore with the dropping of tariffs, floating exchange rate, and government support of exports. Both policies, in the case of Burundi, are not feasible. Since Burundi relies on the coffee and tea trade and the majority of the population is farmers, the country cannot use ISI. Oddly enough the main import of Burundi is food due to the previous ethnic conflicts and flood of refugees. Switching to an economy of import substitution makes no sense. In the way of export-oriented policies Burundi is already there, but it does not hold the power to be able to influence the international prices.

Burundi remains extremely dependent on bilateral and multilateral aid from donors to deal with its economy and development issues. The country’s economy is not strong enough or diverse enough to support the country and the nearly seven million people it holds. Agriculture may still be the maim industry, but it has not been able to withstand the increasing population and civil war. There are a number of development trajectories in Burundi most facilitated by the World Bank. Projects currently active in the country deal with infrastructure, economic management and reform, agriculture rehabilitation, reintegration from conflict, and community and social development. These projects and goals are all positive in nature, but their effectiveness is yet to be seen as the country builds on its relatively new political stability.

Bibliography:
Human Development Indicators Country Fact Sheets: Burundi. UNDP. 2006. HDI http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/statistics/countries/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_USA.html. (date accessed 28 March 2007).

Burundi: Governments of the World. BookRags. 2006. . (date accessed 28 March 2007).

CIA World Fact Book: Burundi. CIA World Fact Book. 2007. . (date accessed 28 March 2007).

UNCTAD. 2007. . (date accessed 28 March 2007).

Sneyd, Adam. New International Economic Order (NIEO). McMaster University. 2004. . (date accessed 28 March 2007).

World Bank Projects and Operations. World Bank. 2007. . (date accessed 28 March 2007).

kenya’s political history of turmoil

If it happens in Africa it must just be the primal instinct based in tribalism. The mass media has been covering the situation in Kenya as a near exclusive tribal and ethnic conflict without accounting for the history of Kenya’s political turmoil and where ethnicity is put into a colonial context. The crisis in Kenya is not solely ethnic and tribal. It is a crisis based on democracy and fueled by past divisions created by British colonial rule.

What we have seen recently is a devolution of ‘democratic’ elections into ethnic conflict. The Presidential incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was made President in previous elections as the opposition candidate was declared unable to run by the constitution. Moving into the most recent elections Kibaki did not have the majority support. However, in the end tallies of votes Kibaki came out ahead of the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. Odinga was running with his Orange Democratic Movement behind him. European Union observers declared Kibaki’s second term as stolen when the national vote counts came back different than the district vote counts, putting Kibaki as the winner. What we then saw was a devolution of a ‘stable democracy’ in to “tribal” conflict. But, before we can even begin to grasp what this means in Kenya we have to examine and understand Kenya’s history of colonial violence and created ethnic tension.

In 1888, the British took over the area known as Kenya as part of the 1885 Berlin Conference that divided the land area of Africa between the major European powers. The Germans formerly controlled the land. The colony known as British East Africa remained uninvolved in World War I. By the twentieth century 30,000 white British settlers began establishing themselves in the fertile highlands growing coffee and tea and commanding unjust political and economic power in the country. The highlands had traditionally been home to the Kikuyu people, who were forced off of their land and had to then seek jobs on their own former land under the employ of white settler farmers for a meager wage of newly imposed British currency. This injustice set off the start of the Mau-Mau rebellion lead by the Kikuyu people and the Land and Army Freedom movement in 1952. The country was placed under martial-rule. The British Long Rifles, the Home Guard (Kenyan soldiers), and the British army backed by Winston Churchill‘s command came together strongly against the movement and killed 42% of the rebel fighters. The capture and execution of Dedan Kimathi in 1956, the Mau Mau leader, essentially ended the rebellion. The Kikuyu rebellion was destroyed. The British consciously divided the Kikuyu and Luo people for fear that they would be too strong of a unifying force against their colonial empire. The Kenyan elites were able to take power with the election of the Kikuyu elite, Jomo Kenyatta.

The first elections in Kenya were in 1957. To the dismay of the British, the election was won by Kenyatta backed by his Kenya African National Union (KANU) party instead of the ‘moderate’ Africans the British had hoped for, but this was their own product of favoring the Kikuyu. Upon Kenyatta’s death Daniel arap-Moi took power, stepping up from his Vice Presidential role. His succession to president was strongly opposed by the Kikuyu elite, known as the Kiambu Mafia. He held power in uncontested single-party elections from 1978 until 2002. Moi dismissed political opponents and consolidated his power. He put down Kikuyu coup attempts through execution of coup leaders. Moi was central in the perpetuating Kenyatta’s single-party state, reflected in the constitution. In his 2002 and 2007 election wins, Moi exploited the mixed ethnic composition of Kenya and with a divided opposition of smaller tribes – Moi won. Moi represented an ethnic minority, the Kalenjin, that kept the Kikuyu out of power for many years. I am not sure if we are to assume the role of Moi as Vice President to Kenyatta was to appease the ethnic minority, but the Kikuyu’s role as a benefiting elite was lost with Moi’s succession.

