So what of that Gaza pull-out?

I recently had separate discussions with different Jewish friends, touching on the Gaza pull-out and related matters. One, Staci, is a quite conservative Ashkenazi American with close family ties to Israel. She has some very sharp things to say about Palestinians in general, and is in favor of expansion of Israeli territory (she rebuked me for using the term "Palestinian", and mentioned the long ago withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in very grudging terms). The other, Hadar, is a pretty quite Separdic Israeli. I actually knew her for all of Tuesday evening, but we had a very long and ranging conversation. She had just completed her two year stint in the Israeli Army and was blowing off steam by backpacking the U.S. (her previous stop was Burning Man).

What I found fascinating was that even coming from separate ends of the political spectrum, they both had very similar views on the Gaza pull-out and the anticipated outcome therefrom. And just to be clear, I'm not entirely extrapolating from the opinions of two people in the following thoughts: I've had discussions (generally shorter) with others with some connection to the situation, and I do my best to keep well informed of developments in the news of that region.

Both of my friends thought that the Gaza and even the limited West Bank pull-outs were necessary. Staci thought that Israelis did have rights to those areas, but felt that the settlers should not be compromising general security by stubbornly camping out in areas she felt were to a great extent spoiled by the presence of so many Arabs. Hadar felt that it was necessary to establish sovereign territory for Palestinians in order to have any chance at peace, and that settlers were just making any such peace impossible (she did have some reservations, saying that if Palestinians are given the West Back too lightly, they would want all of Jerusalem, and even if they somehow got Jerusalem, they'd want Haifa, Netanya, Ashkelon, The Negev, you know, the whole bit). Both supported the withdrawal. I'd actually never expected there to be much violence in the withdrawal, and I think these two attitudes are a microcosm of why relatively orderly withdrawal was inevitable.

As for the effects, both surprised me by being very pessimistic about the outcome from the withdrawal. Staci went just about to the point of saying there would never be peace between Palestinians ("Arab refugees from Jordan", as I think she put it) and Israelis (and more generally Arabs and Jews). Hadar felt that the peace process would go nowhere despite the withdrawal, because it would give Palestinians nothing but excuse for obstinacy, and would lead to even more extravagant demands.

It's this juxtaposition that gets me. Both felt the pull-out was necessary, but both also felt that it would do nothing to bring about a real peace. I argued with both of them, saying that eventually Palestinians and Israelis would be forced to détente by simple economic need, just as sworn implacable foes Israel and Egypt had been. Those sworn to the annihilation of Israel would lose their foothold if Israel focused on security within its mainland rather than a diffident extension of territorial pseudopods. Palestinians free to erect the apparatus of state and social service where they live would be actually empowered to needed compromise in crafting a final accord.

Personally, I think that one of the greatest tragedies in this matter is that two separate groups of people were so terribly treated throughout the 20th century continue to beat each other to a pulp in the 21st. But that's just drippy sentiment. The reality is that as long as attitudes on the ground are so self-contradictory, it's hard to see how any move will lead to ultimate peace.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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More on the Gulf Coast Catastrophe

The Interdictor is reporting signs of life in NOLA. Let's hope the trend continues.

Meanwhile, I wanted to comment on some notes stemming from my earlier rant on the calamity.

First of all, Kwasi (viva immigrante), who has a very nice blog, pointed to his own rant, and I heartily cosign with most of his points and his fury. I focused my notes more on the insane economics of the Katrina response, whereas he focused squarely on the humanitarian and sociological dimensions. There is tremendous suffering in the Gulf Coast that from everything I, Kwasi, and many others can tell, could have been heavily reduced, if our government cared about its citizens better. People who carp about complaints from hindsight including putrid comment spammers are choosing to ignore the substance of the complaints.

My initial response, like those of most of us who follow human tragedy, was one of shock, pity, empathy. From whence, then, comes this wave of anger, this storm surge of emotion seething within me that threatens to overcome my better nature? It comes with the realization that, despite the capricious and uncontrollable nature of the hurricane, the vast majority of the tableau of misery that plays out before us represents an Optional Tragedy.

I'm glad Kanyeezee saw fit to speak his mind. I tend to say instead that it's poor people rather than Black people that our present government is happy to abandon, but regardless of that distinction, I'm all for a prominent figure pulling some cards right now. Someone damn well has to, because Americans will be all too eager to forget the whole tragedy once CNN starts losing interest in the Gulf Coast.

