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September 30, 2003

G21 After Cancun, Revisited

The question of G21's strategy following the WTO talks in Cancun certainly evoked impressive responses on Blogonaut.

Much to agree with, much to dispute.

Thanks very much to Marc for having invited us to take a part in the challenge; and thanks to Marc for putting together such a diverse group of respondents.

Posted by zombyboy at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

Revisiting Amina Lawal

This picture was just too beautiful to leave the subject alone.

There is much to celebrate in the acquittal of Amina Lawal, even if the reasoning behind the court's decision left much to be desired.


Amina Lawal holds her baby Wasila in court in Katsina, Nigeria, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2003. An Islamic appeals court in northern Nigeria Thursday acquitted Lawal, who was facing death by stoning for having sex out of wedlock in a case that has drawn world attention and dragged on for almost a year.
AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

Further reading on the subject:
Let He Who is Without Sin...

Doing the Right Thing

Posted by zombyboy at 03:03 PM | Comments (0)

Aid from Japan

Even in the midst of a their own recession, Japan has pledged $1 billion in new aid to Africa over the next five years.

The money, to be dispersed over five years, will help fund AIDS (news - web sites) treatment, vaccinations and building schools and facilities for drinking water.
The pledge was the centerpiece of a three-tiered program to promote development, poverty reduction and peace. That program included earlier initiatives to earmark $300 million over the next five years for loans for Japanese investment in Africa, and to forgive up to $3 billion in yen loans to the most heavily indebted nations on the continent.

As wonderful as this is, $1 billion is just a fraction of the amount needed to help African nations rebuild and modernize. If it is administered well, though, this money will be a welcome gift from Japan.

Along with the $1.9 billion (of the promised $15 billion over five years) in new spending this year from the United States for AIDs treatment and prevention, hopefully the infrastructure for real movement on the AIDs crisis.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

Liberia Update

U.S. forces are heading home:

Military forces from the Economic Community of West African States have succeeded in establishing a safe area so humanitarian operations in Liberia can proceed, said officials. American forces will leave the country Oct. 1.

The USS Carter Hall and USS Nashville left the area over the past weekend with 1,550 soldiers and Marines. The USS Iwo Jima still is in the area and will return as soon as orders are cut, said Navy officials.

A small group of Marines will stay in Monrovia, assisting with security at the U.S. Embassy.

I'm taking this as a good sign--or at least a signal that things are expected to stay relatively stable for the near future. Hopefully, that will hold true--or even better, there will be continued improvement in the situation there.

Read the story

Posted by at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2003

G21 After Cancun

While the subject of the WTO meeting in Cancun may seem a bit off-topic for AfricaBlog, there is no denying the potential effects that an effective G21 can have on the economies and development of African nations. The subject may not be about Africa, but the subject touches the continent deeply.

Last week, AfricaBlog was invited to answer a question for Marc Brazeau’s Blogonaut. A simple question, yes, but thought provoking.

Given the collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun, what do you feel is the most strategic next step for the G21 countries?

Being the gent who runs AfricaBlog, it falls upon me to answer it, but I make no claim to speak for the contributing authors of the blog. Their opinions may be markedly different, their beliefs opposite mine.

Most importantly, to me, is to understand why the ending of the talks wasn’t necessarily a failure or a loss. G21, an organization made up of representatives of 21 of the worlds poorest nations, showed itself to be a strong organization with a powerful agenda.

As Alex Kirby said in his column for the BBC:

The collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun may look like disaster for all. Eventually though, out of the ashes may come a new, abrasive self-confidence from the poor.

Although his belief that a win for the smaller farmers of the world is a loss for the rich farmers in prosperous nations is a bit questionable, he’s right about the potential good for developing nations in a show of unified strength. This surprising strength from nations that normally have such a small voice is, in itself, a small victory.

This small victory has the potential to lead to greater victories.

The end of these talks should surprise no one. Of course, these first steps will be contentious; will have some air of battle about them. A short-term loss does not always mean a long-term failure, though. If the nations can maintain a united front and continue to press their case, they will be successful in the long run.

