Category Archives: Africa

A long walk to freedom

I was with a group of people at the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in Birmingham partying as Nelson Mandela stepped out into the world as a free man with Winnie along side. We did it again as Obama was elected President of the USA. Highly significant events, especially for black people. On each occasion the joy was shared universally eclipsing the voices of racism and hatred. 20 years on a Guardian article looks back at achievements and disappointments since.
I had the great privilege of joining thousands of others in the Birmingham Convention Centre when Mandela came. He started locally in Handsworth where he asked to go personally to meet with the black population. Facing 3000 or so he began jestingly “if I known there were so many I wouldn’t have come” before talking for two hours without a note in sight. I raised my clenched fist in salute as he left the building receiving a smiling acknowledgment.
While Mandela’s example was pointed to as an example to be followed what has been reported so frequently in the 20 years that followed is the self-indulgence and greed of so many entrusted with leadership in democratic elections. Mandela’s own successor, Jacob Zuma, is embroiled in controversy and it will be a strange sight to see him speaking in tribute to the person he so singularly fails to emulate.
Most regrettable is that the promise of socialism has receded as personal greed eclipses all else as international capitalism continues to encourage and support it.

When Mandela became free

FW de Klerk talks about the decision to free Mandela. The idea of homeland for the black population fell apart as did formal apartheid.
Israel today has been compared to the apartheid state and the stalled peace process envisages a “two state solution”. How this can happen now is far from clear as Palestinian land has been fragmented and reduced with the process continuing to appease the far-right settlers. How can these Palestinian fragments be more than “Bantustans” dominated by the US-backed Israeli state? The whole population needs to live together in a single unit underpinned by equality. While we know there is still a long way to go in South Africa with mind-sets of colonial rule enduring, there are no longer the formal structures and means of oppression which are evident as Israel continues to occupy and brutally coerce Palestinians not only in Gaza but across the West Bank.
As in the former segregated South Africa the cry goes up “if we don’t do something (i.e. oppress) they will push us into the sea”. Well that hasn’t happened and with the unified state seems an unlikely possibility. At present the Palestinian population are daily facing something far worse.

A frog on my shoulder

I made this for a bit of fun with my granddaughters Lael and Niamh in mind. However while the princes in particular don’t see anything funny about it I didn’t notice any comments on the commercial aspects where huge swathes of rain forest are felled for profit. In the Congo local leaders were tricked into allowing vast areas to be used by furniture manufacturers, so take care when purchasing to make sure that any timber used is from sustainable sources.

Obama wins his military stripes

In an adventure which will enter history as legend the US navy secured the release of a naval captain held hostage after his vessel was seized by pirates off the Somali coast. Who will get the credit. Certainly the captain who offered himself as hostage to save his ship, and the marksman who picked off the pirates in the cramped lifeboat, one of whom was pointing his rifle directly at the captain’s back. It is Obama who will benefit most, however, since although it was a minor operation compared to Iraq and Afghanistan the White House staff have made it clear that it was the President’s clear commands following many briefings that contributed to success.
Such incidents show the fragile and complex nature of presidential fortune since has the operation turned sour Obama would have faced headlines as Clinton did when an invasion of Haiti went wrong, and Carter after a rescue mission in the desert ended catastrophically. Earlier this month a French operation ended by killing one of the hostages as a small yacht seized by pirates was reclaimed.

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Obama’s Grandfather. Tortured in Kenya

A comment in the Independent today (9/12/2008) includes a revelation that the British imprisoned and tortured Barack Obama’s grandfather in Kenya. As the author points out it should be a lesson for Obama and all of us of the excesses of imperial rule. He gow on the point out that these are often replicated under the guise of anti-imperialism.
The arrest of Obama’s grandfather preceded the Mau Mau uprising. If nothing else it brings an opportunity to look back and reassess a period of history portrayed at the time as violent and murderous, particularly towards Europeans. This view was replicated in subsequent movies on the subject affecting and reinforcing racist attitudes in Europe and the U.S.
The main victims as ever were black Africans. The Europeans killed were evidently relatively few but of course when it happened it became front page in Western media. Barbarism was portrayed as existing among the black population compared to the “civilised” white economic migrants. The myth of Mau Mau was born.

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Land grab – back to the scramble for Africa

One response to the economic crisis is a return to a competition for scarce resources – back to Africa for example where well endowed nations – and multinational organisations – grab land. Already struggling people are forced to compete for food while others secure their own wellbeing.
Already we have seen the European Union plundering fish stocks vital for the well being of poor African countries. The well-known philanthropist and Come Dancing hopeful, Peter Mandelson, secured deals to ensure starvation reminscent of colonialism in Ireland and India during the nineteenth century.

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The First US Black President?

Questions have been raised over some time now about the ancestry of several former presidents of the United States, none more so than Eisenhower with pictures circulating of a grandmother who was black. Certainly his mother looks to have African ancestry but it was a matter never discussed when Ike held office. It’s clear times have changed whether Barack Obama wins or loses the presidential race.
The situation is surely similar to that in Egypt where many pharaohs were either African or partly so. Herodotus claims that a number were and it is quite wrong to assume that the pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty were the first:
“After this man the priests enumerated to me from a papyrus roll the names of other kings, three hundred and thirty in number; and in all these generations of men eighteen were Ethiopians, one was a woman, a native Egyptian…”Herodotus Histories: Egypt.
Carved stone heads of the very first Egyptian pharaohs appear to be black African.

The Congo. Once again war, once again the resources

The Independent reports on the terrible conflict once again consuming the Central African country. Tribal wars in the area called the “Heart of Darkness” by outsiders. Nothing of the kind says the writer. It is all about the Congo’s tremendous wealth of untapped resources. The search for riches untold continues against the backdrop of a failed financial system.
The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you.” Source “The Independent” 30/10/2008

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Angola is booming

A report on Angola prior to elections shows a booming economy. Oil is a major factor, and Angola has mineral wealth too. China is a major player and gets most of its oil from this source.
So what has happened to the poverty that Africans have faced under colonial rule? It sound as if that is not defeated yet and that a “trickle-down” policy is at play. Such an idea is usually a myth promoted by those in control of resources, so how much insiders will benefit (a few or many), and how much will go outside? The jury is out whether modern China is a capitalist or socialist economy, with many suspecting it has moved in the former direction. Certainly China’s presence in African countries has shown more of the characteristics of a new colonialism leaving many suffering the blight of activities such as mining.

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Who owns Africa?

Anyone but Africans it seems as the diamond industry demonstrates internal competition from everywhere else. So the Israeli-Arab conflict emerges between Jewish and Lebanese tycoons, both extracting huge amounts of wealth from the African soil. Deadly enemies united in capitalist enterprise.
As I’ve discussed before it seems that nowhere is the diamond trade clean. Canada for example made claims that it’s diamonds were not “blood diamonds”. Closer examination of operations shows that land on which diamonds are mined belongs to the Inuit who themselves benefit little while their land is despoiled. Familiar.
Back in Africa “The most prominent Israeli businessman in the region is diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz, who is worth an estimated $3 billion. Steinmetz operates through foreign companies in Sierra Leone, Botswana, the Congo and Zambia. He owns the largest diamond mine in Sierra Leone – Koidu, which produces an estimated $20-30 million worth of diamonds annually.”

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