Oh yeah, big up US Rep. Diane Watson for a little card-pulling of her own:

Shame, shame on America. We were put to the test, and we have failed

And it's just amazing that no tragedy is overwhelming enough for us to, even for a moment, put aside our contempt for the rest of the world. John Cowan pointed me to this shocking story of disdain for the visitors whose tourist dollars have provided so much fuel to NOLA's much-remembered joie-de-vivre.

It's been my observation for years that the direction of American culture slouches towards oligarchy, but the NOLA disaster indicates something worse. It feels as if we don't just want to reserve power for the few and the wealthy, but we want to reserve even civil protections for these few. The elite in Washington storm to faraway war, but don't expect their children to be among those who risk their lives and limbs in combat. They find excuses for poor mobilization in the face of natural disaster, because they know their own children are not in peril, nor do those in peril even look like their children. And in the middle of all this, nothing, it seems, can stir the great mass from its ennui.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Tintin en Irak

via Herve Dufraux of La Table Francophone de Boulder

OK, folks, sit back with a dish of Freedom Fries and listen to a tale (it helps a lot if you read French).

Someone ("Youssouf") with a lot of time on their hands (quelle chance pour lui) put together a satire comic based on a collage of pages from the popular Tintin series. It lambastes Bush and fellow cast members for the greed, intrigue and arrogance that leads to the current situation in Iraq. It's clever, and funny in patches, but it does take a good bit of filler to make up the 63 pages.

The cover panel (above) sets the mood:

Apportons leur la liberté! - Oui...Largons les bombes!
Let's bring them liberty! - Yeah...let's drop the bombs!

Some particular gems:

Page 3, which is a neat summary of how the Kurds and Southern Shi'ites must have felt in 1991.

Asked whether Hussein had been captured, the adjutant says:

Pas du tout!... Les américains ont finalement décidé de quitter l'Irak et de laisser le régime de Saddam Hussein en place!... Ils ont peur que celui-ci ne soit remplacé par une république islamiste chiite!
Not at all. The Americans have finally decided to leave Iraq and leave Hussein's regime in place. They're scared he'll be replaced by a Shi'a Islamic republic!

Pages 4-6 dramatize the supposed intrigue of Petroleum multinationals to encourage an invasion of Iraq and Bush's eagerness to do so. They're followed by an unnecessarily cynical take on the role of September 11th in justification of war (that part really annoyed me).

Pages 10 through 12 are the hilarious center of the piece, first dramatizing the back and forth over UN inspectors and conditions for avoiding war as a chess game between Bush and Hussein, which "Bush" ends by jumping to his feet and shooting over "Hussein's" head (I expect Hergé would be rolling in his grave at the use of Tintin as the face of the odious Hussein, but that's the one flaw in that sequence).

It climaxes with "Bush"'s boast:

Je suis la première puissance du monde!... Ha! ha!... Je fais ce que je veux!... Malgré toute cette comédie, par un moyen ou un autre, tu verra: il y aura une guerre en Irak!
I'm the foremost world power!... Haha!... I do what I want!... Despite all this fooling around, one way or another, you will see: there will be a war in Iraq!

Followed by a full page panel, cutting to "Osama bin Laden", who laughs:

Tu as raison de rire, George... ha! ha!... Moi aussi, j'en ris déjà de cette de ce qui va s'ensuivre...
You're right to laugh, George... Haha! I'm also already laughing over this war...and over what will follow from it...

It gets to be a bit of a plod of increasingly extravagant schemes for pressing Hergé's images into the service of the satire, but don't miss the absurdist/slapstick ending, which includes the following sage words of advice from "Lionel Jospin":

Fumer un joint avec Romain Goupil est certainement moins dangereux que boire de l'alcool dans une mosquée de Nadjaf!
Smoking a joint with Romain Goupil is indeed less dangerous than drinking alcohol in a Najaf mosque! doubt...I'd say. What would we do without those maddening Gauls?

Peace, y'all.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

My country is out of its COT DAMN MIND

First of all, the XML community way to help with Katrina (thanks, Alan).

