the caramel apple of globalization

Crunch, Mmm, the peanut chunks trapped in delicious caramel tastes oh so good. You bite and are rewarded with a mouthful of inticing caramel and nut flavors – all of a sudden that deliciousness is tainted by an odd sourish, crunchy, mushy apple flavor. What? Where did this apple come from, I like the outside best. This is the caramel apple of globalization – the outside is so delicious and appealing, but once you hit the apple and core, the fun has ended. Granted this all matters if you run with the majority and toss aside the age-old wives tale of eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away. Too many of us see this doctor everyday – there is no escaping this doctor because all too often globalization is used for ill, just to get the caramel and nuts, not the healthy fruit of the free market, fair trade, and multi-lateral agreements.

Globalization is seen as the harbringer of much ill in the world and the truth of this idea is undebatable. All one needs to do is visit a small community in a ‘developing’ country and the negative impact is obviously seen. Globalization, being a negative, can, if used properly, be a positive and can lift poverty from oppressed peoples. Some of the caramel of globalization’s apple I have seen firsthand in my travels of Uganda and Ghana. Trash, more specifically plastic, has created a scar on the beautiful African landscapes sought by all. This trash is piled, burned, and thrown anywhere. The great evolution of plastic was an amazing invention, but has created problems elsewhere. This goes along with the ‘quest for the west’. The Western pop culture permeates everywhere. This an odd development if you ask me because the cultures evident in African societies are so strong and have such beautiful histories and traditions. Maybe the youth in those societies do not think so, that must be a youthful commonality – rejection of old tradition. Terrible western hip hop is loved, most everyone is walking around campus with their earphones in and MP3 players out – you would almost mistake this for an American campus, but for the heat and the obvious difference in setting and language. The love of technology and having a piece of technology is great. Many places we visited, the youth asked us if we had headphones to give them. This interest in technology could also develop into a positive of globalization. There is also the adoption of the word term ‘fastfood’ at typical Ghanaian food stands. Let me tell you, at least in Ghana, there was no such thing as fast food.

Globalization is defined as the sharing of ideas, technology, inventions, thoughts, education – it is an idea as old as the world itself, so why in recent years has it become such a harbringer of ill and a harsh word to the ears? Globalization brings in an international influence that can be seen as an extreme negative, but in some places international involvement is important to foster a strong economy. The idea is to make the right decision so that exploitation of people and resources does not happen. The economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, attempted to write a book to explain this idea of ‘Making Globalization Work,’ I would recommend the book, but also look into other perspectives. Globalization can be used for as much good as it is used for ill. The important thing is to use the idea of globalization wisely, as with everything else at your disposal for power. I see the crises of black gold and other important resources in African countries ripping the people and governments apart. Globalization does not have to be the end, globalization is the means.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the quest for the west

Day 11
Applied lots of Aloe today. The sunburn is getting better. The bus arrived as we sat down to eat. Kyle and I always seem to be two steps behind. Breakfast was a large, thin, pancake thing with chicken sausage and some eggs, it was so good. At the seminar room today we got to bond with Ted (Prof. Tims). We talked about ourselves, majors, passions, and future plans. We then discussed the novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The book was mostly about corruption, the attainment of wealth, poverty, the quest to be western, and one man’s journey to live and work honestly. In the end of the book all he is left with is an “aching emptiness” and that is all the rest of his life could offer him. Kind of a downer, but it is interesting since the day before we met a woman working with some anti-corruption group doing a study on Ghana’s judicial system.

It was then lunchtime and breaktime. We wandered campus and explored some. We ventured all over the campus. We saw the Library, the Center for African Studies, the dorms, and much more. The campus is much like any you would see anywhere in the world, obviously it has its differences, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest difference, as on any college or university campus, was the dorms. These are huge structures of block squares where four people live. When school is in session you see the clotheslines of each student strung out with brightly colored clothing drying in the Ghanaian sun. Surprisingly on campus you see many people walking around with ipod or MP3 headphones in their ears. Higher education in Ghana is still very much a place for those with the money. It is interesting to see, since we have come to know Ghana as a place that favors and loves human interaction, instead of the secluded american, music in ears, head to the ground, walk right past you attitude. This happens to be few students however, and most will greet you cheerily. The West cannot taint the Ghanaian tradition of greeting.

We settled down at an small cafe called ‘Tyme Out,’ got some cokes and played pool. This is where my mind recalled the idea of a hip hop planet. The walls of Tyme Out were adorned with posters of former great and popular rap artists and the music on the radio was their past hits. Even here this glorification and fascination of the gangsterism and commercialized hip hop culture exists. It is not surprising since West Africa is where hip hop was born. The radio often plays Ghanaian hits from the hip hop artists who brought the american style to Ghana. Why is the american style born from West Africa mirrored in the place of hip hop’s birth?