Kenya’s 36 million people are divided among more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own identity, cultural traditions and practices, and separate language. The main groups are Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), Kalenjin (12%) and Kamba (11%), according to government figures. Now we see the colonial policy of “divide and conquer” lives on. The tradition of corruption in Kenyan politics continues and Kikuyu is pitted against the various ethnic groups. However, this is a created ethnic conflict in a country where ethnicity and politics are conjoined. Kenyatta was a Kikuyu elite created by the British colonialism, Moi was essentially a dictator for 30 years, and Kibaki undemocratically stole power and now for a second time. Instead of a conflict rooted in tribalism this conflict, “suggests that the undemocratic historical trajectory that Kenya has been moving along was launched at the inception of British colonial rule more than a century ago.” What is most surprising is not that there is now an ethnic conflict in Kenya, but that it did not happen sooner.

Surprisingly, CNN acknowledged the roots of Kenya’s ethnic political troubles. Neither candidate in Kenya’s elections really represented the people or true democracy. Odinga’s (Luo) Orange Democratic Movement was supported by Luhya and he promised to appoint a Luhya deputy if elected. Kibaki’s government has had troubles and scandals dealing with corruption and graft since beginning in 2002. The BBC also gives a more accurate account of the conflict in Kenya. They suggest that the headlines talking of tribalism should better read: “Tribal differences in Kenya, normally accepted peacefully, are exploited by politicians hungry for power who can manipulate poverty-stricken population.” But no one wants to read that. The main stream media has decided to final cover Africa as a front page story only because it provides a striking headline. As Kikuyu flee, the news wants to make Kenya out to be another Rwanda, but I wouldn’t venture so far to say that it has become that terrible. This sentiment of violence influences writers at every level. One student writer can only focus on the violence in her article.

The US has condemned the violence in Kenya. “We condemn the violence that occurred in Kenya as its citizens await these election results, and call on all Kenyans to remain calm while the vote tabulation process is concluded,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement. The US would like to say how terrible it is that Kenyans have been denied democracy. However, I am not sure how we can claim to know democracy. Just as Kenyans, we too have never known real democracy in this two-party system full of government control and corruption. My swahili professor is from western Kenya, he is a Luo. The other day I asked him if his family was safe. He said they were, they had fled soon enough to miss the violence. I asked him about the history of ethnic favoring in Kenya and he said that it all started with Kenyatta. While this all goes on – colonial legacies of ethnic tension, stolen democracy, and a fear of continued turmoil, the US presidential primaries plug along. We as US citizens can only dream of democracy. While Obama, with Kenyan descent, gains popularity and primaries his family in Kenya watches. Will there be democracy gained anywhere? Will stolen votes bring conflict in the US too or maybe we do not have a knowledgeable enough electorate to protest.

death by modernization

According to National Geographic, “Every 14 days a language dies. By the year 2100, over half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth — many of them never yet recorded — will likely disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and how the human brain works.”

It has always been my opinion that language is free and language is fluid, but those two conditions cannot be met if a language dies. But why are languages dying? Both a difficult and nearly obvious answer exists. Earth is slowly developing into a single civilization. Traditional societies and languages are dying; disappearing and waves of rapid modernization aid in the erosion of tradition. The answer cannot be left at just that however, because there are many reasons, effects, and causes intertwined in the death of a language.

The most common ’cause of death’ comes from globalization – colonization and the growth capitalism. Dominant languages forced on populations by colonization or global capitalism leave the traditional language to wither in the dust. Children then learn the dominant language and miss the traditions and histories of their traditional people since language is a huge factor in history and tradition. As with the growth of global capitalism, the rate of death for smaller languages is increasing rapidly.

There are programs working to document and revitalize dying languages. This past year my swahili professor, Deo Ngonyani, traveled to northern Malawi to learn and document a disappearing language. He has previously documented two other languages, but these were not in danger of dying out. He was given a grant for a few years study of the language and culture of the traditional people associated with the language. There is also an organization called Living Tongues, which is associated with National Geographic Enduring Languages program. Living Tongues works with communities to document and preserve languages in danger of dying out. They enter communities and train the people to document their own language. Intellectual property rights of the community is the primary concern of Living Tongues. The communities grant Living Tongues permission to document and disseminate the research they gain from the endangered communities. Living Tongues has said that extinction of traditional and ancestral languages is one of the greatest socio-cultural threats of the 21st Century.