So Katrina, which we fully anticipated, which smacked the Gulf Coast with much less force than it could have, which worked its devastation in a slow series of stages rather than one furious blow, still kicked our ever loving asses. We panic and spend billions of dollars on homeland security because we're afraid that some punk terrorist will blow up a test tube of Strontium 90 in a paper bag of C4? When we diverted this country's entire emergency management ledger over to terrorism prevention, all while we were busy cutting taxes and borrowing hundreds of billions from the very Asians we speak of in 21st century "yellow peril" terms, how did our most highly placed thinkers miss the simple fact that a natural disaster can inflict a hell of a lot more damage than human terrorists?

We want to despoil the environment in Anwar, Alaska for a modest mess of crude, when we haven't even taken common sense precautions to deal with the effect of natural disaster on the Gulf Coast refinery complex that is a couple of orders of magnitude more important to energy supply than Anwar will ever be.

We're forming post-apocalyptic gangs and shooting at rescuers. Hold up, what, what was that? Yeah. We're shooting at rescuers.

We're finding that we don't have enough resources to deal with the above problem at the same time we try to contain what could end up being a tertiary disaster in public health. Dead bodies float and loll, bloated, maturating, and mixed rudely in with the wretched living as if to mock their will to live.

We're seeing how a natural disaster, sentimentally an event that should bring people together, underscores the disparity between the races in much of this country. The geography and demographics of this disaster means that it is mostly a scourge of dark skinned people, and it is very hard, even for someone (like me) who is not very sensitive to racial matters not to see in the spasmodic official response a case of lesser concern about what happens to dark skinned people.

We're passing laws against small business petrol stations proprietors for "price gouging" despite the fact that stations throughout the region are out of gasoline, and station owners do not know how steep replacement prices will be (fuel futures are soaring, mind you), nor even how long it will be before they get can be re-stocked. Our energy policy has compounded long-term price pressures with a sharp, immediate scarcity, and we somehow prefer to use small businessmen as scapegoats for the inevitable spike in prices.

As I post this they are badly botching the relief effort to move tens of thousands of refugees from the Superdome (New Orleans) to the Astrodome (Houston), and the Astrodome is apparently turning into as much of a dirty, diseased and dangerous camp as the Superdome was.

And speaking of the Superdome environs, there was a horrible exchange yesterday on NPR between anchor Robert Siegel and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. First Siegel confronted Chertoff about thousands of people stranded at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center (NOCC), 8-10 blocks from the Superdome. Chertoff at first petulantly tried to brush this off as rumor-mongering. Siegel pointed out that these were details from reporters in the field, and Chertoff pretty much made a throw-up-the-hands response. Then reporter John Burnett came on the air and offered his first-hand description of the situation at the NOCC. You just have to hear the ghastly account yourself. "2000 people living like animals". No food, water or any provisions whatsoever, no security, and no one having even stopped by to tell them when to expect relief. It seems this is because no one even knew they existed except for reporters, despite the fact that they had been thronged there for three days. This isn't a handful of folks clustered on a flyover. It's a couple of thousand refugees stranded within blocks of the Superdome, which had been a similarly squalid scene, but on a greater scale until the evacuations started yesterday.

Chertoff's spokesperson contacted NPR later on, to admit that he had confirmed the NOCC situation, and that they are working tirelessly to address the full humanitarian disaster. The funny thing is that early on in the Siegel/Chertoff exchange the secretary had said rather piquantly that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has plans in place for every conceivable disaster. You could have bloody fooled me. I repeat: Katrina was a good ways from the worst case scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans.

We have botched the search and rescue. We have botched public health. We have botched security. We have botched management of the economic effects. Our leaders are mewling about commentators "politicizing" the situation while they continue to botch matters for hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens who have already lost everything and don't even know when they will be afforded the basic necessities of life.

Most of the executive branch of the U.S., starting with the president, truly this week deserves to have their heads dunked into the fouled waters of the Pontchartrain, before they are relieved of duty for the grossest possible mismanagement. It's too bad that it's only criminal activity that is grounds for impeachment. Bush this morning calls the response to the disaster "unacceptable". Quick. Someone get that man a mirror while he is still in this moment of lucidity.

I don't know whether to ascribe to left wing agitprop the tales of Condi Rice shopping in Manhattan and practicing tennis with Monica Seles while the Bush cabinet purports to be on an emergency footing, but at this point it wouldn't surprise me the merest bit.