G21 nations understand that tariffs imposed on agricultural goods by the US and the EU in particular are detriments not only to that industry in developing nations, but to the economic growth of those nations as a whole. While a small African nation cannot compete in manufacturing, consultation, or high-tech, local farmers could sell within their own nations at competitive prices if farmers from developed nations weren’t receiving artificial subsidies that made it possible to dump products on third-world countries.

In essence, the trade complaint that the US has against China—that artificial price controls and monetary manipulation make it possible for Chinese manufacturers to dump goods on the US at reduced costs, hurting domestic manufacturing—is the same complaint that G21 has about the EU and the US.

And they are right.

The tariffs that keep competitive products out of the US and EU, and the subsidies paid to farmers, amount to trade barriers that developing nations have no hope of overcoming.

For G21 nations, there are three things that must happen:

  1. Continue the course with appeals to the WTO.
  2. Appeal to the US and EU directly.
  3. Compromise

Continue the Course.
There is no need for desperation or fear. Continue the course and expect this to be a lengthy process. Farmers and farm advocates form powerful political blocks in the US and EU; respect that it will take time and effort for the governments to find ways of addressing G21 concerns without thoroughly alienating voters. Expecting these leaders to commit political suicide overnight might be reaching.

Appeal Directly.
Take the conversations directly to the US and the EU. Direct approaches can have a much quicker response—or at least more fruitful dialog—than trying to appeal to larger organizations that cover a wider array of interests. Focused dialog with the US, for instance, could tie into President Bush’s conversations about extending trade concessions and free trade zones to developing nations in exchange for certain governmental liberalization or assistance in the continuing war on terror.

This ties into the first strategy. G21 nations need to understand that they probably will not get all that they want—at least, not yet. And that’s acceptable. Taking strides in the right direction is the goal, not the end of the effort.

One of the things that should be made clear is that it is unlikely that developing nations will be competitive in Western markets for some time. Economies of scale simply work against them, as to the delivery mechanisms available in the West, the agricultural technology, and the business knowledge. What is important is that they become competitive in their home markets.

Money that should be going to local farmers, that should be powering local economies, is instead drained off to the subsidized farmers of the West. Without those subsidies, economies in developing nations will be free to grow—and economic growth and success is an integral component of development in education, health care, and liberalization of governments.

No, the collapse in talks was not a failure. It was an uncertain, yet impressive first step towards a more fair structure of worldwide trade in agriculture.

Posted by zombyboy at 12:45 AM | Comments (0)

Nigeria Enters The Space Age

Nigeria, one of the poorest nations on earth, joined the Space Age today. The nation's first satellite, carried to orbit by a Russian rocket, will enable Nigerians to monitor impending natural disasters, keep tabs on ecological changes - such as erosion and deforestation - as well as to safeguard the profits of its oil industry. Many people don't realize that Nigeria is one of the world's major oil exporters. The nation has an abundance of the commodity, but is robbed of hundreds of thousands barrels of oil per day by pirates who siphon it off.

While some Nigerians have evinced pride at the launch, others see the expenditure as a waste of money in a nation where most of the population doesn't have electricity or running water. Personally, I see the satellite launch as a step in the right direction for Nigeria. Once she can protect her own resources, Nigeria's wealth will be more available to her people through market distribution. Also, in a largely agrarian society, the ability to predict ecological trends could be invaluable to the economy over time.

Bear in mind that this is the same Nigeria that this week reprieved Amina Lawal, the woman who was under a death sentence for adultery for over two years. The Amina Lawal case, however, was not an isolated one. Women (and men) in Nigeria are waiting to die by stoning even as I type. Shariah Law - the Islamic Code that governs many of Nigeria's individual states despite Federal opposition - can not be described a progressive governmental method.

It is, however, my hope to find every speck of good news, of movement in the right direction that is reported in Africa and trumpet it. In a continent so plagued by war, disease, and famine, it is reassuring to remember that through all this, Africans are still reaching beyond, reaching for more - grasping at the stars.