Dominant languages become dominant by way of oppressive structures. It is difficult to say that this would not have happened – that civilizations would have developed differently, but we cannot try to rewrite the past. With booming technology, traditional societies are becoming whitewashed at the expense of political and economic gain. In the course of this boom entire histories and cultures of people are effectively erased. Can you imagine being erased from the face of the earth?

taking another lesson from the french

Our long time allies, in this day is added to the long list of former friends, the french have not surprisingly been turned away by the near idiotic foreign policies of the Bush Administration. However, yet again we stand to learn a lesson from the French. The newly elected leader of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is setting a shining example of a how to build a foreign policy with meaning. Even as the leader of a former colonial power, he is showing the US how to have a policy in the African continent that is not all words. A policy that is not bent on capitalist gains and military conquest in the name of fighting terrorism.

All this as President Bush is attacked at the UN General Assembly for being a hypocrite of upholding human rights and promoting democracy. Bush is railed for furthering the ‘industry of death’ with his wars and ‘arms race.’ I hope that the calls of a new arms race are inflated, but world leaders make a valid point that Bush, who is supposed to represent freedom and equality for all as President of the USA, has come to represent a harbringer of death and a squanderer of basic freedom. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who by no means has a clean record, called out Bush saying that he had, “much to atone for and little to lecture us on.” While Mugabe is not a great leader by any stretch of the imagination, he does make a good point and thankfully was not afraid to call Bush out on his hypocrisy.

Bush’s lack of a foreign policy is challenged as France builds with positive steps. Sarkozy, elected in May, promised to “rupture” every issue. This rupture has been made very clear in ending the corrupt dealings with former African colonies. In his campaign Sarkozy called for a “healthier relationship” with Africa. When he traveled to the continent in July he called for a “partnership of equal nations.” While he goes along with the typical pitfall of referring to Africa as a monolithic mass, he has made great strides to create this health relationship and build the partnership of equals. He has not limited his Africa focus to former colonies and welcomes the interest of the US and China in Africa, saying that it was a good thing. I am not so sure how I agree with that statement, but maybe he can lend some advice.

From the BBC News article:

“This policy – derogatively called “Francafrique” and epitomised by Mr Sarkozy’s immediate predecessors Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac – was in many ways an extension of colonial rule. Personal links between French and African leaders bound Paris to friendly regimes which were given protection in exchange for political allegiance, votes at the UN, and deals with French firms that were lucrative for all concerned.”

Many are not so sure that Sarkozy will act the way he speaks and a secret arms deal in Tripoli, Libya reminded many of the African policies old ways. However others take Sarkozy’s words seriously. Unlike past presidents and policies, Sarkozy has no personal connections in Africa. This had made past presidents reluctant to call out corruption or to work on an equal footing with their African counterparts. France definitely has a shift in their African policy. Over the past decade France withdrew peacekeeping troops from Africa and cut aid to failing economies. Now France is supplying over half the troops for a UN-EU peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. France has a military base in Chad. The president of Chad, Idriss Deby, was reluctant to allow the UN force, but agreed when France became involved. Sarkozy has also taken a strong stance on the genocide in Darfur and called world leaders to step up.

Sarkozy is all about using diplomacy to get things done and it seems that this policy is working for France. He does not need to call an executive war and send in the troops when things don’t go the way he wants. Our foreign policy could take a lesson from this new french president, his diplomatic policies, and his efforts to build a better partnership with African governments and the world. France would be a great ally to have back after the Oval office is wiped clean.

what is a failed state?

After reading the question of the title, the first country that comes to mind is Somalia and a slew of African countries. Somalia always seems to be at the top of the list and always seems to fit the necessary criteria of a failed state no matter what happens. On returning from Ghana I was talking with my uncle about Africa and was very surprised about his views and ideas, especially when came to the subject of conflict. He wondered whether it would have made a difference if there had been no colonizers? Wouldn’t Africans still be fighting each other regardless of the colonial ‘divide and conquer’ strategy? Could it have been worse if the colonizers never ‘intervened?’

The failed states index states:

“For the second year in a row, Sudan tops the rankings as the state most at risk of failure. The primary cause of its instability, violence in the country’s western region of Darfur, is as well known as it is tragic. At least 200,000 people—and perhaps as many as 400,000—have been killed in the past four years by janjaweed militias armed by the government, and 2 to 3 million people have fled their torched villages for squalid camps as the violence has spilled into the Central African Republic and Chad. These countries were hardly pictures of stability prior to the influx of refugees and rebels across their borders; the Central African Republic plays host to a modern-day slave trade, and rebels attacked Chad’s capital in April 2006 in a failed coup attempt. But the spillover effects from Sudan have a great deal to do with the countries’ tumble in the rankings, demonstrating that the dangers of failing states often bleed across borders. That is especially worrying for a few select regions. This year, eight of the world’s 10 most vulnerable states are in sub-Saharan Africa, up from six last year and seven in 2005.”