I mean, someone call up the Last Poets, because this is true madness.

Update: Thanks to Micah Dubinko for a link to a good summary of Bush mismanagement and belligerence and how it made things worse in New Orleans.

And please listen to Michael Rys:

And do not forget the situation in Iraq, Darfour and Niger, Malawi and other forgotten emergencies...

Wikipedia says that report claim up to 20,000 at the Convention Center, rather than the 2,000 estimated by Burnett.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Is it coz I is not black?

James Governor pointed me to "Blacks Only!" and I thought my reaction was worth a Copia entry.

When I was in college in Milwaukee I sort of joined National Society of Black Engineers, NSBE, as in, I played for their intramural basketball team, attended a few meetings, and (independent matter) made friends with a number of the members. I don't think I even joined formally, but anyway my then roommate and current business partner Mike Olson challenged me on it. He put up the usual counterexample of the horrified response if he'd started up a white engineer's club. As I recall, I started with a half hearted defense, before admitting that I was uncomfortable with the idea. I'd started out being friends with NSBE members, and never made an explicit, personal, moral stand about the club.

I do think the general idea of exclusion on the basis of race is dangerous, regardless of what past injustices you think you're trying to redress. It's also confusing. I'm raising three mixed race children and where do they fit in with such boundaries. Lori and I generally respond indignantly whenever we're supposed to classify the kids as one race or another. Luckily the census has a mixed race category these days. When they grow up, they can choose to associate as they please, but right now, we have no intention of disrespect to any branch of their rich heritage.

But I'm not a fundamentalist on integration. I understand the occasional motivation for exclusionary clubs. Women's networking groups spring up because even now it's hard for women to find equitable general fora for business. No doubt some other disadvantaged groups such as Black Americans have the same problem, so whereas I think the idea behind NSBE can be dangerous, you won't catch me entirely condemning it. I think some of the most disturbing aspects of the case in the linked article are specific to that case.

For one thing, I read that this blacks-only golf club sees itself as a charity. This beggars common sense considering that they would happily accept "a young, black, successful third-generation, Oxford educated Brit". When you insult the intelligence of those whom you exclude rather than engaging with them to honestly discuss the practical need for exclusion, you're asking for trouble, and you can't expect sympathy.

In South Africa, I think this sort of exclusion is especially problematic because it tarnishes the extraordinary success of the fall of Apartheid. I know and respect a lot of white South Africans, and based on these associations and my following of current events in South Africa, I believe that a gratifying number of the white population in that country is horrified at their racist legacy. Sure, they might not have come to such reform if not for the forceful realities of the freedom movements (much more important than even the infamously leaky sanctions), but all that matters is that they did the right thing in the end, for whatever reasons, and are now largely committed to justice. In turn Mandela, Tutu, etc. showed the most unbelievable courage in fostering an atmosphere of reconciliation. I think the likes of the black golf club causes very dangerous and unnecessary rifts in this peace. Even if it doesn't cause bloody conflict, it will continue the flight of white South Africans out of the country, and I think this a tremendous loss.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Old pirates, yes, they rob I,
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have—
Redemption songs.

Ms. Dynamite—from her Live8 cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"

I've been hearing a lot about Ms. Dynamite's performance at Live8. Numerous attendees have rhapsodized over the power of her "Redemption Song" cover. Even commentators who had already blasted her for being the token black Live8 performer seemed to soften their tone when talking about her actual contribution. And BTW, yes, although I have plenty of beef with Live8, as I had to express to a friend lately, that does not mean that I've ever felt it necessary as a result to denigrate everyone who supported Live8. I'll leave the indiscriminate spray of spleen to others. Anyway did people really expect anything pedestrian from the wicked brilliant Ms. Dynamite? From the woman who can chat in rapid syncopated fire like a semi-automatic gun, and then sing as engagingly as a Savannah weaver bird? Once I heard that she covered Bob Marley's wonderful song, I knew I had to hear for myself.