Posted by at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2003

Doing the Right Thing

A Nigerian court did the expected--and right--thing in sparing Amina Lawal from stoning.

Amina Lawal, the single mother who attracted worldwide attention when she was sentenced to death by stoning, had her conviction overturned today by an Islamic appeals court in northern Nigeria.

A panel of judges rejected Ms Lawal's conviction by four votes to one, citing procedural errors and saying she was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself".

Ms Lawal, 32, was sentenced to be stoned to death under Sharia law in March 2002 after she gave birth to a child outside marriage. Twelve mainly Islamic states in northern Nigeria have adopted Sharia, though the Nigerian government had argued for Ms Lawal's release. In an hour-long ruling, the judges in black robes and white turbans said Ms Lawal was not caught in the act, and was not given enough time to understand the charges against her. They also complained that only one judge was present at her initial conviction, instead of the three required under Islamic law.

Now, if only they could stop releasing women on technicalities and admit that the law is barbaric, we'd be making some real progress...

Read the story.

Read our previous post on the issue.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2003

Frightening Statistic

I am, have been, and always will be a proponent of gun rights. This statistic about sub-Saharan Africa does disturb me, though--not so much because of the raw numbers, but because of the way in which these weapons are being used and the effect that their use has on the general population.

There is one weapon in circulation for every 20 people in Africa, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The 2003 edition of the Small Arms Survey, a report by the Geneva-based organisation of the same name, says about 30 million light weapons are in circulation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Again, the disturbing portion to me isn't the sheer number of weapons available, but the way that it effects communities in Africa.

In addition to increased crime and permanent disabilities, the report says that the proliferation of small weapons discouraged teachers and children from going to school and farmers from taking their goods to the market.

I'm sure the direct economic effects are difficult to assess, but they are real. Essentially, the use of small arms in violent and illegal ways throughout sub-Saharan Africa is another hurdle for countries struggling to work through perpetual economic crises.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2003

Great News on Liberia

Brought to us by Naunihal Singh

Great news on tap for Liberia.

Mains electricity will be restored to parts of Monrovia within a few days, more then 10 years after it was cut off during fighting that damaged a hydro-electric power station, the European Union representative in Liberia said on Wednesday.

Geoffery Rudd told reporters that power would be restored gradually using a diesel generator and fuel supplied by the EU.

"For the past days the EU in collaboration with the Liberia Electricity Corporation [the state power company] have tested the power distribution lines in Monrovia," he told reporters. "Within a matter of days, electricity will be supplied once more."

It sounds like things are quickly improving in Liberia. Again, one of the things that I like most about this situation is that Africans did the majority of the heavy lifting here. Certainly, it will require aid and assistance from Western nations to help get Liberia running again--the problems are too big to go away in just a number of months.

Still, the idea that other African nations can help to police their own corrupt leaders, and can help to re-build the failed states, is a good one.

Read the rest.

Thanks very much to Naunihal for sending this story.

Posted by zombyboy at 12:59 PM | Comments (5)

September 18, 2003

Good News, But...

The Daily News, which is critical of President Robert Mugabe, was closed by the government last week for breaking a new, stringent press law.

The paper said the law was designed to stifle the press and initially refused to apply for accreditation.

However the owners later decided to register with the media commission and asked the High Court to allow the paper to continue publishing while its application was being considered.

In its ruling on Thursday, the High Court said police had no right "to prevent the applicant and its employees from gaining access to the premises of the applicant and carrying on its business".

The Zimbabwe High Court's ruling that backs the newspaper that had been closed will be seen as a good thing, but temper that warm feeling and wait to see what happens. Mugabe has ignored the court before (in specific when dealing with the farm re-distribution) and may do so again.

There is more political pressure right now on Mugabe than ever before; between his flailing economy, failed farms, a new Western attention, and a continuing food crisis, many are predicting that the current government will not survive. Mugabe's closing of the opposition newspaper was a typical move to consolidate power in a third world country.