Why is it that African countries grace the top of the list? This brings me back to my uncles pondering and the new myth of Africa. “Would Africans still be killing one another if European powers hadn’t ‘intervened’?” This is a difficult history to predict. From what I know of societies, kingdoms, and conflict in Africa I can venture to guess that the current political and conflict-related situations would not be worse. Africa consisted of a number of kingdoms and great societies. In the top failed state of Somalia there were consecutive kingdoms, sultanates, and rulers who conducted international trade with Asia and Europe. As in any region with multiple rulers and regions there was conflict over territory and resources. This was the same in Africa. Enter colonialism. Division of the territories of great kingdoms and peoples. Conquering of lands and resources as conflicts arose to fight the influences of colonialism, battle for resources taken away by colonialism, and heightened awareness of differences between ethnic groups and traditional territory. Africans were killing one another not because that was “what they did,” but because they were exploited, cheated, and decieved. Failed States may never have taken hold on the African continent if it hadn’t been for the wonderful legacy that colonial powers created and left behind.

It is important to note that Failed states are not restricted to sub-Saharan Africa as a few of the giants: China and Russia join with a group of Middle Eastern and former Soviet-block countries. The important thing to note is that the countries listed on the ‘Failed States Index’ have not yet failed.

imperialist footprints: the development story from the inside

Day 10 | May 21, 2007
We actually woke up on time today. It was probably because it was very difficult to sleep with sunburn. I kept tossing and turning to find the right angle to get some rest. Without the sheet it was too cold because of the AC on the sunburn, with the sheet it was too hot on some sunburned areas. Having sunburned hands I think s worse than sunburned feet or shoulders. When you even wash your hands it sends s shooting tingle through your hands. At any rate we were up and enjoyed toast and eggs for breakfast. It was a very overcast day and for once my sunglasses were not needed. Rain seemed imminent. The sky was so dark as we headed to the University for lecture. We arrived for lecture and the skies grew darker yet.

During lecture the lights flicked and soon the rain came pouring down. Our professor had to speak up to be heard over the roar of the rain on the roof. As the lecture progressed the rain seemed to increase and the ceiling began leaking profusely. Lecture was on colonialism again, with emphasis on de-colonizing and colonial legacies. Another day to zone out and relax. Sixty-eight years old, not an ounce of gray hair, and chasing 20 somethings across the African continent in his khakis, collared safari-style shirts, straw, old man hat, water bottle and bug spray clipped on his belt at the ready, he may not always hear us or understand what the Ghanaians say, but Ted Tims, Teddy Bear, T-bear will always be a great travel partner and has definitely, at his young age, not lost his passion and sense of adventure. Can you imagine 68 and still traveling the world? I sure hope I can do that and without gray hair.

As I sat in lecture I listened slightly and thought about how the colonial legacy was so strong in Ghana. The leading bank is Barclays, a prominent British bank, sponsor of the Premier League of Football in England. The tourists that I encounter are mostly from the UK and when you see an Obrooni it is most often a British accent that responds. The game of football is huge, this may not be a colonial legacy, but as I wrote before, many Ghanaians stopped for the final game in the British football league. Interestingly British Airways has the only flight that comes to Ghana from the US connections or Europe. Ghana is also marked by the English language – anglophons surrounded by francophones. The BBC is a top source for news in Ghana. The education system also is very English. One of the very prominent and important colonial legacies is religion. Almost 70% of Ghanaians are Christian and that shows from the motto and phrases pasted on the backs of taxis, trotros, trucks, and storefronts: ‘Trust God’, ‘Triumph’, ‘God’s Will’, ‘All to Him’, or ‘God is Great.’ These British footprints have a colonial legacy that is amplified by the political and economic implications of colonialism for Ghana.

Politically the Ghanaians adopted the English parliamentary system of governance. They even used to have a governor general like Canada and Australia, but eventually got rid of that stain by adopting the more American system with a Presidency along with a Parliament. The development story of Ghana has largely already been told in a earlier posting on the development of Ghana, but this is what I have been taught and seen from being in Ghana. From the colonial time period Ghana was made to produce cocoa and now they are trapped in that mono-crop (cocoa) production of raw goods. In the 1970s Ghana attempted some ISI (import substitution), but it failed to have an impact because this was just not possible with Ghana’s situation of having limited abilities for industry. From 1970 – 1980 is what is called the ‘lost decade of development’ for Ghana. Ghana began to liberalize its markets with the involvement of the IMF and World Bank and their Economic Recovery Programs (ERP). Ghana still struggled and had difficulty and was soon named an HIPC (highly indebted poor country). This title limited their possibilities for development and aid. Ghana was relieved of its HIPC status later when its debts were forgiven and it began taking, “ginger steps toward standing on our [its] own (Prof. Johnson). This is what Ghana is working on now. The ginger steps of development in this globalized economy driven world. As a few points of interest on development: the government has nothing to do with land ownership – only taxes on businesses, China is Ghana’s number one foreign aider (rogue aid? – see earlier post on subject), and so far I have only seen a handful of micro-finance and lending groups.