The first time I heard Ms. Dynamite was when she set fire 'pon Sticky's UK Garage club anthem, "Booo!", which soon became an Ogbuji household anthem. Next I heard her shred the So Solid track "Envy (They don't know)" (which couldn't become an anthem at our house because Lori unfortunately hates The So Solid Crew). So we were mad ready when she dropped A Little Deeper ("It takes more" and "Dynamite" from the single had already taken their turn as household anthems). But never mind my family's endorsement, let's hear from Ali G:

Next up is MC Dynamite, who is me favorite Garage MC with his or her track called "Dynamite". That is a wicked name for the track and me swear this track is just like Dynamite, because it's going to explode like a massive bit of dynamite. And like this kind of record, dynamite can make a lot of mess and proper mash things up, just like Dynamite can. Oh yeah, this track can also blow up like dynamite. Sure this track ain't red, and don't come in boxes with the name "dynamite" on them, but this tune is also on fire, just like Dynamite, innit? This is also a banging tune, and dynamite goes "bang" when it come out of the box, doesn't it?

OK. Enough with the Sacha Cohen. I hunted down the Live8 performance, first finding an AOL/Netscape widget site that offered Live8 videos but refused to work with Firefox. I did eventually find a collection of Live8 mp3s, including this "Redemption Song" Live8 clip. I also got the concert version "Dy-na-mi-tee", another favorite, a really sweet old-school romp (old school beat, old school sentiment, etc.) through her airy brand of nostalgia. I must say it sounded a bit muddled and rushed at Live8, which I can understand from what I heard of the logistical difficulties of cramming so many acts together in such an unforgiving schedule. She did add bongos to the background, which I think is a nice touch. Sounds as if it would have made a nice studio remix, but she's on to her next project, I understand. Hells yeah. I'm all about a new Ms. Dynamite album (can't find any solid links yet, just the rumors of a new album).

One note of interest, some cat I don't think I've heard before performed a rap at the end of "Redemption Song". The lyrics are fairly insightful, with just a couple of WTF bits.

What's going on, nothing's changed, we're still exploiting the poor
Slavery never ends, yo it just changed wars
AIDS and free trade decimating the young
Famine everywhere but why never a shortage of guns?
Conflict, duel all over the globe instigated by our leaders
War in the Motherland but no African arms dealers
The West robbed the third world of every single cent
Now there's Third World debt. How does that make sense?

The last two lines do smack it all home, on the real, although I think we need to get past all that. Africans will get theirs back from the West, over time. Demographic power and all that. The more immediate concern is Africa's independent economic development.

I do still say: Live8 in London, eh? No Roots Manuva, eh? No Ty? No Klashnekoff? No Est'elle? No Blak Twang? Heck, not even Dizzee Rascal? Somebody didn't do their Supreme Mathematics, son.

But at least they got some Dynamite, and we got a reminder that Bob Marley's song is a superlative testament to the emotive and universal power of music.

And hey. Yay! I scrounged out a few minutes for a Quotīdiē. Chicken noodle soup for the overworked soul.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I think [events such as Live8] are effective at mustering attention and getting people thinking about things. What I find frustrating as someone who has written about Africa now for nearly 20 years is that the message becomes so simplified, and it's distorted in the process. I find horrible in G8, Africa Commission, the Live8 this sort of patronizing sense that "we can deliver recovery to Africa. It's in our hands. It's in our control. We the generous well-meaning West are going to deliver recovery to Africa." Things are never that simple. There's the whole issue of governance, leadership, corruption, the whole issue of countries that want to go to war. In Eritrea and Ethiopia, we have two countries for example that are still re-arming in preparation for a future war. Where does what we decide in the G8 affect that? This is not all in our remit. In my own guts, in my heart I believe that Africa's recovery will come from Africa. It will come from the young Africans I meet when I go there, who are educated, who are motivated, who know exactly what they want to do. They want to run their small businesses, they all have three mobile phones each and are extremely clear in their thinking. They don't want charity, they don't want help, they just want to be allowed to run their own businesses. I think those people are going to build their future, I don't think it's going to come from the West. I think there are things we have to do out of sheer human decency, and the trade issues come in here, but I don't think we can deliver salvation. We are not the cavalry.

Michela Wrong on NPR's Fresh Air

I heard this story last week, but it's been a hectic couple of weeks, and I've only now had a chance to comment on it. The 35 minute segment is very interesting overall, focusing on Eritrea and the fascinating, sad story of that country's abuse by colonialism and Cold War neo-colonialism. Near the end (minute 26 or so) she had the above absolute gem to offer on the general issue of today's hype over aid to Africa.