After lunch we learned more about Ted and his love and life of music. He was a music major turned music therapist. He has helped countless people recover from illness with music. He was trained as a concert pianist and this lecture brought us a drumming exercise. We first learned the history of drumming. The Europeans could not grasp the complex rhythms and beats of African drumming because it was like nothing they had heard before. Drumming was used to induce trances and was often used for social events. African drumming has many complex rhythms and patterns, but in the end they all come together to make one song. You cannot stop and listen to everything at once without being confused, you have to concentrate and focus from one beat to another. In this lecture we also discussed the aspects of health. The West decided to cut health to focus just on body. Where other cultures and societies looked at health as comprehensive in mind, body, and spirit. Music is a huge aspect of bringing together those aspects.

In the evening we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant. We ventured down our extremely busy road in Shiashie Accra to reach the restaurant. It was much bigger and fancier than we had thought. Sadly the food was also worse than we thought it would be. The menu was 20 pages long and didn’t really have much traditional Chinese foods. A let down at the least. I had the spring rolls, which just had cabbage and some random chunks of beef. A poor end to the evening, but tomorrow is another day.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

iraq, a humanitarian crisis as much as darfur?

Is the Iraq conflict now seen as a humanitarian crisis as much as the more well-known Darfur genocide? How can the two be compared. For starters we can look at US commitments to both conflicts. Back in 2000 when Bush was handed a press release about the Rwandan genocide, he wrote, “not on my watch” in the margin. In 2003 we became involved in Iraq to fight terrorism? The polls now tell us taht Americans would rather be involved in Darfur than Iraq. Why? Maybe because we would rather save lives than assist in their destruction. David Bosco of the LA Times writes of the ugly truths in his blog on the Foreign Policy website. Recent UN findings have totaled over 34,000 Iraqi deaths in just 2006. “The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced,” writes Bosco. However the estimates vary and many state that over 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur. Bosco wants is trying to make us think of the possibilities of our actions in both Iraq and Darfur. Is it too late in either case? Is one life more valuable than another? His closing statement sums it all up, “Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.”

Accompanying the cry for US military action in Darfur is a push to divestment from Sudan, much like what was done during apartheid South Africa. The US congress has called for sanctions and divestment, yet has ‘suprisingly’ taken no action to move divestment along. Yet again the US policy on Africa entails the action of a pen to paper. There have been numerous campaigns and petitions within the government and also outside the government to pressure the US government to drop interests in Sudan. Check out the full report by Africa Action (here).

More recently the insecurity of the region is driving out aid to millions as aid agencies leave to ensure their own safety. This will only intensify the humanitarian crisis already pushed beyond the tipping point. This crisis has met the drowning victim under the sinking boat level. We need to be the skilled rescue divers who can turn turn this conflict around through actions on the ground in the US and Darfur. There have also been reports that the Sudanese government continues to bomb the people of Darfur without holding back.

Yesterday I attended an amazing Hip Hop concert sponsored by the Spartans Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter at Michigan State University. MSU was just one stop on the national Save Darfur Tour. It was a great show with a fair attendance. The artists such as Alexipharmic and Freestyle spoke to the real issue at hand and our potential to make a difference. Besides being the best performers of the night, in my opinion, they also understood the complexity of the Darfur genocide. Freestyle of the Arsonists was an amazing performer. He had great beats with great lyrics and knew how to really involve the crowd of mostly stiff white college kids who had no idea what hip-hop was all about. I am not going to lie I was standing there in my shirt and tie (after coming from meetings all day) putting my hand in the air and feeling the beats. That made me think – what is the color of hip-hop? I concluded that hip-hop obeys no set rules so therefore it is not an only-black, or only-white thing. Freestyle also spoke to the myth that hip-hop is dying. Let me tell you hip-hop is alive and well, check out the artists of underground hip-hop and learn the history and ideal behind the movement. Hip-hop is not dead, I have seen it alive and well, knocking on the front door of my consciousness and directing my compass of compassion to empower the world!

out of africa

This morning I was listening to some hip hop music and the artist, Saul Williams‘ “African Student Movement” song came on. Part of the chorus is a repitition of ‘African people’, which for some reason kept sticking in my head. Earlier that morning I had read an article on National Geographic about the discovery of a 36,000 year-old skull proving the 2nd migration of the human race out of Africa.

This discovery proves that at around 50,000-70,000 years ago modern humans left Africa to populate Eurasia. This is still in a theory stage, but the evidence is growing in support of the ‘Out of Africa’ Theory. Essentially this means that Africans populated the world. I also learned this theory in one of my required university science courses. I found it very interesting and extremely thought provoking given the history of the US and ‘race’. Just 60,000 years ago people from East Africa spread to the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and Southern Africa. We are all Africans!

When Saul Williams is calling for African people to work together and join to build equality – he is really calling to us all. Our home is Africa! Now don’t get me wrong I am a privileged ‘white’ male with what some would say is no connection to Africa. Wrong, I feel more at ease and comfortable with my ‘black’ and African friends, I love Africa, the people, culture, and especially music. I feel for the plights of the people and work to change that. I have a strong connection to Africa and now that connection is proven even stronger. I am an African (not in the literal sense, I don’t mean to offend anyone) before and above anything else.