I have noticed that the only real developed region is the Accra region, where most ofthe people and aid organizations reside. The other areas to the north and even to the immediate south are left under-developed and neglected. Cocoa is their number one export, but if the country is to develop they need an industry established to produce a finished good with that cocoa. That is impossible however because that role is already set up in the Western industrialized countries. How is Ghana to develop? More foreign aid? I have noticed that there is an interesting relationship with Iran and some development projects. Not surprisingly the US has withdrawn its aid and has nothing to do with Ghana besides USA rice.

Our second lecture was more interesting, maybe because the lecturer was more interested in passing her knowledge to us. The topic was the role of the media in the political system and political change of Ghana. The media was huge in Ghana’s political development. It was first used to combat colonialism, then was controlled by the newly independent state government, used during this time as a public voice for dissent, and finally as a promoter and grower of democracy. In 2000 Ghana experienced, for the first time, a peaceful transition of power to a new administration. The new administration was the politicians who had opposed the government since 1992. This administration had fueled the media’s public dissent and made alliances with the media. The question now is: ‘Is the current media as critical of the new administration since it had alliances?’ Ghana has a very multi-lingual media and this allows for a more participatory democratic system and society.

After lectures we headed to Makola market. Now you see whenever we tell anyone of our Ghanaian friends that we are going to Makola market they laugh, ask us if we are serious, and then tell us ‘goodluck,’ so we were a bit afraid and interested at the same time to go. After arriving it is easy to see why we got such a response – Makola market is pure insanity of commerce. Even though Makola market may seem like pure insanity there is definitely an order and control to the confusion. In the market everything has its place, there is a section for candies, clothing, luggage, seafood, crabs, fufu, pretty much anything you are looking for in Ghana is here. This is the real super (duper) market, the commercial center of the country. Most of us just went to look and experience It was actually very fun and not at all a bad experience as friends had warned. Navigating the alleyways and the crowds and seeing the extent of the market was amazing. So far this is the only place where I have experienced the real hustle and bustle and hurry. Girls with empty bowls rush back to their stands in the alley to refill and sell more, every second seems to be a lost opportunity to sell, so I often get out of their way quickly. Women call and haggle, sellers bother Obrooni and Obibini alike to make a sale. This was the first place where I heard the call “Obrooni! what are you doing here?” We responded with ‘Obibini’ and some other Twi that we had learned to the surprise of the market women. I saw quite a few Obroonis around the market that day.

I decided to not take any pictures while in the market because it had caused problems in the past – at least until we got back on the bus. Some pictures are a little blurry. Here in Makola, as in many places in Ghana and Africa, people everything on their head. At Makola I saw a new range of this skill as boxes and goods were stacked very high and carried aloft to the numerous stands. This market was nice and more fun and much more welcoming in comparison to the ‘art market’ in Osu. Probably because not many Obroonis dare to venture inside the beautiful chaos.

We arrived back at the hostel and toured the kitchen to see how we could save some money on eating costs. We decided to eat at Fresherz down the road, a very american-style restaurant with american foods. As per Ghanaian standards, after our drinks were ordered, it took nearly two hours for everyone to get their food. It was very tasty food after waiting two hours. Joseph later took us to a nice little market to get some inexpensive food. He got a taxi to take the seven of us for just 20,000 cedis ($2). First, the taxis here are very small cars, second, it is difficult to breath with someone on your lap in a small car. Five people crammed in the back, Don on my lap and two in the front. The bumps in the road were uncomfortable, but not a bad ride otherwise. Suddenly an unmarked black car drove in front of us and stopped. “Police?” we all asked, but Joseph said no. But it was the police and they began giving the driver an earful about taking seven people, Obroonis at that, in one taxi. They threatened to take his taxi sticker and asked if 20,000 cedis was worth his taxi career. In the end it was just a lecture for our driver and we were on our way again. Ghanaian police – don’t mess with them.

As we entered the small market we noticed huge flying bugs. They were very large and interesting. However they became less interesting and more bothersome as their numbers increased rapidly and they were drawn to the market lights. Large-winged, meaty flies filled the air and swarmed the lights of the market as we attempted to buy food. In our hair, faces, and brushing our legs these flies were not done kicking until their wings fell off and they all scurried away. Joseph told us that after a big rain these bugs come out and that some people catch, fry with salt, and eat them. I had heard of this before and it sounds like a treat. Maybe I can try some here.

We frequent an internet cafe down the road a ways from out hostel. We often walk in the dark to the cafe. I noticed on this night that the american tunes played in the cafe unconsciously were stuck in my head on the walk back and unknown to me I hummed them aloud. I also realized that since we were Obroonis walking on the street in the dark that we must want a taxi ride. When a taxi is empty and wants to give you a ride they honk at you. We must have been honked at over a dozen times! Can’t an Obrooni walk on the street!

for the love of america

Be sure to check updated Days 3&4.