Hostess Terry Gross's question was:

Do you think mega-concerts like Live8 and its predecessor LiveAid are useful in calling attention to the issues in Africa?

And as you can read, Michela completely nailed what I and some other colleagues have to say about these matters.

She follows up with another interesting statement:

I think that debt relief comes into this, but I'm not one of those people who think you just deliver unconditional debt relief. There are countries whose dictators, for example Mobutu, whom I've written a lot about, just racked up these unspeakable debts, and it was outrageous that people ever lent money to people like Mobutu, what were they thinking of? This man was so manifestly corrupt and everybody knew what he was spending his money on. There is the issue of odious debts, but I think we have to be a little realistic and critical. I worked for a magazine that was talking about debt relief in Angola, and I felt, if you have manifestly corrupt government in places such as Angola that are brimming in diamonds and oil, is it for us to write off their debt? This is a government that has repeatedly shown that it don't give a damn about the population are is quite happy to let poverty levels, AIDS levels, education health go through the floor. Is it really for us to save Angola? I think it's time to get a little more realistic and tough talking with some of these horrible regimes that still exist in Africa. One of my main criticisms of the African Commission is that it keeps talking about this new leadership that's emerging in Africa, and I'd like to know which leaders they're talking about? Which ones in particular, because I don't see those leaders.

I think this is interesting. I think that to some extent "odious" makes up most of the debt to African by the West, whether or not to corrupt governments. As such, I do think that there is an element of moral obligation in debt relief, but it's clear that it is a dangerous distraction from the real engine of development, the professionals Michela mentions.

And this is as good a time as any to mention that even though I sometimes lump my fellow native African professionals in diaspora with our colleagues based on the continent, this is a false parity. The latter group is so much more important in the grand scheme of African development, and I get the sense, which Michela also puts across nicely in her quote, that they will soon be impossible to ignore, much as their Indian and Chinese counterparts before them.

It seems I'll be having a go at Michela's books.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Just when you thought the American press couldn't get any more stupid...

"Newspapers warn of threat to America from 'Londonistan'"

Someone forgot to re-read the US constitution this past July 4th.

Someone developed a lacuna where the words of another Founding Father should have been:

Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty.

—Benjamin Franklin.

Someone decided that because right wing reagent media is poisonous, intimidating and loud, it must be worthy of emulation.

Someone needs to be told in no uncertain terms that London was brave, sensible, dignified and and just in her acceptance of a cosmopolitan society before the bombings, brave, sensible, dignified and and just in her conduct during the bombings, and has shown very little dimming of that bravery, good sense, dignity and justice after the bombings. There are a lot of Americans who can learn lessons from this fact, if they can hold their ridicule long enough to engage their own brain cells.

London did not throw out all its Irish residents during the IRA bombing campaign. They survived that campaign, and emerged a stronger city. Never forget that.

P.S. Also worth a read: "Bugged by the Brits"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Who dash monkey banana?

More on the aid to Africa issue. I can't help myself. I hear about it everywhere so now it's deep in the membrane. But in contrast to my last note on the matter, this is where I've gathered a few of my more whimsical thoughts. Speaking of the last entry, though. I forgot to mention Professor Sir Nicholas Stern's comments, which I think are very incisive regarding Africa's internal economic barriers, some of the causes, and the unfortunate effects.

The title is a pidgin expression meaning "just who do they think they are?" ("dash" means to give) That was the general response among folks I knew at school in Okigwe, Nigeria to Band Aid's "Do they know it's Christmas?"

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life(Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Essaywhaman? Do whaaa? You what huh? Na wetin? Na who dash monkey banana? Ewu bekee think say nothing dey grow for Africa?. We figured it was worth inviting Geldof and clique to the Okigwe rain forest, where it was so fertile that you were lucky if an oil palm tree didn't shoot up under your feet and knock you off balance; where before the school administration in their infinite stupidity had chopped down almost all the foliage within the school compound boundaries, any hungry kid could climb the nearest mango, udala, icheokwu, orange or cashew (for the sweet, fleshly fruit, not the nut) tree and eat as much as they wanted. We figured it would be a worthwhile education for the Band-Aid brigade.