Until the paper starts publishing again and does so consistently for months without harassment, the ruling is nothing but further ammunition against a corrupt regime. In itself, meaningless, but in a larger sense, it gives legitimacy to those who oppose Mugabe and the continued slide of Zimbabwe into chaos.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:17 AM | Comments (2)

September 15, 2003

More on GM foods

Newsweek has a couple of articles out today dealing with biotech foods. Also referred to as GMOs (genetically modified organisms), these crops, because of their pest and disease resistance--and in some cases, higher nutrient levels ("golden rice")--may be able to play a vital role in alleviating starvation and opening markets in Africa.

The reasons these technolgies haven't been used to a greater extent already have as much to do with politics as they do with science. The Americans are for, the Europeans largely against, and African dictators like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe are experts at playing the two sides off against one another.

Why can't we quit fighting about this and feed people?

Newsweek International's Steve Rayner has one theory about the divide between Europeans and Americans:

Not only do Americans live apart from their ideal image of nature, they also think of food production as something that happens far away. You can fly over the Great Plains and see endless ranks of green machines growing wheat and soybeans. European food also travels great distances from farm to table, but Europeans think of their food as a product of the same countryside in which they live. Perhaps it’s the perceived industrialization of food production that makes Europeans uncomfortable, not the tinkering with genes. Europeans, after all, generally favor genetically modified pharmaceuticals.

Personally, I’m not convinced that GM foods pose significant health or environmental risks. I’m more concerned about the risk to reasoned discussion, and possibly even to democracy. Under the World Trade Organization regime, a threat to human health or the environment is the only basis on which a country can refuse to admit a product. Europeans can’t openly express the full range of their concerns about GM crops because such fears have no legal standing. Without open debate, how can there be democratic decision making? The WTO framework forces people to inflate concerns about human health and the environment because they can’t express their real concerns. No wonder Americans are frustrated by what they see as scientific irrationality on the part of Europeans, which they can explain only as the desire to implement trade barriers.

Of course, my take on this is that irrationality is irrationality, but it's an interesting theory, and one I hadn't seen before. Such a discomfort certainly doesn't justify policies that scare hungry developing nations out of using this technology to help feed their people, lest they never be able to break into the European market.

Adam Piore has a different take:

But European resistance is not, no matter what Bush suggests [referring to President Bush's assertion earlier this year that the Europeans have blocked their use--Ed.], the only reason why GM foods are not reaching Africa in significant quantity. Bickering and competition within the biotech industry have created a tangle of legal and licensing hurdles through which small researchers must crash if they set out to develop GM foods for Africa. For business reasons, big companies have been slow to experiment with ways to apply and market existing GM technologies such as insect- and disease-resistant crops in Africa. And African nations themselves have caused problems with regulatory bumbling. In short, a wide cast of characters all over the world, including America, is blocking the advance of GM foods to the world’s poorest continent. “There’s a lot of potential,” says Daniel Karanja, a policy analyst of Bread for the World and a former economist at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. “Until recently there hasn’t been any widespread push to develop African crops.”

There's plenty more about the failings of U.S. companies, which doesn't sit particularly well with me. Any business is not going to be particularly inclined to develop a product unless they are sure they will be able to sell it. (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is, of course, of the opinion that the technology itself should be given away.)

Piore, to his credit, points out the difficulties that would faced in bringing biotech crops to market in Africa, whether they are homegrown or imported, and sees the potential in the technology:

Even if big Western companies were clamoring to help develop lifesaving GM innovations for the poor, only one African country would be ready to accept them. South Africa has the only government on the continent with the regulatory structure in place to import, test and release GM seeds to farmers. Its solo record would appear to confirm how much all of Africa could gain from GM crops given proper safeguards. According to one study by researchers at King’s College London and the University of Pretoria in South Africa, within two years those adopting Monsanto’s Bt cotton in South Africa had yields that were on average about 16 percent higher than those of farmers who did not use the technology.

And increasingly, it looks like other African nations are seeing the potential, too. Piore reports that Uganda will soon allow processed GM foods into the country and has opened a biotech lab, and that Kenya, Nigeria, and Malawi are considering doing so. The BBC adds Egypt and Zimbabwe to the list.

And just last Thursday, an article appeared in the Ghanian Chronicle indicating that Ghana, too, is coming on board:

The Minister of Science and Environment, Prof. Kasim Kasanga, has said the government has formulated a National Science and Technology policy, which, among other things, endorses the use of innovative and pervasive technology, including biotechnology, as tools for development.

According to him, the government is convinced that biotechnology, as a tool for development, is not harmful to mankind. “Biotechnology has become a key issue in the international debate on sustainable development. The ministry is therefore developing technical capability to ensure the safe and environmentally sound management of Biotechnology in Ghana.”

Call me a crazy American, but I think this is a good sign.

Europe may be uncomfortable with GM crops, but it is possible to let the precautionary principle paralyze, rather than inform. Biotechnology is not going to go away. It's here, and it feeds people. Some believe it would be wonderful if it were economically feasible to take the development of biotechnology out of the private sector, but it isn't--even if it were desirable. What is needed is a framework of cooperation, where the companies (wherever they may be located) that develop the products are able to make enough, either in dollars or goodwill, to provide incentive for continuing development, a market for them to sell those products in, and an attitude of pragmatism about getting it all done.

When it comes right down to it, it's about getting people enough to eat. It's past time to quit fighting about it and get the job done.

Recommended reading (several of the following links courtesy of

Why We Can't Agree (Newsweek)
What Green Revolution? (Newsweek)
Hungry Zimbabwe Shuns Corn (8/1/02)
A New Social Contract on Biotechnology (FAO Ag21 Magazine)
Uganda's Push for GM (BBC)
Ministry moves to ensure safe, sound management of Biotech (Ghanian Chronicle)
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
European Environment Agency definition: Precautionary Principle

Posted by at 11:10 PM | Comments (7)

Update on the Zimbabwe Newspaper Closure

The Daily News is filing to register and reopen.

However, getting the newspaper's offices reopened may not be straightforward, with the main state-run daily newspaper, the Herald, predicting possible problems ahead with the MIC.

"It's difficult to see how an outlaw that has been operating illegally can be registered," an unnamed lawyer was quoted as saying.

Daily News chief executive Sam Nkomo has been summoned to appear in court early this week and is expected to be charged.

Next time you hear someone who cries "censorship" whenever Wal Mart refuses to carry a CD or when a radio station decides to stop playing the Dixie Chicks, refer them to this as a true example (and a frightening example) of censorship.

One of the best tools in the arsenal of liberalization is to ensure that news gets through to the citizens of developing nations. News from Western sources can act as a powerful antidote to the news gathered from state run organizations.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:12 PM | Comments (2)

September 11, 2003

A Brighter Light

On September 11, while we remember a tragic day, it is good to remember that there are good things happening as well.

One of those things is happening in Ghana.

Scores of children sold by their parents to fishermen in Ghana are to be reunited with their families on Thursday.

The children - some absent for up to 10 years - were freed as part of a scheme by the humanitarian International Organisation of Migration (IOM), which is helping the fishermen with equipment and business loans.

The horrors of slavery still haunt the world, and organizations like the IOM continually fight against the practice. While thousands of boys will still be remain slaves to those fishermen, nearly two hundred will be going free.

It is worthwhile to celebrate the small victories and remain committed to the greater cause.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2003

Ingenuity knows no boundaries

We perhaps aren't used to thinking of Africa as a place populated by creative businessmen. After all, stories like this one, about a custom coffin business in Ghana, don't exactly make the evening news. And it probably wouldn't have made the Africa section at MSNBC if it hadn't been about such a delightfully quirky topic:

These days, Accra's taxi drivers are buried in scaled-down cars and trucks, cattle herders in startlingly realistic cows, snail vendors in huge, antennaed escargots, Christian preachers in Bibles.

A pilot may be interred in a model of a Ghana Airways plane, its wings collapsible to fit in the grave. A soldier can choose a camouflaged howitzer, its barrel trained on the heavens. Shoe sellers go off in oversized white 1980s-era Nike sneakers.

We are used to seeing news from Africa of war and famine and disaster and disease. And the article takes care to point out that this is, of course, the sort of product that is available only to the very rich, and that even the rich are being driven away from such things as the price of wood rises from "relentless" logging, threatening the business.

What I see in it, though, is hope.

I see in that business the creativity and the spirit that can eventually lift Africa out of her troubles.

We see on the nightly news stories about this or that sort of aid being given to African nations, and sometimes I think we forget the way that the people in those nations can be partners in their own progress. The way is obstructed in many places by brutal dictators and old hatreds, true. But have you ever seen anything more wonderfully capitalist than selling coffins in the form of fish to those who can afford them?

Think about it.

Posted by at 05:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2003

Tragedy in Nigeria

This story from our friend Jo.

Nigeria's roads are notoriously dangerous, but that does little to blunt the tragedy of over 100 people dying in a traffic incident.

Three buses and a truck collided Monday in central Nigeria, killing more than 100 people in the impact and the fiery explosion that followed, authorities said.

State television showed charred remains of some victims of the accident, which happened shortly after midnight Sunday about 60 miles outside the capital, Abuja.

My prayers and condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Of Malaria and Marines

Twelve U.S. Marines who were in Liberia last month have been diagnosed with malaria and 21 other U.S. troops have symptoms of the disease, defense officials said Monday.

Twelve Marines. 21 other U.S. troops.

Yes, I understand it is news because it is our servicemembers who are suffering. I understand it is news because it is our servicemembers who are sick after being in Liberia. And yes, I understand it is news because here malaria sounds like an almost exotic thing to come down with.

But it isn't.

According to the WHO:

The disease was once more widespread but it was successfully eliminated from many countries with temperate climates during the mid 20th century. Today malaria is found throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least one million deaths annually.

That elimination of the disease from the temperate zones was accomplished in large part through the use of DDT, which is no longer considered a viable solution. Whether it should be is a longer debate than I can do justice to this evening. There are a number of alternative solutions now being explored.

I just wanted to take a moment to point out the contrast. Malaria is below our radar now in the U.S., even though 40% of the world's population lives in areas where it is endemic.

From the WHO again:

Around 90% of these deaths occur in Africa, mostly in young children. Malaria is Africa's leading cause of under-five mortality (20%) and constitutes 10% of the continent's overall disease burden. It accounts for 40% of public health expenditure, 30-50% of inpatient admissions, and up to 50% of outpatient visits in areas with high malaria transmission.

And this is only one part of the disease burden that Africa bears.

No solutions tonight. Just perspective.

FOXNews article
WHO Fact Sheet: Malaria
WHO Malaria Map
WHO Fact Sheet: Liberia
Roll Back Malaria

Posted by at 04:57 AM | Comments (4)

Children of the Congo

Amnesty International has put out a report on children being recruited into military service in the Congo. Children as young as eight are being indoctrinated into a brutal military culture--and a nation is slowly being robbed of its future.

This from a Guardian report:

But Amnesty's reportpaints a grim picture of the failure to disarm tens of thousands of children who have suffered - and inflicted - atrocities at the behest of myriad groups vying for territory and mineral wealth in the anarchic east.

"While in a period of supposed transition to peace, all parties continue to recruit combatants, including a large number of child soldiers," it says.

They may be ordered to do anything, including torture and executions.

"[They are] forced to kill, to rape, to kill own families; forced into cannibalism and sex acts with corpses; given drugs and alcohol to numb/ cloud feelings."

Read the rest. It will break your heart.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:30 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2003

Do We Have to Export Everything?

I'm not a friend of reality TV. The shows are about as "real" as pro wrestling, about as entertaining as 'Nsync, and about as interesting as the genealogies in the bible.

And we had to go and export them to Africa.

Zambia erupted in a frenzy of elation after Zambian woman Cherise Makubale, 24, was announced the winner of Africa's first television reality show, Big Brother Africa (BBA).

Motorists drove along the streets of the capital blowing their horns Sunday night while others poured onto the streets singing, and fire crackers were heard all over the city to celebrate Cherise's victory.

Congratulations to Cherise, and, to the continent, I'm sorry...

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 09:22 PM | Comments (3)

September 05, 2003

The Dahomean

On my Favorite Novels list, there’s a book called The Dahomean, penned by the late Frank Yerby and published in 1971. I first read this novel as a teenager, picking it up in after both of my parents had finished with it. (They learned to watch the quality of reading material that they brought into the house, because, sooner or later, I would get around to reading it, whatever it was.)

The novel, set in the early 19th century, starts out with two white Maryland farmers heading home after they have purchased an African slave, whom they dub Wesley Parks--a corruption of his given name, Nyasanu Hwesu. The rest of the novel is set in the kingdom of Dahomey and is a chronicle of the life of the former free man.

It is simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It’s honest, forthright, unflinching, exciting, romantic and, ultimately, of course, tragic.

Yerby doesn’t sugarcoat the Dahomeans. They are products of their time and their rigid, ritualistic culture; they are believers in vudun (voodoo), polygamy, wife-inheritance, ritual slaughter and are frighteningly war-like. They are greedy, craven, lustful, stupid and vengeful. Dahomey’s rulers are particularly brutal.

They are also brilliant, kind, generous, tender, heroic and filled with love. Some also find particularly ingenious ways of circumventing the bounds of their inflexible culture and society.

In addition, it is made quite clear that Africans sold their brethren into the slavery that we now all deplore; to each other, to the Arabs, to the Europeans and to the Americans.

One of the main reasons that this novel has remained in my consciousness—besides its high quality--was that, outside of the short first chapter, it is the only novel that I know of that features indigenous Africans alone. I have no problems with such works as The Covenant, Out of Africa, I Dreamed of Africa or The Poisonwood Bible. I simply find it curious, that, since the publication of The Dahomean, there have been no major Western works, either in print or on screen, that portray a given African tribe/kingdom/nation in and of itself. (The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a contrasting example of this.)

Over the years, I have often thought that this novel should be made into a movie, but I wonder what the reaction would be. In this politically correct era, I doubt whether such a book could have been published by a major publishing house, much less adapted for the screen. (I suspect that, unless such a film were perfectly made, the fit would hit the shan; not only because of the Dahomeans' cultural practices, but also because of their unyielding scorn of homosexuality and homosexuals.) These Africans are depicted warts and all. In other words, they’re depicted as human.

The great Mr. Yerby put things much more eloquently than I, in his “Notes to the Reader,” at the front of his masterpiece:

The thoughtful reader will observe that the writer has not attempted to make the Dahomeans either more or less than what they were. He is aware that truth is an uncomfortable quality; that neither the racist, the liberal, nor the advocates of Black Power and/or Pride will find much support for their dearly held and perhaps, to them, emotionally and psychologically necessary myths herein.
So be it. Myths solve nothing, arrange nothing. But then, as the protagonist of this novel is driven in the end to put it, perhaps there are no viable solutions or arrangements in life for any of the desperate problems facing humanity in an all too hostile world.

If you can find it, buy it.

UPDATE: It appears that I have sent Mr. Yerby a posthumous birthday gift. He was born on September 5, 1916 in Augusta, GA. He died on November 29, 1991 in Madrid, Spain.

Posted by at 10:02 PM | Comments (1)

Just to put Africa in some perspective


Note: the US portion doesn't include Alaska, and I'm not sure what they did with China there at the bottom.

But this is why Africa is such a mish-mash of people, cultures, and problems. It's HUGE!

Posted by at 09:01 PM | Comments (2)

Another take on GMOs

I have a habit of disagreeing with what Jimmy Carter has to say, so you can imagine my surprise when Dave Tepper pointed to this piece, wherein we discover that Mr. Carter thinks that the use of genetically modified crops in Africa is a good thing.

Here's a sample:

There are misguided and ill-advised and sincere people who believe that all crops on Earth should be grown without any soil or chemicals or genetically improved plants being used. They even protest the simple use o f fertilizers to maintain the productivity of a field.

They don't realize that a field in the developing world, if not fertilized, will have to be abandoned and another similar area will have to be slashed and burned. There is a momentous decision to be made within the next six months derived from the 1972 global environmental conferenceb in Rio de Janeiro. And there's a powerful lobby that has evolved to prevent the importation of any genetically modified organisms. This would almost totally prohibit, in those countries, any of the advantages I have described to you. It's not just a minor problem. It is perhaps the most serious problem that the Danforth Plant Science Center and the products of its research face in the future.

The people at Monsanto know all about this. The people at Merck knew all about this. The people at American Home Products knew all about this. The news media people know. I have used my own limited influence to try to instruct the world that these advantages or advances in science are crucial to the well-being of the people on Earth. So far, to little avail.

There are, of course, serious probelms not only political but economic with trying to use these technologies on a broad scale in Africa. The UN insists that we must donate not just the seed but the science behind it, so that nations do not become beholden to American companies, and dependent on purchasing from them. Some nations refuse to allow GMO crops, because of Europe's stance toward them. They're starving to death worrying about genetic drift and future markets. And of course, some dictators use the existence of the technology to try to manipulate the U.S. to their advantage, rather than the advantage of their people.

But Jimmy Carter, at least, gets it:

And, of course, the most important responsibility, perhaps, is to evolve ways to control weeds, to make plants impervious to insect attack and to increase yields. That's very important, but it is also important to protect wetlands, rain forests, to reduce erosion, to feed hungry people and to preserve the health of little children whom we will never know, but whose lives and well-being will depend on the people here.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted by at 04:13 PM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2003

Our Shifting Moods

We in the West tend to watch Africa in cycles. African nations are only interesting to us in the midst of a crisis, and, even then, our attention span is limited. This year, we've watched the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Zimbabwe going through horrible upheavals, while ignoring the bulk of the continent.

Will our mood and attention shift next to Uganda? Given this report from AP writer Henry Wasswa, it wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Rebels shot or clubbed to death 25 people on a bus in northeastern Uganda on Monday and then set the vehicle ablaze, a government army spokesman said. Nine others were injured in the ambush.

The brutal attack followed a wave of violence in recent days in which rebels hacked to death 19 civilians and abducted an unknown number of others, said Maj. Shaban Bantariza.

The Lord's Resistance Army rebels ambushed the 65-seat bus on its way from Lira to Soroti, 174 miles northeast of the capital, Kampala, Bantariza said. He did not provide any other details.

This isn't really a criticism. The fact is, there are limited resources for applying pressure and intervention to Africa's many crisis zones. Just spend some time reading newspapers from Africa and reports on the Internet, and you'll understand the immense tragedy that faces the majority of Africans--and, perhaps, you'll despair that there will ever be a solution.

Before we turn our attention fully to Uganda--as deserving and needy as they may be--we need to make sure that Liberia is on the right path, we need to clarify our dealings with Zimbabwe, and we need to address the needs of AIDs victims across the continent.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

Chinese Tigers

This is a great thing for South Africa.

Two South China tigers, the first ever to leave the country, arrived Tuesday in South Africa as part of a project to save the endangered species.


"South Africa is renowned for its skills in conservation which was the reason for our approach to and partnership with local conservation expertise in order to assist us with this project," said Li Quan, founder of the Save China's Tigers Foundation.

The cubs, along with any offspring, are expected to be ready for life in the wild by 2008 when they will be returned to China.

Let's all wish them great luck with this endeavor.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 05:54 PM | Comments (3)
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