Day 5
Lecture this morning was on indigenous slavery and the Trans-Saharan slave trade. All of this I have learned about extensively because you cannot study Africa and skip over such a subject. So that is why I began journal writing during lecture. As I said before it is great to be an Africa Studies major studying in Africa, but I want to learn what I do not already know.

I remember the other day our bus driver Eric was listening to the radio and there was a discussion of the importance of local chiefs. The discussion was on the need to unify the chiefs and include them in the political process because it would not matter if a policy was adopted if the local chiefs with all the power did not agree. There is no way to get around the chiefs or work around them because they hold such power at the local level. If the government is to work smoothly then they will need to include the local chiefs in the political process. Now this is the type of African Studies that you just can’t get in the classroom.

The traffic goes by outside, a car alarm triggers, I am sitting in a classroom listening to a boring lecture – it is almost as if I am back at MSU, the AC masks the intense humidity and heat. The only difference is that the professor standing before me is actually teaching in his home country. I have had a total of 7 professors from Africa in my two short years in college, so there is nothing new: traditional dress, accent, and use of odd American sayings. Professor Passah likes to preach his own ideology and views to us during lectures. Today he brought up the Iraq conflict (falsely called a war). He noted that the money spent on the conflict could work towards the development of Africa. Not just Ghana, but the whole of Africa. I could not have agreed more. He then went into how Ghana became a target for international corporations and NGOs. He noted how this is seen as no problem and makes him very happy because a Ghanaian gets a lot of money in his pocket. He said to not think of him as a bad man for saying that, but this is where I worry. So he is not a bad man, but a man blinded by the Western desires promoted and unaware of the possibly and often negative effects of a huge international involvement and presence.

At the end of the lectures we were again on our own until 2pm. We went to the internet café again to check emails and blog some more. No time to eat. The University is very interesting because there are houses, living complexes, dorms, a primary school, fields, horses, and more all within the campus grounds. It is like a small city in itself. We boarded the bus to have our tour of Greater Accra. Accra is the second largest city in Africa behind Lagos, Nigeria. Eric showed us all around Accra. This is when we got to see the more impoverished parts of the city; the slums and rundown areas, the wood scrap and sheet metal housing, the shirtless and hungry. As we neared the coast the poverty seemed to increase and the development decreased. The wide streets, colonial fortresses now used as prisons, and the old style colonial shops have all slipped in to decay and have been abandoned to ruin. The wealth and high class has left the coast of Ghana. We toured the private homes area with their western styles, gates, barbed wire, guards, and tennis courts. We saw the president’s personal residence – no pictures – and the palace. As usual there are hawkers everywhere. Later we returned to the art market to exchange money and met up with some of our old ‘friends.’ This time the hawkers calls were more subdued, but nevertheless relentless.

This is the exchange for a $100 bill into Ghanaian cedis. It is quite a stack of money:

After manuvering the thick traffic we returned to Catters Hostel near the village od Shiashie, which we have learned is not a road name, but a village that was engulfed by the growth of Accra. You can’t help but notice the signs on the corner of every intersection telling you of the direction of each embassy, organization, hostel, hotel, business, or resturant. The foreign investment is at a very high level. So much for fighting neo-colonialism.

Sitting in the courtyard, listening to the birds in the tree overhead, hearing the end of the day traffic go by, looking at the clouded over sky, and nearby hotels, enjoying a Star beer – life in Ghana could not be any more relaxing. No one here walks fast or runs, unless they are making a sale, no one is rushed and everyone is involved in the customary tradition of greeting their fellow human being. Everything runs on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time). This is Africa, this is life. Last night one of the hostel workers was hanging out with us as we sat. When someone asked what we were doing tomorrow he responded, “This is today, it is now today, you will know when it is tomorrow when it becomes 12 o’clock. Then it is tomorrow.” I could not have agreed more, live always in the present.

After relaxing and writing for a bit, Kyle and I left for Osu to meet the group. The gatekeeper, Stephen, has started helping everyone to get taxis so as not to be charged the Obrooni price. We were supposed to meet up at the Asanka Local Chop Bar. Asanka means bowl, and local means you will be only eating the local foods out of that bowl. The directions we were given were to head down the street from Frankie’s and turn left. So we walked ‘the strip’ of downtown Osu at night. Quite an experience, not bad at all. An Obrooni walking the streets is not bothered, but Obroonis on a University bus – target for hawkers. We ecided we had headed too far in the wrong direction and turned to go the other way. We really had no clue where we were going and finally a Ghanaian called out and we asked for directions.