And sure we felt sorry for the folks suffering a local drought in Ethiopia, but our most immediate response was to feel sorry for the confused Brits. We were making our own "Do they know it's summertime" outreach long before the current version, inspired in part by Yellowman's "London cold" song ("Jamaica Nice/Take me home"). Ka anyi bute oku na obodo oyibo ("Igbo: let's take some warmth to the West").

And there won’t be any sun in England this Summertime
The biggest problems they’ll have this year are rife (Oooh) Where the sun never glows
The wind or is it snow
Do they know it’s Summertime at all

Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie of AFFORD

Heeee heee! And then Michael Jackson did his thing. Okay, so no daft lyrics about snow-deprived Decembers on the continent, and the song was actually pretty good this time (the Quincy Jones magic, I guess). Some of the press statements at the time were a hoot, though. The galling point remains that pop stars see nothing wrong with the idea of patronizing an entire continent. Who dash monkey banana?

It's 2005. Here we go again. I don't even need to call it. Sokari does the job in "We're not whales"

My prediction that the presentation of African countries during Saturday's concerts would be a negative pitiful one was correct. We were presented with Africa as the “scar of the world”, passive, starving, diseased, dying and helpless. This was a conscious decision by the organisers of the concert to make the crowd sympathetic to their cause and at the same time make them feel good, make them feel as if they had made a contribution to saving Africa.
Not only does it infantilise Africans and Europeans, it also facilitates the continued appropriation of all things African and all things in Africa including our problems and reduces the issues to cheap sound bites and meaningless nauseating rhetoric that go down well in the kindergarten playground of liberal politics.

I don't agree with everything she says in that article, but it comes close enough to my views to save me a lot of typing. And Ethan Zuckerman does more than his fair share in "Africa’s a continent. Not a crisis." (via Emeka Okafor)

If the goal of Live 8 were to help people see the African continent as a place they want to visit, a place they want to open businesses in, a place they want to engage with, as opposed to a place they want to save, I’d be more likely to share Brian’s (of Black Star Journal) hopes.
But that would be a very different concert. It would be one that celebrated the cultural richness of the continent by putting African artists on stage, rather than inviting them - after Geldof was shamed by Peter Gabriel - to perform at a parallel event a hundred miles away from the main action. It would be one that put African leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators on stage, rather than using a silent young Ethiopian woman as a stage prop for Madonna and Geldof. It would be one that was more focused on changing the global image of Africa than on somehow changing the minds of the eight guys sitting around a table in Scotland..."

Another Ghanaian blogger with a different sort of quotable on the matter is Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah, probably familiar to Copia readers, who recently got to air his thoughts on the African aid buzz on the radio. To seize upon an aside:

I didn't mention the other statistic that underlies my point about Nigeria moving: the installation of 1 million cell phone lines in Nigeria in the past year. And anyone who has had to deal with the acumen of Nigerians in whatever sphere knows that if that society decides to advance, it will change in very short order. It will still be difficult, unwieldy and disorderly, but it will move and possibly even faster than India or China will.

Well, there's a bit of modesty going on here. Given that my own life was saved by a Ghanaian doctor in Nigeria after one British and one Nigerian doctor had given up treating me (long story), and given my other experiences with Ghanaian professionals, the nation of Black Stars has a whole heap of a lot to work with. And there is the object lesson about internal trade in the continent. The mutual respect of professionals will show the road to the achievements of China and India, if our leadership allows it.

But what about those leaders? They're off having to be lectured on dignity and the realities of aid by The Colonel. And check it out. The Nigerian government, singing that Johnny Kemp: "Just got paid, Friday night...", starts by tipping the back pocket at those world champion runner-up Flying Eagles. Maybe they should also buy a pair of glasses for the punk ass referee who gift-wrapped the championship game for Argentina. No, for real, maybe they should just pay Siasia, the over-achieving coach. I guess the expression "Who dash monkey banana" slices in multiple ways.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

The problem with aid to Africa

Talk of the Nation had a show on debt to Africa. It was hosted by Lynn Neary, whom I do not like as hostess (she is too impatient and abrupt), but the topic was well worth it. James Shikwati, director of the Inter-Region Economic Network in Nairobi was the first guest, and he started with an overview of his reasons, as an African, for despising aid to Africa.