Francis and Abraham knew exactly where Asanka Local was and took us there. Francis had a friend in New Jersey and Abraham and I listened to his MP3 player on the way. They joined us at the chop bar, where our friend from the market, GQ and the rest of the group was hanging out. The food was great and the servers were very nice. The chop bar closed and our rasta drumming friends met us outside to take us out on the town. We headed for the main road. Just as we turned the corner, one of the girls in our group tripped and disappeared completely from view. We all jumped to grab her and the drummers pulled her out of one of the ubiquitous sewage drains next to the roadside. She was soaked in sewer water and had some bad scrapes on her knees and arm, but was only a little shaken. She said as she fell she was on the phone with her mom, just as her mom said “hi”, she fell. Bobo, a drummer, wiped her down with his shirt and Akwesi said, “You have to be careful this is not america, this is Africa.” Jerod and I took her back to the hostel in a taxi.

She cleaned up and later laughed about the ordeal saying that it was an experience to remember. It was too late to drum so we practiced our Twi and learned some more. We had a great conversation with Richard and Joseph. It was great to hear them talk about their lives and how life is and should be. These guys are some very great Ghanaians. They are not looking to make a buck off of you and they do not want anything but to share experiences and be friends. These Ghanaians actually genuinely care about us and we care about them. However they had very skewed views about America. They could not believe that there was poverty, that you did not get shot on the streets for driving (as someone told them), and that we have very different city lives than Accra. Not bad assumptions, many people make them. They also said that Bush is their friend. They love Bush and they have no criticism of his ‘war.’ They like Bush because he acts like a man. I almost lost control of my body, but held back. Voice of America (VOA) is a highly publicized radio station. Kyle has this joke where everytime we pass the billboard he mockingly quotes VOA saying, “America did something awesome today.” VOA probably doesn’t help with the skewed view of America. Many of the popular radio stations here also play American top songs. We heard all the classic from our childhood on one bus ride. Many store owners paint the American flag on their shop and some taxi drivers have Uncle Sam stickers. Where does this unknowning love of America come from?

Everyone returned safely and headed to bed. All was well and we had an early morning the next day to leave for our Cape Coast field trip.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the final battle in the continent

The noise will make all else inaudible, not even the whisper of, “here they come,” will be understood. The noise will be unbearable. TICK TOCK, time is running out to stop and realize the impending doom. CHING, money is flowing so fast and smoothly for anyone to truly care and take notice. RATTA-TATTA, RATTA-TATTA, anti-terrorism gunships will tear through the sky and open fire marking holes on the cratered dirt roads, the cargo shipments will crash and the cheap goods will burn as the bombs fall, KABOOM, refugees will run from camp to camp to avoid the madness of it all, AHHHH, disease will run rampant as systems of infrastructure are torn apart, rebel groups and religious sects will race to claim control before they are cut down in the streets, RATTA-TATTA, buildings and factories will be contructed and destroyed all in the same day, BOOM KA-BLAM, the force of trade will combat the force of military imperialism in the last great epic battle for the African continent.

Africa has already faced two huge battles between superpowers on its soil, this I am telling you will be the last and the greatest. The first great battle for Africa was during and after the Berlin Conference of 1884-5. As the Western powers of the day argued and squabbled over land rights to various parts of Africa, the African pie was sliced and later devoured. After the conference many of the Western powers preceded to lay claims to more of the continent slowly moving Africa in to the period of colonialism or maybe a better term would be pure exploitation of land and people. Leopold II of Belgium ravaged the Congo Free State’s people for rubber, the Firestone Tire company established itself in Liberia, Brazil perpetuated the slave trade in Senegal, France’s blatantly promoted colonial racism, the British imposed custom and culture, and the list goes on of colonial atrocities and wrong-doings. The division of the ‘African pie’ led to the failure seen in later years and in the future created by colonialism. The Great Western powers of that age saw Africa only as an opportunity to gain territiory and resources, to exploit being who walked the earth for their own good and nothing else, to be bigger, stronger, and more impressive. However, this was not always the Western European view of Africa.

Africans and Europeans worked and lived as equals in the Ancient and Renissance eras. Europe depended on Africa for its economic stability. In the Greek, Roman, and European Renissance societies ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ were treated as equals as evidenced in paintings from the time periods. Africa was an ancient center for learning, religion, and wealth (ie: Timbuktu). Ships from the Swahili coast reached farther than any European vessel and the Swahili people mastered sailing techniques before the Europeans. This spread the sale of goods, cultures, and ideas. This is evidenced by porcelain from China embedded in East African tombs and Chinese paintings of an African giraffe, given as a gift to Chinese emperor. This wealth and power of Africa lasted up until Vasco de Gama‘s voyage around the tip of Africa, when he noted the great gold wealth of Africa. This prompted the return of Western fleets to plunder and pillage African Islands and coasts for the wealth and gold.

The Second great battle for Africa came with the end of the Second World War and the rise of the Cold War. With the ‘threat’ of spreading communism through the Soviet Union and the US’s mandate to halt that spread the greatest proxy wars were waged on the African continent. Angola, Mozambique, Rhodeisa (Zimbabwe), Zaire (DRC), Guinea Bissau, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Benin were all hot spots for the tug-of-war in the continent. <a href="http://www.piedmontcommunities.us/servlet/go_ProcServ/dbpage=page&gid=01350001151109257610111573
“>”When two elephants are either making love or fighting, the grass perishes.
And when the Third World countries become the hotbed of struggle, they suffer.” Most African countries gained their independence during the height of the Cold War and so the terms of independence were dicated by either the Soviet Union or the US. The African people lost the opportunity to set up their own governments and systems. The lasting effects of this are evidenced in the current civil wars and conflicts happening today (ie: Sudan). Many African countries are now moving towards adopting democratic governance and conflict resolution. The ill effects of the Cold War are being reversed and yet there is an ever growing presence of foreign dominance on the continent.

This brief background moves us into the third and what I believe will be the last epic battle in the African continent. This third battle involves the use of neo-colonialism, mercantilist trade, military intervention, and resource exploitation. The battle in the African continent pits China’s production and trade poweress over the US’s seeming military might. At this stage China is winning the battle. With its history of supporting the African independence movements and its current bi-lateral trade agreements set-up in twelve African countries, China is well on its way to taking the continent by storm. The US has seen this rise of Chinese investment in Africa and has come back with actions against terrorism. The new <a href="http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=36396%22
“>AFRICOM, or Africa Command, is now official. The US has been involved militarily in Africa for a long time. Many believe that since the Somalia 1993 conflict where 18 servicemen died, that the Pentagon is un-interested in Africa. Ethiopia has received extensive US military support in the way of training and supplies. The US has also led efforts to attack Islamist terrorist groups and has used Ethiopia’s support. Many Sahelian countries have recieved support as part of a Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative focusing on Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, and Morocco, the US has become more involved in West Africa where US energy interest is growing. The Pentagon is taking on more humanitarian roles usually filled by USAID, however I would argue that this may be a better approach. Adding aid to military support brings good governance and stability of the people. What does bother me is that this is being initiated through the Pentagon and through military means with a goal of US national security as the underlying issue motivating the anti-terrorism actions and support.

While the US works to gain militarily for national interest, China is developing more peaceful trade gains for its national interest. President of China, Hu Jintao, has been touring the continent looking to make investments and partnerships to give the Chinese market a place to trade more. Recently in South Africa, where diplomatic ties of nine years ago have strengthened trade, Jintao announced huge loans for the country, increase in trade, and increases in South Africa’s tourism industry. Agreements were signed in South Africa and Namibia to increase the “brotherly friendship” between the countries. Also recently in Nigeria nine Chinese oil workers were freed from Nigerian gunmen. This comes as President Jintao is touring eight African countries. There was no reported ransom paid. Many foreign workers are held hostage in the Niger Delta as the region wrestles with poverty and an uncaring oil industry. Even as the Chinese are working to increase trade and investment, their workers are not free from the conflicts and issues of the continent.

As the US and China are increasing investments and military actions other countries are joining the battle to gain influence and power in Africa. <a href="
http://allafrica.com/stories/200702020829.html”>Brazil is hot on China’s heels. Brazilian President Luiz Inicio Lula da Silva apologized for almost 400 hundred years of slave trade on a visit to Senegal. Brazil is seen as being in contention with China and India as the next superpower. Engaging Africa is the centerpiece of Lula’s diplomacy. He has visited 13 African countries and has opened 12 embassies in Africa during his term. Brazil is slightly ahead of the game in regards to China with bi-lateral agreements with Ghana, Nigeria, and Mozambique. Lula is interested in “digging beneath the layers of guilt and sorrow to find commercial and geo-political issues.” The German government is also joining the iniative to increase African investment. Germany’s plan is to create <a href="http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/3511
“>African Bond markets: “Berlin has presented its initiative, part of its agenda as president of the G8 group of industrial nations, as part of an effort to help African countries to insulate themselves against rapid swings in international exchange rates. However, Thomas Mirow, deputy finance minister, said the move would also address concerns fuelled by Beijing’s policy of granting generous, unconditional loans to African countries as a way of securing access to these countries’ resources and markets.”

So as the country is over-run by Western powers seeking to increase their trade options and other forces are working to gain a military influence I wonder what lasting effect this will have on the continent. As you can gather from my introduction I cannot see this initiative as being completely positive. While China is offering great loans and investment to Africa, but on the flip side China is one of the world’s premier arms suppliers. Countries cannot afford expensive Western arms and so they line up to buy from China. China is heavily invested in Sudan where there is an intense internal conflict, a genocide – fueled by Chinese arms deals. China often ignores the impact of its arms deals. China claims to not mess with the internal affairs of countries, but these arms deals can have massive impacts on internal affairs. However China is concerned with being viewed as a responsible world power, so it may make efforts to invest positively. China, Brazil, Germany, the US, who is next to join in this last rush for the resources of the African continent? Will this last ‘battle’ and investment tear the continent apart?