[Shikwati]: I'm concerned about the aspect of beggar mentality that aid creates. And then there is also the aspect of aid killing Africa's creativity and entrepreneurship. And also the aspect of aid destroying ownership of the African problem, by transferring it to developed countries.

[Neary]: What are the alternatives

[Shikwati]: The alternative is to get Africans learning how to do business, and to get African governments facilitating an environment that will make it easier for Africans to do business.

The first clause here surprised me. Africa is again a very diverse continent, but speaking for Nigerians at least, I don't think anyone needs to teach business. Nigerians are the second most ruggedly entrepreneurial people I think I know as a class (Lebanese being the most). The biggest problem has been the opposite of what Shikwati says: the public sector treating the public interest too much as an extension of the business interest of those in power.

[Neary]: Do you think African countries need help getting such entrepreneurial ideas off the ground

[Shikwati]: The African leadership should look inward to the causes of the African problem. The first one being artificial barriers that make it so difficult for Africans to trade among themselves. Africa is a market of 800 million people. In that case before someone from outside can come to help us, we can help each other by opening ourselves up.

There was also an American guest, Steven Radelet, but Shikwati really set the tone of the discussion. I have been very happy to hear more intelligent African voices weigh in on these important topics. It's not that such folks are a new phenomenon by any means, but it's only lately that the media seems to be ready to give voice to those Africans who do not speak in terms that Westerners have come to expect. It feels to me that we have a nugget of opportunity for breaking down some of the oh so tiresome stereotypes.

Shikwati expressed the view that short term pain that would come from curtailing aid would be worth the long term benefit. He also pointed out that a lot of the "aid" really comes in the form of loans, which even when directed to such important causes as malaria treatment and primary school education, adds yet more long-term burden to the receiving countries. Radelet did point out that there is a recent trend towards subsidized loans and even outright grants.

The first caller was another Uchenna (of the countless so named). He suggested that if the main problem has been that corrupt regimes steal aid money, why don't organizations provide aid in terms of actual (presumably illiquid) resources for projects rather than cash. Shikwati responded that what is really needed is a "radical shake-up" of the economics that drive Africa, and that such a tinkering measure is really not enough. Radelet did point out some examples of modest success stories from countries receiving aid, but I agree with Shikwati that most African countries need things to happen at a much larger scale, and that even successfully targeted aid will not achieve such scale.

One of the callers asked from the point of view of a business owner asking essentially "if Africa is a mess, why should I invest there?" To me, this just underscored the importance of Shikwati's points. Even though I personally dislike Africa's sloth in shedding dependence on aid, I do not agree with the typical Western economist who says "make it easy for Westerners to make money in Africa and it will be worth all the aid imaginable". They can keep that trickle-down bullshit on their classroom chalkboards. I'm perfectly happy not to have any Western investors in Africa. I don't think we need them. Between ther very large and very successful body of Africans in diaspora and the 800 million still on the continent Shikwati mentions, there is plenty of resource for a completely indigenous African marketplace. The barriers we need to remove in Africa are not barriers for Westerners to invest but rather all the unfortunate barriers to professional achievement even among natives. If lowering these barriers also draws some Westerners, that's all very well—I don't advocate protectionism, which is after all the way in which the West sabotages African development at the same time they offer aid— but Western investment should be understood as a very secondary matter.

Despite my worries about the practicalities of business based on merit in Nigeria right now, I've started to look into how I can use my professional profile and entrepreneurial experience in ways that take advantage of my local knowledge in Nigeria, which is not enormous, by any means (I've been away too long), but is not insignificant. I've come to the point where I can't avoid doing so because my parents are very seriously talking about moving back to Nigeria in their retirement.

There is the thread that for me connects the continental-scale macroeconomics of the Live 8 and G8 hullaballo to the microeconomics of personal entrepreneurial interest. The only thing a liquid dole from the West can do is distract the ruling African class from the important task of engaging their professional class, much of which is dispersed because of the starkness of this very class distinction throughout so much of the continent. Western aid in the large can really do very little more than provide indirect discouragement to my own ambitions in my native country, and that of my peers. What I and my peers have to offer is hard work and professionalism over a steady period of time, but we're stymied because there is so much more more superficial attraction in greased megabucks from Western coffers.


"Quotīdiē" 26 June 2005
"Africa and business on Talk of the Nation"
"Those despicable gas flares"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia