The return of bullets and honey

From now on, African Bullets & Honey will be located here.

I think I am going to start blogging again. Yes, definitely. I feel the urge strong upon me, alas.

Escape to Accra

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Accra is my new favorite place. Got here yesterday morning and instantly fell in love with the place. The warmth, the openness, the constant positive references to Africa, it’s too much so now I must find some way to spend more time here. On Thursday evening I went from the airport in Nairobi to a dinner in the course of which a mad plot was hatched to get up the next morning and go to Jomo Kenyatta Airport and buy a ticket to Accra. In the last 48 hours I have been to Johannesburg, Nairobi and now Accra. Verdict? Accra is so much easier to enjoy and the people – seriously and not just to throw around cliches – are just so friendly and open to outsiders – very different from my experience down South and of course in the ‘new’ Kenya. More stuff coming up on this visit if only as an interlude from the bleak posts on Kenya that have dominated lately.

Chilling in Djibouti

I just got back from Djibouti and the amazing Palace Kempinsky. It is a beautiful behemoth of a hotel with almost no guests: courtesy of it having being built for the recent COMESA Heads of State Summit and with very few other conceivable reasons for existing. But then before I get into that let me welcome myself back to this blog which I have left for more than a year. The strange thing is that whether I am blogging or not, it gets approximately the same number of visitors. So here is to the end of 2007, a year that has to rank as one of my better ones. I feel like it was the year that I awoke from a sort of reverie, an illusion so grand and long lasting that I had assumed it to be normal run-of-the-mill life.

In the past twelve months I have done my usual frantic running around the Horn of Africa, To Dubai, India, to different parts of Europe (including Rome for the first time where I quite inexplicably wept like a child in St. Peter’s Basilica) and to Algeria. It was fun but there is something about constant travel when you do not truly have a place to call home, a safe port to which you are called, that has a sad aspect. There was nothing to really stop me from saying that I could leave Addis and settle in any of the cities that I visited. So much freedom felt somehow constricting. Don’t ask me, I can’t figure it out either. Here comes 2008. How did it ever come to be 2008? What’s the bloody rush?

Anyway, here are some pictures of Djibouti. I just recently purchased a point-and-click to at least try and preserve some of what I see to permanent memory. I used to dislike the idea of taking pictures instead of looking at what was in front of me. It felt somehow like a greed to possess, like those kids who will save little scraps of unfinished food under the pillow. Anyway, away with all that. Just tried to upload some photos and do not have a clue how to do it.

Bullets & Honey Closed…

Just got back to Addis with a bag of 2007 resolutions, one which is to temporarily close down African Bullets & Honey for a few months. Yes, I am running a stake through the heart of this monster until I can find more time to dedicate to it.

If you feel like taking over it for six months, then just write to me at bulletsandhoney at googlemail.com so that we can get something sorted.

If you have never been to Lamu on the Kenyan coast, then pack your bags and head there. I spent a week in this most beautiful of coastal towns alongside writers and editors attending the Kwani Literary Festival. Things were smoked, others drank and a 24-hour dhow trip to Pate Island made. I came back from a week of not even bothering to read a newspaper to find that Ethiopia had chased the Islamic Courts out of Mogadishu and that Saddam Hussein had been executed in a particularly thuggish manner. So much to blog about but alas…

Next on the menu for this son of the soil is my very first visit to Dubai and India next week and then a few days in South Africa. Of course as all this is happening, I will be struggling to finish my thesis. After all the happy procrastination, I now have exactly nine months to get it done and submitted. So some sacrifices have to be made; one of them – happily for me – is the ravenous, inconsiderate and always hungry for more Bullets & Honey.

Thanks for visiting.

Dr. De Cock Praises The Cut

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Who would have guessed that the good Dr. Kevin M. De Cock, director of H.I.V./AIDS for the World Health Organization, would have been so presciently named? A study in Kenya and Uganda by the National Institutes of Health has found evidence that circumcision might reduce a man’s risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex by as much as fifty percent. Dr. De Cock reckons that men should not now assume that their circumcised penis has become a kind of magic bullet which they can shove around willy-nilly. Rather, it is, he says, “… a potentially important intervention.” Alas, his caution is correct.

The very same New York Times now trumpeting The Cut some years ago reported another study whose conclusion was quite the opposite. This one after studying almost the same number of men in the US as this more recent one studied in Kenya and Uganda, found that circumcision not only does not lead to lower rates of STDs but that their incidence is actually higher among the circumcised. Quite mysteriously, it also found that circumcised men were much likelier to engage in, to quote the NYT, ‘a varied repertoire of sexual practices, including oral sex, anal sex and masturbation.’ I wonder what Dr. De Cock has to say about all this and perhaps less pertinently, but more interestingly, whether he is circumcised or not.

To digress slightly: what kind of teasing was poor De Cock subjected to in school? I can just hear the jeering chorus, “De Cock, the Cock, De Cock, the Cock…” It must have been hell for the boy, and I am deeply ashamed that I should find it so funny at my age.

Anyway, hard on the heels of the pro-circumcision study, two of the larger HIV/AIDS funds are considering paying for The Cut in high-risk countries. Daniel Halperin, a Harvard HIV specialist extraordinaire, excitedly responded, “I have no doubt that as word of this gets around, millions of African men will want to get circumcised, and that will save many lives.” That is the kind of enthusiasm displayed by a man who got The Cut as an infant in a bright shiny hospital. Not as a teenager by a circumciser who declared the use of anesthetic to be unmanly as yours truly lay trouser-less, sweating onto the cold plastic of the hospital cot and praying to the gods for a last minute reprieve and failing that at least an injection of painkiller.

I really could not have guessed that my being tricked into the little Kiambu clinic was in fact a considerate attempt on the part of my father and uncle to reduce the number of Langerhans cells I had and thus potentially save me from future HIV infection. Yes, I was tricked, deceived, lied to, bamboozled, led astray, run amuck.

I had just completed my Certificate of Primary Education exams and found my dear father waiting in his car, a big smile on his face. “Would you like to go to town for an after-exam treat at Wimpy and then go visit your granddad’s clinic?” he asked, hugging me to him. A few hours and pints of blood later, I was a man.

Perhaps a twelve-year old man who had briefly fainted from blood loss, but a man nevertheless – and it should be noted that I took the procedure with nary a sound (this is a very important fact, perhaps the most important of all to those of you unused to male pride in enduring pain for no great purpose.) I was finally free of those troublesome Langerhans that had up to then called the underside of my foreskin home. I wish Dr. De Cock had been around then so that the procedure was paid for by American money, in a clinic that insisted on the use of anesthetic and kept me far from the trickery of my father who to this day chuckles every time we drive by the stone and corrugated iron building that used to house my late grandfather’s clinic.

Jamhuri Day Party in Addis Ababa

Last night I attended the Jamhuri Day party at the Kenyan Embassy in Addis Ababa, an event which is on every diplomat’s and Ethiopian taxi driver’s calendar. There were at least five hundred people who attended and the food and the tusker were in full flow. So much so that I heard myself, as if from afar, roaring all manner of greetings to people that I knew. ‘Welcome to Kenya,’ I would find myself shouting repeatedly to every Ethiopian acquaintance or friend who attended the event. I steered them this way and that, pointed out the banana trees and asked, ‘do you like those Kenyan banana trees? how about this Kenyan building? And Kenyan food, do you like the food? Isn’t the music lovely? Hey how about that ambassador? Coolest diplomat in town right?

It went on this way, fuelled by the generous portions of tusker that I was pouring into myself, and I fear that I was probably the most fearful bore of the party. I was having fun though and I think in some way I was revenging for being made to answer all the foreigner/ferenji questions that come at me on a daily basis. For instance, not a day or two pass without my being asked whether I like injera. Now the answer, and not just for the sake of politeness, is yes. But this question, I think, is really not about injera but about what I, a foreigner, think of this country. There is no option to say no because if there is one thing that some months of being here have taught me is that non-Ethiopians walk on egg-shells around Ethiopian pride. It’s all good though. Pride is good. I guess.

Anyway, back to the party. A young Kenyan who I suspect is a student at the university sauntered up to the bar and stood alongside me. He had short dreadlocks, and had a dark sweater with green, yellow and red stripes worn over a squat, powerful frame. He was very drunk as became apparent when he slurringly and quite belligerently ordered the bartender to pour him a drink. But the bar, he was told, was closed even though the bartender was busy serving me and others – who were all to a man in ties unlike this young revolutionary. He did not take it lying down: ‘Pour me a fucking drink,’ he shouted. The drink, gin, was poured with him insisting that it be filled to the brim. Once it was in his hand, he dashed it to the ground and screamed, screamed is the exact word, ‘to Dedan Kimathi!’

The bartender, a peaceable man till just then shouted back, ‘why you pour drink? Who is this Kimathi?’ Their back and fro, full of outraged explanations by the student and complete confusion on the bartender’s part, entertained me for a full fifteen minutes before we all staggered away to dance to Lingala.

A couple of hours later, this young Dedan Kimathi was spotted fast asleep on embassy grounds. One of the Kenyan diplomats took the opportunity to deliver a lecture on the importance of handling your liquor well – met by slow nods from Kenyans in the circle who were too drunk to do more than mutter guilty agreement. But this group of inebriates came alive in protest when the diplomat made to wake the young man up and kick him out. ‘He is in Kenya,’ ‘how can you kick him out of his own house?’ These and similar remarks came fast and furious so that the diplomat eventually backed down, probably having decided to do the kicking out more discreetly. But the incident seemed to me to speak to a certain, increasing Kenyan ownership of our spaces, and an unwillingness to accept the official point of view. Or am I romanticizing and over-interpreting a small, meaningless incident?

Charm kills art and I fear it has murdered in Addis Ababa

I was recently rewatching Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited when a friend of mine, who is on a one-year writing fellowship in London asked whether he should move house to Oxford so that he could commute to London for his classes. Oxford, which is a city that I enjoy and like, is ever associated in my mind with charm. As in walking its cobblestones always yields the thought of how charming it is. Yet this I suspect is not what Oxford is at all, its charm is a velvet glove worn over a monstrous self regard which like all malign things that are English is hidden by a facade of good manners and prettified surface.

In any case, here is what the character Anthony Blanche says to Charles Ryder, a modestly famous artist of famous country houses played by Jeremy Irons: “I warned you. I took you out to dinner to warn you of charm. Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.”

This charm is what I have been seeing in many of the galleries I have visited here in Addis Ababa. The artists seem captive to a desire to please and delight, and little more, so that canvas after canvas, all somehow avoiding the world the artist lives in, become like a giant lie that soothes so that it can sell. Charm, in addition to being a facet of personality, is a magic with dangerous, hypnotic qualities. Who would want to hypnotize if not for the purpose of some sort of harm? Charm as magic in the hands of the pleaser and delighter, the artist who avoids honesty, who steers clear of controversy at all costs, recruits him into society’s ruling army of dissemblers. In fact the dictator is more honest in his manipulations and betrayals than is the artist who paints little cute flowers as tanks roll by in the streets.

It was not until I met Richard Onyango (old NYT review) in Nairobi this past weekend that I was able to recognize what I had been seeing in so many galleries here. Onyango’s art is the practice of honesty and it shines through. His life with Souzy Drosie is captured in all its pain and frustration and happiness. His painting of a KBS bus evoked in me such a powerful memory of a day in which death missed me by an inch and ploughed its tons of metal into a schoolboy who was standing less than two meters from me. Onyango does not charm, he delights and challenges and makes me feel that I must be more honest in my writing, and yes, to be a bit dramatic, in my living as well.

(Btw, here is another great quote from the Brideshead Revisited series. This time by Father Mowbray: “But yesterday I got a real eye opener. The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.”)

Bring Back the American Draft

The question of whether we need a universal military draft will be important as long as this country is placing thousands of young men and women in harm’s way in Iraq. As long as Americans are being shipped off to war, then everyone should be vulnerable, not just those who, because of economic circumstances, are attracted by lucrative enlistment bonuses and educational says Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from New York. You can read more here.

The draft is a logical extension of democracy. If a nation is deciding on whether to wage war or not, one of the questions its citizens should have to ask is whether they are ready to step in harm’s way for the aims that their government is pursuing. The war in Iraq for instance is being fought by young people from the poorest backgrounds, many who signed on just because they did not have other economic options, while almost none of their leaders in the White House and Congress have experienced war or even have children in uniform. In fact a large number actively avoided the Vietnam draft and got off by being connected to the high and mighty.

I have so often railed against the state, especially the Kenyan one, on this blog but there is something about this posture that can sometimes be a bit false, particularly if it is in wartime. Let me stay with the United States for a minute. In the most general terms, both the Left and the Right of that country regard their politics to be in some way opposed to the state even as they fight for the right to possess and direct it. Both sides are after all arguably different strains of classical liberalism with its clarion call of individual rights not only pre-existing the state but taking precedence over it.

From the Left comes the rebellion against The Man who is supposed to support the military or use it to not only dominate and control society – the playground of the (vulnerable) progressive individual with his inalienable rights – but also to embark on a violent imperialism abroad. The Right also fights The Man who it supposes to be a be-suited bureaucrat determined to bring the economy – the playground of the profit-maximizing individual to whom private property is virtue – under his malign control. Both sides regard the state warily and want it cut down to size when it does not serve them. The hunger for power by these two broad groupings is ever present, and is really at the heart of their critiques against the state. If you were a Martian and heard either side rail about the evils of state-power, as I have done so often myself, you would think that the state is run by robots or is a very big animal with a will totally disconnected from the politics of the day.

Yet the government, if democracy exists in America, is created and maintained by the interaction between these camps. The government to put it more simply is the people. If it wages war, so do they. So why should the poorest among them, eighteen year olds from trailer parks who sign on to get a college education and a job, have to be shredded by IUDs while the rest sit back and snipe at each other over the actions of the government from their safe seats?

It does not matter that an individual American did not support the war personally; celebrating his country as a democracy means that he implicitly has to own the actions of the present government. Military service and the draft are an extension of democratic citizenship and not to be understood as an extension of Left or Right politics, or for whom you cast your vote, or the anger or delight you feel as news of the war carries to you.

But in politics as in life nothing is so clear-cut. I suspect that my reasoning opens a Pandora’s Box. If indeed the government is the people in a democracy – take or give some problems here or there – then it might make logical sense for civilians to be violently attacked by forces opposed to that nation’s policies. The more robust and realized a democracy is, the thinner gets the boundaries between citizen, military and government. Thus it would make perfect, if heinous and cruel, sense to attack the citizen of a democratic country because you are opposed to his government’s actions.

Craftsman Versus World

Matthew Crawford writing in The New Atlantis on why I should have paid more attention in wood- and metal-work class.

In the age of think tanks, consulting firms, and IKEA, craftsmanship seems to be in decline. Shop class is becoming rarer, and our children are told that college is the ticket to an “open future” as a “knowledge worker.” This rejection of craftsmanship wrongly ignores the cognitive, social, and remunerative rewards of skilled manual work, and wrongly assumes that white-collar work always engages the mind.

excerpt:

Because craftsmanship refers to objective standards that do not issue from the self and its desires, it poses a challenge to the ethic of consumerism, as the sociologist Richard Sennett has recently argued. The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new. The craftsman is then more possessive, more tied to what is present, the dead incarnation of past labor; the consumer is more free, more imaginative, and so more valorous according to those who would sell us things. Being able to think materially about material goods, hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story intimated through associations, the point of which is to exaggerate minor differences between brands. Knowing the production narrative, or at least being able to plausibly imagine it, renders the social narrative of the advertisement less potent. The tradesman has an impoverished fantasy life compared to the ideal consumer; he is more utilitarian and less given to soaring hopes. But he is also more autonomous.

This would seem to be significant for any political typology. Political theorists from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson have questioned the republican virtue of the mechanic, finding him too narrow in his concerns to be moved by the public good. Yet this assessment was made before the full flowering of mass communication and mass conformity, which pose a different set of problems for the republican character: enervation of judgment and erosion of the independent spirit. Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political. The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way. However narrow in its application, this is a rare appearance in contemporary life—a disinterested, articulable, and publicly affirmable idea of the good. Such a strong ontology is somewhat at odds with the cutting-edge institutions of the new capitalism, and with the educational regime that aims to supply those institutions with suitable workers—pliable generalists unfettered by any single set of skills.

The rest of the essay can be found here.

Fernando Botero and Abu Ghraib

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Fernando Botero is showing his incredible new paintings of the Abu Ghraib torture scenes at the Marlborough Gallery in New York. You can see more of them at Slate.com

Hornsleth: Danish Artist and Ugandan Village

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I have just stumbled into Mr. Kristian von Hornsleth, intrepid Danish artist known for audacious works such as the Fuck Me Daddy Bikini and his generally dark view of the art world and art lovers (see his poem, ‘FUCK YOU ART LOVERS.’)

Now his war against global capitalism and consumerism (take a look at his Fuck You Art Lovers dildo) has moved to Buteyongera in Mukono district, a small village north of Kampala, Uganda. The project was to give 108 villagers pigs and other farm animals if they agreed to legally add Hornsleth to their name. Each of the villagers has now been issued a national Uganda ID card showing their new Hornsleth name and their photos holding this ID are to be works of art exhibited around the world.

In five years, the plan is to paid five thousand villagers to become Hornsleths. (Read more here) A Ugandan colleague tells me that newspapers in Uganda and government officials have lambasted the show – calling it a neo-colonial plot – while the new Hornsleths, in possession of their newfound animal wealth, have been largely supportive.

All I can do is laugh. This is the funniest art project that I have come across since I tried making one in my high school art class and failed miserably. Kristian von Hornsleth cannot be satirised, he is already satire. I actually think that this project is doing exactly what art is meant to do which is to provoke.

Kristian’s intention ‘to show in his work the dirty way of global capitalism and confront it with the humane and ethic thinking of his art.’ The work’s ‘political meaning’ as his website puts it is to highlight the depredations and manipulations that Africa suffers at the hands of global capital. But its real thorn, the real controversy is in the willingness of the villagers to change their names and the reactions by their leaders. As the website expresses it, the new Hornsleths are so removed from the world of (Danish/international?) art that their profiting by taking on the name of a ‘worldwide famous artist’ is so ‘abstract for them that they neglect the implications.’

Predictably from the rafters of the Ugandan politician came the howl of condemnation, the singed racial pride, the invocation of anti-imperialism. From the villagers will be silence and emails like this one quoted enthusiastically on Hornsleth.com

‘hello Hornsleth,
you havedone a wonderfull job in Mukono district and am from wakiso district from a vertain village called Nkowe. But can you please do some helping in my village so that we can be rescured out of poverty that my people are facing now. I am a student of makerere university doing a Bachelors Degree in development studies.
Roger M___’

The email says it all assuming that it is a real email actually sent by this Roger whose representations are truthful. The development student at the national university, as hopelessly addicted to donor monies as so much of Uganda seems to be – ready to prostrate himself in whatever fashion in return for ‘development’ which is the result of an externally driven, handout based process. The ‘fight against poverty’ such a constant refrain, the poverty itself so biting and unrelieved by hope from any other direction other than government and donor.

While Roger thus pleads, his State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Dr James Nsaba Buturo comes from the other end of the spectrum with a dose of national pride. Or at least that is what he believes it to be: “The government cannot allow such a project to continue. This man owns a cult and he is a homosexual. His agenda is not good for the country. He uses obscene language and has no respect and kind words for God. As soon as he arrives in the country, police will catch up with him to investigate his activities,” he says. This happens just a few days before he is cited by the press for misappropriating government funds. Yes that’s right, the minister of ethics and integrity accused of stealing government funds. (Makes you wonder what documents are on his desk: in the in-tray lies and theft while the out-tray carries truth and virtue?)

The comedy, because you have to laugh not to cry, becomes even more hysterical when you consider that this same minister who would have the project closed down serves a government that receives over fifty percent of its budget from countries like Denmark where Kristian von Hornsleth hails from.

So the circus wheel turns. Hornsleth who thinks he is exposing global capital is instead revealing a lot more than that, more than the ‘ignorance’ of the villagers to the art world. He is actually drawing the lid on the painful contradictions on Ugandan/African nationhood, the absurdities buried in our ideas of citizenship and development and leadership.

More could be said on this subject and in fact it will but first I must consider yet another of Kristian von Hornsleth’s worthy projects, namely Futilism. As in the Futilistic Society which is based on the manifesto that this philosopher, artist and architect has written. Hornsleth has declared war on ‘boredom, routine, institutions and traditions’ and this is a struggle that will be waged so that its result, hopefully when you the bored reader have taken in the ‘blinding clarity and a hazy overload’ of his words, will be to reach into chaos and darkness and away from what is meaningless and futile.

Isn’t it all quite wonderful?

Change of Subject and Trip to Asia

I suspect that there is a saboteur out to get bullets and honey; in the last week paragraphs have disappeared from the blog and I just now had a techie friend fix the problem (with embarrasing ease.) Maybe this is what I get for dipping my toes into Kenya’s treacherous tribal wars, in which case I must get away. And by that I mean that I am planning to visit Asia for the very first time.

Yes, this son of the soil is going to get into one of those machines made by man to visit at least a couple of cities in India and possibly one in China. I will be there for a week or two at the most so I suspect that I will not have the chance to see much. But planning and thinking of the trip has brought me low in shame. China has a billion people and I do not have a single close friend that I can call there. How pathetic is that? India is the same with all the Indians I know in the States or in Kenya so that again I do not have a person to call on anywhere on that sub-continent (except for the folks I will be working with for a few days.)

For this reason, I have lately been trying to chat up my Indian neighbors in the hope of some introductions with very little success – they just nod politely and keep walking. Yesterday afternoon I saw a piece of paper on the ground and picked it up only to find that it was a letter in english with some Hindi writing (I assume); I guess it must have been dropped by one of them or blown over from their place. Curiosity got the better of me and so I read it. The only exceptional item was the question whether the recipient had ‘managed to make any new negro friends…’ The thing is that I have been re-reading my James Baldwin lately and so this word negro has been much on my mind but I had no idea that there were still people using it to this day. Is it a bad thing? What does it mean? Assuming that the letter belonged to my neighbors, I really think I should befriend them – maybe all their words are frozen in 1960s ‘jive-turkey’ Americanisms.

If I do get to make this trip, I will be the second person in my close family to have been in Asia. My grandfather fought with the King’s African Rifles in Burma. Well, he didn’t really fight since he was a medic (and therefore was called doctor by everyone in Sigona, Kiambu till he passed away) but he was over there.

Most Kenyans do not know with what tenacity and success our grandfathers fought in that campaign since our relentlessly nationalist reading of history leaves no space to acknowledge Africans who fought for the British against the Japanese or the Germans. What this means in my own life is that I grew up around men who had traveled the world, maybe had even performed great feats in battle and never got to hear about it. I wish I had known what I know now before he died. So many memories in my family seem to just be buried and forgotten. And yet daily I read accounts of other peoples who have fought this or that campaign, who have traveled across that sea or that desert, while not having a single idea whether my own blood ever had the same experiences. It is crazy shit to live in a continent that is the most ancient – the cradle of mankind no less – and not know anything much about my own grandfather’s life. I won’t even get into the fact that I have never heard more than a few words about his father and mother, or theirs.

In the States, my black American friends would occasionally remark on how wonderful it was that I ‘had a history’ and a ‘name’ when theirs had been stolen from them by history. How to explain that in the most personal terms, they could trace their lineages further back than I could mine. That they could pop into courthouses and libraries and come away with records and stories of their grandparent’s parents when I could barely name mine or even tell where they had lived, what they had done. It is as my friend Wambui says, I live in an ancient world without having a history. How to explain to them that I may not have a “slave name” but that I do not really know the meaning of my name. It was handed to me from my grandfather as he received it from his grandfather but I was never told what it meant, where it came from, why for heaven’s sake our naming system was as it is. And please do not tell me of pyramids and the great Kush, they are as remote to me in personal terms as the Han Dynasty or ancient Greece. Of course I feel some nationalist pride once in a while at the thought of the Swahili trading empire or even Nubia and Egypt but I have no a personal sense of linkage with that time and those people because my history looms up short – maybe eighty to a hundred years at the most.
I wonder what this does to me. Am I freed by not being bound by a past, freer to create my life, to imagine different courses? Or am I like a corkscrew in a raging ocean, without direction, without the foundations of history on which to build my life? Hell, are these questions even relevant anymore?

A Letter to My Father, and Others

Dear Baba,

This is an odd and public and rhetorical letter, on a subject that recent tradition has asked us to sweep under the carpet. I find myself, at 35, at odds with the tone and nature and political space that is Gikuyu. For the first time in my life, in the Kibaki government, my identity as a Gikuyu has been questioned, I have seen text messages distributed amongst Gikuyus about “beasts from the West” and the like.

You have brought me up to be a skeptical person, a thinking person, a Kenyan first, a Nakuru boy, a person who believes in solid institutions, in building them, and growing them – as you did so well for so many years.

This present wave of “uGikuyu” seems to have sucked up a whole generation of people: who believe that the future of Kenya lies ONLY under a Gikuyu umbrella. To me this seems like crazy and corrupt politics, capitalising on the post- Mau Mau, and post Kenyatta entitlements and paranoias that have been past on from parent to child, often without explanation or analysis – and now what is we have is a vague formless fear of the unknown from the ‘other side’.

Last week, some young man, a university graduate told me that the clashes were about “the KAMATUSA tribes killing the Gikuyus”. Basic information would counter this – but educated people, PARENTS, are passing this bigotry on.

On the other side of our family: from Mum’s side, a genocide happened.

I find I cannot be silent about the politiking and the text messaging xenophobia that has infected, it seems, all sensible Gikuyus. I say this because no prominent people are speaking against this: this insane kitchen cabinet of an insane presidency is using fear to keep Gikuyus on their side, and this is causing serious damage to our place, and the place of our children in a future Kenya. Not even the Moi Kalenjin junta caused so much social and tribal friction, in such a short time. It is now Gikuyu versus Kenya – with yuppies saying Kenya does not know what it talking about because Kibaki has planted flowers in roundabouts.

Like any, many young people, I am at a loss what do or say. We are heading to a very dangerous place, displaying a sense of entitlement and ethnic chauvinism that can only lead to violence – all, its seems, to keep a few people who made money during Kenyatta’s time happy and wealthy.

Some friends of mine have said that we are “owed” because we “suffered” under Moi.

Who did not suffer under Moi?

Many people want to speak of these things and agree there is a problem in bars and huddles and not in public. Few people have this conversation with their parents. In clear and naked transparency. Why?

You did not bring me up to react like this.

I will not react like this. I know how much you have believed and invested in the idea of a functional and forward-looking Kenya. I feel that the Gikuyus who feel this way should make themselves public – it is not an affirmation of anything, no ideology – simply a declaration of one’s loyalty to a good and clean Kenya

Is it not time that right minded people started to speak out?

I am sending this email out to you all trusted friends, with love. Post, and distribute this if you can.

Please forward the question to those you feel want to start a dialogue. What is the challenge of this generation? Why is nobody of your generation making their stand clear? Is this government something to approve of? Are “we” behind this new government?

Am I missing a particular conversation?

Why can’t we name this problem?

How can we stop the hate?

With much love,

Your son,

Binyavanga Wainaina

Staring Death in the Face on the Drive to Jomo Kenyatta Airport

After a week of Digital Indaba polemics, entertaining outraged comments from South Africa, I had my moment of Outrage on the way to the airport yesterday morning. My flight for Addis Ababa from Nairobi was scheduled to leave at such a time as made it necessary for me to be at the airport by 5.30am. As is always the case in Nairobi, this departure was heading toward the ‘one for the road’ till flight-time script. But Sohos where we were downing beers – and which I dislike and yet for some reason keep finding myself patronizing – closed early and I was forced to return home in good time to pack and get some sleep. The plan was for K____, my usual taxi driver, to turn up in good time and so he did. As I got into the battered Toyota, I noticed he was quieter than usual, that the front end had a new largish dent and that he seemed to have forgotten the way out of my place. But then I thought it must be the late hour and that perhaps even the curious slowness of his driving was due to his having woken up earlier than usual. This working theory, plus the mild hangover I was suffering all fled as we were pulling into Mbagathi Way (a highway under construction so that both directions of traffic have to share a single road.) My dear K____ was at the stop sign for a full minute though the road was quite empty of traffic. He only decided to pull out, with excruciating slowness, the moment cars were bearing down on us from both directions. They came screeching to a stop and one of the drivers rolled down his window and let go such a furious – and at such an early hour, impressive – flood of curses. K_____ merely nodded his head slowly from side to side as if in sadness that the other drivers could be so unreasonable and unskilled. It was only when he proceeded to drive in the middle of the road, seeming to weave toward the path of oncoming cars, as if somehow their headlights were what to aim for, that I realized that K____ – he of the frequent lectures on the importance of responsibility and punctuality in the working man – was roaring drunk.

‘K____,’ I asked carefully hoping not to distract him further, ‘have you been drinking?’ Silence. ‘Have you been drinking, please tell me,’ I pleaded knowing by this time that the answer must be in the affirmative. Oncoming cars were hooting and driving half on the road and half off it to avoid the Grim Ripper who was clearly now in control of that Toyota. And K____ was his angel of death. What with his sleepy answers, sunken, darkened cheeks, that now as I looked at him made me realize that for the past year I have been getting rides from a man who has ceded much of the flesh of his body to cheap liquors and late hours. I knew that we were never going to make by the time we got to the roundabout near the Barbados Children’s Home, about two kilometers from my first realization that he was drunk out of his mind.

‘I think I must have eaten something that disagreed with me,’ came the reply after long minutes of waiting. I have myself used this never-to-be-believed phrase and the next one as well. ‘I think I am just really sleepy, I have been having such a tough time sleeping. I even scrapped a gate on my way to you.’ The grave for mmk it was, even before the end of the Digital Indaba talkfest. Perhaps this is what comes of questioning do-gooding. That God, the lover of justice and empowerment, sends a drunk driver to your doorstep who crashes you head-on into an oncoming truck. Maybe K____ too had been rude to White South Africans as he carried them from the airport and so Justice was going to kill two birds with one stone.

‘Pullover K____, now!’ by this time I was hysterical. What a bad way to go.

Long story short: he stopped and I took over and drove to the airport with him fast asleep and even snoring in the back. I parked the car with him still fast asleep in it and took my flight. Once again Nairobi having ushered me into its curious blend of terror and comedy, on the way to Addis Ababa where dangerous driving such as K’s would not even make me twitch an eyelid as common and normal as it seems once I am here.

Is the Digital Indaba the Internet Berlin Conference of 2006?

(This post is a follow-on to a previous one on next week’s Digital Indaba on Blogging and the resulting comments that included accusations of my being racist and illegitimate)

Does the African blog-space – if there is such a thing – need codification, a coming together, a corralling under the auspices of a code of conduct or a common front? I do not think so and yet I have noticed a recent trend toward this end of trying to create a ‘mainstream’ African blog-space that confers ‘legitimacy’ on its members. Implying, if only gently, that those outside its auspices are illegitimate at worst or at best might be irrelevant to goals as varied as civil society ‘empowerment’, the creation of alternate media, etc. We are living in a world that increasingly looks to observed and enforced standards. It is almost as if the more peoples become exposed to one another, by virtue of blogging for example, the greater is the discomfort of those associated with the West (like the White so-called Africans who pissed me off by calling this blog racist and illegitimate.) They want a world where bloggers are ‘responsible citizens’, ‘legitimate’ and ‘empowerment minded.’ As noble as such sentiments sound, they have lurking behind them not an evil conspiracy but rather an instinct to occupy territory – the high ground of individual African blogging ideas and opinions – which has been much talked about in the last couple of years in the international and local media.

What organizers and conveners of events such as the Digital Indaba on Blogging refuse to recognize is the essential magic of blogging which is that every blog is THE CENTER. It is made so by the decision of one person to speak as they will, when they will, about whatever they wish. The blog’s audience, if it exists, is therefore treated to an act of one. Consider how many unique minds or perspectives can come to the fore due to this freedom. It is not that the Indaba will still the blogger. Rather, combined with others like it in the future, it will act like a force of gravity by forming positions, networks and attitudes that by virtue of advertisement and promotion occupy the centre or rather attempt to claim such occupation for themselves so that bloggers who are not ‘inside’ will presumably operate in the margins. As if there is not enough of that already within the traditional forms of media.

A central goal of these kinds of meetings is to move ideas and knowledge out of their tacit forms – where they are owned by individuals and received by individuals – to codified forms. Not for the benefit of the blogger but rather to profit the administrator who enables and ‘owns’ the codifying space. Knowledge when it is codified is made into a standardized message that is precious in the marketplace, far more in many instances that its tacit counterpart. Codification allows easy reproduction and because to do it means knowledge being more exactly described, it becomes easier to mark as intellectual property. This is a good thing since it can now be transmitted cheaper to a wider audience, creating profits and, when of a positive nature, leading to better societies. Unfortunately this is not the process the indaba represents. Let me explain.

The high costs in producing knowledge are start up ones – usually paid in the initial phase when ideas or knowledge are tacit. That is to say the writing of your blog is tougher, more expensive, than holding a conference of bloggers to come up with an organizing principle or organizational character. But since many ideas in blogs are not worth much financially, the value is to be had in the joining. By the one who claims to have created the common ground you stand on with others. The blogger who would join an ‘African Code of Conduct’ might earn some minor monies from a conference per diem or from a donor. But the one who will really clean up, in financial and power terms, will be the convener of the conference: the institution or person who boasts of ‘facilitating’ African voices, helping them ‘make a huge impact by sharing knowledge and enthusiasm and demonstrating to the rest of the world that Africa is more than a passive observer in the global village’ (quote from the website of next week’s first Indaba on Blogging)

Blogging on this continent does not need midwives. Especially not ones who want to demonstrate ‘to the rest of the world that Africa is more than a passive observer in the global village.’ It is this kind of defeatism and obsession with the opinions of others that puts paid to the creation of independent paths of our own. That we should now blog to show the world (read the West and White folks) that we are somehow worthy of their respectful consideration. What nonsense. Perhaps the way to ‘show the world’ is to have a conference of black people in the audience listening to panels basically made up of white people. You know? To hope that the authority of whiteness rubs off on the poor little African blogosphere. I wish I will be proven wrong about such panels but the defensiveness of the white Mandelas tells the tale. Ultimately though, whoever the panelists are, and despite the ‘rush for white,’ the logic of this benignly conducted colonisation of Africa’s blog universe will have plenty of rainbow colored African volunteers.

What really pulls my goat among all the ills of this ‘inclusive’ event is the corralling of bloggers – most of whom are just doing their own thing – into the donor universe. Consider once again the language of the Indaba which views blogging, at least in one aspect, thus:

Blogging, because of its far reach and networking qualities, is an essential tool in ensuring that the UN Millennium Development Goals are achieved in Africa and NEPAD remains a united and benevolent alliance on the continent.

Millennium development goals? NEPAD? Ensuring that it remains a united and benevolent alliance? That, ladies and gentlemen, is called the language of the hustler. Some wise African – and he or she could be white or black – who has identified an angle, a cow to milk. And that cow is you dear blogger. You are going to be positioned, united with others, invited to liberal, black loving Grahamstown. Even before you leave, little hustle proposals on ‘empowering African voices’ will be in the mail, probably on the same flight as you. Not that you will ever get more than a few cents. What you will get though is a big, prominent logo on your site that says something like Proud Member of Indaba Code. Somewhere in the proposal will be the sentence, ‘Indaba and company, a non-profit, civil society initiative, is proud to announce that 5% of known African blogs have signed up to the Code of Conduct we established and will form an important African digital voice in the achievement of the MDGs and the sustenance of NEPAD’s profile. We now require further funding for the Indaba to expand its activities…’

In return for a few bloggers being thrown the bone to listen to ‘20 renowned and respected speakers from across the globe and a confirmed line-up that would make Silicon Valley jealous,’ many others will operate in a blog-space that is marked and demarcated territory by little people who would try and update the Berlin 1885 scramble for Africa to the digital space. My railing against this process will not stop it I know, but I think it is important to be aware that what the Indaba and like conferences represent is a grab for territory. And when the African internet Bismarcks and Leopolds can call me racist for asking a question, then you better be aware that the gloves are going to be off during this scramble. The weapons will be to meet challenges with a deafening silence; refer to them as ‘unacceptably racist and misinformed’ (courtesy of one Vincent ‘Madiba’ Maher); and the calling of even more conferences. But, blogging being what it is and since they have decided to piss off the worst Gikuyu this side of the keyboard, I will only say this: I am watching and will ask questions first and then pull the trigger to my nukes later.

Comments on “(White?) African Blogger Conference in a Week”

Below are some comments on the last post I had on the upcoming African bloggers indaba. It turned out that AB&H is racist and illegitimate. I will be back to talk more about the attempt to codify the African blog space and make it part of a kind of NGO-ish, funded civil society space with established mores. In other words, the attempt to bring it in line. Original Post


Anonymous said…
I guess you’re upset because you didn’t get a free ticket to the conference, sorry for you.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 7:53:16 AM

MMK said…
anonymous – haha. Indeed, the obvious comment comes forth. Thanks for being sorry.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:06:58 AM

Binyavanga said…
Hey,I think I read on Ory’s blog that there were scholarships, whic irritates more because why were people not asked. Maybe some would come on their own steam?
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:44:32 AM

Vincent Maher said…
The scholarship applications have closed, there were more than 200 applications and the final selections have already been made.This event was announced to the media and to several bloggers who linked to it. If you search for it on Google you will find 280 links to the web site. It was also sent out in the Poynter E-Media Tidbits list.Obviously we could not invite each person in Africa individually, and we hope that it will be successful enough for more applications next year.In general I think this blog post is unacceptably racist and misinformed but I have published my perspective on my own blog.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:55:03 AM

MMK said…
Scholarships. The assumption as ever is that Africans are broke, always in need of a (white?)helping hand. I am quite sure that the conference was advertised but as someone who spends hours online, I am puzzled that I did not run into it until yesterday. I hope that the sessions will be taped so that we can see who indeed is an African citizen, blogger, moblogger, vlogger, podcaster, hactivist and new media journalist.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:55:13 AM

MMK said…
Here is the link to a fuller explanation of why AB&H is now a racist blog that lacks credibility. The very credibility that can be enjoyed by joining the African citizens Code of Conduct.http://nml.ru.ac.za/maher/?p=137To the program of events: http://dci.ru.ac.za/documents/Draft_Programme2.pdf
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:09:50 AM

Sammie said…
LOL at “The Hustle” that is the African situation. Africa sounds so hopeless a place to live in!I believe it’s a much better place than say Europe!I was reading somewhere that the American Dream is over, and seeing how self-respecting Africans are demeaning themselves in the name of asylum in Europe, i see where all this (mis)information is coming from.The hustle is further propagated by the brain-drain, where our brilliant minds are given scholarships, and attain green cards, citizenship and stuff, only to be dumped back here when wasted. Look at our current political class. Akina Musyoka, raila, Kibs, The whole lot of them; products of the hustle, turned activists.Pole for the long comment.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:14:07 AM

bankelele said…
Ory posted it at her site about a month ago with the scholarship mention. Am happy to have been invited.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:16:36 AM

Rista said…
Binyavanga and MMK, you are clearly looking in all the wrong places 🙂 [good looking out bankele] The ‘scholarships’ are always a good idea, but they should be renamed to read something innocuous like ‘conference/travel support’.Vincent, laudable work. Thanks for lending a helping hand to blogging in africa. It’s quite clear your efforts are still not reaching a (significant?) portion of your target audience… might want to rethink the strategy. That said, I wonder how many bonafide black south african bloggers will be at this conference. I am of the old school in believing that the word ‘racist’ cannot be used to describe an african, so i’d recommend you take a different tack when blogging in the ‘african’ space.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:05:17 AM

Vincent Maher said…
Rista, you may be right regarding our efforts though right now we’re focussing on Southern Africa.I can’t agree with you on your other point about Africans being exempt from racism, I have seen a lot of racism between all different races in my life, including Africans. Obviously you’re entitled to your opinion, as am I, and I respect that.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:51:54 AM
Zephyr said…
Ai mmk, even I, who is a relative bloggo-virgo heard about it.Sometimes, it is good to first, swallow the sour grapes. then blog. I’ll provide the whisky to down them :-). Of course assuming that you can do grapes with whisky.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:59:55 AM

Alex Maughan said…
After reading your post mmk, I initially got angry. But now, having spoken about it with the people that happen to be in the room with me… wait, before continuing, let’s count the races in this room for your sake, since you are so obsessed with skin colour: 1 “Indian”, 2 “blacks”, and 1 “white” – or is he more of a grey colour due his very dark body hair? – all are Africans by the way)..anyway, like I was saying, after discussing your rationale – if that’s what one can generously call your racism (and yes, rista, black people can be racist too… do the moral maths yourself, cos I don’t feel like wasting my time on your ignorant and short-sighted claim) – I now find it quite humorous, as do the others in the room. Your claims viz. the scholarships are especially funny. So now, having had a good laugh with all in the room, I am purged of my anger and no longer feel the need to break down the logic of your argument (which would have been done easily with the use of your own ideological premises, as I wouldn’t dare impose a “white” form of deduction on your subjectivity).Thank you for reminding me that even if people like you revel in subjecting everything to a white-on-black form of racism, there are many others (such as those in the room with me) that have more sense.So in the end, I have said nothing really, other than expressing my thanks, and, I suppose, that is enough. There is so much wrong with your argument, that I’ll end up wasting my time deconstructing it, and will enivitably waste your time too (since you will never be able to truly consider my overall objection until you remove that anger-filled race card that obscures your critical thought).Other than that, congratulations on a greatly informative blog (oh wait, what did we all learn from this again?… shucks, my red-neck, honke-rambling brain just aint wat’d used to be.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 11:54:05 AM

Binyavanga said…
Oh very juicy! Are fists flying? Some honke-rambling! Anger-filled race-cards! Good lord, must log on later. Nothing like a good ole conference to set thigs alight. Ah!! I have really missed South Africa…oh the rolling minefields!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 12:37:56 PM

Nic said…
I think that the comments above all illustrate the need for what is being argued against in this post: a code of conduct. For if there was a code of cunduct this post would be well without its boundaries and be disregarded as a worth while post/blog. As for the fact that “africans” cannot be labelled racist, that is the most absurd thing i have ever heard. Many years of political studies has proven to me that although my skin colour may not be black I am still an African. Well said Alex. Furthermore, if this is the case and a multitude or colours are labelled “African” by the informed, then why should there not be white/egyptian/coloured/green/purple/yellow speakers at the conference? If they are all African then who are you to predefine what is and is not African?
Thursday, September 07, 2006 2:23:10 PM

coldtusker said…
binyavanga – Same old, same old… as in Changez… I think you are just adding fuel to the fire & having fun!mmk – I wasn’t invited either but then I didn’t look out for it! It is a enormous web out there!Wacha this “racial” angle… Mark Shuttleworth (born in SA, so what if he is white, SA damu) is arguably one of the richest guys in Africa with real (yaani, NOT stolen/embezzled) money! I bet there are thousands of “black” Africans who were just as knowledgable as MS but toiling in the “West” rather than taking the entrepreneurial road!Tafuta na utapata (Seek & ye shall find)…I was blown away by the Indian IT industry. They are willing to hire US employees so they can “learn” from them! No flase pride, the Indian BPO campuses are similar to the USA. No squalor here! Idea exchange pow-wows!Africa (White, Black, Mwarabu) better get their act in order… We are the last on any list of being IT savvy (expect Polynesia & Micronesia) thus let’s keep the African spirit going!Tata Tea bought Tetleys (UK), Infosys & WIPRO have picked up a number of US firms. Hong Kong, Korean & Taiwanese firms are world-class with LG, Samsung, Hyundai becoming household names!The Asians have becoming globetrotters in 50 years while Africa…wapi?I could say the Egyptians but hey they look more “white” than “black”??? That doesn’t fit your “view”, does it?BTW, I really enjoy your takes on your travels!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:29:33 PM

MMK said…
Dear Alex Maughan, Vincent Maher and Nic. Welcome to AB&H. Never doubt the old adage that says living long enough allows one to see the impossible become real. For instance, the surreal sense I have of being called racist by white people in South Africa for asking whether a conference that announces itself as African is in fact disproportionately white. Racism used to be King Leopold’s administration killing 10 million Congolese, or 12 million slaves being carted off to the Americas or even apartheid. Now, so benign is it that it has become the act of hurting the feelings of white people by asking whether this conference is basically a bunch of them mouthing off with a few black tokens strewn here and there. The post for your information was actually meant very tongue-in-cheek; an intention that the fury of your response has now changed to an actual desire to probe further into the little talk shop that you are going to hold in a week’s time. Let us not suppose for even an instant that the label African is so problem-free that all one has to do is invoke it to be clothed in the armor of victimhood which Mr. Maughan and Mr. Maher wear so comfortably. Seeing that those to be empowered by the conference can be Nic’s ‘white/egyptian/coloured/green/purple/yellow’ African gladdens the heart. Where was I all those years when being called an African in South Africa and in Kenya was an insult to anyone without a dark brown skin – was actually being legally consigned to poverty and exclusion? Happily though, the troubles are over. Nirvana is here and all you have to do to join this racial paradise of harmony and fairness is pronounce yourself African. Especially when the whip and the fangs of the dog are safely locked away in history’s vault.

Let me ask the question in simpler and even more racialist language: How many black Africans are represented in your panels in percentage terms? You seemed to be quite willing to supply a painstaking enough count of even those participants who are a ‘grey colour due to his very dark body hair.’ Surely then it would not be too difficult for you to just tell me how many black panelists you have compared with the white/gray ones. Your spirited response to a post on my blog suggests that I have touched a raw nerve. And it must be one that is very often fingered in South Africa where racial positions and language are upended so that black folks are demanding access to influence and opportunity on the basis of race and ability to address decades of apartheid racism. I hate racial labeling myself but I do not kid myself that this is a dead and buried matter, that somehow South Africa and Africa have moved on from white privilege clothing itself in the virtue of helping the ‘darkies’ and speaking in their stead. In conference after Africanist conference, the black Africans from the continent are too often consigned to the sidelines. To be spoken for as they give good service as native or local informants to the important (white) thinkers who are made ‘African’ by the sheer love they lavish on the Dark Continent.

Thanks by the way Mr. Maughan for your kind compliment on my blog at the end of your angry comment. I felt sorry that you would so brutally flay yourself by writing of yourself as having a ‘red-neck, honke-rambling brain…’ This kind of masochism is really sad to see especially when it is a transparent attempt to simultaneously make you appear to be a victim and to enable you to hold onto that delicious frisson of racial pain. I doubt that you are a red-neck; at least not in the way you seem to understand this phrase which I hate. I associate nowadays not with the white violence during the reconstruction period in the American South but rather with a contemporary liberal America that has cast poor white people beyond the pale. Heaping on them all the evils of racism both present and past while they bask in the glow of good deeds – especially in Africa – untouched by the very real racism that is alive to this day.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:38:37 PM

MMK said…
coldtusker – have one on me please; I am craving a cold Tusker badly. This is not about invitations anywhere but rather about the anger and defensiveness of people who claim to be about opening up spaces on this continent. The power of blogging is precisely about being able to ask questions as an individual. Especially when I notice a concerted attempt to codify the African blogosphere and make it part of a tired, exhausted white liberal civil society with a few ‘native’ voices to spice it up.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:51:27 PM

coldtusker said…
mmk – Tusker…History:Initially brewed by a couple of white brodas in Kenya… I think one of them got gored thus “Tusker” the name was born…It was primarily Kenyan owned for many years until KBL ran into financial trouble. Guinness came in as a white knight & bought a huge stake by pumping in some Sterling…Regardless of Guinness’ control, Tusker is as Kenyan as it gets!So I use Tusker as my mascot (Of course, I love the rich taste!)…It represents all in all, the best of Kenya which does not necessarily mean “black” or “african” or “white” or… just great taste & quality.Oh, they beat the crap out of the S.Africans (fronted by njenga karume who made his money off a KBL distributorship)! I’ll take a Tusker over castle or miller or bud any day!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:10:58 PM

Binyavanga said…
Let’s get to a juicer subject. Rhodes University…been a while since I sampled that particular brand of nonsense. “We didn’t knoooow..we never kneeeew. If only we kneeeeeeeew what the Afrikaners were doooing. Our heads were in the sand, positioned nobly in with good intentions.”Travelling down the Eastern Cape in the 90s, I ended up having more respect for the redneck towns of the border, where black people were clearly tagged and demarcated – but at least recognised as even a threat a viable possibility, the boycotting people. Those silly “they they” attitudes of that leedle town called Grahamstown – where the township was the flithiest I had ever seen, the poorest and the most invisible. And the town: church-spiring and boater wielding, kind to blacks – a kind of island of civility that can only come from real violence – for it lives as if there is no threat, in a country still gaseous with possibilities and the whole messy angry “really so racist” country called South Africa was not in Rhodes, (RHODES) but out there but Rhodies (shall we call them) bravely read Cryyyyyyyy – The Beloved, Beeeeloved. Country. Then a friend telling me how her wide eyed and liberal friends at Rhodes used to thank the “Aunties” at the end of term by having them stand in a chorus and sing for the Undergrads. Some of these women were grandmothers. When she complained she was told, “Ohhhh they really love doing this!”I have often wondered how that little town which by sheer force of will decided to be Cambridge at Cape for over a hundred head-in-sand years, suddenly discovered over the final minutes of the Rugby World Cup that it was African, and African was a wonderful rainbow with free and easy membership.Oops. Not sure. Have I broken the code of conduct? Is the code of conduct actually going to specify who can use the term African; and demarcate where it is right and where it is wrongly applied?Oh Dear MMK…bad blogger. Bad Bad blogger. You have broken the code!
Thursday, September 07, 2006 5:43:34 PM

Ntwiga said…
Interesting post that has generated a ton of comments. While I agree somewhat witht he content of the post, I cannot subscribe to the way in which it was presented – but again, thats just me. Some thoughts;1. Being white and being African are not mutually exclusive so that part of the argument may be facetious.2. Arguing that this post is racist smacks of “but I have lots of black friends, how can I be racist”ism.There are so many ways of looking at this that it would be insulting to try and pretend to cover them all in a comment.It is however possible to do a quanlitative analysis: I count 6 out of 19 as being black. Does that mean that this counts as another Live 8 type event?Strike1here & here2Ory Okolloh3“Ashraf Patel” nothing here really – but there are lots of Africans named Patel so I make that three4Fackson Banda5 Emaka Okafor, just ignore the basketball player.6 Ramon ThomasStrikeMike StopforthTom Johnson – Nothing definite comes upStrikeRay HartleyJuanita Williams – Nothing definite comes upChris RoperStrikeAlex HoggStrikeIan GilfillanStrikeAndrew RensStrikeVincent Maher or hereStrikeAndrew Heavens ((l to r) Andrew Heavens, Ethan Zuckerman, Rebecca MacKinnon) from here.
Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:05:49 PM

Vincent Maher said…
As I said in the comments here, this conference is the first of it’s kind, it is going to be a lot of fun and it will be a step in the right direction for blogging on this continent.

I was born in Africa, lived here all my life and consider myself an African. I hate the colonial enterprises, the World Bank and whoever else has damaged this continent and I was not old enough to vote during apartheid. If anyone has a problem with that, tough.

Every year people travel down to Highway Africa to learn from people who have a certain type of media production experience and exchange their own experiences. It is a confluence and it works, so maybe you had better experience it before you shout from the sidelines that it’s a white thing. I certainly don’t think of a conference organised by black Africans as a black thing, so maybe that says something.

What I am tired of is being categoried along with the Eurpoean butchers and oppressors, if you met me you would know that I don’t fit into that category.

Friday, September 08, 2006 9:16:15 AM

sokari said…
BH is right in his assessment that this conference is white and not even African white for that matter and is an “attempt to codify the African blog space and make it part of a kind of NGO-ish, funded civil society space with established mores. In other words, the attempt to bring it in line.” – well said and anon- yes not particularly original in your thoughts. well we know two Africans, ory and bankelele who are the rest?
This fits in well with why I left GV last June – too many big white mothers and fathers – same old same old

Saturday, September 09, 2006 1:21:52 PM
sokari said…
BTW – zimpundit isnt attending after all for his/her own personal safety – understandable.

Binyavanga said…
The new thing is now that this whole brouhaha is based on the dea that “some people” (MK and Myself?) are bitter that they were not give scholarships and Mahler is upset at the entitlement of this. I am really loving all this. I am not even a blogger! Oh how anger reveals! So MK – do you want a scholarship to INDABA? At the lovely Rhodes? Will that pacify your bitterness? Man – I had really forgotten SA – that your objection to the premise behind something is an attempt to put your hand out and receive Black Empowerment? Is the shit there so cynical now? So now the voice is sanctimonious – saying that they can’t with all integrity bend to your subversive request for inclusion.

What would happen MK – if you write a hand-wringing private email to them and say you have “unresolved issues” and you “acknowledge them” and “your history and personal poverty and general desparateness for a scholarship” made it difficult to appreciate what “a sensible and earnest” thing it is that they are doing – what would happen?

Because that is the script.

cirdan said…
MMK, this guy is an African, if anybody is.

(White?) African Blogger Conference in a Week

Word on the street, the Khartoum one where I am for the week, is that there is a Digital Citizen Indaba on Blogging conference being held in Grahamstown, South Africa. It is a shock that there should be this kind of meeting without AB&H being told about it. From the list of speakers, listed below, it appears to my untrained and possibly quite mistaken eye that their last names are not very black African; at least they wouldn’t be in East Africa. (Whisper: Will it be a roomful of white folks working for the betterment of the African? Please, I beg you, do not tell massa that I asked cause I know how much he is trying to help me speak and develop into a full, happy human being.)

I feel that I have no choice but to trash it; what is blogging if not a weapon for attacking the virtuous? This admittedly may be difficult because the conference actually seems quite interesting. It appears from the program that the attendees will be treated to dispositions from lawyers versed in internet issues – whatever those are – and that there is even a session to establish ‘an African Citizens Code of Conduct.’ Now that last one I find weird. The power of the internet and blogging is precisely that it is not being planned or coordinated centrally or even subject to a particular point of view. In any case are Africans so misbehaved or even depraved that they are always being subject to codes of behavior? Is the governance agenda and its associated funding buzzwords now to seek us out even in the digital world?

Whenever African is combined with words like empowerment, development, agenda, code, The People, plan, unity, globalization, and a conference is convened, I suspect a hustle. The same kind you would encounter in any brothel bar or illegal drinking den in any city on the continent. You know the guy who sidles next to you, face drawn and haggard with worry, and then says, ‘excuse me please, I came to the city and had all my money stolen. Now I just need help with a little bus fare to return home.’ Or ‘hey, you want good time? I will show you good, clean girls – or boys if you like.’ These hustles precisely match the ones that go something like this: ‘Funding this conference to develop the girlchild’s access to blogging will enable her African voice to be heard in the era of superpower driven globalization.’

As always, the ‘establishment’ in the form of the traditional media and academia, not to mention the political classes, come to the latest advances in expression late and with all manner of grand pronouncements heralding shifting paradigms and revolutionary action. This very worthy meeting to which I would again observe AB&H is not invited seems to fit the scheme exactly. I am sure there will be moans and sighs over the disproportionately low number of bloggers in Africa; and firm declarations to close the ‘digital divide’ and ’empower’ Africans. Out of the conference will come a flood of little proposals to every development agency in the land – ‘help us speak to the world’ will be the theme. There are 20 speakers invited:

Ethan Zuckerman (Global Voices, USA) – Alaa Abd El Fattah (Blogger & Activist, Egypt) – Pieter Verweij (Senior Lecturer, University of Utrecht, Netherlands) – Matthew Buckland (Publisher, Mail & Guardian Online) – Ory Okolloh (Blogger & Activist) – Ashraf Patel (ICT Programme Officer, OSISA) – Zimbabwean Pundit (Political Blogger) – Fackson Banda (SABMiller Chair of Media Democracy, Rhodes) – Emeka Okafor (Blogger & Business Journalist) – Ramon Thomas (Managing Director, NETucation) – Mike Stopforth (Communications Strategist) – Tom Johnson (Institute for Analytic Journalism, USA) – Ray Hartley (Deputy-Editor, Sunday Times) – Juanita Williams (News Editor, IOL) – Chris Roper (Online Editor, 24.com) – Alec Hogg (CEO, Moneyweb) – Ian Gilfillan (IT Author & Blogger) – Andrew Rens (Intellectual Property Legal Expert) – Vincent Maher (Director, New Media Lab, Rhodes) – Andrew Heavens (Photojournalist & Blogger)

You may have noticed that 13 of the 20 do not appear to be bloggers; I hope the speeches are put online so that I can savage or praise them with due consideration.

We can clamp down on antisocial children before birth…

Tony Blair has said it is possible to identify problem children who could grow up to be a potential “menace to society” even before they are born.
Setting out plans for state intervention to prevent babies born into high-risk families becoming problem teenagers of the future, the prime minister said teenage mothers could be forced to accept state help before giving birth, as part of a clampdown on antisocial behaviour.
Mr Blair defended the need for state intervention and said action could even be taken “pre-birth” if necessary as families with drug and alcohol problems were being identified too late. More>>

The Rule of Law (you say you want it?)

From:
To: KCL SS&PP Students (University of London, King’s College)
Sent: Tuesday, August 29, 2006 4:30:37 PM
Subject: DVD & video borrowing restriction

Dear all,
Please see the dull but important message below, which will principally
affect users at the Maughan Library.

************

Dear student,

We have recently implemented a borrowing restriction regarding the ISS
DVD/VHS collection.

In compliance with the Video Recording Act (VRA) 1984 the British
censor must classify (U, PG, 12, 15 or 18) every video or DVD
distributed in the UK. It is an offence (under Section 9) to supply a
video or DVD that hasn’t been classified unless it lies within a very
narrow class that escapes classification entirely. This class includes
sports and educational DVDs. ERA recordings (off-air) are also exempt.
Not all foreign imports have been classified, though those that have
had a theatrical release already will certainly have been rated.

It is also an offence to supply a DVD/video that does not feature the
correct certification labels (Section 13). No foreign imports will have
UK markings. Under the Act, the word “supply” is carefully defined and
it includes “letting on hire” or loaning, even for no reward.

Therefore, having consulted with the KCL Legal Compliance Team we can
no longer allow unclassified videos or DVDs to be removed from the
building (except for classroom teaching on prior authorisation).
However, they can be issued for viewing in the Library & ISC itself.
This use apparently escapes the statutory definition of “supply”. This
category of DVD and video now features a red reference card stating
where the item can be played as well as a short loan label, with the
last loan period ending at closing time.

We particularly wish to avoid any embarrassment or arguments at the
main counter and security gate so we would appreciate your co-operation
in this matter.

———————-
Information Specialist – Social Science & Public Policy
Information Services & Systems
King’s College London
Franklin-Wilkins Building
Waterloo Campus
London SE1 9NH

Less Kids in Africa Equals Better Security for America

Jeffrey Sachs who leaps over tall buildings in Bolivia and Russia in a single bound and lands in Africa to solve its many problems is at it again (read article in Scientific American). Where he once promoted the power of unfettered markets, advising the Russians on the ‘shock therapy’ that left a bulk of state assets in the hands of a cabal of crooks, he is now an environmental activist urging benign state intervention in economic development. His latest campaign involves helping the environment by helping poor people in Africa and the Middle East whose numbers are rising too fast according to this descendent of Thomas Malthus.

Allowing that people in the rich countries live on about $30,000 per year, well above the global average of $10,000, which itself is substantially more than most Africans consume and earn, his suggestion is that giving birth to less poor people is the best course of action in the future. Sachs is worried not about the suffering of the unborn poor should they live like their parents in scarcity and ill health but rather that they may actually manage to fulfill their economic aspirations. At present growth rates by 2050, according to UN forecasts (not usually worth the paper they are printed on by the way), world population will be 9 billion with 2.5 billion of this number born in the poor countries. If this ‘surplus’ somehow finds a way to earn and consume today’s $10,000 average, it would by Sachs calculations cause untold environmental stresses especially due to the fact that cruel fate has chosen to locate ‘biodiversity hotspots’ among the unwashed masses. He worries of the unhappy fate of these hotspots especially since they are a critical part of the ‘Global biological heritage’ a phrase that irritates me to no end because it consigns our part of the world to a perpetual poverty only relieved by the trickle of Birkenstock wearing nature tourists and their cousins, gigolo hungry European grandmas in Mombasa. Our economies are not supposed to grow, or if they do only slowly, according to this view. The African the environmentalist would love to see come to be is a gentle soul who wants nothing more than to live in rude but serviceable shelter, to consume a little food he has grown in the small plot out back, provided it does not kill off that rare species of caterpillar, and who in all things is guided by the desire to live ‘sustainably’. Sustainability for the west to be exact. Not for that African – who thank God will never be – access to the comfort and security that comes from building of wealth. They are going to have their nature even if it requires that they get rid of the hungry, ambitious, dare-to-want-to-survive poor’ – before they are born.

Sachs appeals to American national security and economic interest. His argument in summary is that the more poor there are the angrier the number of young men willing to take up arms against prosperous America. He bewails the Bush administration’s ‘religious right’ inspired refusal to support fertility control in the poorest countries. Better to invest in fertility control now he urges: it is the best use of dollars for a more militarily and economically secure future for America. He is kind enough to stress that this should be voluntary fertility programs. Heaven forbid that under the ambit of national security women and men in Africa should be led into little hospital rooms and rendered infertile. As usual Sachs is never one to pursue his arguments to their logical ends. Couched in his kindness is a kind of neo-eugenics: rid the world of the poor by ensuring that they do not give birth to more like themselves; we are running out of room for you especially if you are from the poor nations (which I read to mean brown nations.)

If it is really a matter of national security then under the present American administration’s pre-emptive doctrine against emerging threats, surely there is a need to limit the number of children that the poor have. Yes, this might be achieved by voluntary measures. But foremost will not be the issue of helping the volunteers improve their lives, it will be as was true in all eugenics programs, an attempt to protect ‘society’ from the undesirables. It might appear to be a bit much for me to be comparing this kind of well-intentioned policy advocacy with the eugenics movement, but I believe that Sachs’ call folds neatly into those of a century ago and that once the more hysterical and less politically correct types make it, all will be much clearer to you poor, over-breeding buggers.

The humanitarians of the day are like the European missionaries of the nineteenth century, providing justifications for colonial misadventure ‘for the good of the poor, native blighter.’ They increasingly join their mission with the ‘imperial’ promotion of the west’s interests. So much so that western NGOs are now a critical tool in their military’s strategy, helping to blunt the impact of the bombs and bullets poured into a target population. It does not surprise me in the least that with the likes of Sachs running around aid agencies are increasingly being targeted as non-neutral in many battle grounds. The toothless and rudderless left to which Sachs is an honored member has become the sheep’s clothing for a hawkish, domineering constituency that needs fodder for its military adventures. What could be more convenient and humane than to save the poor from themselves while being able to pursue imperial goals clothed in the Good Samaritan’s robes?

In 1807, William Hazlit accused Malthus of making himself ‘conscience-keeper to the rich and great, especially to those of them who are not of a giving disposition, all in coining or at least popularizing for their use the magical phrase or formula ‘surplus’ or ‘redundant’ population.’ Sachs too acts to promote the interests of the rich nations but, with a perpetual nod to political correctness and disingenuousness, he would rather he appeared to be regarded as promoting the interests of the poor themselves. He therefore urges the rich to give even more, despite much of this money coming to no good whatsoever and even being harmful in a lot of cases. The animating spirit of his ideas is a restless ambition to be counted first among the rich and great by opining as an expert on regions and matters where his knowledge is thin and mostly involves advocating policies that have been tried for decades and found wanting. Joined by the other hapless musketeers, Bono and Geldof, his is a media game joining concern for poverty with the celebrity bandwagon for the selfish pursuit of personal plaudits and the conscience cooling balm of the ‘feel good factor’. To hell with the poor made to swallow his bitter medicines no matter how ill it makes them.

As Samuel L. Jackson would say of Sachs: ‘How smart can he be? He’s peeing into the wind.’

On a Further Reading

Parselelo Kantai on the contested territory in writing and acting on history in Kenya, and the recent spate of books by white, western intellectuals decrying the oppressions suffered by Kenyans of various stripes under British colonialism.  One of them, Caroline Elkins (author of Britain’s Gulagreviews Adam Robert’s The Wonga Coup, the story of a failed 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea led by British mercenary Simon Mann and part-financed by Mark Thatcher, former British PM Maggie Thatcher’s son.  Binyavanga Wainaina generously provides barbed pointers on How to Write About Africa – to hilarious effect.  When African Americans visit Africa, why are they considered white by some Africans?  James Campbell’s Middle Passages is a historical narrative of two centuries of African American journeying to Africa. 

In Kenya and Africa, the Christian church has grown by leaps and bounds.  What is behind this hunger for transcendental truth?  Kenyan missionary Patrick Mukholi sets out to save heathen souls in Oxford, England.  If you’re a man, it turns out that the cut could save your life.  And now there are queues outside the surgery room after studies suggest that a circumcised man is 60% less likely to contract HIV than his uncircumcised counterpart.

 

‘Arrest me not,’ Mel Gibson telleth the centurion, ‘for I owneth Malibu. And thou lookest a bit Jewish unto me.’ Sayeth the centurion, ‘Tell it to the procurator.’

Ah, peace. Who is it good for?

Ah, peace. Who is it good for?

‘”In Afghanistan, Americans have all the wrist watches but Afghans have all the time.” The enemy will attempt to control the clock with the strategic intent of winning by not losing. He will use the clock to wear down American resolve. Management of the clock will allow him to use patience as a means to offset American superiority in killing power.’ So writes Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales (Ret.) who is looking to historian Alan Beyerchen’s touting of touchy-feely soldiering as the next great advance in the theory of war fighting.

Israeli soldiers engaged in urban battle no longer conceive of the city as the site of engagement but rather a medium of warfare. They are leading the way in the development of a new kind of approach to fighting in urban areas where most battles in the coming decades will be fought. The IDF in Nablus in 2002, as is increasingly the case today, aimed to use ‘none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as ‘infestation’, seeks to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares.’ So says architect Eyal Weizman who sees in ‘walking through walls’ tactics the coming together of post-structuralist thought and operational theory. Cutting edge military thinkers, many in Israel, are apparently eager to challenge their institution’s linear thinking, centralized planning and fixed concepts with thinking, and practice, that is consciously post structuralist and draws heavily on Foucault. At last it seems critical theorists just might earn themselves some Pentagon dollars.

Books to look up

Steven Hahn reviews Eric Foner’s Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. At the heart of American freedoms is the history of Black America during the First Reconstruction. Eric Foner revises revisionism.

What if the history from which you draw ‘self esteem’ were forged? Pride and mistaken identity.

John Updike tiptoes around Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Wizard of the Crow.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun brings the Biafra War up close and personal. Chimamanda recognises that history happens to people, that it is in the details of lives that the broader canvas of history is understood. Add to that, the book is a page turner.

Prize Winning 419s: I’m blind, also have Diabetes Insipidus, and Diabetes Mellitus

I am a fan and historian of the 419 scam email. I have noticed lately that they seem to be getting better by the day. Now they are written (supposedly) by middle class families in England rather than the usual relative of deposed African dictators (usually West African.) AB & H will henceforth dedicate a prize to one 419 per week selected from those received in my inbox. This week’s winner is Phill Adams whose wife needs a holiday since they have spent all their money on taxi fares to hospital to treat his blindness, ‘Diabetes Insipidus, and Diabetes Mellitus.’ Phill’s real innovation on the 419 email is providing a website from which you can make a donation to his wife’s 2-week holiday. And his decision to go for the heart strings as opposed to greed. Good for you Phill.

Hello,
I’m sorry to bother you but I hope you could spare a few minuets,
I’ve had a lot of ill health and my wife betty has been with my thru out, a real help and support to me, I’m blind, also have Diabetes Insipidus , and Diabetes Mellitus, I’ve had loads of operations on my eyes, and other various operations , and a few years ago I slipped and shattered the bone in my left arm, I’ve had 3 ops on this arm to correct it I still have little use from it, and have to rely on my wife’s help this has put a lot of strain on my poor wife, We live in England and I’d love to beadle to take her on a holiday to Devon in the UK where we live she loves the place and hasn’t had a holiday for some years as most of our money goes on taxis to hospital for me as I cant get around on public transport, could you please help me to give my wife Betty a 2 week break and put a smile on her face 🙂 by making a small donation of small amount. I know she would appreciate a break
Thank you for your time and if you do spare a little to help me by visiting the link below

http://www.wifesholiday.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
Many Man thanks for your donation
Phill

What do George Galloway, Five-Fingered Betty and Erica Jong Have in Common?

George ‘Gorgeous’ Galloway with his overly orange tan, shiny suits, ‘indefatigable’ love of the spotlight and praises for Saddam Hussein is not my usual cup of tea but that man can do an interview. There is little that is better on TV than to watch Galloway tear a hapless interviewer to bits. Watch this clip on Sky News.

Earlier this morning I run across a brutally delicious review of Erica Jong’s latest effort ‘Seducing the Demon’ which I probably will not read after such a flaying. When in primary school, I would save my lunch money and buy a used book every Friday at a small used bookstore in Hurlingham (which I recently discovered still plies its trade.) It was there – at the age of ten if I remember right – that I came across Jong’s Fear of Flying. I was initially attracted to the title with its promise of airplanes and pilots. But as I flipped through its pages I came across the sex: fevered ‘zipless fucks’ that roused me to no end. And for some years afterward, while the book was in my possession, the pages with the sex scenes were worn from continual reference. It delivered almost as good value for the money as Nick Carter, the spy whose third testicle was a mini-nuke, or Slocum the gunfighter.

Some years ago, as my mother was turning fifty, and, I think quite scared if her frequent laments were any indication, I bought her Jong’s Fear of Fifty. My reasoning was that the book must surely be about life continuing after this watershed, perhaps even of a life that is more sensual and satisfying. She never did tell me what she thought of it and I had forgotten my gift until I came across this review in the Atlantic Monthly. The gift I fear may have plunged her into an even greater depression. What is it do you think that explains such narcissism which seems to be the almost inevitable destination of baby boomer writers?

The mind being what it is, my remembering reading the Fear of Flying inevitably casts me to the (embarrasing) subject of self love. Or to five-fingered Betty as I heard this relationship with the self referred to when I got to college in the States. The former (or perhaps still-going-strong Marxists) at Spiked, the UK online magazine, have been taking dead aim at the ‘politics of self’ or politics emptied of all content except the narcissism that Erica Jong seems to exemplify. Frank Furedi in an essay on ‘Europe’s very first ‘Masturbate-a-Thon’ event’ shreds the state’s outing of five-fingered Betty. The very same Britain that is today celebrating masturbation as the ultimate self love was a hundred years ago gripped in a hysteria that it was responsible for the weakening of their empire as it presumably had the Roman one…

A Son of the Soil in Khartoum

I am in Khartoum and I need a drink. Badly. But there are none to be had here or at least in no place that I know. Most women are covered up demurely which only seems to raise my curiosity rather than diminishing it. This is my first time here and so far of all the trips I have taken so far this year, I have yet to encounter better hosts. In every office I have gone to, I have been given something memorable to eat or drink. There is a laid back feel to the place and graciousness to the people that put me immediately at ease.

The city itself sprawls over a large area with very few high buildings. Many are clay colored, like the desert, and have wide spaces between them which lends the city a sense of unfettered freedom which clashes somewhat with the careful covering of body and hair by many of the women. The avenues are wide: a runner’s paradise as I discovered this morning when I took what is becoming a small tradition in every city I visit. Unlike cities like Addis Ababa or Copenhagen where the sight of me running attracts a certain amount of attention, people in Khartoum just seem to take it in their stride even though I did not meet any other runners. There are new cars everywhere, and new buildings on the rise, this is a boom city. Oil may be a curse further to the south of the country but here in Khartoum it most definitely a blessing.

The situation in Darfur scarcely seems impact this city. To be here, you would never imagine that there could be such intense suffering in some other part of the country. Politically, one of the more striking sights is of the numerous posters of John Garang on buildings and street lights. In the few conversations I have had with ordinary folk on the peace with the SPLM, I have felt that there was a genuine desire for peace. But will it last I wonder? Should South Sudan opt to secede during the 2011 referendum, I wonder if the peace will be maintained. I hope I get to see more of the country, especially the South. Sudan has always loomed large in my imagination and yet I find that I am so deeply ignorant of it and its complexities.

I remember when I was just about five or six, I would take down the world atlas and insist that my mother play a find-the-place game with me. She would usually pick towns and cities close to Nairobi and I, believing that she would try and go for some distant, obscure town, would start my search in the furthest corners of what was then the Soviet Union. Once or twice she picked Khartoum. When it was pointed out to me (when on the verge of tears of frustration I may add), I would run my finger along the Nile all the way north through Egypt to Cairo. So how surreal it was to stand at the intersection of the White and Blue Nile never having imagined that fate would conspire to bring me here. To see the different currents, the differing colors and to be told that the waters from the two rivers even taste different.

More later.

From the Land of the blondes to that of the Two Niles


I left Copenhagen a few days ago and find that my experience of that city was quite underwhelming even without having expected much on arrival. Perhaps it is because I was there for too short a time to appreciate anything more than its architecture and its tourist face. But even on the level of the gut, I only felt a mild stimulation and it usually takes me a very short time to appreciate the pulse of a city. This pulse, when faced with the foreigner, especially the African, beats fast from hostility and defensiveness. The Africans that I met there told me horrific stories of the racism and xenophobia that they had suffered since their arrival. Their variety of stories had in common an inward looking Danish culture that feels vulnerable to the outsider while simultaneously feeling superior to him.

A Ghanaian professor who took his doctorate from the University of Copenhagen and later taught at the same school told me of students who walked out during his introductory class: they refused to be taught by an African, thinking that there was no possible way he could be qualified. He would start his classes with the painful joke that he ‘had not come to play music.’ This was said to me with a laugh but I could tell that it still hurt him all these years later. He observed that early in his sixteen-year stay Copenhagen, he was criticized for not speaking Danish. Immigrants had to integrate into this new society and learning the language was the first and most important step. But once this was done, he said, the charge became that skilled migrants like him were there to take jobs from the locals. It is the same refrain heard in many European countries that reflects a fear of a world that those same countries have benefited so much from by trading with or conquering it in the past.

A Nigerian taxi driver told me repeatedly of the slurs that he had suffered there, the provocations. The Cartoon Controversy according to him was less an assertion of free speech than a much publicized provocation that all those who are not white and Danish feel in their new home. It seemed a great shame that a society so accomplished would lack confidence to the extent that it fears people who are merely seeking a brighter future for themselves. But let me not make it seem like all was doom and gloom.

The Danes know cocktails. I had the best margarita of my life there: the phi phi. The magic ingredient in it is chili so that the slight burn of the tequila as it went down my throat was followed by the warmth of the spice. The lounge in which I had numerous phi phis was like a million others in any major city that you care to go to. It had low lighting, jazzy music playing and a hum of conversation at the exact pitch and volume as New York or Nairobi or London. There is a convergence of desire I have been arguing to all and sundry, a decades-long rise of an urban elite that is essentially global in its outlook. And it is this very elite that I think can be argued, even without the benefit of the phi phi, to be managing the convergence of state norms and operations. This has led, especially in Europe, to governments that appear cut off from popular consensus and drawing their legitimacy from a kind of internationalist elite worldview. It is the calm cover to a roiling and boiling sea.

There is a tradition of gift giving to the state and the country in Denmark that fascinates me. The queen’s residence is four palaces contributed by seventeenth century merchants. They face – across a small body of water – the city’s opera house which was built for half a billion dollars contributed by Mærsk Møller of Maersk shipping fortune. I wonder why this same tradition has not taken root in Kenya. Perhaps it is because the way the idea of the public space is constituted is as a trough from which to grab wealth and not to deposit it. You take from the center, a center that no-one seems to believe that they occupy (you will notice that Kenyan politicians and bigwigs wear a perpetual cloak of victimhood and a sense of operating from the margins.)

For the days I spent in Copenhagen, I run every morning. And got lost each time. Running in a new city tells you a lot about it. In New York for example, where I lived for some years, runners will nod to each other. I used to feel free to sidle up to a fast running one and ask whether we could push each other. The answer was invariably an enthusiastic yes. But in Copenhagen, I felt watched and suspected of some crime. Perhaps I was just a surprising sight. But in a city with pretensions of sophistication, I felt like I was in a rural town, what with the wide-eyed ‘who are you?’ stares and the averted ‘I am not seeing you’ gaze.

Next post is on Khartoum, Sudan where I have been for the past twelve hours.

Up North in the Land of the Blondes

Back to the land of high-speed wireless internet. Otherwise known as heaven. I must post about Copenhagen even if it is only about my initial impressions which are shrouded in a heavy fog of ignorance. Before I do that though, do you believe that there is such a thing as destiny when you meet people? On the flight from Alexandria to Heathrow, I met an architect from Oslo who specializes in building villas from the simplest materials who was coming from her project in Ethiopia. It was just as I was thinking of having a small place somewhere in the Rift Valley that I could visit when I am in Kenya and need to get away from it all. Well, after a long conversation on books, the relative merits of one duty-free perfume versus the other, we started plotting a villa that would be cheap and made very simply. Watch this space since if this plan, which I have had with a few friends of mine gets underway, I intend to blog every single step of building my own little out-of-town heaven 🙂

It took just under two hours to fly here from London but no two airports or cities seem more different. Heathrow of course is much bigger and perhaps because of that is so much more impersonal. Full of grey carpeting and scowling staff while you step off your plane onto parquet floor in Copenhagen, and it a much friendlier and intimate space. Instead of taking a taxi to my hotel I took the train to the city’s central station. Because night had fallen by the time I landed, I could see very little as I pulled up to the Copenhagen Strand. But I had to get something to eat and decided to do some late night foraging.

Map in shameful (I need to consider myself a traveler not a tourist) hand, I walked to Amager Torv, a square I was told has restaurants that serve food late into the night. The streets were quite empty of walkers and cars but I felt no sense of threat or nervousness despite never having been here before. I felt no surprise, no sense of revelation as I walked. The streets just as I expected had cobblestones and the buildings were a mix of the sleekly modern and older styles that I felt that I had seen before in many other European cities. In Europe surprise seems to have been packaged into a restrained charm. In place: obedient to the whole. The more I see of the continent’s cities compared to those in my part of the world, East Africa and the Horn, I become more convinced that it is the westerner who is the more communal being than the African despite the present wisdom which holds the opposite view. Here there is a rigid social and historical skeleton – especially writ in the architecture – underneath individual individuality. The few people I met in their variety of funky styles seemed in a way to be unable to break out from the unmoving solidity of the buildings leaning over them. This town, like the others I have seen in Europe, seems to constantly remind its citizens that IT and not them are what is enduring and worthy of that continuity.

Nairobi in contrast is a city of its people. Its physical manifestation pales in comparison. (This is half the problem if we are assessing the city’s many problems.) In a very real way in Nairobi people are the institutions, they are the buildings. That is what makes all the dirt and the poverty and the crime there co-exist with a sense of vitality that once you have tasted is very difficult to stay away from or to replicate anywhere else. Anyway, back to Copenhagen.

I had an excellent steak at Pasta Basta just after 2 am in the morning. Wonder what talented chef agrees to keep such late hours. The tables around me were filled. One notably with a group of young men who were painfully thin, had clearly drunk an enormous amount of beer if their loud shouts of laughter were any clue and who I imagined were musicians discussing their latest road trip. Another table had two women, one who kept getting up to go out of the restaurant to take mobile phone calls. She would return and they would immediately plunge into bitter condemnations (they were speaking in english) of some guy who clearly kept calling just as his rival was sending texts. Her companion, clearly the loyal support during some kind of break-up drama, kept nodding along seemingly agreeing with every rant that emerged from the other’s mouth. It was such a universal scene. I imagined that on the other side of the phone was a guy also seating in a bar with a friend who was was also nodding along in agreement at whatever analysis his injured buddy made about the mobile calls. Love, as wonderful and teary in Copenhagen as it is elsewhere. The few people I have seen so far in the city by the way are very physically attractive: fit and tanned and energetic.

Walking back to the hotel, I got lost and walked for over an hour before I finally found my way. At some point, at a distant, I saw a group of about ten youths (yuuuthhss or yuuts as Joe Pesci would say) milling about next to the canal. Behind me was a man pushing along his bike. It was the first time all evening that I felt nervous. I suddenly wondered about all the stories I have read on neo-Nazi attacks on Africans. Though I can remember hearing of none in this city, the closer I came to them, enough to see that they were observing me closely, the more nervous I got. Yet I felt unable to turn back the way I came and there were no side streets to turn into. Besides, I told myself, they had me in their sights now and if it was indeed going to come to some late-night violence, my turning down a darkened road might have made the whole matter worse. My imagination, which is ever coming up with one unlikely scenario after another, by this time was serving up horrible images of what was to come. Bloody images of yuuts tearing cobblestones off the pavement and using them to bludgeon me unconscious before throwing me into the canal. Or of me grabbing a brick from the side of the road and charging toward screaming in inarticulate rage and terror. I must confess that my eyes, as they seem to always do in situations where I suspect the slightest physical threat, searched frantically for a weapon. It is this fear of mine for violence which lends me to believe that the coward is possibly the most violent human being there can be. His fear of others allows him leeway to commit terrible crimes to assure his safety. In any case, the kids were probably just as curious about me as I them. As I passed by slowly they ceased talking so that it felt that I was inspecting a kind of Danish teenage parade of soldiers armed with skateboards and pocket keychains.

That was my first day in Copenhagen. More to come if I can work up the stamina to seat in front of this keyboard when it is summer outside.

The rudeness quotient for Copenhagen (with 1 as very polite and kind, and 10 as boorish and unwelcoming) on day 1 is a 5 since what I have experienced in my interactions so far is a politeness that emanates more from efficient professionalism than voluntary hospitality. The score may change by the time I skip town this weekend.

George Bush and Superman: Naked and Powerless?


Powerful people are not powerful: they are fumblers and jivers as we used to call them back in the day. I say this after two events: George Bush’s antics during the G8 and the latest Superman movie.

Consider this slice of the off-the-cuff conversation between Bush and Blair in Russia:

Bush: I think Condi [US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] is going to go pretty soon.

Blair: But that’s, that’s, that’s all that matters. But if you… you see it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah, yeah.

Blair: But at least it gives people…

Bush: It’s a process, I agree. I told her your offer to…

Blair: Well… it’s only if I mean… you know. If she’s got a…, or if she needs the ground prepared as it were… Because obviously if she goes out she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.

Blair’s words cut to the core of Britain’s role in the world: his desire now is only to present Downing Street as a relevant force, as ‘powerful’. Yet all he can do is ‘speak’ as he runs ahead of actors so that he can seem to have an impact on events – to be part of the doing in the Middle East and elsewhere, . How helpless, how sad that this man who occupies such a supremely self-conceited office should be revealed to be so…irrelevant. This is a truth that the world is catching on fast. In Kenya for example, the British diplomatic effort is sputtering. No longer can the ambassador stroll into State House as he wishes. The impulse at home is to deal with those with the best power PR machines, those who retain some ability to act decisively. But that too is where the rubber gets off the road because even the ‘powerful’ ones engage in conversations like this:

(Since the camera is not focused on him, it is not clear whom Bush is talking to, but possibly Chinese President Hu Jintao, a guest at the G8 summit.)

Bush: “Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?

Bush: “This is your neighborhood. It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?”

(Reply is inaudible.)

Bush: “Eight hours? Me too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”

(At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home.”

(He turns his attention to a server.)

Bush: “No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke.”

(He turns back to whomever he was talking with.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia’s big and so is China.”

That’s what power does when it is not posturing before the microphones. Its use of violence is really just an attempt to hide its confusion, its fear of having been told that it is in control when all it really wants is a diet coke and to get home in time for bed.

The age of kings, at least due to the divine link it claimed for its highest, could make a PR stab at claiming supernatural control of events. But in this secular age, where the pressure on leaders is to remain ‘in control’, they must manage the image of control more than controlling events themselves which they know is beyond them. It is this PR aspect of leadership that leads to the greatest use of violence and oppression because the one thing you can at least appear to control is taking aim at a body, pulling a trigger or imposing some draconian measure on it. So just watch out when you demand that your leaders ‘do something’ about a major crisis. Violence often follows.

Power: do you think Superman the son of Krypton had it? Having just watched Superman Returns, the atrociously boring latest chapter, I am ashamed to say that as a kid I used to love the dude. He was all that was right with the world: justice and the victory of supermen over ordinary men which for some reason as kids in Kenya we really went in for. Perhaps this was because, as I have come to reluctantly suspect, deep inside the Kenyan middle class breast burns a secret, little colonial fire of white love and an unacknowledged hatred of the underdog despite being constantly told that you are one. How could I have ever related to Superman? He was invulnerable to everything except Kryptonite; could fly ‘faster than a speeding bullet’; leap over tall buildings; and even turn back time. So what did he choose to do with these powers? He ignored all that was going wrong in the world except for small-time crooks mugging little old ladies who he punched out or wrapped in a light pole to my great delight. I cannot now understand why I considered him a hero when in fact nothing could physically hurt him. This echoes my curiosity about how exactly is America so often able to think itself a victim of bullies when it is the most militarily and economically powerful country on earth. True Americans have been hurt by outsiders in the past, but I am increasingly astonished by this ability of the powerful to claim perpetual victimhood and the mantle of heroism when they react against the ‘bully’. It seems to me that most atrocities – whether in Haifa or Beirut for example – are always committed by ‘victims’. Even Superman becomes a victim of Lex Luther whose great crime is his madness in refusing to lie down and accept that the Man of Steel is his and humanity’s natural master.

Victim. The competition to append to yourself this word, and therefore own justifications for your actions, is the stuff of every strain of politics and ideology. From progressive to reactionary, democrat to republican, the search for victimhood is on. The winner gets to kill and maim with impunity.

From comments page:

alexcia: When bushie first came to power, there was alot of concern about whether and how his low regard for intellectual rigour would impact the US.
No one is concerned anymore, no they are numbed with shock from the realization that with him, and indeed most of america, Intelligence, low or otherwise does not matter. Who needs all that when you have WILL power, when you can read souls and when god speaks to you directly.

MMK: Intellectual rigour, the lack or presence of it, is the least of the problem. The real problem in my mind is with the issue of control: the attempt to present leadership as somehow a force that can control events and plot the future with unerring accuracy on the policy and moral front. Another word for what I am trying to point out is hubris. The US has steadily bowed to the dais of science and technology which in effect are about attempting to understand nature so as to control and direct it for human purposes. Its triumphs in this sphere have in the best enlightenment tradition been inferred to be relevant in political leadership and human management as well. The thinking being if you can create all those bits of tech and bio-tech and wealth built on science, then leadership too must bow to scientific exactitude and certainty.

Anonymous said…

Victimhood is the ultimate superiority. The victim is the moral superior, the victim is the superior when it comes to initiative- no one may question why they do something, after all they are victims.

Victimhood is the aspiration of all human beings, why else do we claim it was someone else’s fault each time we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

Victimhood takes away responsibility. If someone did something bad to me, the the world is less shocked if my reaction to the act is brutal, callous and inhuman, after all, my victimisation made me vulnerable to such extremes.

Victimhood is a tool in politics as well as in personal relations. Women who stay in abusive relationships do so because, at a deeper psychological level, victimhood gives them a sense of moral superiority to the abuser. A sense of “see how courageous and loving I can be despite all the does to me, see how much I persevere!”

Victimhood is the ultimate symptom of the key malaise in human societies, a desire to avoid 100% responsibility over our actions, the consequences and the future.v

(Friday, August 18, 2006 2:58:39 PM)

The Headbutt From Heaven and How Zizou Rocked

It was perfect wasn’t it? The moment that Zinedine headbutted Materazzi the curtain parted and revealed the immigrant’s European journey. I did not have a moment of doubt that Materazzi had made a racist comment: that he had somehow managed to bring up the subject of Zizou’s Algerian origins in a derogatory fashion, which indeed turned out to be the case. And I celebrated wildly that Zizou had chosen to openly and violently refuse to endure such insult. He did not sneakily get back at his tormentor. No, it was his final game and he was going to play it on his terms – using his rules. No more taking of a high moral ground that in reality means self abasement or a turning of the other cheek only to have it struck as well.

He had endured this kind of thing before. Listened to the Jean-Marie Le Pen‘s and other racists deride the team of immigrants he led to victory in 1998. He had grown up with the knowledge of France’s brutal colonial war in Algeria; of the racist limitations to Algerian immigrant aspirations. His millions in income and his fame did not insulate him from the knowledge that his society prized him as a football player and little else. Zizou held hands with any immigrant who has stolidly endured racist insult to try and fit into their new society while trying to achieve their goals. And so when he unleashed that headbutt, the millions who had just taken their commuter trains to whatever nasty neighborhood they live in, under the baleful stare of the police and the sneers and jeers of many of their new countrymen leaned into Materazzi’s chest with him. I felt elated that this man who had bestrode the world stage and received its every honor had chosen instead, with premeditation and commitment, to refuse to take that shit anymore. He did it when it mattered, as billions watched and with the biggest sporting prize within reach. That is why Zizou for me has taken his place with the likes of Mohammed Ali and Joe Louis in being much more than a sporting icon. In his final game he rejected the role we want for him – refused to just play and shut up – and instead decided to be his own man.

But this post really would not be complete without a celebration of the mechanics of that headbutt. The way he jumped into it without hesitation. The decision to aim for the chest and not the head which displayed a brilliant understanding of the mechanics of surprise and forward movement during an attack. If you ever attend a Vee Arnis Jitsu class in New York City (as I did for some years before I left for London), you will realize that you have to move forward on the attack. That in fact your safety, in a manner of speaking, is behind the man in front of you and that you have to get through him to find it. Zizou understood this well. He might have gotten the red card and France did lose the game, but I think that his wellbeing, his sense of having stood for himself, lay behind Marco Materazzi who he went through. Like a hot knife through butter.

What would have happened had Zizou chosen to teach Materazzi some further lessons? Clearly the stomp would have come into play. In fact that was the natural follow through to that headbutt. But let me not get gory or sink too low because in fact Zizou did not want to hurt the guy. It was more to show Materazzi that while he coveted the trophy enough to dishonor himself by making racist comment, he, Zizou, thought that the prize was not worth his honor.

(Check out a delicious post by Daniel Davies on the (sublime headbutt)

Destination Djibouti

My brother and I have been in Djibouti for the past six hours or so and I am already in love with the city. In the first place, after more than fifteen winters in the US and the UK, there is nothing I enjoy better than extreme, humid heat. To celebrate, I foolishly went out for a run this afternoon in the 40 degrees plus heat. Of course after a few steps, I settled on a sluggish walk about the city. It is beautiful: Moorish architecture, wide, clean streets and a long, curving driveway along a beautiful Red Sea beach. How strangely the future can turn out. If you had told me that I would be here six months ago I would have said you were insane. I am here with my brother who is all of 22 years old and studying astrophysics just outside London. He is one of the better travel companions I have ever had even though he keeps trying to get me to understand why string theory should excite me when I cannot even get beyond the fulcrum. But he makes such a good counterpoint to me on the road with his soft touch and polite manner when I can sometimes tend to be a bit barky and anxious. We are here through Thursday and I am already sorry to be leaving. More details tomorrow and possibly even some photos.

48 Hours and Counting

Ok, I have been in town for the last two days and I am hoping that I could spend a lot more time here in the future. I just returned from having an amazing dinner at a restaurant called 7 Freres. Our host recommended we have fresh fish baked in a clay oven and smeared in spices and lemon. On the side was roti bread, honey and pounded, ripe banana which we washed down with cold beer. Then we followed a huge crowd making its way to the People’s Palace (if I remember the name right) where there is an open air concert being held by a Congolese lingala band.

Djibouti is a country that feels like it is on the brink of getting wealthy. One of its great boons is the standoff between Eritrea and Ethiopia which has made the latter unwilling or able to use its traditional Eritrean port. Perhaps more importantly, the government officials with whom I have had a chance to interact seem keenly conscious of their duty to facilitate the trading desire of their people and take advantage of the country’s strategic position in the Red Sea. Then the large French and American military bases are a huge revenue earner though there is clearly a social price being paid by having thousands of heavily muscled, horny and aggressive young men with money rampaging about.

More later…

Dr. Evil Gets on the Couch

(INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE)

We’re in the middle of a group therapy session, containing
six or seven FATHERS with their teenage SONS. It is
emotionally charged. A lot of pained expressions and coffee
in Styrofoam cups.

SON
(crying)
I love you, Dad.

DAD
I love you, Son.

(They hug. Everyone APPLAUDS. We see Dr. Evil and Scott.)

THERAPIST
That was great, Mr. Keon, Dave.
Thank you. OK, group, we have two
new member. Say hello to Scott and
his father, Mr….Ehville?

DR. EVIL
Evil, actually, Doctor Evil.

GROUP
Hello, Dr. Evil. Hello, Scott.

SCOTT EVIL
(into it)
Hello, everybody.

THERAPIST
So, Scott, why don’t we start with
you. Why are you here?

SCOTT EVIL
Well, it’s kind of weird.

THERAPIST
We don’t judge here.

SCOTT EVIL
OK. Well, I just really met my Dad
for the first time three days ago.
He was partially frozen for thirty
years. I never knew him growing up.
He comes back and now he wants me to
take over the family business.

THERAPIST
And how do you feel about that?

SCOTT EVIL
I don’t wanna take over the family
business.

DR. EVIL
But Scott, who’s going to take over
the world when I die?

SCOTT EVIL
Not me.

THERAPIST
What do you want to do, Scott?

SCOTT EVIL
I don’t know. I was thinking, maybe
I’d be a vet or something, cause I
like animals and stuff.

DR. EVIL
An evil vet?

SCOTT EVIL
No. Maybe, like, work in a petting
zoo or something.

DR. EVIL
An evil petting zoo?

SCOTT EVIL
(shouting)
You always do that!
(calm)
Anyways, this is really hard, because,
you know, my Dad is really evil.

THERAPIST
We don’t label people here, Scott.

SCOTT EVIL
No, he’s really evil.

THERAPIST
Scott.

DR. EVIL
No, the boy’s right. I really am
evil.

THERAPIST
Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re
here, that’s what’s important. A
journey of a thousand miles begins
with one step.

SCOTT EVIL
I just think, like, he hates me. I
really think he wants to kill me.

THERAPIST
OK, Scott, no one really wants to
“kill” anyone here. They say it,
but they don’t mean it.

(The group LAUGHS.)

DR. EVIL
Actually, the boy’s quite astute. I
am trying to kill him. My Evil
Associates have cautioned against
it, so here he is, unfortunately,
alive.

THERAPIST
We’ve heard from Scott, now let’s
hear from you.

DR. EVIL
The details of my life are quite
inconsequential.

THERAPIST
That’s not true, Doctor. Please,
tell us about your childhood.

GROUP
Yes, of course. Go ahead, etc.

DR. EVIL
Very well, where should I begin? My
father was a relentlessly self-
improving boulangerie owner from
Belgium with low-grade narcolepsy
and a penchant for buggery. My mother
was a fifteen-year-old French
prostitute named Chloe with webbed
feet. My father would womanize, he
would drink, he would make outrageous
claims, like he invented the question
mark. Sometimes he would accuse
chestnuts of being lazy. A sort of
general malaise that only the genius
possess and the insane lament. My
childhood was typical.

Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make
meat helmets. If I was insolent, I was placed in a burlap
bag and beaten with reeds. Pretty standard, really. At the
age of twelve I received my first scribe. At the

age of fifteen, a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically
shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shawn
scrotum. At the age of eighteen, I went off to evil medical
school. From there…

(ANGLE ON THE THERAPIST AND THE GROUP. They are stunned.)

And then I woke up in Amsterdam


Your friendly blogger has been in the Netherlands for the past couple of hours after a long sleepy flight from Addis Ababa. How surreal it is to step off a plane a few hours later and be somewhere so different from where I left. I have never gotten over the feeling that flying is magical. It is probably because of my deep ignorance of all matters relating to physics and anything with the slightest mechanical function. All I know is that I am in a metal tube full of very heavy people that somehow is making its way through the heavens. How amazing is that?

Amsterdam feels so still, so ordered. Are its differences compared to an Addis or a Nairobi merely a matter of wealth in one and not the others? Blogging at an internet cafe next to a ‘coffeeshop’ from which is wafting the smell of marijuana. It is one of the reasons I love Amsterdam: they know people smoke pot and so why not just legalise it and limit where it can be smoked? It is a policy that I think can only arise from a people who have divorced themselves from grand utopian visions and whose moral concern is focused on the individual and not the group. Having said all that, I do not think I would much enjoy living here. The place of dark-skinned folks like me seems distressingly low. Also, it might be the hour of day but the few Dutch I have encountered today seem ruder than I remember them. Let me walk a few cobblestones though before I make any conclusions.

C’mon, admit it’s funny

JERRY SPRINGER
Now Scott, tell us about your father. Share with us.

SCOTT
Well he’s the head of an evil organization that has aspirations for world
domination.

JERRY SPRINGER
And where is your father right now?

SCOTT
He’s in outer space, like frozen in a giant egg and stuffed inside a Big Boy
rocket with his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth.

JERRY SPRINGER
Really? Well, we have a surprise for you, Scott. Let’s bring out Scott’s
father, Dr Evil.

Dr Evil enters.

Lower Third Chyron: “WANTS TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD”

DR. EVIL
Hello Scott, I’m back.

SCOTT
I can’t believe you’d do this to me on national television!

DR. EVIL
They offered me a free makeover.

JERRY SPRINGER
Dr. Evil, we’ve seen a lot of the fathers here today open up to their sons,
sons to the fathers. Is there anything you’d like to share?

DR. EVIL
Share?

JERRY SPRINGER
Yes, don’t you have any secrets?

DR. EVIL
OK. I have a vestigial tail.

DR. EVIL
It’s more of a nub, really. The spine just goes on a little longer than it
should. Also, I’ve dabbled. I mean, perform fellatio once and you’re a poet,
twice and you’re a homosexual. I remember once I was being fisted by Sebastian
Cabot- but here’s where the story gets interesting. He was
lactose-intolerant. He could eat red meat all night long, but one sip of milk
and it was gastric hell. And I remember we were caught in fragrance delicto
by Henry Kissinger, and you can imagine my humiliation at having Hank hear me
say, “Mr. French, no teeth.”One of my greatest disappointments is that I never
became a song and dance man. I could have been a quadruple threat, kind of
like a despotic Ken Barry. Dancer, singer, actor, and I would possess nuclear
weapons, the latter being the most threatening of the four. I once sat on a
bus and tried to will myself a menstrual cycle. All I ended up with was a
sense of failure and a mild neuralgia in my incisor teeth and perhaps a
grudging respect for the weaker sex. I love toe cleavage. For the most part I
distrust dogs. I slept in a horse once. It was quite roomy. On second
thought, it was the Ritz. I named my left testicle ‘piss’ and my right
testicle ‘vinegar’. I wrote “It’s Raining Men”, or so the Christmas babies
told me. Oh yes, I also made a Marzipan voodoo effigy of The Fonze while I was
in coma after smoking some Peruvian prayer hash, but who at the end of the day
can honestly say they haven’t done that?

(The Springer audience is stunned, slack-jawed and for once quiet.)

Classic Scene 2

INT. STARBUCKS WORLD HEADQUARTERS

Number Two smiles weakly, breaking into a sweat on his brow.

NUMBER TWO
May I add, I appreciate you reinstating me after our little…misunderstanding.

DR. EVIL
Frau Farbissina. Wie gehts is
einen?

We see Frau. She looks a little more ‘masculine’ than before.

FRAU
Zehr gut, Herr Doctor.

DR. EVIL
How are things?

FRAU
I have come to embrace the love that dare not speak it’s name. To my right is
my lover.

We see a severe-looking German woman with one continuous eyebrow.

FRAU
Her name is Unibrau. I met her on the LPGA Tour.

DR. EVIL
Right on. Welcome, Unibrau.

Dr. Evil takes another sip of cappuccino, making the frothy milk mustache even larger.

FRAU
Doctor, you have a ‘milk mustache.’

DR. EVIL
(wiping it off, embarrassed)
Oh, I know. I know.

NUMBER TWO
Dr. Evil, I’d like to introduce
the Greek assassin, Oedipus.

(We see a swarthy Greek army guy.)
DR. EVIL
Welcome to my private army, Oedipus. Excited?

OEDIPUS
I could give a shit.

DR. EVIL
Kiss your mother with that mouth?

OEDIPUS
Yes.

DR. EVIL
Of course you do.

Dr Evil begins to press a button labelled “Oedipus” on his control panel, but Number Two interrupts.

NUMBER TWO
(clearing throat)
Dr. Evil, as you know, the rate at which you liquidate henchmen far exceeds our
ability to replace them.

DR. EVIL
I have so few pleasures left to me, Number Two. The key to life is to rotate
your vices. One day it’s executions, another day it’s creamy French cheese.
It’s like frickin’ heroin.

Concorde or my first two hours clubbing in Addis Ababa

And so now it can be said: mmk has visited the famous Concorde in Addis Ababa. And what little shreds of innocence that were still (reluctantly) hanging off me have now been stripped and buried for all eternity. Oh yes, to this son of the soil, innocence is a past state of being. Where to begin?

In the past two weeks, a number of taxi drivers have been recommending that I should visit the Concorde Hotel on account of it being lots of fun and very popular with foreigners. But since realizing that taxi drivers in Addis are made precisely from the same clay as those in Nairobi, namely that they are out to fleece anyone with the sucker look one wears in a new town, I was not willing to take them up on the offer. Besides, I have been trying to sustain a no-alcohol pledge; and thought it best to stay away since I do not associate nightclubs with sodas.

On the night in question, this past Friday to be exact, I went to have dinner at a workmate’s home. In the course of conversation, it turned out that the Concorde was just a short walking distance away. We decided to check it out and my curiosity only grew when he assured that I would see, ‘things you have never seen before bwana aiii!’

Once at Concorde and having paid the 20 birr cover charge, it took less than three minutes to realize that its popularity has nothing to do with its music or cocktails: it’s the sex for sale that draws the crowd. We were in Addis Ababa’s version of Nairobi’s Florida nightclubs.

There was an Ethiopian band playing to a crowd whose mood is best summed up as ‘hurry up and stop all that singing and dancing, we are here for other things.’ After an hour of excruciatingly unenthusiastic performances, the club music kicked in spurred on by an MC who bounced around the small space rapping along with whatever hip-hop was in any particular song. The DJ (and please oh lord I beg for leave to issue a critique that I hope does not extend throughout the city) seemed trapped in an American mid-western, early 1990s music hell. I suppose there must be a fundamental existential crisis DJs suffer when they have to play for western tourists or expats and local prostitutes. Imagine the dilemma as they build their play list for the night: do I play hip hop for the 18 year old girl who will cajole the John to buy drinks and stay longer or to her 60-year old John from a small town in Missouri? Add to that the insistent little voice in the DJs head that insists he is an artist and should be above all other concerns.

His attempt to unify the disparate audience at Concorde meant that a jazzy song was succeeded by rap, then by Lingala and then that national anthem of American middle-age angst: ’18 till I die, 18 till I die…yeah!’

One wall of Concorde is mirrored. For the two hours I was there, several women stood in front of the mirror dancing with their own images. They were so absorbed, so taken with the obvious beauty in front of them; it must also have been a good vantage point from which to get a view of who was checking them out most ardently. The weird thing is I found myself concentrating more on the image in the mirror than on the woman standing in front of it. It was as if by looking so intently at her image, she drew me to her image and away from herself. But then since the image was also looking at her… Let us turn to our Lacan here because there is clearly a need for some further confusion. I have not read Lacan but do know at least that he wrote on the mirror stage. Imagine again this young, tightly trousered, nubile woman dancing in front of the Concorde mirror. When she was younger and had done the same thing, Lacan would have said that she was involved in the initial and necessary act of self manufacturing – by identifying the self according to the Other. And if indeed I do understand any part of other arguments he made, then perhaps the woman in the mirror was not actually her at all, but a stranger, an Other. This of course must be quite close to the truth of selling sex for money. It requires, I would suppose, a distancing, an ability to say that this is me and that woman over there in the bed under the heaving weight is some other person. A tough person who does what she has to do.

(Please do not ask that it make sense because nothing Lacan says makes sense to me. Actually nothing anyone says that involves the words self, other or identity make any sense to me anymore. I have been far too corrupted by an Anglo-Saxon veneration of words for authority’s sake. If you want to get into this a bit more, I suggest you go to Wikipedia – not that it helped me in the least)

In Greek mythology, Medusa whose gaze turned people to stone was herself turned to stone when Perseus the hero held up a mirror to her. Snow White’s Wicked Queen needed the reassurance of a magic mirror to know that she was the fairest woman in all the land. And my favorite: Harry Potter in one of the books glances into a magic mirror that reflects his deepest desire. Destruction, revelation and yearning. Surely the women in Concorde could in some way relate to the three mirrors. Or perhaps this riff of the subject is just my way of dealing with the fact that I am once again procrastinating from my long suffering thesis.

Anyway, to get back to the scene, the twenty or ladies on the floor were swaying patiently to the music. They were not actually dancing as much as showing off their wares, waiting for the prod in the back, the one that says ‘can I dance with you or buy you a drink?’

In the dim light, their eyes shifted slowly from one male face to the other. They peeled away my pretension that I was just a local accompanying some ferenjis (foreigners) out on the town. The table between me and the dance floor had white expatriates seated around it. They were behaving as if they were on dates with women whose body language to everyone except their ‘date’ reflected an utter boredom relieved only by practiced touches filled with a detached erotic promise.

At an adjoining table was a smooth looking dude in all-black clothing and exuding manicured airs. The women kept walking up to him and drifting away minutes later. He coolly appraised each as if he knew their secret which in his mind must have amounted to ‘I know what you want and it is me you want’. I suspect that he actually felt that beneath all the solicitations was a genuine desire for him since he was clearly irresistible. There are Johns whose visits to prostitutes are only made bearable by maintaining the conceit that love can flourish somewhere within the money-for-sex transaction. I found myself disliking every man in the room except for the waiters and the grossly fat, exhausted looking bouncer.

As we sat there, with me trying to hold onto my non-drinking pledge, I noticed a woman looking at me more intently than any of the others. Her eyes were filled with come hither and so I tried filling mine with ‘I am scared of you and have a wife and am considering becoming a monk.’ But her eyes ignored such pleas and insisted, ‘you know why you are here, why else would you be here if not because of me?’ By the time I came back to the table from a toilet break, her eyes had stopped talking and her mouth had taken over.

‘You want to dance?’ she asked loudly to be heard above whatever song the bastard of a DJ was playing.
‘Um, no thanks, I don’t like this song.’ I answered.
‘You want to buy me a drink?’
‘Um, not today, I am just about to leave.’
‘But I love you.’

My colleague interjected then with loud and, to my ears, very welcome laughter. ‘These ladies,’ he said into my ear, ‘they know only three words: drink, love and condom.’

Such was the adventure at the Concorde where you are promised to fly very high or very low or whatever kind of flying provided you are ready to pay the fares.

Addis Ababa Bombings

If you have ever wanted to know what you think of terrorism, try and be in a city that has just had bombs go off in a public place. This is what happened in Addis Ababa (where I am staying for now) on Friday when at least six explosions went off and killed three Ethiopians while wounding a score.

This is the third city I have been in (the others being New York and London) where civilians have been targeted by groups pursuing some kind of political agenda. I cannot stand it. It is fashionable to point to the political oppression or marginalization endured by certain groups and to conclude as understandable or even supportable those among them who choose in turn to terrorize other civilians. But being in a targeted city, not knowing whether the minibus you are riding in will explode or whether the car parked outside the cafe in which you are having coffee has a bomb in it is unbearable. I guess that is the whole point of the exercise, to make the state appear to have no control or for the state itself to wield such violence to justify its authoritarian controls. Either way, if you are a civilian it just means that you are a sitting dark, waiting for men in the shadows to make of your body and life what they will. It sounds such a discordant note to the control I have come to consider I have over my life – that there is someone somewhere who wants to make a point to someone else through my bloody remains. I think that the people in this city are very hardy. Perhaps they are made so by their history which is bloody and peopled with leaders who considered their lives expendable.

Terrorism’s great evil is in considering a stranger’s life expendable in a cause that is at most indirectly connected to that person. Whether you are bombing a ‘target’ from thousands of feet in the air knowing that you will kill a stranger or swinging a machete at them or blowing yourself up with him, the evil is in not knowing what you have brought to an end. What gross ego to consider that single life with its incalculable threads of obligation and love and hope to be irrelevant to the ideas and feelings swimming around inside you. This is why I dislike ideologues nowadays. At the logical extreme of their words lies death for strangers and privilege for themselves. I particularly dislike the ones who would mouth ideologies, especially radical ones, without having the good grace to accept that the road to their utopia is littered with broken bodies. Better those grim types who know exactly what they are willing to do to realize their plans rather than the soft self indulgence that would celebrate death at a distance while holding onto moral uprightness. I feel for those three people and their families and can only guess at the rage and despair that their deaths have caused. All for some arsehole to feel bigger and better.

Land, the eternal Gikuyu conversation

I am in Nairobi for a few days from London and just came from a ride to Athi River with my mother who is purchasing some land there. We were accompanied by my uncle, the cliche family rogue, who knows every single trick Nairobi has to part you from your money by means fair or foul. For the hour it took to drive there through heavy traffic and a seriously torn up road, we had the same conversation that we have shared since I can remember: land or to be more specific, how to acquire it and make a profit off it.

Plots were pointed out and owners identified. We had debates on the depth of the water table, the route a new trunk road will take vis-a-vis said plots of land and the provision of electricity. Prices were bandied about and expected returns in the coming years. Both my uncle and mother seem to possess a vast catalogue of information on land and its price. So there were comments like, ‘just behind those shops, an acre used to cost 10,000 shillings in 1983-85 and you can’t get one now for less than a quarter million.’ Followed by exclamations of surprise and frustration at not having spotted such obvious opportunities and pledges to never again allow such profits to slip through the fingers.

The particular land that we were driving out to contemplate is close to Daystar University. I stood admiring its look, the view and suchlike, while my uncle kept muttering that it was fat. Fat, as he explained, refers to land fertility and also suggests potential financial gains from owning it.

We had bypassed many students walking the muddy road to the Mombasa-Nairobi highway and I offered one a ride into town. As is usual when I meet a university student, I wanted to know what she was studying, quality of lectures etc. But my mother and uncle had a quite different take on what to talk about with a stranger. They asked pointed questions about student accommodation, entertainment, health provision and others in a similar vein. By the time we got back into the city, it had become clear that building self-contained hostel space, a pharmacy, a pool hall and a restaurant catering to students were promising business opportunities. The price of her accommodation was revealed in addition to her transport and entertainment costs. After we dropped her off, all mention of the beauty of the views had been replaced by strategies to ‘do some business’ on the land.

In London or New York or wherever else I have lived, I never had these types of conversations with anyone. I am sure that the British can probably relate in regard to home ownership but it struck me that this conversation was different. Perhaps I am being ignorant but I think that it was a typical Gikuyu form of dialogue. Property and its acquisition form the common ground, the public space even. And to own it is a sign of some kind of virtue. How else to explain how few conversations I have overheard since I was a child that were not anchored by some form of financial consideration.

Imagine how many millions of similar conversations are held every year and the enormous ambitions they give rise to. Gikuyu land hunger has acquired sinister overtones in different parts of the country. The image of voracious locusts springs to mind when I recall some complaints I have heard. Yet it strikes me, that kikuyus – whether wa-sapere or not – have this search at the heart of the way they regard the good life. Only property owners get a certain respect that a majority crave. The method of acquisition is less important, in fact it might be completely irrelevant since there is a sentiment I believe of the world being a tough competitive place in which victories are counted one property at a time. Imagine how many millions of similar conversations are held every year and the enormous ambitions they give rise to. Gikuyu land hunger has acquired sinister overtones in different parts of the country. The image of voracious locusts springs to mind when I recall some complaints I have heard. Yet it strikes me, that Gikuyus – whether wa-sapere or not – have this search at the heart of what they regard as the good life. Only property owners get a certain respect. The method of acquisition is less important, in fact it might be completely irrelevant since there is a sentiment I believe of the world being a tough competitive place in which victories are counted one property at a time.

My Best Friend’s Wedding


I just got back to London from Washington DC where my close friend was getting married this past weekend. Now this is a friend I have had since boarding school in Nairobi; we went to the States for university at about the same time; and roomed together in Brooklyn for some years. BK or Fort Green to be exact was one party after the other, ‘shots all around’ being one of our more frequent utterances and of course where there is alcohol and testosterone, seeking the company of women was par of the course. Because of so many years spent as close friends we had developed our own private language. One of its more important concepts that we repeated like a mantra was ‘standards and rules’. These were applied to women. We carefully calibrated our individual preferences, analysed them over many beers and over time codified our romantic desires and how to go about satisfying them.

It was quite juvenile really but I think very serious for all the jokes we made about it. Sometimes I think it was an attempt to create some kind of order in the chaos of being single in New York City. We formed a little community with its ethics and battlegrounds even if they were only located in lounges and the succession of parties we frequented. Our enemy, I think, was loneliness. The feeling of not being wanted in a city built on the principle of aspiration and the conceit that only those who are weak or unworthy do not realise their every dream. New York has a way of inflating or redirecting your desires. For example, you may have thought that you wanted to date a funny and down to earth person when you got off the bus from some small town or country. A few months later, you would be telling your friends that you wanted to only date funny and down to earth supermodels willing to share you with their supermodel friends.

The city makes you believe that your most fevered imaginings are just a Thursday night away, just a matter of being at the right place at the right time. That place of course being yet another darkened lounge playing the same relentlessly funky jams and filled with people who manage to simultaneously seem completely unique and uniform. Fun is what it was. So much fun that I had it coming out of my ears so that it stopped being fun – like being made to laugh continuously without being able to stop or tickled for hours on end. Our standards and rules created ever finer distinctions. Before I got to New York, I had not fully appreciated the Eddie Murphy character in Boomerang who rejects a woman because her feet have cones. With the benefit of hindsight and at a distance, I now realise that I was actually having an almost sexual relationship with the city itself. I desired it as it was reflected in all the people I used to spend time with. Proof came when I left the city for London with my mobile phone holding hundreds of numbers. A few weeks after settling in London, I scrolled through these numbers and could not recognise two-thirds of them and had no desire to speak to more than a handful. Yet these other strangers were people I had spent many hours with, shared all manner of experiences, slept with some and argued with others. But it was really never about them as much as it was about being in love with the city that forced them into the same lounge I was in or even into my bed. The city demanded fidelity and very rarely gave anything that did not sharpen your appetite for its other (waiting) charms.

When my friend and his girlfriend decided to get married, it was an act of rebellion. It could only have succeeded once they removed themselves from their relationship with New York, which they did since they now live in Washington DC. He threw off ‘standards and rules’ which allowed him I think to see that these never had the ability to help him find his bride who is so much more than what he had thought he wanted when we were in Fort Green. His asking me to be best man forced me to turn away from the language that we had honed for so long since it could scarcely help digest the course he had chosen for himself. And what has been so great about it in the last year is realising progressively that our friendship which most people who know us would think is entirely based on partying was filled with all this other good stuff which had been getting built parallel to our life of tequila shots and thong analysis.

The wedding had about 80 people and was very simple. I got to be MC and so spent most of the day stressed that I was going to drop a clanger and be forever damned. I did drop several but I think only a few people noticed them. The more I think of it and our previous friendship as single men in NYC – since we are now in a different place – the thing that makes me happiest for him is that he has looked within himself for what he wants and not allowed external standards and rules to make the decision for him. I suspect something special happened to me this past Saturday as well but time will tell, for now though I know it was one of the happier days of my life.

Baby talk is good or back to writing


Continuing on with what has become a frequent – and to me quite enjoyable – exchange on the religious roots of nationalism and many forms of social cohesion, I received an email from BK below that continues where the last post on ‘Let us get back to belief shall we? Again. And memory in writing’ left off.

From: BW
To: MMK

I am thinking that the way we have learned to act is often related by what we read into the symbols that make up written language. That is, Noah is ‘real’ because he can be referenced with some consistency in many places. If I am in Muranga in 1902, Noah is realer than the Kariuki who I have heard lives in Molo and is my cousin – because the reports of him are inconsistent. If we are conversing about Noah, and disagree, I can remove my bible and show; and you remove yours. And we continue to argue – and may or may not reach a consensus – BUT, we have spent time training each other to read similar things into the Noah situation. If we do the same thing about Kariuki, immediately afterwards, we find, soon, that we cannot go far – for I believe one thing based on my interpretations of what I have heard. And you another based on your own interpretations. Our sources and emphasis may be vastly different. So for me, the heart of the growth in the importance of the bible was in its writenness.

Even when most people could not read, there were those who could and could translate or explain it to others. This power of writing, among many others, is allows people to make contracts with greater consistency. If somebody is far removed from you in the way they choose to perceive life and measure the value of physical things, it makes transactions difficult. But a text around which is a measure of consensus allows for both parties to gauge their transactions – and come up with a close result.

Belief – and faith come in because your imagination, which has much power to mimic organisms and the ‘flesh’ and interactions of living – can now solidify reality removed from present action, by constant reference to characters and situations who can be measured against your imagination, so your imagination becomes closer to the reality of the present eye.

“Noooo. You lie. Noah never lived in a fish.”

In the absence of television or radio the daily reading of the bible can make biblical characters have sustained narratives more ‘real’ than distant friends; than yourselves even, in any past. Instead of peppering examples from remembered clan transactions, it becomes more efficient to provide examples from the ‘living flesh’ of biblical relations – because they are now more real than the past.

From: MMK

Nice. That is the thing, the written word creates a canon whether it is the one that forms the basis of a nation or merely the ‘rules’ around which the interaction between cousins can be mediated as you say by an external, ‘neutral’ storehouse of experience and thought. The Bible is THE founding text in so many places, not only of nations but I think of families as well. Just a quick look at some of the stuff that Adrian Hastings and David Aberbach have to say:

Adrian Hastings: For the development of nationhood from one or more ethnicities, by far the most important and widely present factor is that of an extensively used vernacular literature. A long struggle against an external threat may also have a significant effect as, in some circumstances, does state formation, though the latter may well have no national effect whatever elsewhere. A nation may precede or follow a state of its own but it is certainly assisted by it to a greater self-consciousness. Most such developments are stimulated by the ideal of a nation-state and of the world as a society of nations originally ‘imagined’, if you like the word, through the mirror of the Bible, Europe’s primary textbook, but turned into a formal political philosophy no earlier than the nineteenth century and then next to canonised by President Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles peace settlement of 1920.

‘Religion is an integral element of many cultures, most ethnicities and some states. The Bible provided, for the Christian world at least, the original model of the nation. Without it and its Christian interpretation and implementation, it is arguable that nations and nationalism, as we know them, could never have existed. Moreover, religion has produced the dominant character of some state-shaped nations and of some nationalisms. Biblical Christianity both undergirds the cultural and political world out of which the phenomena of nationhood and nationalism as a whole developed and in a number of important cases provided a crucial ingredient for the particular history of both nations and nationalisms.’

David Aberbach: The Hebrew Bible, though generally seen mainly as a religious document, has also provided models of secular national identity. A number of biblical motifs have been revived in modern cultural nationalism: for example, the importance of moral regeneration, attacks on internal and external enemies of the nation, and the unification of disparate groups despite geographic dislocation. The Hebrew Bible also anticipates various forms of conflict in modern national identity: between the individual and the group, chosenness and egalitarianism, the narrowly national and the universal. In the two centuries after the invention of printing, the Hebrew Bible in vernacular translation had a decisive influence on the evolution of nationalism, particularly in Britain. The Bible was essential in the culture of empires but also, paradoxically, inspired defeated, suppressed and colonised people to seek freedom. A number of modern national poets, notably Whitman and the Hebrew poets Bialik and Greenberg, adopt a free verse neo-prophetic mode of _expression. The Hebrew Bible can, therefore, be read as the archetypal, and most influential, national document from ancient times to the rise of modern nationalism.

From: BW

What I am thinking is that your memory needs your imagination to create scenarios; not just new ones but to keep what you saw, heard and experienced fresh and fleshy. Left on their own, the imagination would take control of the memory and run anywhere with it. But, because you share memories with those you live with – and sharing these is central to all your dealings with everybody; they keep you close by sharing back. But this is inefficient because if you are all affected by some sudden outside event or act your memories could all be rearranged – because all memories are a present take on the past. If the present changes dramatically, the past will get rearranged too. And when people gather to renegotiate the memories, it becomes a battle of the dominant, the charming, and the witty – not of the one closer to the events as they happened. Writing made people’s relationships consistent – it offered a third party storage that could always be referred to keep the centre in the same place. So the loss was shifting centers – centers had been shifting for ages…..

So the monopoly is not Christianity to make modern nations. It comes from not Christianities ‘marketing’ of Israel; or the Judeo-Christian innovation of the 20th century nation-state. Sanskrit, King James English – same thing: a fixed centre of’ reality’ could exist for the first time; and the citizenry would now ‘radiate’ to the ‘fixed’ centre and measure themselves against it – and measure the value of things against. This made durable empire – and even more durable citizenry later. So first church is the centre of mediation; of ‘reality building’ and when it is realized that this ‘system can transfer, school becomes where consistency is transmitted. Church was dangerous because power automatically transferred from the military warlord families who controlled Europe, to the pyramid of religious transfers, the priests had more power over individuals than anybody else. The only immovable thing was the black and white of the text; and power became vested in whoever could build consensus most widely around a text that claimed to represent their interests…..who could ally their power, their ideas around a text that could represent it.

So now we gather, completely gaseous against the solid reality of the text. This is what a court case is: all can shift. Fact, history, evidence, perception and future depending on how you can persuade the text. This is a parliament, an exam, a bank form, a text book, a census. A person: a corporation is simply a person composed of nothing but texts; texts talking to texts and people coming to them to mediate reality.

So. A company is realer than a person. You can track everything; and measure everything. This is a person you can do business with from anywhere in any language and you have better trust that he will deliver your maize more than you trust your brother to deliver your maize. There is no inconsistency that a company can provide than cannot be measured – it has no mystery; and mystery is what we have been trying to abandon all along. How come religious epiphanies do not call people to destroy markets or trading monopolies or access? We are all able to believe that a company will behave predictably; we are able to be completely ‘secular; with it – even at the most fever-pitched time. If you kill the Tutsi shop-owner, the shop becomes colorless and a perfectly able to immediately become Hutu.

The mystery of the motivations of those Tutsis: the hidden negotiations; the suspicious genes: unchangeable, unseeable, the larger part of a person is invisible; and so the imagination of the enemy cannot be limited when drastic action is requested….there is not human way to measure the size of their threat, and so in a competition for power, the fastest disseminators of a compelling reason or strategy can win easily.

We are coming to worship the text; it has proven larger and more solid than God. You can make your text, your own one, to fit reality. But where only the bible continues as the overarching text – the war is over who owns it.

From: MMK

Is it the poppers? Is this what they do to a brain: make it spew out surprising and provocative ideas? If, as you say, memory is always new, contingent on circumstance and need, then it requires nothing as much as it does the imagination. But then I started to wonder at how differentiated are the imagination, memory, reality, the written/codified word. Take the imagination for instance which I think is sitting at the heart of your argument. Aristotle argued that the imagination is a kind of phantasm, a mind picture almost, that fused together the inputs of the sense organs. Then the modern era in the form of a Descartes followed mostly in his footsteps thinking of imagination as that which allows us to take chaotic, jumbled sense data into coherence. Hume went further: the imagination through its ability to bundle and categorize sense data leads to the use of specific words for specific impressions. Words then become a part of our empirical interaction with the world and it is this process, this joining of the mind and body that I think we call reality. Because of a shared commonality of experience in regard to sense data – for example when a Stone Age band gets chased by a woolly mammoth – there is probably a drive to standardize words. Our baby world with its constant revolutions of paradigms, perceptions and interpretations becomes a narrower, more externally agreed-upon interpretation of the physical world expressed in words.

The drive to codify develops through songs, children’s stories, etc. It gets to the point when a founding book – often a dictionary written to translate the bible into a vernacular language according to Hastings – which demands that the author choose one word and eliminate another. Language, which can vary wildly even within short distances, becomes standardized and the bible with its narratives popularizes this version of language.

Our imagination meanwhile is getting fed with an infinite amount and variation of sense-data but eventually has an ever more finite and pre-agreed store of words with which to represent a coherent picture when it can form it – it seems to me that words then curtail possibility if you think of it as an infinity of perceptual or interpretive choices. Then comes Kant who goes argues that yes, the imagination is an associative tool but that it is limited to templates that exist in the mind before the ‘entry’ of any sense data. But he has no accounting for where these formats come from; he thinks they are a mystery, a matter of the human soul – God perhaps? He too spurns the odd and perhaps impossible to communicate possibilities of perception and interpretation that we had as non-speakers of a public language but does so more reassuringly by assuring that the source of this limitation is not of this earth, not limited by the senses. I only partly go with Kant as far as the mystery of the soul, which sets me up later to conceive of a basic and essential human drive to be the need for transcendence and of our unavoidable need for a god. (But you, and correct me if I am wrong, have a strong desire to eliminate this god/heaven/beyond the grave thing from the way you conceive of human interaction with the world outside us.)

My question really is whether the imagination can ever see us beyond the sense data of the physical world. Can we as writers conceive of it as a ‘wild’ zone of creativity that is unruled or at least unruly? If so, then it offers the possibility of creating concepts or categories or a paradigm that did not exist previously. It is out of this hope of possibility that I believe the desperate refutation of death, which after all is completely confirmed by our sensory input, emerges; the need for life after death. Surely we need not tax possibility when the imagination as a picture of ‘reality’ allows us to manipulate and operate such that we are able to build systems and methods that prolong life or at least make it more profitable and comfortable. I am possibly being slightly jumbled when I say that the store you set on the memory and imagination as ways of negotiating reality does not go far enough in accounting for the element of possibility and the uses to which human beings put it. As the text becomes God, it narrows possibility. By codifying language so relentlessly we get further drawn into a conception of the world that is ever more empirically based (see the argument between creationism and evolution.) Yes, the text tends toward the solid as you say but we seem to fight this process all the way even as we use it to operate better in the world. Why else would the genocidal killer view his victim as you say, unchangeable and unseeable? Where does the act of killing lie: with the text or with an imagination unhindered by the limitations of standardized interpretations of sense perception?

1st Annual Kaybees – the Kenyan Blog Awards

Nominations are now closed and this blog has been nominated in the best political blog category for which of course I am quite excited and thankful. Unfortunately, while anyone could nominate a weblog, only Kenya Blogs Webring members can vote on the final outcome which strikes me as strange since it excludes readers who are such an intimate part of blogging.

Fasting Diary: The Path (Back) to the Warrior


I have been fasting for the past six hours and cannot think from the hunger. I am delirious with it and cannot imagine that I will be able to maintain it for a week. My stomach after hearing that Head Division had ruled the start of a fast went into full scale battle mode. It immediately initiated a civil disobedience campaign of sharp unexpected intestinal twistings and loud, rumbling cries of ‘no food, no justice’. The sight of a portly man eating a brie and ham sandwich as I walked by him in search of Miso soup made me hurriedly close my moaning mouth just before a gob of saliva escaped. By tomorrow, the odds are that I will be lying on my couch with harly the strength to use the remote control. But with the ever valiant and dictatorial (to the rest of the body) Head Division on duty, I am sure there shall be orders to the fingers to provide periodic updates to you decadent types with your sandwiches and breads and pies, beers, ice creams, steaks…damn you all!

I used to fast occasionally to try and give my ever-working tummy a rest. Does it not sometimes rankle how cow-like eating is, the endless munching and swallowing, the helplessness of needing to eat or die, the boring predictability? Since I have been in London, the training regime I used to have in New York fell apart. I could not find a dojo that I enjoyed and for the life of me cannot get myself to run consistently in the grey weather. My willpower – or the little there is of it – used to be expressed mainly through goals I set myself in Vee Arnis Jitsu. Not anymore. Now it occasionally pokes its little head from its hiding place to will the writing of bits of my thesis and the occasional short story. The bastard can last for weeks without raising the slightest murmur of protest at my procrastinations. Enough I said to my brother last night, enough of this self-indulgence that has turned my body into the soft, spoilt, library-visiting, tiring, weak lump that I used to hold in contempt (and fear). Back to the lean warrior ready to run all night to besiege and lay to waste a city by day. My brother of course laughed heartily and cruelly; he does not think I will last more than a day.

The goal for the week is to limit myself to light liquids. It is to be Miso soup and its brothy equivalents, water, teas and possibly, very possibly given I have business meetings to attend in the evenings, vodka. (Just got some anonymous advice on eating occassional bits of fiber-filled veggies that I will follow.)

Stay glued to this spot for updates as I attempt a return to the path of right, to reclaiming my body from the forces of laziness and weakness. Back to the world of willed pain to build strength and endurance. Back to the jujitsu throw and to the skinned knuckles of Arnis stick training.

In these days of fear-mongering as argument, I expect that some reader will think to chime in with advice about how unsafe this plan may be. Or even how ‘insensitive’ I am being at a time when there are people actually starving to death. But I will only be listening to those who actually advise me how to get through it as planned. Wish me luck.

Friendly Advice to the African Headed to Liberal Arts College America


Congratulations on your acceptance letter my friend. You must now tap into the deep rivers of American survival craft that I, with the help of the wise ones, have fashioned for the better part of a dozen years. You have struggled mightily to gain that visa, found just the right angle to pitch your proposal for a grant (‘I was a child soldier before I went for a sex-change operation and I shed tears for the environment every night’) and you are very clever and have read many books. But, and indulge me in saying this, you are a babe in nappies when it comes to the Herculean challenges facing the African man in his first year at an American liberal arts campus. The bigger your scholarship, the more prestigious the school, the more you need me. For a one-time fee of beers, which I will collect when I next see you, I will let you in on a few of my many secrets of how to keep the winter darkness at bay and your sanity intact. Here are some basics that you may want to keep in mind:

1. Black Man Rage: This is unavoidable on the whole and should be managed carefully. Every once in a while, you will feel a massive surge of anger at a very reasonable stance or action by a white person. Breathe deeply when you feel it coming on and let rip when it first appears. Allowing it to build will only guarantee its nuclear-like proportions when it eventually explodes; better to let it go at grenade stage. BMR, which is a clinically proven state, is brought on by mercy, understanding and a certain slow nodding motion that has been perfected by the white denizens of liberal arts colleges. I could tell you more grasshopper, but you will learn as you feel. There is only one situation in which you must avoid BMR: when you are inevitably stopped by the cops. You will have generously suppressed it earlier only to see it emerge in the presence of an armed man with little compunction shooting terrorists and angry black men.

2. The Drought: You must forget sex for three-six months after your arrival on campus. You will discover that your language of sex (unless it is monetary) sounds like Martian to the co-eds around you. Being a writer and having dreads might allow you to cut some of the Drought period but make no mistake, there shall be a drought. What this will do is increase BMR and can potentially be demoralizing. There is nothing quite like disrespecting people who then refuse to be seduced by you. It crushes even the strongest egos. Even those that the owner did not know they possessed. The Drought will lead you down several wrong paths. It will make you believe for instance that the slow-nodding liberal girl from a small town in California is about to give you action. Nothing could be further from the truth, she is likely of the opinion that you are a diseased pet placed on campus for her entertainment (and here I stop to collect my breath and swallow a sudden, bitter spike of BMR).

3. Collegiality: this is a biggie. The fact that you are going to a college town means that the faculty sets great store by this word, and that they are supposedly proud and committed to teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Small towns breed intense jealousies and rivalries that use weapons of exceeding pettiness to win the day. The spoils? You would hardly recognize them but everyone around you will be attuned to nuances that you can barely guess at. My dear, you are a collegial fellow and so this itself might be your saving grace since you will appear to fall straight into line. And a line is what it is. My advice for what it is worth is that you must do occasional writerly huffs and adopt a few eccentricities. Walking barefoot on a snowy day for example will go a long way to excusing your every absence from collegial gatherings.

4. The Smile: the slight movement of the lips that you will confuse with a smile and that will eventually make you wish that you could punch through it. The Smile is a very great danger to the African who is suffering from the Drought and is therefore partial to BMR. You, being collegial, will no doubt initially respond to this movement of the lips with a Sambo type smile that shows a delight that you can hardly explain at the sight of this almost-stranger. When you finally realize that they are not smiling and that it is at best merely a courtesy and at worst a sign of nervousness or fear at your screaming blackness, you will be liable to losing it and going down a particularly bad path. I heard one African scream for a whole afternoon at anyone who moved their lips in said fashion to him.

Let me leave you with just those four items. There will be others should you need or want them. Remember, there is no spoon, it is you that must bend… Peace African, have a good trip. I’ll see you when I come to bail you out.

The Wisdom of Homer

Homer: Are you saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

Marge: Homer, the plant called. They said if you don’t show up tomorrow don’t bother showing up on Monday.
Homer: Woo-hoo. Four-day weekend.

Homer: How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?

Homer: Aw, twenty dollars! I wanted a peanut!
Homer’s Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!
Homer: Explain how!
Homer’s Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services!
Homer: Woo-hoo!

‘How to write about Africa’ by Binyavanga Wainaina

some tips: sunsets and starvation are good
Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Find the rest of this hilarious and cutting essay here.

AB&H Dictionary: Is History a god?


Late last week, I visited the Public Records Office in Kew Gardens here in the UK for some archival research. The building – which is pictured above – feels and looks so much like a church that I suspect many visitors feel impelled to speak in hushed tones once they drive into the compound. After a few hours of browsing the records, I was struck by how common phrases regarding history’s opinions were: History will judge; it will absolve; condemn; favor; and even love…

This topic came up at my dinner with English acquaintances who regularly rub shoulders with their countrymen in high office. One of them revealed that the frequently issued media warnings of ‘History condemning’ one politician or the other are actually felt as a weighty moral judgment on a personal level. I tried to imagine a Kenyan politician suffering sleepless nights worrying about History’s judgment (maybe for ordering commando raids on a newspaper) and found it impossible to believe that it would even count as a mild concern. So let me suggest this: History in these Isles is a kind of god who influences behavior and condemns or praises with the Historian as priest or prophet. By contrast, for us in Kenya, and much of Africa, academic (written and stored) history is mostly an act of ideological recovery that attempts to break away from the European orbit (‘We are human too’ it says; ‘we also had kings and queens’; ‘look, here are the records of how badly you treated me’). It seems to me to be purely reactive, especially since most of our historians’ obsession with the history that they are trying to erect is merely a rebellion against the history as deity that they encountered in the Makereres and the Cambridges.

The PRO contains public records that span an unbroken period from the 11th century to the present. It is this mountain of paper, which of course represents an exceedingly small proportion of the human actions that occurred during those 1000 years that looms over today’s official actions. Its foundational assumption is of a linear progression, in which every (super)man has a role to play ushering a trans-generational narrative onward, higher, toward the end of the world (a heaven or a hell.) As has increasingly become the case, everywhere I look and much of what I hear in this most secular of societies is deeply religious; this being the case as well in socialist systems that retained the very same sense of an unerring march toward an end-point. How else could one justify such teleology when a truly secular system of intellectual inquiry would I think more accurately regard history as characterized by discontinuity, rupture and lacking in an inherent direction?

What of those who have ‘no history’ in the sense that their archives only carry records spanning a couple of hundred years, if that, and even the efforts of the oral traditions investigator yield little knowledge of life a few centuries ago? How fitting it should be that it is in the very societies lacking the massive backlog of records that religious feeling is at its most intense. Perhaps all those prayer sessions in Jeevanjee Gardens and in the thousands of Kenyan churches are about building a history and even a nation. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…’ says the book of Genesis rushing onward to the creation of the world, of man and eventually of the nation of Israel which has been the idealized model for Christendom’s nations.

Whether indeed we Gentiles can graft ourselves into this history is supported by the epistle of Paul and Galatians which promise that Kenyan Christians can in fact become a ‘new Israel’. Perhaps this is why when I visit my grandma’s digs in Nyeri I encounter frequent signage on churches and roadside posters proclaiming a New Israel to be at hand. These in the context of history as a narrative with its spiritual beginnings and endings (parallel – and so perhaps inspired by – the birth and death of the individual) imply that the popular history of Kenya mostly exists in the charismatic and not bureaucratic-rational realm. Why I am saying all this? To merely suggest that the drive and the need for history in Kenya has found biblical soil to be more fertile than the archive and furthermore that this is what history has always been about anyway.

(I may also have written this post because I wish this to be so, so that I can stay out of the archives:-))

BTW: If you are not a Eastern European mercenary leading commando raids on the Standard Newspaper, and therefore frown on such antics, please send an email to State House Kenya (president@statehousekenya.go.ke) expressing your opposition to the events of recent days. Also, take a look at a great post in Thinker’s Room on the subject.

The bitter tears shed when I compare my trip from home to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport and from London’s Heathrow to my flat.

Back to the African Bullets & Honey monster after more than a month away from its ravenous hunger. I only got back to London early this morning after a month in Nairobi. Allow me to once again – because I believe I have blogged about this before – give you a glimpse of the inevitable culture shock that I always have when I compare the trip from our Nairobi home to Jomo Kenyatta Airport and then from Heathrow to my London apartment.

Nairobi 28th February:

Flight leaving at 23:25 meaning that I am meant to check in at 21.25 latest. But of course I only leave the house at 21.15 in a two-car convoy carrying friend, sister and mother – well three cars when you include my other buddy meeting us at the airport. This little posse is not only an outpouring of love; the airport trip to the middle class Kenyan, since the economic hard times of the 1990s, is like a confirmation that an escape route exists to hope, to a rebirth, a fresh start. The first time you are escorted to it, there are tears of sorrow at your departure, others of envy at the supposedly better life you will have abroad. We get to the airport at 21.45 and spend the next 15 minutes or so chatting by the curbside and saying repeated goodbyes that are interrupted by some comment. Then the hugs, the misty eyes (none by yours truly; I am a tear-less ninja except when it is time to blog when I shed with the sheer frustration caused by the AB&H monster’s cruel hold of me) and the final shouted goodbyes. Naturally, being the African-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder, I hate flying British Airways and avoid it whenever I can. Not this time though, revolutionary principles must after all yield to cheap internet fares. Imagine my surprise – and disappointment – when with my teeth bared to attack any sign of British condescension, the manager instead decides to upgrade me to premium economy. Next stop: the friendly immigration officer who admonishes me not to stay ‘out there’ too long. After a cup of java coffee and a slice of carrot cake, I move to my seat next to a development consultant who (I swear this) spends the eight hours of the flight reading a long, hair-pullingly boring development report. He must be worth every penny, that poor SOB. But this is a story for another day…

London 1st March:

Pilot:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain, thank you for flying British Airways.’

‘London today is quite cold, under zero degrees.’

‘We hope you have enjoyed our service and that you will enjoy your stay (you poor suckers hahahahahahaha…)’

THE IMMIGRATION INTERVIEW:

‘Where are you from?’ (peering intently at old stamps and visas. You are one of them: the illegal immigrant, the African with a behind crammed with ecstasy…or at least cocaine or heroin.)

‘What do you do here?’

‘I am a student’

‘Of what?’

‘War studies.’

‘What? Did you say war, like fighting?’

‘Yes, I study how to yank out immigration eyeballs with the peace sign…I bet you always thought the sign (as in ‘peace dude’) was … like, um, peaceful. Right? Well let me tell you something you poor, 5.30AM African harassing, passport caressing, squinty eyed, nose picking-with finger-that-then-touches-my-passport-photo-bureaucrat, the peace sign is kung fu for the eye-stab move. Bet you didn’t know that. And yes, I have no intention of remaining in your country forever when there is a three-car convoy filled with beery people waiting to pick me up at JKA.’

I wish that is what I had said because the European IMMIGRATION INTERVIEW is an absurd, hypocrisy by a west that speaks the talk of open boundaries to goods and capital when it cannot stand the same for people. The 21st century meeting point between African Livingstones and Lugards and Europe’s petty gate-keeping chiefs. Just beyond the immigration officer’s shoulder are little offices which if you ever have the misfortune of visiting always have a scared looking African seated patiently awaiting some grim fate. You don’t make conversation since it is clear to both of you that the other is a criminal and must be consorted with. But I digress.

‘How long were you away?’

‘Too briefly, I wish it had been forever.’

‘When does your doctoral course end?’

‘When the sun burns itself out; when the hens come home to roost; when the Fat Woman sings; just a moment before the grim reaper strikes me down; (sobbing) why must you ask such hurtful questions?’

‘Welcome.’

Illegal Nigerian Taxi Driver at Arrivals Terminal:

‘Taxi? Looking for taxi?’ (whispered with averted gaze that immediately pulls you into the kind of conspiracy that the IMMIGRATION OFFICER suspected you of being mixed up in.)

‘Yes. I want to go to Elephant and Castle. How much will it be?’

‘Forty pounds alone, thirty pounds if you wait for me to pick up another passenger.’

(I realise why this negotiation always discomfits me: it feels like I am a john trying to pick up a prostitute so – not that I would know what that is all about by the way.)

As I stand trying to decide whether this is a better deal than lugging two large suitcases up and down stairways, seating for an hour in a cold tube train and the ten minutes walk from the station to my door, another taxi driver sidles up to me, trying not to be noticed by the first one who is shouting into his mobile phone.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks ‘I will be cheap, cheap.’

‘Elephant and Castle’

‘Ok, thirty five pounds. We go?’

‘Sure, but only for thirty’

‘Fine, fine. Go to that elevator there and I will meet you inside. Don’t tell him that you are coming with me.’

Struck by guilt, reeling from the cold, bumping shoulders with angry looking people who never meet your eye and lugging my massive bags, I limp after him to the taxi. A traitor and a cheat within 30 minutes of getting to London, and feeling what a john must feel: tawdry, embarrassed and broke.

The ride takes an hour in traffic and I read a newspaper whose headline announces that the European Union has just introduced legislation that kids as old as eleven will have to be in car safety seats or fines of upto £500 can be levied on the driver. I have arrived. Back to the fire.

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi; buy an African farmer a chicken or a goat

There is always something new out of Africa. The latest being the website lastminute.com offering you, its customer, a chance to ‘buy a sheep, a goat or some chickens from FARM AFRICA.’ (I quote directly off their website) As you make last ditch vacation plans, you may also have a last minute change of heart about the dollar-a-day continent.

Imagine how good you will feel when you add a good deed to your vacation. ‘Not only will you be helping a worthy cause like poor African farmers or abandoned kitties (emphasis mine), but your lucky recipient will receive a gift pack with information about the charity and a unique gift to open on their special day.’

But lastminute.com does more than rouse your conscience, it desires to empower you. ‘So you’re not Gordon Brown and you can’t cancel the debt of the Third World. But with lastminute.com and FARM FRIENDS you have the chance to do something amazing, just by buying a gift for a friend (or even for yourself). You can choose a sheep, a goat or a brood of chickens. Of course, they won’t be delivered to you or the person you’re buying the gift for. Instead, they’ll get a really cute model of the chosen animal, while Farm Africa will give the real animal to a poor African farmer, who is struggling to feed his family. Just a few pounds buys the greatest gift of all – a happier, healthier future. A goat, for example, provides milk to fight-off malnutrition and any excess can be sold to pay for medicine or schoolbooks.’

Remember it is not just the right thing to do, it is also fun and educational. Or to let lastminute.com express it more accurately, ‘it’s a unique and fun present that also helps an African farmer feed his children. When you buy an animal, the recipient receives a FARM FRIENDS pack including a miniature sheep, goat or chicken, more information on how the real animals are helping poor farmers in Africa and most importantly, the knowledge that you are making a huge difference for someone in need.’

Out of Africa there is always something new and that never ages no matter how often it is repeated.

Is my cucu’s cucu guilty of participating in the slave trade?

Is my cucu’s cucu guilty of benefiting from the slave trade? Do I carry the guilt of those that did? I just read a great post by Keguro and may have forever annoyed him by writing such a long comment that I have made it into a post here.

I am confused about how to apportion guilt over the slave trade accurately so I do not let myself off the hook when I should be on it or hang myself when I shouldn’t. I lived in the States for a dozen years and in that time was closest to black folks in terms of my politics and my social life. Every once in a while the slavery question would come up emotionally: why had Africans such as my ancestors sold our brothers to plantation hell? It is obviously an issue that even today evokes pain in some descendents of slaves so let me try delicately offering some thoughts that I have.

My family hails from central Kenya, most of it is Gikuyu and a few are Maasai. As best as I know, neither of these two groups participated in the slave trade, either as captives or capturers. Of course tribes were never the isolated, static groupings that we think them today so it is well possible some Gikuyus or Maasais did participate. But we do know that the peoples living in the Mt. Kenya region could not be compared to the Kingdom of Dahomey – in present-day Benin – which aggressively captured and sold neighbouring people to slavers. Among the Gikuyu-speaking people, slavery was rare; it was unlike parts of Sudan or Angola or the Congo where slavery, both for internal exploitation and export, was widely practiced. What are we to do about those peoples that did not raid others for slaves or even those whose sole addition to the trade were as victims? Are their descendents also guilty of slavery since they are African? This is the reason that the words Africa and African have become increasingly confusing to me.

During the period of the slave trade, the only people who constantly referred to the African were Europeans – they were also the ones that had invented the word. Few people on the continent at that time had the notion of belonging to such a political or cultural community. Yet the debate over guilt revolves around questions such as, ‘should Africans apologise for their role in the slave trade?’ What confuses further is that the people who were captured – to use our all-encompassing language –were themselves African. For every soldier acting on the orders of Dahomey’s kings to capture slaves, there was a family that lost a son, a father or a mother. There were those who died during the raid, on the march, in the holds of a ship plying the Middle Passage and on the plantations of the Americas, Middle Eastern homes and European farms. Victims of a brutality whose painful echo still reverberates not only in the Americas, but also in the vast stretches of the Congo and Angola that remain depopulated to this day.

How exactly should this debate over guilt proceed? What would help bring closure to the descendents of slaves who demand a reckoning? I do not know. But I suggest that one of the actions that the present day people in Africa (I think we are stuck with this word at least in my lifetime) can do is to ensure that the slavery that is still alive and well across some of the Sahel zone countries like Mauritania is done away with. Surely there are few ways of demonstrating our opposition to this evil better than ensuring that it is wiped out in our time.

For better or worse, nationalists and anticolonialists adopted the African label from the very people that they were struggling against. In their desire for a unity that would further their cause, they took up the word European imperialists used to simplify the enormous diversity of the continent into a few useful stereotypes (the Romans came first, saying of the continent: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi – there is always something new out of Africa.) The African to the European of the slave trade was stupid, childlike, savage or docile, and lacked a soul. He could not be counted a member of the human race, and was due none of its civilised considerations or the grace of the Christian God (btw, the anti slavery movement in Britain acquired momentum only after its lobby argued that Africans had souls too.) The Africans to the Panafricanists were also a single community with a few (positive) stereotypes that allowed them to wage a struggle against colonial notions of European superiority. Yet since Europeans surrendered the reins of government, the idea of African exceptionalism has had power-crazed autocrats as its self-appointed guardians. Removed from the needs of an anti-colonial struggle, the idea has been used to promote a bloody-minded vision of nationhood at odds with its citizens. I refer here to the Mobutus, the later Nkrumah and the beat-them-and-truck-them Nyerere, not to mention the present ‘African revolution’ of Mugabe which involves destroying the homes of poor folks in Harare and torturing the ones who dare protest. Whoever said sticks and stones but not words may break bones apparently never felt the outcome of tear-the-flesh-off-bone words like Africa and Africans. But, I digress.

My point is that we are stuck with this African identity as a good, at least at the height of the anti-colonial movements, and a bad when it comes to the historical guilt of the slave trade and the postcolonial period. What I wonder about is how to reconcile these contradictory Africas of the mind (to paraphrase Lonsdale’s ‘Mau Maus of the mind’.) Which Africa was guilty of the slave trade? Is it possible that there were communities in Africa that did not participate in the trade? What position should their descendents adopt in the present debate? Do Africans think they are Africans when they are away from the microphone and the page or when they are not speaking to Europe or in reference to it? Can you create a pan-nation united by its past and present oppression and deprivation? Does being chained in Benin by the kings of Dahomey; whipped in apartheid South Africa by Afrikaners; shot at in Darfur by Janjaweed militias; enjoying Fela Kuti’s music; patronised by Tony ‘scar of humanity’ Blair’s Commission for Africa; and being governed by a dictator who attends African Union meetings make you an African? Is there a moral dimension to African citizenship when it is not protesting European action?

Where is the common moral and memory thread that will allow us to consider the tragedy of the slave trade from a moral perspective that offers answers to the descendents of slaves and slavers?

Some Email Considerations on the African Bush and its European Saviours

Below are some emails that I exchanged with one of my closest friends (PK) just after reading James Miller’s great essay, ‘Carnivals of Atrocity: Foucault, Nietzsche, Cruelty,’ (in Political Theory, Vol. 18, #3, August, 1990.) It is a bit of a switch from the kind of digressions and rants that have appeared here in the past but may be enjoyable to some folks…

MMK: The way Nietzsche (and later Foucault) saw this place has come to pass guy. Is there any doubt that London and Europe have perfected control and the shrinking of the human space by growing the mechanisms of mercy and ‘rational’ policy? And that we, on the other hand, still exist in a place where people are bigger than the institutions that seek to extend control over them. That is where all our shit comes from and also the glorious ability to actually be and feel power -not ‘influence’ as they call it out here.

As Europeans have in the past few generations created their world of rights and utility, they have cast man down. Every man so that even the highest in the land are ruled by mechanisms that are wholly divorced from all. It is what makes you feel that everyone here is arranging themselves vis-a-vis a process, an institution or a set template. The very process of building the modern penal system was reflected in institutions outside it. The goal as Morpheus in The Matrix said: control. But it would have been preferable if this edifice was built by conspiracy, by a king-like figure that yearns for control. That way, it would have a human scale and there would only be a few necks to chop through. But no, this situation is like layers of concrete laid by different generations so that there is now no going back to dig through to the person anymore. No wonder there was this desire to build thousands of nukes. Deep inside I think Europeans are deeply suicidal, they want it all to end but they just cannot get beyond the safety mechanisms that they have built into their societies.

This is what I think is so awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) about this thing we call Africa. It refuses to be brought to heel in the most infuriating and dispiriting fashion. The bush just keeps growing back no matter what the European build on it or at least this is their version of events. Their dreams refuse to take here since the structures that they have grown on their soil can hardly last a generation on ours.

I was watching a recreation of the murder of Lord Errol the other night. Done by the BBC with that cultured, ‘we are going to understand our Africa’ tone. For the first time I actually felt sorry for Europeans who do the whole Africa thing. Their dreams are so flimsy and yet they always start out with so much faith that they can write themselves into the blank darkness and become what they could not in their country. No matter how much life they see or experience around them, whether good or bad, they persist with the conceit that it is not fully human, that it awaits their building it into existence. But it crushes them and in Happy Valley they basically lost it, and have been losing it ever since. All manner of methods have been brought to bear to grow this dream in the ‘bush’: guns, conquest, aid, intervention, non-intervention … everything, and yet it all keeps failing. Africa is their last indulgence. The last kick of their humanist conceits and the place keeps responding by kicking them in the balls. And the pain is probably made worse by the fact that in fact Africans might actually genuinely want to be down with the program, we mean the European no harm after all. We even have many of us trying to grow his little project with him and sometimes for him. But even this won’t take.

Just reading the Miller piece left me with such a satisfied calm. I felt that there was no crisis really in our part of the world. There are problems for sure, but no crisis whatsoever. To be a little Zen, the shit will go as the shit goes and it is as simple as that. Is that too Senegalese?

PK: Guy, remember me texting you last December from Club Afrique in London and saying that perhaps all Foucault needed was a dose of Lingala and a Congolese prostitute to show him in real terms what ‘limit experience’ is to the European — or what he defines as taking shit to the very edge.

The most acerbic criticism, the harshest assessments always come from people on the inside. Or more specifically, people on the outside-in, the silent observers of The Project, any project, the ones always assumed to be part of it but who in reality are deeply critical of it by virtue of their positioning. However, they know of no other. They adopt an anti-language whose deepest metaphors and most illuminating insights, whose zinging idioms are constructed to provide insights into the thing they most detest, which is also they only thing they know: The Project.

Africans who read Foucault love him because he articulated viscerally felt insights. He is no surprise to an African who knows it well but has always wondered where it comes from. But unlike Foucault, we have ways-out, ‘way-forwards’: Foucault’s preoccupation with reconciling his sex with his mind is what Eldridge Cleaver called the dilemma of the Omnipotent Administrator (man that black consciousness lingo was funky! I fear that Africans, in the States at least, have been absorbed into ‘The System’ and are now bland and mild-mannered and addicted to shopping malls). Did you ever read that shit? Juxtapose it to Foucault — it is cruel, angry, politically incorrect, misogynistic, and historically imprecise in places but always stabbing at the heart of African-existence. Anyway, Cleaver’s depiction of the Omnipotent Administrator is the white man as all head, no soul and no sex. He makes cruel stabs — ordinary today but probably deeply wounding then — about the European’s dead-man’s dance; his perpetual suspicion of sexual inadequacy — and by extension, the threat of the Supermasculine Menial.

All this sounds fairly banal today, even irrelevant. I was reading a 1976 Eldrige Cleaver interview in Transition and you can just feel the energy and dynamism of people living inside a project. When I hear the same terms used by the likes of X (a well known rights activist in Nairobi), they sound all rehearsed, as if she (and others) were playing at being adult.

You and I feel that frustration; how reduced, how small, the world gets when we receive the idea of project-completion, of final organisation, of last-man thoughts. And by the way, it’s happening everywhere. Re: the drought thing, and the quite genuine outrage of the public in sedentary-Kenya, an outrage underpinned by Mohammed Aminesque images of starving, fly-ridden children in strange, far-flung locations; in short, an outrage whose infrastructure looks disturbingly like white-liberal concern a la Live Aid/Live Eight. Nobody of course questions why the famine happened or will happen again. It is considered a given that people in strange, non-sedentary locations — people who were not touched by the civilizing mission; whose MBA-quotient is sub-optimal — will starve. The problem, the outrage is about the fact that food aid did not arrive in time. That even after the establishment of ‘early-warning systems’ the government was not able to respond in time.

What I’m trying to say is that we are all being sucked into a last-man thought system. Last as a universe constructed by a narrow-minded little bourgeois whose black holes consist of Friday-night infidelities, credit-card debts, SUV desires and MBA ambitions.

MMK: Let us continue. I need to find me some Cleaver. Now!

The madness in this thing is when Africans try and get with it in the usual babi, civil society ways. They become worse than mad men, they become fools. Did you read the details of Damien’s public execution in Miller and the intimate ritual between ruler and ruled that was playing out? The paradoxical freedom of the victim from all power directed at his intimate self?

Let us praise the bush if only ironically! And by this I do not mean a turn to the ‘primitive’ which as usual is all about the European template. I mean thank god I can listen to Lingala, tusker in hand in screwed Nairobi feeling bigger than all the mechanisms of the state erected to try and get one over on me. Yes, yes, I know that there are many victims and vulnerable people and all that claptrap that is the manna of what I will call the tyranny-by-humanist-increment crew.

Will get back to Cleaver and famines and Kenya in a second. Let me stay with our ostensible saviour for a while longer because after all we are supposed to be trying to be like him. Right? The European is being crushed beneath the layers of his humanist, rationalist and utilitarian institutions. These take aim, whether deliberately or not, at God, and the godliness in the human being, preferring rational man as godhead. Because they have judged themselves to be nothing more than unreasoning flesh straining against reason, while needing a creed of some kind to maintain social control to maintain control, they have built god-like institutions to rule. Each generation for the past century at least has added to the power of these institutions. Would I be going to far to say that politics here is the contest to determine who gets to add to the size and reach of the state-God?

The modern finds a rare recourse in the bedroom where he hopes to momentarily escape the jealous eye of the machines that control him. Words like freedom and society’s will or truth are all mere labels for mechanisms that are anything but. The European lives in the midst of giant conceits that separate his thought and word from their actual nature.

Back to the bedroom: freedom is in transgression, in the sexual fetishes that Foucault was so fascinated by. (Isn’t it funny how all fetishes are embraced by the transgression warriors except for what they call commodity or consumer fetishism?). There is no longer any possibility of freedom here, it is actually a meaningless word and better thought of as a chimera. I am not speaking here of political freedom, in the sense of freedom from dictatorship or the attainment of democracy, but rather the impulse to be free of the overwhelming conceits of the individual European’s society which him no room to breathe even while he proclaims it the peak of human achievement. How maddening it must be: to be told, and to hear yourself say, daily, that you are the richest, most humane, cleverest and nicest while feeling empty and put upon by all that you experience.

This morning, while commuting into the city, I found that the tube fare – for an 8 minute ride – had gone up by about 40% since I used the tube a week ago. Bus fare is also up and so is the congestion charge which was meant to discourage driving and be invested in better, cheaper public transport. On getting to the office in a fury, I tried ranting about the raises. In response, one guy suggested that surely there must be someone who is paying less therefore it is ok that he and I get to pay more! Another one blamed Thatcherite policies of privatization and was happy that Labour was finally investing in public services. Yet another constructive type wished that the public could join with the unions to stage a demonstration against the hikes. You see? There were plenty of reactions but none of anger at being made poorer and basically getting ripped off. I pulled a mini Black Man Rage saying that the people here have been broken. Only this Arabic woman jokingly advocated riots or for folks to crowd into buses and refuse to pay. None of the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ types like Blair can actually change anything here, seeing how all interests are aligned to leave standing only a massive depersonalized society-wide controls (Foucault’s govermentality?). You may as well buy a giant dildo and to use it on yourself. Transgression in the bedroom looks to be a way out, right? Turn to your nerve endings – when your nipples are burnt or your penis coated in burning wax – for momentary freedom from your institutional masters in the hope that they are not watching and might disapprove. But you know in truth that this is not the case because their regime is alive and well even in the heart of sexual sado-masochism which is now to be conducted with ‘safety words’, child-safety clamps and feathered whips. With every passing year, they shrug off and flatten the ancient religious and sexual hierarchies with a God at their head substituting them with a flat equality here on earth that they lord over as a new God who believes in nothing except reason and the need to destroy all hope in a human soul. The helplessness of it is must be crushing.

Oh yes, we Africans may go down in the face of some diseases and natural forces but here they are helpless at the root. Well fed in the belly and totally starving outside it. Yet even this binary set-up may be an illusion because it seems to promise that from one can emerge the other but this may only be true in the vast sweep of history and not in the individual life. Thus the constant refrain in the West of ‘what history will say’ about one action of the powerful or the other; it is yet another of the little conceits that are a scream for help by a people so helplessly drowned that they attempt to live in a single life an entire history and futurestory of mankind. Death is what is scary and made so much more so because this ‘modernist’ project or rather projects, for they are many atop and alongside each other, has rejected at its root the possibility of human transcendence.

The European is trapped in a world that he wants to imagine is of his making when he is actually just the recipient of his forefathers’ addition to the very rope that is holding him down. He is caught between pride at the awesome machine that rules him (‘we are the greatest, the best, the superior’) and a mighty desire to escape it (‘let us go to Africa’, noble savages, Maasais, Save The Children). He wants nothing better than pull others in with him so that in doing so, he momentarily escapes. This is where those conversations by the old Africa hand come in. How wonderful and freeing was the world that they had come to conquer and dominate. They had (have) a genuine love for a thing they never shared in. Even in the darkest heart of Africa, their soul was imprisoned in the light of a modernist prison and their simultaneous dream of freedom and dominance would not take. The bush during colonialism and especially after its short reign kept growing back. They were caught between an unfeeling pride for their prison and its soul crushing weight. The few who attempted went mad, and when you speak to them about anything, be it Maasai art or wildlife, and are not coming from their direction, they just sound either foolish or childish.

If only the African could fight this thing, fight to join the moderns. But the African who joins in that game, usually of the babi middle class, civil society persuasion, ‘we can be just like the west’ game, is functionally insane in my opinion. He is driven to join what others are trying to escape, so taken with the narrow freedoms that he cannot spot the machine that is crushing the life out of his human/animal/black/female/gay/landless/vulnerable/disabled/gender outlaw/anti-ageism/welsh/Palestinian/Israeli/Panafrican/labour/capitalist rights colleagues. He little understands that these values are better judged as Trojan Horses whether or not they have universal merit. Many indeed do, but it was never about these rights. It has always been about the institutional mechanism that shall carry them. The Bible is very hip to this stuff and gives a good example in Matthews. When Jesus was in the desert fasting, the Devil came to him and tried tempting him to eat. Now you know the Devil could have hooked him up something to eat, as he did to Adam and Eve, but Jesus chooses hunger. The Devil and in our case the rights crew come in with plenty of temptations but the inner goal is of robbing you of all life. And like I was saying, what makes this so much worse is that there is no conspiracy. It is a wholly impersonal historical epoch that in all probability shall not last. The European is already held captive by it, and we in the bush have been targets for the last few hundred years. Thank God that the bush is going to stay strong in my lifetime.

The African Bush and its European Saviours

Below are some emails that I exchanged with one of my closest friends (PK) just after reading James Miller’s great essay, ‘Carnivals of Atrocity: Foucault, Nietzsche, Cruelty,’ (in Political Theory, Vol. 18, #3, August, 1990.) It is a bit of a switch from the kind of digressions and rants that have appeared here in the past but may be enjoyable to some folks…

MMK: The way Nietzsche (and later Foucault) saw this place has come to pass guy. Is there any doubt that London and Europe have perfected control and the shrinking of the human space by growing the mechanisms of mercy and ‘rational’ policy? And that we, on the other hand, still exist in a place where people are bigger than the institutions that seek to extend control over them. That is where all our shit comes from and also the glorious ability to actually be and feel power -not ‘influence’ as they call it out here.

As Europeans have in the past few generations created their world of rights and utility, they have cast man down. Every man so that even the highest in the land are ruled by mechanisms that are wholly divorced from all. It is what makes you feel that everyone here is arranging themselves vis-a-vis a process, an institution or a set template. The very process of building the modern penal system was reflected in institutions outside it. The goal as Morpheus in The Matrix said: control. But it would have been preferable if this edifice was built by conspiracy, by a king-like figure that yearns for control. That way, it would have a human scale and there would only be a few necks to chop through. But no, this situation is like layers of concrete laid by different generations so that there is now no going back to dig through to the person anymore. No wonder there was this desire to build thousands of nukes. Deep inside I think Europeans are deeply suicidal, they want it all to end but they just cannot get beyond the safety mechanisms that they have built into their societies.

This is what I think is so awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) about this thing we call Africa. It refuses to be brought to heel in the most infuriating and dispiriting fashion. The bush just keeps growing back no matter what the European build on it or at least this is their version of events. Their dreams refuse to take here since the structures that they have grown on their soil can hardly last a generation on ours.

I was watching a recreation of the murder of Lord Errol the other night. Done by the BBC with that cultured, ‘we are going to understand our Africa’ tone. For the first time I actually felt sorry for Europeans who do the whole Africa thing. Their dreams are so flimsy and yet they always start out with so much faith that they can write themselves into the blank darkness and become what they could not in their country. No matter how much life they see or experience around them, whether good or bad, they persist with the conceit that it is not fully human, that it awaits their building it into existence. But it crushes them and in Happy Valley they basically lost it, and have been losing it ever since. All manner of methods have been brought to bear to grow this dream in the ‘bush’: guns, conquest, aid, intervention, non-intervention … everything, and yet it all keeps failing. Africa is their last indulgence. The last kick of their humanist conceits and the place keeps responding by kicking them in the balls. And the pain is probably made worse by the fact that in fact Africans might actually genuinely want to be down with the program, we mean the European no harm after all. We even have many of us trying to grow his little project with him and sometimes for him. But even this won’t take.

Just reading the Miller piece left me with such a satisfied calm. I felt that there was no crisis really in our part of the world. There are problems for sure, but no crisis whatsoever. To be a little Zen, the shit will go as the shit goes and it is as simple as that. Is that too Senegalese?

PK: Guy, remember me texting you last December from Club Afrique in London and saying that perhaps all Foucault needed was a dose of Lingala and a Congolese prostitute to show him in real terms what ‘limit experience’ is to the European — or what he defines as taking shit to the very edge.

The most acerbic criticism, the harshest assessments always come from people on the inside. Or more specifically, people on the outside-in, the silent observers of The Project, any project, the ones always assumed to be part of it but who in reality are deeply critical of it by virtue of their positioning. However, they know of no other. They adopt an anti-language whose deepest metaphors and most illuminating insights, whose zinging idioms are constructed to provide insights into the thing they most detest, which is also they only thing they know: The Project.

Africans who read Foucault love him because he articulated viscerally felt insights. He is no surprise to an African who knows it well but has always wondered where it comes from. But unlike Foucault, we have ways-out, ‘way-forwards’: Foucault’s preoccupation with reconciling his sex with his mind is what Eldridge Cleaver called the dilemma of the Omnipotent Administrator (man that black consciousness lingo was funky! I fear that Africans, in the States at least, have been absorbed into ‘The System’ and are now bland and mild-mannered and addicted to shopping malls). Did you ever read that shit? Juxtapose it to Foucault — it is cruel, angry, politically incorrect, misogynistic, and historically imprecise in places but always stabbing at the heart of African-existence. Anyway, Cleaver’s depiction of the Omnipotent Administrator is the white man as all head, no soul and no sex. He makes cruel stabs — ordinary today but probably deeply wounding then — about the European’s dead-man’s dance; his perpetual suspicion of sexual inadequacy — and by extension, the threat of the Supermasculine Menial.

All this sounds fairly banal today, even irrelevant. I was reading a 1976 Eldrige Cleaver interview in Transition and you can just feel the energy and dynamism of people living inside a project. When I hear the same terms used by the likes of X (a well known rights activist in Nairobi), they sound all rehearsed, as if she (and others) were playing at being adult.

You and I feel that frustration; how reduced, how small, the world gets when we receive the idea of project-completion, of final organisation, of last-man thoughts. And by the way, it’s happening everywhere. Re: the drought thing, and the quite genuine outrage of the public in sedentary-Kenya, an outrage underpinned by Mohammed Aminesque images of starving, fly-ridden children in strange, far-flung locations; in short, an outrage whose infrastructure looks disturbingly like white-liberal concern a la Live Aid/Live Eight. Nobody of course questions why the famine happened or will happen again. It is considered a given that people in strange, non-sedentary locations — people who were not touched by the civilizing mission; whose MBA-quotient is sub-optimal — will starve. The problem, the outrage is about the fact that food aid did not arrive in time. That even after the establishment of ‘early-warning systems’ the government was not able to respond in time.

What I’m trying to say is that we are all being sucked into a last-man thought system. Last as a universe constructed by a narrow-minded little bourgeois whose black holes consist of Friday-night infidelities, credit-card debts, SUV desires and MBA ambitions.

MMK: Let us continue. I need to find me some Cleaver. Now!

The madness in this thing is when Africans try and get with it in the usual babi, civil society ways. They become worse than mad men, they become fools. Did you read the details of Damien’s public execution in Miller and the intimate ritual between ruler and ruled that was playing out? The paradoxical freedom of the victim from all power directed at his intimate self?

Let us praise the bush if only ironically! And by this I do not mean a turn to the ‘primitive’ which as usual is all about the European template. I mean thank god I can listen to Lingala, tusker in hand in screwed Nairobi feeling bigger than all the mechanisms of the state erected to try and get one over on me. Yes, yes, I know that there are many victims and vulnerable people and all that claptrap that is the manna of what I will call the tyranny-by-humanist-increment crew.

Will get back to Cleaver and famines and Kenya in a second. Let me stay with our ostensible saviour for a while longer because after all we are supposed to be trying to be like him. Right? The European is being crushed beneath the layers of his humanist, rationalist and utilitarian institutions. These take aim, whether deliberately or not, at God, and the godliness in the human being, preferring rational man as godhead. Because they have judged themselves to be nothing more than unreasoning flesh straining against reason, while needing a creed of some kind to maintain social control to maintain control, they have built god-like institutions to rule. Each generation for the past century at least has added to the power of these institutions. Would I be going to far to say that politics here is the contest to determine who gets to add to the size and reach of the state-God?

The modern finds a rare recourse in the bedroom where he hopes to momentarily escape the jealous eye of the machines that control him. Words like freedom and society’s will or truth are all mere labels for mechanisms that are anything but. The European lives in the midst of giant conceits that separate his thought and word from their actual nature.

Back to the bedroom: freedom is in transgression, in the sexual fetishes that Foucault was so fascinated by. (Isn’t it funny how all fetishes are embraced by the transgression warriors except for what they call commodity or consumer fetishism?). There is no longer any possibility of freedom here, it is actually a meaningless word and better thought of as a chimera. I am not speaking here of political freedom, in the sense of freedom from dictatorship or the attainment of democracy, but rather the impulse to be free of the overwhelming conceits of the individual European’s society which him no room to breathe even while he proclaims it the peak of human achievement. How maddening it must be: to be told, and to hear yourself say, daily, that you are the richest, most humane, cleverest and nicest while feeling empty and put upon by all that you experience.

This morning, while commuting into the city, I found that the tube fare – for an 8 minute ride – had gone up by about 40% since I used the tube a week ago. Bus fare is also up and so is the congestion charge which was meant to discourage driving and be invested in better, cheaper public transport. On getting to the office in a fury, I tried ranting about the raises. In response, one guy suggested that surely there must be someone who is paying less therefore it is ok that he and I get to pay more! Another one blamed Thatcherite policies of privatization and was happy that Labour was finally investing in public services. Yet another constructive type wished that the public could join with the unions to stage a demonstration against the hikes. You see? There were plenty of reactions but none of anger at being made poorer and basically getting ripped off. I pulled a mini Black Man Rage saying that the people here have been broken. Only this Arabic woman jokingly advocated riots or for folks to crowd into buses and refuse to pay. None of the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ types like Blair can actually change anything here, seeing how all interests are aligned to leave standing only a massive depersonalized society-wide controls (Foucault’s govermentality?). You may as well buy a giant dildo and to use it on yourself. Transgression in the bedroom looks to be a way out, right? Turn to your nerve endings – when your nipples are burnt or your penis coated in burning wax – for momentary freedom from your institutional masters in the hope that they are not watching and might disapprove. But you know in truth that this is not the case because their regime is alive and well even in the heart of sexual sado-masochism which is now to be conducted with ‘safety words’, child-safety clamps and feathered whips. With every passing year, they shrug off and flatten the ancient religious and sexual hierarchies with a God at their head substituting them with a flat equality here on earth that they lord over as a new God who believes in nothing except reason and the need to destroy all hope in a human soul. The helplessness of it is must be crushing.

Oh yes, we Africans may go down in the face of some diseases and natural forces but here they are helpless at the root. Well fed in the belly and totally starving outside it. Yet even this binary set-up may be an illusion because it seems to promise that from one can emerge the other but this may only be true in the vast sweep of history and not in the individual life. Thus the constant refrain in the West of ‘what history will say’ about one action of the powerful or the other; it is yet another of the little conceits that are a scream for help by a people so helplessly drowned that they attempt to live in a single life an entire history and futurestory of mankind. Death is what is scary and made so much more so because this ‘modernist’ project or rather projects, for they are many atop and alongside each other, has rejected at its root the possibility of human transcendence.

The European is trapped in a world that he wants to imagine is of his making when he is actually just the recipient of his forefathers’ addition to the very rope that is holding him down. He is caught between pride at the awesome machine that rules him (‘we are the greatest, the best, the superior’) and a mighty desire to escape it (‘let us go to Africa’, noble savages, Maasais, Save The Children). He wants nothing better than pull others in with him so that in doing so, he momentarily escapes. This is where those conversations by the old Africa hand come in. How wonderful and freeing was the world that they had come to conquer and dominate. They had (have) a genuine love for a thing they never shared in. Even in the darkest heart of Africa, their soul was imprisoned in the light of a modernist prison and their simultaneous dream of freedom and dominance would not take. The bush during colonialism and especially after its short reign kept growing back. They were caught between an unfeeling pride for their prison and its soul crushing weight. The few who attempted went mad, and when you speak to them about anything, be it Maasai art or wildlife, and are not coming from their direction, they just sound either foolish or childish.

If only the African could fight this thing, fight to join the moderns. But the African who joins in that game, usually of the babi middle class, civil society persuasion, ‘we can be just like the west’ game, is functionally insane in my opinion. He is driven to join what others are trying to escape, so taken with the narrow freedoms that he cannot spot the machine that is crushing the life out of his human/animal/black/female/gay/landless/vulnerable/disabled/gender outlaw/anti-ageism/welsh/Palestinian/Israeli/Panafrican/labour/capitalist rights colleagues. He little understands that these values are better judged as Trojan Horses whether or not they have universal merit. Many indeed do, but it was never about these rights. It has always been about the institutional mechanism that shall carry them. The Bible is very hip to this stuff and gives a good example in Matthews. When Jesus was in the desert fasting, the Devil came to him and tried tempting him to eat. Now you know the Devil could have hooked him up something to eat, as he did to Adam and Eve, but Jesus chooses hunger. The Devil and in our case the rights crew come in with plenty of temptations but the inner goal is of robbing you of all life. And like I was saying, what makes this so much worse is that there is no conspiracy. It is a wholly impersonal historical epoch that in all probability shall not last. The European is already held captive by it, and we in the bush have been targets for the last few hundred years. Thank God that the bush is going to stay strong in my lifetime.

What is English honour I wonder?

Is there such a thing as English honour? I mean really, what is this thing bandied about in every film and novel about the English ruling classes? I only bring it up after watching the latter half of a 1960s TV adaptation of Kidnapped, the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The word honor was uttered with such metronomic frequency that of course MMK having nothing better to do sat down for what turned out to be thorough entertainment. It seems that while the English cluck their tongues at today’s martyrdom-seeking types, they have had their very own home grown ones. But they have been of a middle class variety of honor and heroism that was on display in this film with all its obsessions with inheritance, social position and love/hate feelings for aristocratic authority. It was actually very funny if you will allow me to start laughing before I get to the punchline.

OK, to the film. Young and earnest David Balfour is kidnapped, sold into slavery and cheated out of his inheritance by a scheming uncle in eighteenth century Scotland. While on the run in the Scottish Highlands, he falls in with a Jacobite rebel, Alan Breck – who murders a local chieftain supporter of the occupant of the English throne – and Aileen, the daughter of the man wrongly accused of the murder. David bravely returns to Edinburgh where he faces down the Lord Advocate – the representative of the king and the highest authority in the land. He testifies that the accused is innocent, to which the Lord Advocate – who intends that the man should hang to avoid sectarian violence – admonishes him to not pursue this course. ‘Thousands will die for this one man, and Scotland will be destroyed’ he pleads (I paraphrase). Even David’s companions try to dissuade him arguing that he will only destroy his own life for a doomed cause. They eventually give up before his principled stand with one of them saying, ‘go and do your duty; and be hanged, if you must. Like a gentleman.’

Young David is all for the scaffold provided he tells the truth even if the innocent accused is guaranteed death and his country – ruled by the English – torn asunder. ‘Then let it fall, let the whole rotten Scotland fall so that an innocent man may go free,’ he tells the Lord Advocate. Very heroic and blood stirring stuff I was thinking as I watched. But then our David goes on to give his reason for standing by the truth. Not his growing love for Aileen or her father, the accused. No, his stand is based on a conversation he had as a boy with his father who told him ‘that the law is higher than any man, it bends to no one and truth is its keeper.’ It is at this moment that he also reveals that he would like to attend law school should he survive this test.

Our hero is willing to die for the law. To be more exact, he is willing to be tried by the same law that he knows will kill him. His great aspiration is to be joined with the institutions that the preceding 90 minutes of the film have spent showing us being applied dishonestly and violently in his country. David’s aspiration might be to become Lord Advocate. This is the peculiar nature of his honor which requires that he give death a wide embrace recognizing that what is killing him is what he loves. This honor which I think is English in its nature, and allows him to face a sad fate unflinchingly is an abstraction. It ignores villainies perpetrated on others in its name. It came to me that the English claim to the mantle of an honorable people is based not on their refusal to cheat or murder but because they have been willing to die for the conceit that their kind do not cheat or murder. Thus the heroes’ squares built for the redcoats who faced the Zulu Impis at Islandwana and shook hands before turning to face the final thrust of the assegai. Nothing needs be said of the murdering and raping that brought them to that impasse. What matters is that they died looking heavenward to a vanity that allowed them to pursue without brakes any brutal conduct against the Zulu. From the Somme to the Battle of Britain and the many other battlefields that are splattered with English blood, evil is washed clean by this sacrifice of the young. This is why the English hero can be a cad until the very last moment when he pulls off a spectacular save in the honor department. It is only in battle that the English are at their best when offered the opportunity to look away from the hells they have created toward an earthly heaven only reachable by dying.

Or could it be that the nature of all liberal heroism is to love the very alter that you are dying on as opposed to more religious varieties that urge matrydom for the sake of heaven? Perhaps this is why Kenyan politics nowadays give birth to few heroic actions into death: we do not believe in the alter (the state) that might demand our blood and have found ways into heaven that do not demand we destroy earthly institutions. But this is only to speculate and a bit wildly too.

Happy New Year!

Goosie goosie gander where shall I wander? To MMK’s belly?

Well, say it then, what did you do on Christmas day? At the last minute, having expected to have a quiet day, I decided to go the whole nine yards and engage in a feasting, gifting orgy. As usual the rush of the mob took me headlong with it and I was unable to resist the million ads and Santas lurking around every corner eyeing my wallet. On Saturday, there I was elbowing aside little old ladies at Borough Market to buy the last wild goose that was large enough and expensive enough to feed a small town. Having just re-watched some episodes of Brideshead Revisited, which in case you did not know is one long ode to alcohol consumption, I bought several bottles of suspiciously cheap champagne in keeping with my principles of quantity over quality and form over function.

For dinner we baked the wild goose marinated in tangerines, strawberries, red onions, garlic and clove powder among other spices. Then brown basmati rice; a sweet potato and leeks stuffing; spinach with mushrooms; a moist carrot cake made with dark sugar; all washed down with champagne. Is that a feast or is it a feast? I am so impressed with myself and I hope that my mother reads this post so that she can see that her son does more than fry eggs and toast bread.

In any case, visitors to ABH, I wish you a happy 2006. May your plans and dreams be realised or come much closer to fruition. Thank you for hanging with me.

Food Force: The UN video game that makes learning about aiding hungry people cool

To be on the edge nowadays you’ve got to be able to multi-task. For instance, your love of computer gaming can now be combined with your concern for starving people. Premiering here on Bullets & Honey is the United Nation World Food Program’s latest idea: Food Force. That’s right, the international gaming market is realising that a non-violent, educational video game that allows 8-13 year olds to step into the shoes of aid workers can become the latest craze. According to the WFP, a million kids have already downloaded the game. Here are some of its heroic characters:

Rachel Scott Age: 26
Nationality: American
Logistics Officer
‘Rachel was born into a ‘logistics’ family – her father has a small trucking business and her mother drives an ambulance. It was no surprise when Rachel decided to put her own logistical skills to use for WFP.

Angela Keane
Age: 41
Nationality: Irish
Appeals Officer
Angela was born in Ireland, but moved to New York with her family when she was only 2 years old. At school she specialised in economics and graduated in Business Administration. After successfully running her own Internet fundraising business she decided to switch careers and help WFP in its massive task of raising and managing funds for emergency operations.’

There is something for everyone in the game. For instance, by doing well in the Food Force Bowl challenge, you can get a chance t0 win tickets to Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Have fun is the message but do it responsibly and learn about Lucy.

‘…when Lucy’s sister died of AIDS two years ago, she was left more than a hectare of stony soil. The 22-year-old also inherited her sister’s disabled husband, seven young children, a goat and two ducks. The couple have since had three more children.’

‘Even with regular rains, Lucy struggled to produce enough food to feed 12 mouths, but last winter drought withered and strangled her crop long before harvest time. She showed us the remains, a short walk from her family’s stone hut, on the other side of a dried-up river bed. By June, Lucy had exhausted her total yield: two sacks of sorghum. Like most other subsistence farmers in the village, she turned to casual labour, crushing stones into gravel to sell on the roadside. There were few takers, and her neat, grey piles still line the dirt track.’

‘In August, with the price of maize soaring in the market, her family surviving on one meagre portion of maize porridge per day and her youngest child showing symptoms of kwashiorkor (severe protein malnutrition), Lucy approached her village chief and joined the monthly queues for WFP food aid at the local school. Queuing patiently under a burning sun, one of more than 1,000 hungry villagers, Lucy waits her turn before handing in her ration card and collecting a 50kg (7st 9lb) sack of maize. Somehow hoisting the dead weight on to her head, she walks the mile back to her hut.’

‘By the time she arrives, a trail of maize is running from a small split in the bag. Her children sweep up the granules as if they were gold dust. It is hard to imagine Lucy and her fellow villagers ever being more than hostages to disease and drought in such a harsh environment. But an hour up the road, at Chitsukwa village, there is another story that offers some hope for the future of southern Malawi – not to mention enough maize to feed Lucy’s village several times over. For three years Bishop Khado, a local farmer, refused to accept his fate, clinging to the dream of irrigation…’

Awesome dude! Join the Food Force team by linking up with Paul Tergat, the champion marathoner who you may not have known but as an eight-year-old pupil at Riwo Primary School in Kenya’s Rift Valley received food aid from WFP. And look what a difference that made.

It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye, isn’t it?

We’re going to get you simba, we’re going to get you! MUHAHAHA, MUHAHAHAH, MUHAHAHA!


“This is the plan: we will import 135 wild animals from Kenya, or 98% of the total, thus leaving behind only 3 old lions. Then we ship our haul to Bangkok where we will hang them from the rafters and slowly stick hot pins into their paws while depriving them of sleep. We’re going to get you simba, we’re going to get you! MUHAHAHA, MUHAHAHAH, MUHAHAHA!”

Forget corruption, forget political murders, tsunamis and terrorist bombings, there is a new scourge in Kenya: animals are suffering. The speak-to-power members of our ‘civil society’ are as ever ready to step to the breach and put a stop to injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. Word on the street is that in the past few months there have been night vigils held outside Hotel Intercontinental in Nairobi to protest against the sending of Kenyan wildlife to Thailand. Those Thais, you just know that they spend most of their time in Bangkok twirling their little brown thumbs and laughing maniacally as they invent unusual new tortures. Their record speaks for itself. In August 2004, for instance, there was an international uproar – at least among animal welfare groups – when 3 out of 115 orangutans died of pneumonia in a Bangkok zoo. Earlier, 32 ‘frightened, wide-eyed baby orangutans, many hugging each other’ were found in the same ‘cramped private Thai zoo’ (see story here). The zoo owners have much to answer for. There were clearly Crimes Against Primates being carried out on the premises. It might even have been that the 32 babies were being raised to become fighters in Bangkok’s famous orangutan boxing. The cruelty. Oh, the sheer mad, evil genius of it all.

They came to Nairobi in November to hoodwink us. Taking time off from his busy schedule of trying to deal with a small constitutional matter, declining national life expectancy, hunger, terrorist attacks, widespread crime, official corruption and a failed state just north of the border, our president took time to engage in the sophisticated arena of international geopolitics. Signing a solemn Memorandum of Understanding with Thai Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra, President Kibaki earned Kenya a cool 80 million shillings in return for sending the wild animals to a private zoo in Thailand. What was Mr. Shinawatra thinking? I mean c’mon. Clearly, his ambassador to Nairobi had not informed him that MOUs are really not the way to go in State House. But that is a matter for another discussion.

I demand that we require the Thais to sign and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture before Kenya sends animals to them. We do not want any more Abu Ghraibs after all. Imagine, if you have the courage, what fiendish plots our elands, dik dik and hippos could be subjected to. It makes me quail, yet I want to be true to my optimistic nature.

I have a dream that one day my nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all elephants, orangutans and little black boys are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the pavements of the Intercontinental, a great cause shall come to fruition: that the bad people who like doing bad things to wildlife will stop and be good and do good things. I have a dream that one day, one day, that I too shall drive a four wheel drive jeep to the national park, and that there, waiting with open arms, will be a Maasai warrior who shall join with me in sustainably loving nature. From the slopes of Mt Kenya to the palm trees of Lamu, I dream that this land will be emptied of its detritus of selfish humans who have transformed an oasis of noble beasts into a desert sweltering with the rot of poaching and tourism. My friends, I have a dream that our apes, fauna and snakes will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their hides or the texture of their scales, but by the amount of conservation funding they attract to our shores. I have a dream today. By any means necessary. Yeah.

Okri, Naipaul and Arundhati bushwhacked by Moscow-based reviewer

I have spent the last day trawling through my favorite new e-zine, the eXile, which is published in Moscow. Its book reviewer, John Dolan, is particularly adept at delivering kidney-punch reviews of the great and good.

This is Dolan on Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest.
‘The first thing you notice about Aidan Hartley’s memoir, The Zanzibar Chest, is the skill with which Hartley moves from stories of his ancestors’ colonial exploits to episodes in his own pinball trajectory through contemporary African war zones. It’s not easy to switch centuries and keep the reader with you, and Hartley does it well.

The second thing you notice is that Hartley barely bothers to disguise his Tory nostalgia for Britain’s Imperial past. It irks him that he can only observe and describe Africa’s many wars, when his fathers for generations past played such an enthusiastic role in starting, stoking and stifling the conflicts of their eras.’ more here.

Dolan then sets his sights on Ben Okri, a writer so confusing that everyone I have ever met who has read him vows he is deep and heavy and will not be drawn on further discussion. I suspect that like me, most of them have not read Okri after having tried to and concluded that you need to be on mescaline to get past the first chapter. Dolan, displaying a refreshing rage and bitterness for God knows what heaping of disappointments, does not shrink from letting Okri have it from both barrels.

Then, in a bid to be generous for once, Dolan takes on Naipaul who he understands better than almost anyone with whom I have discussed the bullied, snotty, little Trini who made good by hating everyone. Let me just say that like Dolan, I really dig Naipaul even while I see just how screwed up he is.

Says Dolan, ‘he hated the black boys, big and muscular, who beat him up, who scared him. It’s the truth; let’s face it. He has been called a racist, and he is one…’

‘They, the new black rulers, didn’t want any little Indians hanging around the Presidential Palace. Naipaul — who must truly have been a nasty boy, a sneaking eavesdropper and swot, understood one thing well: though eddies of decency and culture were developing in the West Indies, none of them were in the market for a little Hindu boy possessed by a great, corrosive intellect.’

‘Other Windies could try for the patronage of the Left, which had begun to cultivate “voices of color” — but they meant righteous, Ciceronian outrage from black, not Brahmin-beige, people. And when they said “new voices,” they were not talking about a snotty brown boy’s mocking, BBC-copying voice.’

Read the entire vicious-while-being-complimentary review here.

Our merry literary assassin, writing with the freedom of a man who seems to feels he has nothing to lose, which in my experience always makes for the most interesting outbursts, turns his tender attentions to Arundhati Roy. Arundhati, she of the breathless denunciations of American imperialism and capitalism, the patron saint of latte loving, anti-globalisers everywhere. More here.

The courtiers who use isms like machetes and will grind you to dust.

The courtiers who use isms like machetes

In every city, every town and hamlet, there is a small core of men and women who are drawn to the business of proselytizing to their fellows on how best to think or act. They have sought to join courts with no regard to whether they are monarchical, fascist, authoritarian or democratic. What they desire is the pose that is power, to beat their counterparts competition to the throne. I came to these abstract thoughts recently when I was listening to friends of mine praise the efficacy of free markets and the governmental policies needed to maintain this state of affairs. We spoke of informing, educating and cajoling ordinary people to appreciate ‘how markets work’. We raged (with me contributing a lion’s share) at the ignorance and lack of curiosity among people while generously pledging to help find ‘solutions’. Those of an opposite persuasion, among whom I also count not a few friends, speak of the inefficacy of markets and they too seek to inform and empower by educating and advocating for their point of view. The objects of their responsible attentions mill about, ignorant, disempowered, simple minded, blind to real interests according to their saviours. Yet those billions of people know markets intuitively and intimately. They have been buying, selling, exchanging, possessing and being dispossessed every moment of their lives so that their knowledge resides as much in the instinct and unconscious as it does in their diplomas. To them, the market is not the system their self-appointed betters announce they can view from the eagle’s viewpoint. Rather, it is the millions of transactions they conduct: decisions to act driven by past lessons of painful or pleasurable consequences and sometimes by rights and wrongs that are wholly moral.

The courtiers do not allow their ignorance to stand in the way of their fierce competition among themselves to win the right to be the main proselytizer to the people. Ideas are merely weapons in the race to the throne. This is not to say that they are all equally good or bad, or that they are necessarily harmful to the ordinary person. It is to recognise that those who wield them do it more in the fashion of a machete with which they wish to dismember court rivals. It matters not the historical period or the system of government, the court is where the ideas ‘of the (self) anointed’ are deployed. Our broadest and most opposed political categories after all were born when the deputies of the French National Constituent Assembly ranged themselves to the left and right of Louis XVI during that country’s revolution. Absurdity is always present in court: I am told, for instance, that the arrangement of the ‘conservatives’ to the right of Louis or the Speaker and the ‘radicals’ to the left originated from an old custom of a host seating an honoured guests to his right at formal gatherings. Right versus left, fascist versus communist, social democrat versus libertarian, whatever their roots, are mighty war-clubs called isms used by one group of courtiers against another. The rest, meanwhile, sleep, eat, have sex and die, each individual deeply woven into his own material and emotional markets, some which are regulated by some commandment and others in an unregulated flux of pain or pleasure. Each life is a million contradictions, multiple defeats and victories. There is little that is linear in it, even if its owner tries mightily to think it so. Its layers are multiple, their interaction with time not to mention other lives making for such complexity that it is best described as a universe: a whole. Yet the courtiers would have us believe that their idea du jour must be followed by all of us if we are to better understand the system and live better. Their ambition to possess the throne that they believe allows them to make our lives in their image, blinds them to the fact that each of us is a sun in a solar system with billions of planets. Isn’t this self centring how it should be since we only burn for a short while? The reason so many people love pop music or cliché Hollywood films is that we turn the page and eye the film star through the lens of a dynamic and labyrinthine life. So much so that we can even elevate drying, grey paint into great art provided we filter the experience through us. Alas for the courtiers who hold that learned tomes, with their handy advice or diagnosis, are richer in than the inner life of each person. How little their red or green books or manifestos have that is relevant to the totality of my life. Yet observe how much they threaten it with their conceit and determination to replace me as guardian to myself.

To the court’s aspirants, the mass of people remain ignorant though each one is embroiled in an unending transaction of goods, emotion and sensation. Those who would wear the crown disdain the individual life. They only respect those parts of it that can be loaded onto their ism. They are as the knight who would use the sword to introduce new ideas while clearing the path with a scythe of contempt. The victory of the powerful, which initially must be a victory among courtiers, once it leaves the centre to meet its appointed destiny with ordinary people, is nothing less than the denial of their internal human existence. It should come as no surprise that the communists killed as much as the fascists, they were all projects of the powerful striding out of the court and into the hut or the tenement. The solutions of the court are best considered with suspicion by their ostensible beneficiaries. And the time to fear for your individual life is when one group of ism wielders has beaten another for they then turn to you with your ignorant, unscientific and unintellectual life and if left to it will grind it, and probably you, to dust.

Before this happens though, let me turn again to the game at court which is initially one of poses. Power over the mass of people is pretended to exist at all times over all when the house on the hill can scarcely keep up with the goings on in the bush and bed of the peasants’ life. Most courts rarely emerge from their rivalries except to use a public action to consolidate their place in the only contest that matters to them. The ones that manage to win the throne comprehensively, if only for a short time, will be impelled by the momentum from their contest to try and expand the throne to fit into all the public spaces. When that is done, and they have won even that contest, which is no mean feat, they shall clutch at their bloody ism and wield it at the insides of individual lives. They will be for Life and a life, for The Market and not the individual’s varied transactions. The courtier, unable to peer inside the pleb to see how his ism slices and dices, and intent on his own inner voices, shall desire simplification. That is they shall attempt to match their ism with the inner life of most people or at least ensure that it meets no resistance. But people are unable to switch off, to follow the dictates of any ism and so they slip up, and are judged ignorant, unconscious, counter revolutionary or rebellious. Many are killed to ensure the success of this engineering attempt; it is the ultimate simplification. The courtier’s ambitions pursued to their logical extreme require that his life be the only one left on earth. They are driven ultimately by the little voice that never stops promising the sun that it shall become cold and dead soon, no matter how hot it burns now.

GROW (Get Rich Opportunity of the Week): Uganda’s Farmers Reaching for Global Markets.

Andrew Rugasira, CEO of Rwenzori Coffee Company, which exports coffee to Waitrose UK under the “Good African coffee” brand.

Says Mr Rugasira:

“As an African entrepreneur, I am not looking for handouts that I have not earned. I only want the same opportunities that British entrepreneurs coming to Africa have access to. We went to the same schools and universities, and in the global community we are all looking for the same things: markets and equal opportunities to exploit them.

Many Africans are condemned from birth to a future of poverty, disease and premature death. In addition to this, the prevailing perception of Africans and their capabilities never transcends the confines of their so-called limitations. You are poor because you are poor. While poverty is an undeniable part of the African reality, it is only part of it.

There is another side to the continent. For this we must go beyond the gloom and doom and see Africa as a land of opportunity and hope. I do not know of any Africans who wake up in the morning saying: “Today I am going to engage in ‘poverty reduction’!” This phrase, beloved by the international community, has no place in the vocabulary of the African citizen engaged in the everyday struggle to survive.

It is wealth creation that links the African struggle of yesterday, today and tomorrow. To understand this we must remove the blinkers and see an Africa beyond kleptocracy and Kalashnikovs.” More here and here. (A reporter visits the operation.)

Fearful Streets and Burning Hearts in Addis Ababa


I just flew back from Addis Ababa where I have spent the last couple of days attending a meeting. The streets were empty of traffic, as most city residents remained indoors in response to demonstrations and riots that have wracked the city for the past week. At least forty-five civilians are dead, killed in clashes between the police and opposition protestors who charge that the 15 May elections were rigged by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolution Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. It was my first time in Addis and I everyone I encountered was fearful of the ongoing crackdown by the state. I heard of mass arrests, more than ten thousand young men in jail I was told with others claiming that the number was far higher. A young women whose brother was arrested, feared that his punishment might be getting forced to the frontline should war between Ethiopia and Eritrea break out as is seeming more likely by the day. She told me that her mother was in tears daily, dreading the worst for her child, her memories of what happens to people in Ethiopian prisons overcoming any comfort that her daughter and friends tried to provide. I cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim to be deeply knowledgeable on Ethiopia, but I could not escape the feeling I got of it being governed by a state that evokes great fear in its people and that has failed them outside of building wide streets filled with a self regard that gave these poor, brutalised people scant comfort. I hope to return one day when it is more peaceful and I can have the opportunity to discover the city when it is less fearful and when the government is not flexing its muscles.

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger to His Spurned Mistress

Yes, I have been away. Trying to recover from the sickness, the addiction, that is blogging. On most occasions I sat still for any length of time, my jealous mistress, known to you all as African Bullets & Honey, would sound her plaintive cry: ‘you have not posted today’ she would whine. What was I to do, being weak of will and filled with opinions that my dear loved ones now listen to with sighs of resignation? I had to return, to blog, to bloviate and join the almighty clamour of noise and thought that is blogosphere. Problem is this, I find myself unable to write well academically and otherwise while I am blogging. The feedback loop is so immediate that it becomes more attractive than the other forms of writing which might actually present the tiny hope of paying the bills.

Now where was I when I left off a few weeks ago? Yes, I was in mid-rant about the usual utopianism of the Jeffrey Sachs crew. And I stopped, exhausted at the sheer stupidity of arguing about stupidity. So let me turn to something that I think is far more interesting: Jane Jacob’s studies on the nature and organisation of cities. I am ashamed to say that I first heard of her a couple of months ago; now that I am reading her book – The Death and Life of Great American Cities – I am stunned that I did not come across her sooner. How strange it is to now know what I don’t know after not knowing what I did not know. I grew up in Nairobi and always regarded the steady deterioration in its security to strictly be a matter of lax police work by a corrupt and dictatorial state. While that may be true, Jacob’s studies suggest that there might be more afoot in Nairobbery than poor policing, it could be a matter of the way public and private spaces are apportioned, the lack of mixed use neighbourhoods and the paradoxical impact of the ‘high walls for security’ culture actively reducing the ‘eyes on the street’ which are the key to urban safety. But all this is a post for another day, a flexing of disused blogging muscles…

Why Western Visions of Utopia are Killing Africans

William Easterly writing in Foreign Policy asks: What is utopianism? and goes on to answer that ‘it is promising more than you can deliver. It is seeing an easy and sudden answer to long-standing, complex problems. It is trying to solve everything at once through an administrative apparatus headed by “world leaders.” It places too much faith in altruistic cooperation and underestimates self-seeking behaviour and conflict. It is expecting great things from schemes designed at the top, but doing nothing to solve the bigger problems at the bottom.’ This is the model proposed by the usual idea-challenged and arrogant rock stars alongside their rock star economist partners such as Jeffrey Sachs; all possessed of a feverish utopianism that would have Africans look to them for the solutions to poverty and war. Once again, African Bullets & Honey is home to an anti-Western aid screed. The reason I am so taken with this issue if I may just explain is that I believe fighting the aid industry in its many forms is one of the great moral crusades of our time. Read more of William Easterly’s piece here.

England, the Country where Only Suckers Work

‘You’re a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay,’ Galloway informed Hitchens

 Posted by Picasa

In case you did not know, British MP George Galloway debated Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq War on Wednesday September 14th. Go here and watch or listen to a slug match of quite delicious proportions.

Mommy, When I Grow Up I Want to be a Gigolo in Monaco!

Your friendly blogger is in Monaco and blogging less than fifty yards from where this photo was taken. Yes, indeed, it is time to break into song:

Well we’re Movin’ on Up!
Movin’ on Up!
To Monaco!
Movin’ on Up!
To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky, We’re movin’ on up!
Movin’ on Up!
To Monaco!
Movin’ on Up!
We’ve finally got a piece of the pie!

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen,
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta tryin’
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues,
Gettin’ our turn at bat!

I wish. By all outward appearances, I am attending an insurance conference (to provide gory analysis of war and pestilence) but in reality it is a masochistic exercise. There is nothing worse on earth than to be a broke doctoral student attending an insurance gig in Monaco. The water costs about $10 a bottle, the typical meal is expensive enough to feed a small village for a week and you just do not fit in without a Ferrari and a yacht. So here I am, in a tie, in 75 degree weather, being treated like a nuisance by waiters who sniff my income from a mile off and from the intensely close reading of the menu that I have been engaging in. My eyes in Monaco are ever on red, smooth cars and orange tans on Botox-smooth skin. There are old people everywhere, and they look angry: perhaps because they can buy everything except the one thing they really want, which is their youth. My Monaco trip has led me to a highly scientific theory: there are more ugly rich people than ugly poor people. Yes, I know, you might think that a superior diet would make for better looks but this is not the case. What has happened over millenia is that the uncool kids who no-one really wanted to hang out with have spent their time reading and working hard while all you cool cats sit around and admire yourselves. Then BLAM, they have a yacht in Monaco, enough money to afford Botox in chemical warfare amounts and no end of beautiful women and men catering to their every whim. And this last point, the beauty of the prostitutes and the gigolos – a career that every PhD student has considered at some point I wage – actually redoubles the rage I was talking about earlier. Here they are having ‘made it’ and what happens? They are now old and still need to pay to hang out with the kind of cool cats who first spurned them onto the road leading to Monaco. OK, whatever, I am not even sure I believe all that. Back to sado-masochism. Yesterday, I ordered a cup of coffee for about 10 euros and it arrived cold. In a fury, which I carefully disguised as a reaction to the coffee’s temperature, not its cost, I took this poor waiter to task. After a brief but intense rant, I was gripped with guilt at messing the guy’s workday until I saw him and a fellow waiter looking at me and sniggering away. I could just imagine one whispering to the other, “zat a—hole zere is poor, zis poor ones are ze worst and I will wash his cup with zat orange woman’s…”

Dr. Roland Returns to Breakdown Riga’s Art Nouveau Architecture


A few months ago, after I had visited Paris, my cocky little pronouncement on IM Pei’s glass pyramid was taken to task by my friend, the redoubtable Dr. Roland, who wrote an entertaining and thought provoking post on the symbolism and ideas in architecture. A couple of days ago, fresh from Riga, I asked him to breakdown that city’s art nouveau buildings. And as his style, he has returned to show that architecture is not just ‘a story of bricks and mortar, but one of a people.’ If you know an architect in an African city, please invite them to comment about their city’s style here.

Kima,

I would love to give you a long dissertation about Art Nouveau but I don’t know much about it. Add to it the fact that I don’t care for the style very much and you see perhaps why I don’t know much about it. I will give you what I have and let your readers add to it and do their/your own analysis.

I’ll start off with an excerpt from A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals by Spiro Kostof.

“Most everyone agrees that the Art Nouveau started in Brussels in the early Nineties with Victor Horta (1861-1947), and it aspired to that obsessive goal of modernism, freedom from the past. Its signature was a florid, sinuous line suggesting organic growth, the burgeoning of plants. Metal membering, thin and pliant as it was, served the style well, and the frank use of iron now entered domestic architecture for the first time… In the salon of Horta’s Hotel van Eetvelde in Brussels of 1895, we can observe how these supple Art Nouveau filaments swirl about like tendrils, weaving together walls, ceiling, and supports… …the structural and the decorative live inseparably. The other reference would be the to late Gothic—the skeletal élan, the transparency, the flicker of ornament. All this, involving as it did an endless round of individualistic, custom-made invention, did not recommend the Art Nouveau to the functionalist wing of modern architecture.”

We can see that Art Nouveau emerges at the turn of the last century. The first question one should ask is partially answered by Kostof above. Art Nouveau should be considered as part of the modernist movement — but a movement whose rules had not been set in stone. The leading modernists of architecture – such as Mies van der Rohe, the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius etc. – were still in their infancy. The great ideas of the left — Marxism, socialism, futurism — still retained the freedom to be vibrant and unrestrained. No dogmas had set in yet. Art Nouveau reflects this. Only later would architecture refine itself and develop the “form follows function” idea that many of you know so well. As you know, many movements develop organically and some explorations become dead ends. While I think it would be too harsh to call Art Nouveau a “dead end”, it clearly did not emerge as the leading form of modernism that you all know today.

Implied in the description above is the idea that Art Nouveau was merely “decorative”. There is the idea that the style was just that, a style and nothing more. It seems to have no more import than to look…pretty. Its organic nature of “tendrils” and “the burgeoning of plants” did not link itself to any deeper movement towards environmentalism or ecology, none of which had yet emerged. Understand also, that the great ideas are such because they link themselves to other great ideas in different fields so as to create an even greater whole. I will leave you to see that Renaissance architecture, which is great in itself, links to Renaissance art, which, in turn, links to Renaissance sculpture and so on. Modernism in architecture links to Modernist art, Modernist music, sculpture, literature, philosophy and so on endlessly. This process reveals how we are able to create the great ages of mankind as the great people in any individual arena are dealing with the same central set of ideas. A modernist poet will always be able to talk to a modernist architect since they both have the same philosophical frame of reference. Unfortunately, Art Nouveau has little of this. It goes only so far as a “look.” Having not been planted on the rich soil of a deep philosophical idea, it has little to grow on and remains mired in the past as an early 20th century “style.”

[Here’s an insider’s tip. If you want to cut someone’s artwork to pieces without sounding vindictive, just call the work “decorative.” This is one of the worst insults you can give to someone’s artwork without actually sounding insulting. It is a left-handed compliment. In the same line you can say that someone’s work is “pretty.” That cuts. Although, when one says that Art Nouveau is “decorative” it isn’t so much an insult as it is the statement of fact that has been proven out over time. Also, we must state here that our arts need not always be laden with philosophical weight all the time! Imagine how horrible it would be to have Beethoven’s 5th as dinner music! (too heavy) Or Wagner! (way to heavy!) Would you be able to work well if your office had Picasso’s Guernica on the wall? Sometimes you need some whimsy, something light.]

Well, the above was just a little introduction to a style that I know little about. Remember how I analyzed architecture in the “Pei” essay. That was all about the shape and form of architecture and how you and I relate to it. Please use this type of analysis in your own interaction with it. Remember the questions we asked: big, small, skinny, fat, heavy, light etc. Most importantly, use these elements of analysis to make your own statements about architecture whenever you see it. This is one art form that we all MUST interact with. How does the building you are sitting in at this moment make you feel? Is it organized well/poorly? Come to your own conclusions and own your feelings. Make the interaction less and less of what I tell you and more and more of what you actually feel when you walk into a building. Try this exercise. Compare and contrast two buildings of the same type. I guarantee that all of you will do this when you decide which house to buy or which apartment/flat to rent. Does the building have a small entranceway that explodes into a huge central atrium? How does that make you feel? Does the house have a huge/small entertainment area? What does that say about its owners? In many art forms we are supposed to ask what the artist means by this or that so that we might have the correct interpretation of what he’s trying to do or say. In a certain poem or music you might be told that perhaps the piccolos and flutes represent birds. Not so in architecture. The feeling is much more visceral: no one needs interpretation when walking into St. Paul’s in London, you can’t help but feel it. Sure you may need some help with the little things such as crenellation, entablature, the type of columns, etc. But you have every right to own your feeling about a building, a space. No one can tell you that you are interpreting it wrong,that’s the beauty of architecture. Buildings must be made to serve people who know nothing about architecture and may be quite illiterate. Look at Gothic architecture in the Middle Ages. The architects had to elicit the proper feelings from peasants who could not even read or write, people who didn’t know the first thing about architecture. It was the architect’s job to bring the unwashed people into the cathedral and make them feel the awe of the stained glass window, the lofty spire, the glory of God, the peace and tranquility that was required for the religious purpose. If the architect was not successful in achieving this response he could not shrug his shoulders haughtily and say, “You are interpreting it wrong.”

Now that you have begun the process of analyzing the shapes and forms that you encounter, you can simply add a few questions as I have asked above of the who, what, where and when as it relates to the building. This is just a little sugar on top and should not affect your feelings about the building. As with everything man does, architecture is not just a story of bricks and mortar, but one of a people.

Now I must ask you for some insight, Kima. Here’s where you have the opportunity to do the analysis you have asked of me. Here are the questions:

1. What is the history of Riga? Have they always thought of themselves as unique? Do they think of themselves as Baltics? Sort-of-Russians? Almost-Scandinavians? I know that they were once part of the Prussia of Fredric the Great, which was quite proudly nationalistic and German. Do they feel this? Do they feel the need to separate themselves from Russia and make artistic statements of independence? Do they struggle to be less Russian? I know that many even in Russia acknowledge that “real” Russia is Kiev, whereas Moscow was created in an effort to be more western. Is this right? Does Riga reflect any of this? What is the character of the Rigan soul?

2. What is the immediate history of Riga? Did they have a mayor at the turn of the century that really wanted to make a statement with his city? Architecture is important for this. Look at Barcelona. All it took was an Olympics meet and a Frank Gehry designed museum and BOOM! All of a sudden Barcelona is hot. Next comes the whispering campaign, “Barcelona is hot now,” and all of the accoutrement follows—internet cafes, new nightclubs, and, of course, thousands of new, upscale shops. Could it be that Riga was trying to develop something like that 100 years ago?

3. Invariably an idea will catch on in some places more than others. All it takes is one professor of architecture at the local university who, maybe, was brought in from Brussels who espoused the style and taught it to several students that could have made the difference. Maybe there was a “Rigan school” of thought in architecture.

4. About this time Lenin was starting to make noises next door. How did this affect architectural choice? Were they trying to make anti-communist statements?

So now I will turn your request onto you, my brother, will you please tell me the story of Art Nouveau architecture in Riga?

Riga

A closer view of Saint Mauritius, patron saint of the Hanseatic League’s unmarried merchants.  Posted by Picasa

Riga Posted by Picasa

Old Town, Riga. The dude behind me penned over 200,000 folk songs and stories which form the foundation of Latvian nationalism. Remember that you folks who are always goin on about wanting to record your grandparent’s stories (and yet never getting round to it). There are more than 1.2 million of the bloody things written down here so that an oral culture has become very much a written one. Latvians have quite literally imagined themselves into existence to paraphrase a famous egghead. Posted by Picasa

Jurmala Beach, Latvia: “mommy, how come that uncle is so dark?”

My hosts using more energy than is healthy for a man on vacation like myself. A few minutes earlier, they translated how a little girl who had pointed at me while asking her mom politely in Latvian, “mommy, how come that uncle is so dark?” I would have loved to hear the answer.  Posted by Picasa

Jurmala Beach, Latvia: Stiletto Heels on the Beach

I noticed thousands of little holes in the hard packed sand on the beach and thought that they might be some kind of insect or crab nests. But they turned out to have been made by women walking on stiletto heels on the sand! I did not believe it till I saw it with my own eyes. Posted by Picasa

Jurmala Beach, Latvia

Lazy blogger takes a breather on Jurmula beach on the Baltic Sea, 30 minutes by train from Riga, Latvia Posted by Picasa

A closer view of Saint Mauritius, patron saint of the Hanseatic League’s unmarried merchants.  Posted by Picasa

Riga Posted by Picasa

Alien in Riga, Latvia

I have just spent my first 24 hours in Riga where I will be for the next four days and yes, there is even a chance that I shall tear myself away from the sidewalk cafes and do some blogging. As I was expecting, I was the only brother on the streets with the exception of a statue of Saint Mauritius (or Maurice), a Roman-Egyptian martyr, who was the patron saint of unmarried merchants from the Hanseatic League. Their feasts were supposed to be so wild that they attracted Catherine the Great who was really no slouch in the debauchery department. Then there is this whole Latvian versus Russian thing going on; I am really curious about the existence of a strong sense of Latvian identity after more than 700 years of uninterrupted foreign occupation. But such wonders are mild compared to the footwear situation. The number of stiletto heels worn is unprecedented outside St. Petersburg. Every second woman I saw was perched on these fiendish (and very sexy) devices, miraculously navigating cobblestone streets without fracturing an ankle. Their male counterparts seemed to favour an assortment of muscle shirts and a cool ‘I am not looking at you’ vibe while they hurried after female companions who towered over them in those heels. From an afternoon of wining and dining, I can confirm that there are plenty of cheap restaurants serving good food, the sun is out and the city is more beautiful than I could have imagined. Methinks the next few days will only get better.


House of Blackheads. The figure on the right (kind of hard to see) is Saint Mauritius. I will post clearer pictures soon.


An example of Riga’s art nouveau architecture


The Stalin Pyramid, a not so little reminder of the Soviet era

Wales: Guess What I was Doing…



When not blogging, this is what I do in the Welsh countryside: wear stupid looking helmets and swing around on wires. This was a corporate retreat and we were doing the skytrek where you get transported for 2km high above the ground from platform to platform hitched to a wire. Then we did an ‘assault’ course and climbed a massive hill where a sheep actually charged us. All the while I kept feeling that my outfit – which is worn by a tank crew – was terribly fashionable and could start a whole new trend if I wore it in London or New York. After the swinging, which involved some moment of terror and burnt palms, it was time to pitch tents for the night. As a city man through and through, I was like a fish out of water and kept wondering why we should choose a cold, damp dwelling when there were perfectly good hotels nearby. A colleague and I then started a snoring war that actually kept the whole tent awake and drove one delicate soul to seek shelter in the truck. What a softie says I. The next morning we headed to the River Wye for a few hours of kayaking. Now as is well known (or at least became well known following my whiney excuses that I needed to stay on the riverbank and read) getting a land lubber like myself into a boat is not the easiest of tasks. Of course like everything I have ever been reluctant to try, it was enormously enjoyable. The thing that made the whole weekend special was that I actually like every single person I work with. Yes, I do, and it never ceases to surprise me what with the cynicism toward offices that I developed in my former job before I made the jump to academia. Now that I have camped, climbed a hill and a small rock face, I have decided to move to the next level: yes sir, next time I am home, I am going to drag myself out of the lovely Nairobi and attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Watch this space.

Africans, Woe unto you, ye shall hunger

I am in a sad mood today having just had an argument with someone very close to me and so have been seeing ill portents and darkness everywhere I look. And so this little story on Reuters caught my eye and seeing as I was already feeling kind of messed up, almost reduced me to hot little tears. Yes, I know, it is rather dramatic. It turns out that there is now food being made in factories just for starving Africans. Some of our societies have failed to the point that even food can no longer be taken for granted and charity has become a way of life. Plumpy’nut – made of peanut paste, sugar and a special vitamin – is not being made to feed people in hunger camps, it is being advertised as a charity intervention before starvation really strikes. In other words, preparations must be made for Africans even before they have started starving since it is reliably known that the need will be there sooner or later. “We wanted a product that doesn’t need to be mixed with water and fulfils all nutritional needs; we also believe food should taste good. Maybe that’s a French thing,” says Michel Lescanne, the creator of Plumpy’nut which is made in a ‘picturesque’ village in Northern France. Nutriset, the product’s maker, though formed as a non-profit, has few corporate rivals. With a staff of 50, its turnover is expected to be 15 million euros in 2005, a 50 percent increase on last year. It will produce some 2,500 tonnes of Plumpy’nut that will feed a quarter million children. So there you have it and good luck to them. If African entrepreneurs will not step in to create cheap food products then their countrymen shall either starve or shall provide opportunity for others. African misery is the greatest natural resource in that continent. While people argue about gold and oil, no one notices that there is far more money generated by the humanitarian industry on the basis of African misery than by mining or drilling corporates. It makes me wonder whether Niger has businesspeople at all. See more on Plumpy’nut.

The Love Affair Between the Maasai and the English


Colonialists like their savages savage in a romantic mould. There is a streak of masochism in having your material world dismissed by people who have little but vanity and some sick cows. Colonialists want to believe their subjugated people were worth conquering…they are also good for a shag now and then says AA Gill in the London Times to much hilarity…more>>

Shooting an Elephant

Written in 1936, George Orwell’s ‘Shooting an Elephant’ is a classic examination of the nature of colonial power and the curious administrative and moral posture of the colonialist. Go here for more of his essays.

Orwell: “I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”

IN Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.
All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in sæcula sæculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old .44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant’s doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone “must.” It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of “must” is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours’ journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of “Go away, child! Go away this instant!” and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend’s house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant—I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary—and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd’s approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant—it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery—and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast’s owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick—one never does when a shot goes home—but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frighfful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open—I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Persona Non Grata: Kenyan Athletes After Helsinki


Qatari citizen Saif Saaeed Shaheen (formerly known as Stephen Cherono) reacts to smashing the world record and winning the 3000m steeplechase at the 2005 World Championships. I do not care if he is a citizen of the moon or Qatar, there is nothing better than seeing a Kenyan on top of the world.

President Kibaki recently urged Kenyan athletes to resist the temptation to change their citizenship for money. This is a statement that can only have come from a man with a obstinate Panglossian ‘all-is-well-with-the-world’ streak. The sad fact is that talent or heroism are under-appreciated and downright dangerous qualities to have in Kenya. Kibaki is a leading member of a ruling elite that has consigned talent and integrity to the rubbish heap even while he admonishes those who would rather go where they are more appreciated and respected. And the Kenyan public, bunch of innocents that we are, ever blaming the government for our every national shortcoming even as we look to its for every solution, only notice these athletes every four years at the Olympics. They give us a brief glow of warm pride and are soon forgotten along with their achievements and the challenges that they face. When is the last time that you heard that a civic group of any kind had gathered to honour one of our athletes? How many products are endorsed by them, what schools and streets named after them? The real question I am asking is this: what is heroism in Kenya and how, if at all, is it linked to our national life?

Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman has recently blogged about David Munyakei the whistle blower who alerted the country to the Goldenberg Scandal and how he has since been forgotten by the public. WM says it so much better than I could:

Who are we that we glorify and protect the avaricious, the gluttonous, and the ostentatiously, graspingly corrupt, the liars and the tyrants (why isn’t Moi in jail?). Who are we that we do this in order precisely to make the shabby, cringe-making, shame-amplifying nature of our complete disregard of those who guard and rescue and restore our sense of self more marked by contrast, more significant by difference? Just so we can underline the dichotomy, in case someone had missed it? To sum: you need to f**k Kenya up, not pluck it out of the lion’s jaws. This is the correct trajectory to follow to fame and fortune; failure to which, you will not even be a footnote in history.

As a career and lifestyle choice, I highly recommend that you strike OFF your list the idea of doing something good for Kenya, since we Kenyans assure and guarantee you that no good deed done for us will ever go unpunished.

This then is the world of the Kenyan hero: either forgotten or destroyed.

Many Kenyans are clamouring to vote with their feet, they want to leave that little paradise we call home. And the runners, like the doctors, the nurses and the thousands of Green Card Lottery applicants, want to step out too. It is at this precise moment when the exit door is beckoning that their international accomplishments have fallen.

When the rhetoric of Project Keenya was strong enough that its disconnect with the lived reality of many Kenyans was not readily apparent, our runners made off with gold medals galore. But since the late 1990s there has been a wholesale collapse of the idea what we are in a collective vehicle called Kenya whose destination shall benefit us individually.

This project I have argued in the past was merely an extension in blackface of the colonial desire to civilise and develop the ‘savage’. Its collapse was inevitable and there is a Kenyan being born from its ashes who is more competitive, self reliant and skeptical of the government and its nonsensical postures and actions. It is only when faced with Kenyan athletes cutting and running that there is a sudden surge of concern and a recognition of their worth. As is usual the government’s position can be trusted to be stupid. Sports Minister Ochillo Ayacko speaking about migrating athletes said, “we will declare these athletes as persona non grata and cannot permit them to enjoy facilities available in the country while they compete against us at World championships.” Eh, these facilities of course being the government constructed hills and trails of the Rift Valley. If you are a European tourist you are welcome to come and run up and down whatever you wish, but dare you be an ex-citizen who wants to do the same…

Watching the Ethiopian athletes power ahead in Helsinki and at the 2004 Olympics, I felt that they were running from a psychological and emotional space that their Kenyan counterparts have not occupied for a long while. And there will be no getting back to that place soon since we must first elevate talent and achievement to the highest dais of our national life. For this to happen, the moral state of our communities will have to be revitalised beyond the church step and into the home and all those other ordinary folks’ spaces. But this is a discussion for another day I suppose. For now, I am sad that those Kenyans who competed in Helsinki did not do better but glad that the negative commentary about the performance might be making us ask tough questions about what our country does to its best and brightest.

P.S.

(Shaheen or Cherono is just a small tip of the iceberg. Beyond the athlete is Dedan Kimathi still in a Kamiti Prison grave, Pio Pinto, David Munyakei broke and close to breaking and numerous others. Kenya produces heroes as a kettle will release steam to relieve the pressure of boiling water. Our heroism, like heroism anywhere else, is the product of adversity; therefore our heroes by the very actions that elevate them often incur injury. It is in how we deal with these injuries that the esteem we hold them in is revealed. Also revealed is what we think of ourselves since the hero at hand has only become so presumably for our collective benefit: they have borne a load greater than themselves and by doing so have relieved us of an unpleasantness that was ours. To ignore the hero, to leave them by the wayside is to deny the existence of a collective self to which the hero sacrificed himself. If Kenyans ignore or do not care for a Kenyan hero, then there is no such thing as Kenya outside of a geographer’s map.)

The Poetry of Richard Katrovas

One of the most enjoyable results of my visit to St. Petersburg a few weeks ago was meeting Richard Katrovas whose poetry I had never read before. At his public reading, which I managed to get to in spite of the hellish vodka hangover that had me in its evil grip, I was taken by how his poetry managed to be simultaneously intensely personal and engaged in the world. It is no easy thing for me to express admiration for a poet, it is a form whose beauty came under such a sustained assault by a variety of teachers that I have not managed to fully rid myself of their narrow pedantry. But Katrovas’ poetry is honest and funny, and has the wisdom that only comes from someone who has lived and been knocked around a little.

Love Poem for an Enemy

I, as sinned against as sinning,
take small pleasure from the winning
of our decades-long guerrilla war.
For from my job I’ve wanted more
than victory over one who’d tried
to punish me before he died,
and now, neither of us dead,
we haunt these halls in constant dread
of drifting past the other’s life
while long-term memory is rife
with slights that sting like paper cuts… (read more of Richard Katrovas)

Binyavanga: A Day in the Life of Idi Amin Dada

Welcome and thanks to Binyavanga Wainaina who knowing my desperate need for some giggles on this blog, as opposed to the recent diet of rants, has contributed a story. Enjoy!

A Day in the Life of Idi Amin Dada

1983. It was that time of the day when the streets of Nakuru seemed to stand still. A Monday at 11 am even the hot dry breeze was lazy. It would glide languorously collecting odd bits of paper, have them tease the ground, threaten to take flight, tease the ground. Every so often there would be a gathering of force and a tiny tornado would whip the paper into the air, swirl dust around, dogs would lift their ears, tongues lolling, then burrow their faces between their forelegs as the wind collapsed, exhausted. Children were in school, long lines of spittle reaching their desks, as they tried to keep awake.

Even Daniel Arap Moi, Kenyan the president, who usually woke up at 4 am, was now taking his nap – trying to summon his favorite dream: that the entire nation of Gikuyus were standing in line at his gate to await execution, cash and title-deeds in hand, to hand over at the gate.

Idi Amin Dada hunched over Mrs. Gupta Shah like an insistent question mark, jabbing. She was chewing hard at a bit of blue-gold and red sari, trying to keep from screaming out loud; they had put on a movie on the video and set it loud to muffle the sounds: some Bombay song: Chal Chal Chal Merihethi….on the screen Idi could see a pouty maiden at the edge of a cliff, and a man with a giant quiff of hair, and sideburns sang in a shrill voice. She leapt off the cliff, and he followed her in a few seconds…they lay draped elegantly at the bottom of the valley; their fingers touched and they died, then the nasal Hindi music escalated in intensity, went beyond drama, beyond melodrama, and achieved genuine Bombay Belodrama.

Idi Amin Dada jabbed deeper into Mrs. Gupta, his plantain sized fingers digging deeply into the folds of her stomach, which usually undulated serenely between two wisps of sari as she hummed her way through the day.
“You want my banana?”
“I vant your banana Idhiii? Give me your banana Idhi…”
“I give you my banana till you are fed up.”

““““““`

This was Idi’s room; was also Idi’s afternoon workplace. Had been for twenty years, since the early 1970s. This morning; every weekday morning, Idi would drop Mr. Shah at the grain-mill his family owned. At 9 he would drop the petulant Maharajah at school: The Shrival Manahaval Shah Academy For Successful Gentlemen Who Will Go To Oxford and Cambridge. We start to train them at 5 years old! Book Now For Half-Price Discount on Swimming.

The Maharaja’s mother would beg him to get into the car,
“Oh my baby Pooti-poo; my Mickey-Mouse; my Diwali Sveetmeat, don’t cry babeee…”
Mr. Shah remained silent; sometimes he tried to imagine this rosebud managing the Grain Mill and failed.
As soon as the car was at the gate, the Maharajah would wriggle to the front passenger seat of the Mercedes.
“Idi – buy me goody-goody toffee gum or I tell Mammi-ji that you pinch me here.”

This routine had ceased being a to-fro conversation. Idi would extract a wad of goody-goody’s and the boy would stuff the toffee into his mouth and launch into muffled brags about Sapna’s father’s car’ of Rakesh’s trip to Disneyland.

Idi was once in the army, and was used to handling such humiliations with a deadpan face and a slight flaring of his nostrils. He always dropped off the prince without argument before rushing back to fuck the Prince’s Mother in the ironing room.

Piles of freshly ironed clothes sat on a boat-shaped basin next to the bed, clothes Idi had ironed last night. Vishal’s bookshelf had been moved to this room since Prince Number 1 left for Oxford: the top row full of Louis L’Amour Cowboy thrillers; the bottom row had a copy of Heart of Darkness, scribbled all over with A Level notes and next to it sat VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.

Mrs. Shah gave a low gnashing answer that blew soft cardamom flavored wind into Idi’s ear. He grunted in assent. Idi had a lot of questions. Every 11 am he asked them.

He loved ironing. Every afternoon he would put on some Bollywood film, and turn the Shah family’s washing into crisp battalions of soldiers. He loved shrugging shirts into broad, identical shoulders, arranging them in wardrobes, watching them stand at attention. They were his to command. A Natural Leader, his sergeant had called him. The room was once a stable, but was now a Servant’s Quarter. At 6pm exactly, he would go to the shower, and smoke a joint and dream of shining brass buttons; dream of the embrace of a Luganda woman – sucking at his nerve endings like a fish; turning and twisting him around; smelling not of ginger and tumeric; but of musk and steamed bananas and Nilo beer.

The 1960s were full of landslides: as the British Administration screeched to a halt those that were waiting for a trajectory to come and grab hold of them were left stranded. In those days being dutiful mattered; NOT taking initiative – when they had decommissioned the special forces, afraid that they would remain to leak what had really happened in the forests and the African townships in the 50s; some soldiers had auctioned themselves to the new leaders – as bodyguards; as hired fists: these guys climbed up dizzyingly. Amin had waited for his loyalty to be rewarded; had hung about Nakuru – 10 miles from the Barracks waiting for the call. In 1970, he was about to give up; was about to hitchhike to Uganda and sell illegal liquor in Arua like his mother had done, when he had found a frail Indian man being pulverized by a 10 year old parking boy, outside the wholesale market, with market women cheering the boy. He had rescued the man. Mr. Shah. And he got a job. It wasn’t bad: Mrs. Shah was exactly the same as Sergeant Jones: insistent, fanatic about time, a goddess of routine. Infatuated with her power over this black exhibition of muscle.

Idi had joined the army as soon as age would allow it. It was his way out of a life that seemed aimless. His mother had sold liquor and her body to army officers. He loved his mother to distraction. At thirteen, he had beaten a thirty year old Acholi private who had come to their home to insult his mother.

At fifteen he was six foot four, and when Sergeant Jones had seen him walking in Arua, he had offered him a place in the army at once. Idi was terrified of whites; and he could sense that Jones feared and was fascinated with him. Jones would spend hours with Idi in the boxing ring, teaching him new skills. He loved to punch Idi softly; to wipe seat off Idi’s back; to test out Idi’s muscles – always gruffly, always lingering. During a bout, his adrenalin pumping sweat flying, Idi was like a machine: looking for every angle to kill; never angry. Clinical. He loved it, loved holding into himself, loved the control of violence. One day he caught Jone’s eye, saw the fear in it – fear; and Idi felt like God, standing there showing his power; the feeling was almost sexual.

Idi rose up the ranks in the Army because he was the dream soldier. He had no father – had no problem being a boy to his superiors. He took his punishment with a wry mischievous grin, followed by a YESSIR AFFANDE! He loved to catch Mau Mau terrorists – it was all a marvelous game. Most of all he loved the gruff pride that Jones would flash when Idi had done something exceptional. He shrunk like a child at Jones’ criticism. One day he drunk chang’aa and came to barracks with a prostitute (he loved older women), the sentry who challenged him was floored. Jones found him in the gym, thrusting away. He slapped Idi twice, and sent the woman away. Idi did not talk to anybody for days. Three days later, after winning the Gilgil Barracks Boxing Crown for a second time, Jones patted him on the back, and Idi grinned widely and said,
“ Now I am the bull afande.”

“““`

Mr. Shah liked to spend the morning working on his novel: Conquerors of the British Empire. He was already 1000 words into the novel, and was still finding it impossible to squeeze characters into the dense polemic. His theory was simple: that India, already with a foot in the door in Kenya, should take over the continent, and use this leverage to take over Britain. It is the only way to make a National Profit from hundreds of years of British Rule: the more territory we control, the more we can dictate the cost of raw materials, the final profit will be manned by our guns. We must be Lords of the Commonwealth, and let the English carry us on their backs! Why build afresh when we can inherit what is already there?
His first born son, Vishal, was disdainful about the book.

“Rubbish Dad. Pseudo-religious xenophobic polemic Dad. VS says the Indian Industrial revolution is petty and private. If Nakuru Shah’s and Patels are fighting over 10 shillings, who will unite us? We are greedy Dad…VS says we are ‘a society that is incapable of assessing itself, which asks no questions because ritual and myth have provided all the answers, that we are a society that has not learned “rebellion”. Maybe Daddi-ji you need to read some real literature before writing this. The Russians…”

Vishal was brought up by Mrs. Gupta to be the Bollywood hero she had expected to marry all those hazy, plump years ago; to be NOT his father; Not her father. Vishal treated his parents as if they were trinkets: colorful mantelpiece trinkets who chimed once in a while, but who were so divorced from any viable reality they could only be treated with contempt. It gave his father a twisted sense of pride to hear his son: what a man I am to produce a son, so un-Dukawallah! A son for Oxford! But he was hurt when the boy left. Now what would accompany his quiet mornings at the office?

When he was nine, Vishal had composed a song which he liked to sing at birthday parties to scandalize everybody (except the Marxist Habajan Singh, who liked his mettle). He sang it to the tune of a nursery school song about a Kookaburra.

Duka-wallah sit by de ole Neem tree
Merry Merry King of da Street is he
Run Dukawallah run
Dukawallah burn
Dukawallah hide your cash and flee

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Between 2 and 4 pm you can find Idi Amin at Nakuru Boxing Club. For years he has been the Nakuru Boxing Champion. He is getting older now, and some young bucks are challenging. Modesty Blaise Wekea is short. Very short. It is said he once lifted a plough over his head while working as a casual in the wheat fields of Masailand. He is copper colored to Idi’s black. It is his speed – the unbelievable speed of those bowed legs with thighs the size of a grown man’s waist. But there is something else. When Amin first exploded into the Nakuru boxing scene people saw a future world champion, “Aii Alikuwa kama myama!” he was like an animal: the discipline of the army, added to his natural ferocity to make him unbeatable.

He had no wife: many lovers: soft, yellow Gikuyu women desperately looking for a man with some skills – they complained that Gikuyu men were disdainful of frills – saw sex as a quick efficient drill; wira ni wira –work is work. Idi’s giant physical size, his soft and gentle eyes and wicked smile; his reputation for controlled violence attracted many women.

After his sparring session with a nervous young man with even larger limbs than his; a young man so scared of violence he could probably kill in fear, Idi had a soda with an old friend. Godwin, the only fellow Kakwa in Nakuru. Godwin Pojulu was a tailor for an Indian family: the Khans. Idi speaks his language badly; he spoke better in Luo and Acholi and Kiswahili, army languages. But when he was six or seven his mother had taken him to Yei town in Sudan – and he had fallen in love with the mango-lined avenues; and the gentle character of his people. Children were generally a nuisance in the colonial Labour Lines of Arua; in his maternal grandfather’s home, just off Maridi road, five miles from Yei was heaven. He was free to run and play as far as he wanted. Adults would swell to accommodate him – he would eat in the homes of strangers. His grandfather had told him the history of the Pojulu, his clan:

Generations ago, Jubek was posted to a place that came to be known as Juba town. Godwin tells me Jubek does not deserve this privilege. He was a coward, he says. He was reluctant to fight the Dinka, and keep them out of their territory.

The Bari army was divided into six groups. Each bore a secret code-name. The leaders of the group were determined by their abilities, or character. They would determine what action to take.

Eventually a group of frustrated soldiers took it upon themselves to defend Jubek from the North from the Dinka. Mundari was their codename. Mundari means “a hostile force that act without orders.

Paparrara are the descendants of Jubek. This name was shortened to Pari. This became Bari, some time after the arrival of the first Turko-Egyptians in 1820. The letter “P” does not occur in the Arab alphabet. Today, there are six groups of Bari peoples, named after the six groups of the Bari army: Kakwa, Pojulu, Kuku, Mundari, Nyangwara and Bari.

The people of Pisak are Pujulu, named after a great hero. Onyanyari was a leader of one of the six forces. A mild mannered man. Polite. An astute politician. Because of this skill, he was sent to the Zande kingdown in the North-West to try to persuade them to let the Kakwa to penetrate the area. His force was known as Pojulio, which means, Come My Friend. This group of Bari speakers is now called the Pojulu.

Godwin speaks to him about Sudan. About Inyanya 1 – the war. About old heroic days; about rumour and gossip coming from Yei town. Idi loved to hear the stories; would always ask Godwin to repeat stories he had memorized already. Idi has vowed to die in Yei. One day. They would eat soda and mandazi and talk till the sun started to set and Idi made his way to his room to do the ironing.

““““
The only person in the household who threatens Idi’s job is Vishal. Now he has gone. Since Vishal started to sprout whiskers he has been hostile to Idi. After reading Eldridge Cleaver, he took to calling Idi The Supermasculine Menial. He once asked his parents if they did not think that a man as animal as Idi would not one day attack them?
“You need to read VS Naipaul. He understands the black man.” Vishul said to his parents.

As crime has increased in Nakuru, Idi has become more indispensable. Two years ago he cornered three thugs, and beat them all up, and left with a knife-wound in his belly. The Shah’s are fearful – scared of the seething Dark out there. The presence of a tame Giant Dark is a consolation. Sometimes Idi thinks that Mzee Shah knows what he does with his wife every afternoon. But maybe he does not mind so long as it is secret. Mzee Shah is a man of peace – and Mrs. Gupta Shah has been less bullying, mellower, mewing even sometimes, since she and Idi started fucking.

He had caught her wailing one day in the living room, after Vishal had gone to Oxford. He had tried to slide backwards slowly out of the room; but she had leaped at him and grabbed him and wept on his shoulder, leaving long snail-trails of snot on his khaki shirt. Her mood had changed abruptly, and she attacked him: teeth and nails; her body so incoherent she had come by rubbing herself on his knee.

He likes to see the fear/desire in her eyes; the surprise at his gentleness; when she expects the thrust of a lion; of a legend about Black Men, related among giggles and whispers while samosas are being cooked and Gujarati Aunties are talking raunchy. He likes to ask her questions: see her eyes answer, Yes. You are a man.
He does not mind being a HouseBoy.
He is happy.

(c) Binyavanga Wainaina
thebinj@yahoo.com

Super Mum: The London Years

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Read on for more on the ‘brain drain’ and the peerless mama mbugua…and then go to this link for another story on her.

Nursing a problem

Salil Tripathi

Tuesday August 9, 2005

Guardian Unlimited

Charity Kirigo worked long hours as a nurse at the national hospital in Kenya, finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet.
A mother of three, she did not see a bright future for her children if she stayed in Kenya – so she applied to the NHS, which was looking for nurses.

“Salaries in Kenya were very little,” she said. “Everyone had to have some side business – selling cotton wool, cooking, doing some other work at home – and it was very difficult to make a living. I had to take action.”

Ms Kirigo came to England in 1995, just as staff shortages were beginning to hit the NHS. Between 1990 and 1997, the number of people coming into the nursing profession in Britain fell from 18,980 to just over 12,000.

Nurses recruited from abroad accounted for 26% of the 16,000 nurses registered in 1997, and five years later that figure had grown to 43% of the registered total of 37,000.

Many came from the Philippines, South Africa and India. Even though the number of African nurses was relatively small, it nevertheless represented a large proportion of the health workers in their countries.

Life wasn’t easy for Ms Kirigo when she came to Britain, but she had access to a superior infrastructure and modern techniques.

She had to endure some humiliation from patients, who questioned her competence because she had come from Africa, but she saved enough money to send her children to university and to buy property in both the UK and Kenya.

Last year, Ms Kirigo moved back to Kenya. “I had a target to help my children get a good education,” she said. “Once I knew they could stand on their own, I decided to go back.”

Now in Nairobi, she is working to raise £437,000 to set up a telephone-based counselling service, HIV Helpline, to offer advice to families living with HIV, and plans to recruit 20 workers.

Her story humanises the debate about healthcare professionals in Britain. It shows what is happening at the micro level at a time when the macro outlook appears so dismal.

Nevertheless, organisations such as Save the Children are critical of the influx of nurses from developing countries.

“Many African countries have limited funds available for health,” Mike Aaronson, the charity’s director general, said. “Vulnerable children suffer disproportionately when these services are failing. It is shameful that many poor countries are spending millions of pounds training nurses and doctors to prop up the NHS.”

The crisis is acute – around 36 African countries do not meet targets of one doctor per 5,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation.

Even in non-conflict affected countries such as Zambia and Ghana, there is only one doctor per more than 10,000 people, while disparities are evident within a country such as Kenya. In Nairobi, there is one doctor for 500 people, but in Turkana district the ratio is 1:160,000.

Aware of the criticism, the NHS has adapted a code of practice that bans it from actively recruiting staff from developing countries. But it needs workers – and thousands of people living in poor countries want to work in a better environment.

It is true that Africa’s health sector needs more resources, but those resources will not become available by preventing skilled workers such as Ms Kirigo from coming to Britain.

What’s often left unsaid in this debate is the role of emigrating British nurses. That poses the moral dilemma that if a UK-trained nurse is free to leave for the US, Canada, or Ireland (the three most desired destinations) – and even beyond, to the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand – why shouldn’t Ms Kirigo and her compatriots come to Britain?

There has been a remarkable increase in the number of British nurses moving overseas. More than 2,000 left for the US last year, a quarter of the 8,000 who left the country overall. In 1997, the number of nurses who went overseas was half that.

Overseas recruitment is not the only reason African health workers leave their home countries. For many, there are simply no available jobs.

“When I was studying in Kenya, we were absorbed automatically,” Ms Kirigo said. “Now there are more nurses than the country needs or can pay for. If all the Kenyan nurses who work in the UK were to return to Kenya, there won’t be enough jobs for them … I am not betraying my country.”

Forcing people to stay at home will not work. As Kwadwo Mensah, Maureen Mackintosh and Leroi Henry write in The Skills Drain of Health Professionals from the Developing World, a paper published by the UK charity Med-Act: “Coercive measures to prevent departure work poorly; worse, they can intensify pressures to leave.”

There are inequities in this dilemma, but remittances partly mitigate the situation. According to the World Bank, migrant workers send more than $90bn (£44.7bn) to their home countries, the second-largest source of funds for poor countries after foreign direct investment. It is a significantly higher amount of money than that provided by development aid.

Health charities acknowledge the power of remittances, but remain critical because such flows go direct to families and do not replenish the loss suffered by the state in providing the subsidy in the first place.

With that in mind, the economist Jagdish Bhagwati, of Columbia University in the US, says states should tax their citizens who work and live abroad – something the US already does.

Several charities have argued that the UK should provide financial restitution and fresh development aid to Africa so that it can bolster its health sector. However, developing a grand plan would take time.

That is why individuals such as Ms Kirigo are so important. Granted, all emigrant health workers may not return home, but their remittances lift their families out of poverty.

What can be done about the skills gap? “Skilled Africans are going to emigrate. I would propose a Grey Peace Corps, where our ageing and early-retired skilled professionals can be tapped for two and three-year stints to work in Africa,” Dr Bhagwati said.

“While Africans, whom we must train in vastly increased numbers at our universities, will work here, our people must work in Africa until the need for skills can be met meaningfully.”

• Salil Tripathi is a London-based writer who specialises in Asian and international economic affairs. The article can be found here.

SocietyGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Gannibal: the Moor of St. Petersburg

On the right is Ibrahim Abram Petrovich Gannibal flanked by his great grandson, Aleksandr Pushkin.
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The extraordinary Gannibal was the African great-grandfather of Aleksandr Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet, who spoke proudly of his own inherited “blackamoor profile”. Read a review of Hugh Barnes’ extraordinary biography about this Chadian who changed the face of Russian history.

Nairobi Woman Made a Slave, Police Investigator Says

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By Jim Mbugua
For the Daily Nation

(See end of post for more information)

A Nairobi doctor and her husband are under investigation for making a woman a domestic slave in their household, the police said in court papers.

The victim worked 15-hour days six days a week, was locked in the Golf Course residence performed nearly all the domestic chores and was only allowed limited contact with guests to the home.

No charges have been filed.

Both the police and the prosecutor’s office in Nairobi declined to comment beyond what was in the public affidavit for a search warrant filed earlier this month in Kibera District Court.

The couple could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

According to police constable John Twende, the victim’s story started in Ogembo, Kisii where she supported her three daughters by working as a caregiver for the doctor’s mother.

In early 2003, she was asked if she would consider moving to Nairobi to work for the Osogo family.

The woman agreed, hoping to raise enough money to send her daughters to school and provide better housing for them, according to the court documents.

The Osogos agreed to pay her Kshs 2500 ($33) a month, take care of all basic living expenses and buy uniforms and books for her three daughters who attend a government school in Ogembo town.

They also said they expected her to care for the couple’s young son during daytime hours, the court papers said.

The Osogos arranged for the victim to accompany the doctor’s mother on a trip to Nairobi. The mother stayed for six weeks while receiving medical treatment.

Soon after the victim’s arrival, she told police investigators, she learned that the doctor did not intend to fulfil promises made as terms of employment. The doctor was pregnant, and the victim said she was told she would also have to care for the baby after it was born.

She told investigators she was expected to do all the domestic housework and cooking, and was given explicit directions on how to perform each task.

Her workday began at 6 a.m. and ended about 9 p.m., she said, according to court papers.

Although she had Sundays off, she was still expected to prepare meals ahead of time for the family. The salary was inconsistent, ranging between Kshs 500 and Kshs 1200 a month, she said.

The couple told her that if she refused to comply, she would be forced to leave their residence, arrested by local policemen friendly to the Osogos and returned to Ogembo without a job, documents said. “None of the terms of the employment … (was) honoured.”

She was socially isolated, the papers said, and told not to socialize, and that she could be fired for visiting friends.

On Sundays, she sometimes went to church with the couple, and was introduced to a man at church who agreed to act as a mediator to negotiate for better working conditions.

In September 2004, the negotiator wrote the couple a letter, saying he was concerned about the victim’s employment status.

The couple told the victim “to pack her belongings and directed her to leave their residence immediately,” court papers said. She was given an envelope with $3500 cash and a one-way bus ticket to Ogembo.

The woman called the mediator, worried that the Osogos might try and get her arrested by their friends and not knowing where to turn for the remainder of the money they owed her…

The story above is actually about a Kenyan woman who was cruelly and illegally exploited by her middle class employers in Washington State (United States). The Herald reported on the FBI’s investigations into her ‘enslavement’ and I was struck by how exactly the circumstances matched those of my recent post on the Nairobi housemaid. The post and the story are exactly alike except that I have replaced American references with Kenyan ones. Though housemaids are often treated much worse than this in Kenya, there are no investigations into the problem by the police or the media.

The Slavery in Our Midst: The Nairobi House Maid

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There is much I could say about modern-day slavery in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan. But let me instead turn to the dirty little secret that so many of us Kenyans know but maintain a studied silence about. Yes, I am talking about the lot of the ‘mboch’, the housie, the maid, in good old Nairobi. It is common knowledge that many housemaids in genteel middle class Nairobi are never paid a wage; it is their parents, or ‘auntie’ who receives the pittance that they are owed every month. Anyone who has lived or visited the city for any length of time also knows that it is not uncommon to have ten-year olds doing the washing, cleaning and cooking for an entire family while enduring a steady diet of slaps and kicks. And I do not exaggerate when I point to the high frequency of maid rape in many households. If you ask your typical Nairobi ‘babi’ or middle class boy what his first sexual encounter was, he will spin a tall tale about the ‘older girl who lived just up the road’. Wrong. The first encounter, and the second and the third, is more often than not with the maid. She is shared among the boys in the house, their friends in the neighbourhood sometimes and very often the man of the house who after dropping off the kids and wife to school in the mornings, will sneak back for a quick one. This sexual access is usually procured forcefully with the implicit threat that for the maid to resist will result in instant dismissal. Here’s a little clue for HIV/AIDS health workers who decry the transmission of the disease from philandering husband to wife: it is the maid who is at the centre of a domestic sexual web that runs through the sons and their father, not to mention any other lovers she may take. This is of course not to blame her, it is to recognise that the helplessness that attends many maids – relentlessly mistreated, isolated from friends and family, and economically disempowered – exposes them to the malign actions of a class of people whose upward aspiration is often marked with a immense contempt for their ‘inferiors’. What dirty little secrets I am airing, and it is the most delicious post I have written in a while. When I have levelled contempt at the babi – a category that I unfortunately fall into though in traitorous fashion – I have only spoken about the public arena. But it is in the home that the moral contracts that underlie Kenyan life can be seen most clearly. Observe and recognise the pervasive violence, the disregard for the rights of the individual and the abiding conviction that might makes right. It is the oppressions in our homes that have made it impossible for us to consistently and successfully fight the oppressions of the dictators who have sat at State House or the injustices of the state. We moan and groan about the burdens of colonialism when right in our homes, or those of our friends, we have a cosy little ‘memsahib and bwana mkubwa’ system on the go.

To extend this washing of Kenya’s dirty laundry in public where it belongs, here is a chat room exchange on this issue. I will share just a few of the disgusting entries:

“nani hapa ashaimanga mboch wao cause it was so sweet mpaka even though i lost my uvirgo to her.” (who here has eaten (had sex with) a maid cause it was so sweet even though I lost my virginity to her)

“Am sure the rest of the people who did what you did aren’t as proud…how did u even start…yaani how did u even get hard in the first place….mboch….have integrity bana.Ama u can’t vibe a gal? Sweetie hebu mweleze huyu ndugu asiwe kama dude…”

“Lets cut to the chase people…how many here have done their mboches? (pop, is that ur hand i see raising?)”

“hehehehe…i think it is sweety! i think it is!”

Yes, it’s True, There are Slaves in Niger…

So here we have it. The latest call for food aid to an African country is by Niger, which coming under the usual media spotlight has been revealed to be a country in which human bondage is alive and well. Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human group, reckons that there are 43,000 slaves in Niger. These slaves, even when freed, are part of a stigmatized and legally unprotected class to the extent that their former masters or parents’ masters have often laid claim to their property.

Just two years ago, in 2003, Niger amended outlawed slavery, ruling it a crime punishable with up to 30 years in prison. The Economist reports that a chieftain in western Niger, faced with this jail term, offered to free 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony. But the government in the week leading to the March 5th event feared that such a large release of slaves would draw international attention to the filthy trade’s existence in Niger. It declared that slavery does not exist in Niger and the ceremony was cancelled.

The problem gets worse when you consider that slavery also exists in Chad, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania. Woe to those who believe that this trade is at an end as I had for many years. Most of us associate slavery with the transatlantic trade that fed the plantations of the Americas and ended in the 19th century. If only it were so. Slaves still exist and many never left on a ship but were enslaved in Africa.

Of course I need not announce the moral vacuum that exists among us provided there are still people in chains, owned as property by others. I need not ponder why a country such as Niger is suffering famine when it has in its midst such an abundance of evil that has been translated into an economy that is the second poorest on the planet. Surely, in a world whose wealth and security has been enjoyed by those countries with the greatest protection of the individual’s rights, it is not strange that a slaveholding nation should turn to the world to feed and clothe it.

This issue depresses and infuriates me. What am I to do? Where are the Edmund Dene Morels of our time, the African versions especially? We have a Kenyan Nobel Prize winner running around decrying the cutting down of trees; an AU that says that Africa is ready to manage her own problems (with Western cash of course); billions of dollars in aid; Commissions for Africa; rock star concerts to Make Poverty History; a massive evangelical movement that announces to all and sundry that it is proof of a moral awakening; and yet here is slavery alive and well among us.

“For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!”

I just had to put up this interview of my good friend James Shikwati (Director of the Inter Region Economic Network – IREN) who was being interviewed by Der Spiegel on German aid to Kenya. It is not very different from the stuff that has been on these pages often in the past, but I loved it for James’ outraged and uncompromising tone. Click here to go to the interview.

The History of Kissing

Of course you’ve been kissing and in so many ways too if you think of it for a moment. You have shared kisses of veneration; of peace; perhaps conferred them on religious images, relics or idols; and maybe been ‘lucky’ enough to kiss the Pope’s foot or bestowed one by your superior. It may well have come during your college graduation as you were handed your degree; perhaps from your lover; or it may have been the lustful and adulterous kiss that one wishes they shared with their lover; or the one exchanged by couples sealing their marriage vows. It could even have been the kiss of reconciliation; the contagious kiss; or even the kiss of a Judas. Keith Thomas goes exploring this exchange of saliva, dirt and intimacy.

Are the Lovers of Harry Potter Narcissists?

This is the question that Spengler asks in an Asian Times review of the latest Harry Potter installment – Half Blood Prince (which incidentally I hope you buy using the link to Amazon on this page…)

Spengler has this to say to those such as myself who love the Harry Potter series:

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but complacency is the secret attraction of J K Rowling’s magical world. It lets the reader imagine that he is something different, while remaining just what he is. Harry (like young Skywalker) draws his superhuman powers out of the well of his “inner feelings”. In this respect Rowling has much in common with the legion of self-help writers who advise the anxious denizens of the West. She also has much in common with writers of pop spirituality, who promise the reader the secret of inner discovery in a few easy lessons.”

Read on the for rest of this fascinating review: Spengler

Africans and the European Soul

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Are the Formerly Colonised Set To Colonise Their Colonisers?
(A speculation)

It has come to my delighted attention that African churches are increasingly sending missionaries to the United Kingdom. And that the declining number of British volunteers joining the Catholic priesthood – in Wales for instance – has meant that African priests are increasingly taking over rural parishes. This crisis of belief, if it can be so termed, is so pervasive that churches are closing daily which means that the trend of an Africanised priesthood is only likely to grow. In the cities, London being a fine example, African Protestant and charismatic churches are also growing apace, seeking to emulate their counterparts on the continent.

We are entering an era when the welfare of the European soul shall be in the hands of the African. Europe has always had a peculiar need for Africa as a guiding light to its self awareness. The two, African and European, in the latter’s mind at least, have occupied opposed sides of a binary divide for the last couple of hundred years: black vs. white; stupid as opposed to intelligent; savage vs. civilised; backward vs. forward; lazy vs. industrious…

That Europe has become more secular is public knowledge, as is the rise of state power at the expense of the church. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently argued that ‘christianity is close to being vanquished’ and has little influence on government or the public here.

One of the founding ideas of colonialism, and slavery before it, was the state of the soul: Africans were supposed to have none while Europeans were blessed with a hefty, healthy one. But this duality has been turned on its head. No sooner had some wise men in the late nineteenth century concluded that the African indeed did have a soul – a donor driven plot if there was ever one – that Europeans started denying the existence of theirs. As always, our opposed positions had to be maintained.

With its back to the wall, the Catholic Church is now speaking of the need to re-evangelise the West. A meeting of over 100 bishops in 2004, sponsored by the Vatican, discussed a strategy of clergy exchanges to address the crisis. Africans having plentiful manpower in their rapidly growing churches would fill the gap in Europe while small numbers of European clergy provision Africa with their greater pastoral experience. This of course merely represents the last gasp of a European church that is suffering from a colonial hangover and that imagines itself to be the center. The re-evangelising of the West shall not come under its auspices.

The Africans who shall increasingly take up pastoral duties here will be off-shoots of their home churches. They shall reflect a conservatism and syncretism that shall be unlike anything else the European Christian has ever encountered. Gone will be the sleepy little churches that dot the countryside and welcome to the drive to create super churches that lay claim to large areas of their parishioners’ lives. The Nigerian priest in Wales will look toward the African Diaspora in the cities first and then to Nigeria for inspiration of how to conduct his pastoral duties. The local church, low on morale, and the state secularised to the point of ignoring the Christian church as a possible source of opposition (all state eyes will be on the mosque), will offer no counter balance to the most potent African presence there has ever been in Europe. The African evangelist – many who are now being funded by congregations in Africa – will be here to lay claim to the European soul.

Let me try and extend this wild speculation.

Europeans have steadily transformed their institutions into rational-bureaucratic models that are far less reliant on charismatic power than they used to be. The church which historically laid claim to bureaucratic power on the basis of its hold of the charismatic-transcendental realm has seen the both these positions undermined fundamentally. The African church, on the other hand, whether Catholic or Protestant, is only in the early stages of its rise: its claims to domination of the charismatic-transcendental or the soul are unlimited and are supported by more people every year. Soon I suspect its boundaries will begin to bump up against those of the African state which being weak and lacking strong ideological or moral foundations shall be absorbed ever more into it. The church’s innate drive to expand, under the banner of evangelisation, will have a huge impact on Europe. The entry of African priests, immigrants and missionaries will be lead to their domination of the terms under which the soul and its salvation can be approached by individual Christians. No longer will the division between church and state be automatically assumed; no longer will the European state have a beaten and pliant church to co-exist with. It will be dealing with a dominant, dominating force.

Since this is an out-there speculation, surely there is no harm in extending it slightly.

Let us for a minute assume that the increasing pilgrimages by European Christians to churches in Africa is the leading trend of an amazing rebound in the European public’s desire for spiritual nourishment (just look at Madonna and Kabbalah, and the energy of the American southern Baptists). If this happens, as the African church grows in Europe, the binary nature of the two groups shall once again be on show. You will see on one hand an African led soul-revival that shall in effect be the anti-power to the bureaucratic-rational forms of European state power. It shall be power vs. anti-power; state vs. church; and utility vs. transcendence.

The image of Africa in Europe, as a place of darkness, has always relied on more than the image of death and suffering that has been such a large part of its historical experience. This image in the European imagination has been attributed to the African lacking a soul or possessing a perverted one. Now, the growth of the African church in the vacuum left by its European counterpart will overturn this idea of darkness. Africa’s problems, increasingly part of the European public’s ‘we can help and its not fair’ posture, will, in combination with the upsurge in the fortunes of the church, take on a kind of holy aspect.

Meanwhile, Europe’s secularism and tortured anti-materialist, you-can-believe-and-do-anything rhetoric has the effect of consigning it to spiritual darkness or nihilism. And at least one bridge to the light shall be provided by Africans and their churches. From the historical position of Europeans using African misery and ‘savagery’ as a measure of their affluence and ‘civilisation’, we shall move to a Europe whose definition of its fallen soul is reliant ona comparison to Africa’s enlightened one.

Though this will not necessarily mean that the tangible forms of Europe’s state power will be African or answer to Africa’s political institutions, it will nevertheless be a colonisation of the European in that part of the contest that has always mattered the most between this ying and yang relationship: the soul.

That brings this speculation to an end. I enjoyed it seeing as I was procrastinating all afternoon and had no ready access to other entertainments.

Dr. MMK or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the PhD

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I have slept only about three hours in the last few days as I struggle to finish a chapter of my so-called doctorate. Being the master procrastinator that I am, I have spent a substantial amount of this time on this very blog as I am doing now … sigh.

I can now announce to all and sundry that I hate my thesis. It is the most loathsome, evil and uncooperative little shit that has ever existed. I have been in a book filled, stuffy room all weekend swearing to it that it better behave or I shall refuse to cooperate should it ever want to be published. Bugger!

I just do not see how I can actually produce 55,000 more words. I keep checking the word counter every two minutes only to find that what I have already written is shrinking as I edit. Oh, the woe of it all. Now what am I to do? Where shall I find nice, thick footnotes?

Then there is this little issue of needing to be original. When I first started this torture it sounded grand; like the type of thing that I had been wishing to do throughout my school life. Well that is all in the past now. The demand for scholarly originality is one of the most fiendish S&M rituals ever invented. How was I to realise that other than exercises in word play that no one cared for and the claim to slivers of meaningless intellectual territory, there is actually very little that the average doctoral student produces? My friends were all in on the joke and I can see their cute little faces sniggering away. “Kima, you belong in grad school” they said in serious we-love-you tones. And I ate it all up, all of it, every single morsel. But I’m not angry, I shall get even by encouraging every unsuspecting sucker I know to sign up for a doctoral programme and then I will seat back and laugh my head off. Hahahahahahahahahaha…

I gave up a good income, free weekends, and vacations for this. How is that for having my head up my a#$^? Well, let me get back to it now. If I never blog again, just know that it is because I have made a solemn pledge to never write another word or read another book. I shall then have become what I now regard as the most blissfully happy creature on earth: illiterate, apathetic, materialistic and suffering from attention-deficit disorder brought on by the sheer amounts of TV and Hollywood films consumed.

Tonight I sleep. Tomorrow, being the great self deluder, I shall no doubt rise with the normal megalomania that has me winning the Nobel by 45 and getting offered dozens of prestigious chairs in philosophy the moment I am done with this chapter.

The Escalation of the Will: Western Power in an Age of Symbols

Since September 11 2001, the March 2004 Madrid bombings and last week’s attacks in London, the West, led by America, has been in a war of wills. It little understands the nature of this war but has waged it fiercely with unparalleled military and economic might. The opponents, the remnants of al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups understand that they cannot parry the physical means of the US and have instead opted for a symbolic showdown. America and the West are losing this war.

The more they draw on superpower means, in the material sense, the faster their fortunes will decline. Two centuries after Carl von Clausewitz warned of the escalatory nature of war, which inexorably leads to the total employment of all resources to striking an enemy, Western military and political leaders still regard this escalation as mostly physical.

However, this is not so when battling terrorists driven by ideas that they believe are transcendent and rooted in the moral domain. For such an enemy, escalation is a matter of the will and the resulting violence is largely symbolic despite its human costs. The aim is not to ‘win’ in the traditional military sense, but rather to display that the material and secular responses of the West are inadequate when arrayed against the moral will. This is why the suicide bomber – of whom there might have been some in London on 7/7 – is such a potent symbol for his aim is to draw a direct comparison to the F-16 and the B2 bomber.

Westerners regard their political communities to be the most morally upright on the planet. Terrorist attacks have the consequence, and perhaps intention, of drawing a response that clashes with this self image. In the many wars that America has fought in the last century, its defeats have come when there has been a sustained collision between its ideals and its actions. This is why Guantanamo Bay and the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib buoy the terrorists since they read like the signposts to defeat.

In the twentieth century, the moral space in war steadily increased in importance; losing legitimacy at home or abroad now hastens defeat. Reports from Iraq – of Abu Ghraib, civilians killed at roadblocks or the common video shot of the grieving mother – directly bear on the battle to possess this moral space. U.S. soldiers acting as many invaders have throughout history have nevertheless revealed in powerful symbolic terms the tension between America’s rhetoric and its actions.

The contradiction has sapped American will in the sense of lowered civilian support for the occupation and revealed the vulnerability of its self image to the real world costs of superpower. The beheadings of westerners, 9/11 and the London attacks bear a simple message: with only blades and belief, the world of the powerful can be unmade. It is strange that America, a country noted for its mass export of movies about rich, high-tech bad guys with a penchant for hypocrisy always defeated by the under-resourced everyman, finds the connection between symbols and real world outcomes so difficult to grasp. By ceding the political direction of the war to the Pentagon, the U.S. is now acting like the bad guy who lovingly strokes an irresistible weapon even as the imprisoned hero is dreaming up an unlikely reversal involving a wooden stake and a huge dose of faith.

War is produced and sustained by a trinity of forces that exist in a state of constant interaction: the heart, the hand and the mind. These are present not only in the individual soldier, but also in society as a whole. The heart represents the passions of the civilian populace, the feelings of hostility and antagonistic intention. The hand is used to physically eliminate the enemy’s forces, it symbolizes the military. The mind stands for reason, which Clausewitz argued governs all war since to take the field according to his famous dictum was to pursue politics by other means. The U.S. needs to carefully consider the balance between these forces since its opponents’ trinity is balanced in an entirely different fashion.

George Bush’s forces are supremely prepared to use the hand – witness the array of high-tech weapons and the administration’s huge increase of the military budget. But it is in the heart, that this effort will be won or lost. Those who attacked London, like the 9/11 bombers, understand that they cannot mount a ladder of escalation based on the means of the hand. The escalatory logic they are engaged in is based on symbolically demonstrating their greater will to prevail, and the West’s moral vacuity. The real war then is not of Western soldiers versus terrorists, it is between the heart and the hand or between symbol and object.

So what is the state of America’s heart? For too long, America’s conduct has deviated from its ideas about itself: ‘we are good, non-imperial folk who everyone wants to emulate’ goes a common refrain. When the realpolitik policies of a Kissinger are considered, it has made for a nation sometimes profoundly at odds with itself; with dishonesty at its heart. It is this dishonesty that is the terrorist’s greatest weapon. It allows even those who do not support terrorists to say “the chicken has come home to roost.” Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo strike Americans as un-American while the rest of the world, observing the action and reaction, sees a bully’s hypocrisy.

The way forward need be rooted in a vigorous self honesty and not in the blinkered approach that so many politicians believe Americans need. When it comes to civil liberties for example, the Bush administration must be honest enough to admit that living in an open society means terrorists will manage to periodically carry out successful strikes. Most people are prepared to take this risk rather than live in the security provided by authoritarian government. Soldiers who are found guilty of abuses in Iraq and elsewhere must be prosecuted fully and the chain of responsibility pursued to its ends no matter how high up it travels. Lies and self deception never made for a lion’s heart, which America needs for this fight.

For America to out-escalate the terrorists in this war of the wills, a clear sense of right is needed. And for that to be reached, an abiding notion of wrong must also be determined. Not only the wrongs of others but, just as importantly, those of the United States itself. By admitting mistakes in the War Against Terror and refusing to lie in bed with dictators, America’s moral purpose shall be clarified and strengthened. Then it will be left to the hand, the military, supported by a population whose will is strengthened, to hunt down the terrorists who using only box cutters challenged America’s honesty.

© MMK

Gordon Brown Announces 25.5% of UK Budget To Be Spent On African Aid

(Report from the Reuters Wire Service)

Gordon Brown, Britain’s famously ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer, yesterday announced that aid flows to Africa will be raised from 0.47% of the UK national budget to a whopping 25.5%. This will be effective immediately. Speaking at the Make Poverty Campaign Rally in Trafalgar Square, Brown emotionally announced that for too long Africans have suffered from the injustice of poverty and that a civilised world could not just stand by and do nothing.

“Africans must each have a bowl of maize meal everyday, schools to teach sustainable skills like brick making and condoms in case they feel like a little sex in the afternoon given that jobs are hard to come by and entertainment much in demand,” Brown thundered.

Looking back on the continent’s fifty years of independence, Brown expressed outrage at the poor record of governance that had destroyed so much hope after all the good work that the British had put into places such as Kenya.

“We did a real job helping them deal with terrorists, just like we are trying in Iraq right now,” he said. “In fact we killed more than a 100,000 of them, maimed and tortured scores more and suspended legal protections for another three million … this was the kind of responsible government that was demanded at the time and by jove we supplied it” he added.

Brown lamented the kind of weak-kneed government that the Kenyans presently have, promising that he will leave no stone unturned to help arm the Kenyan army so that it could pursue its disarmament campaign in the northern districts with more effect. “Just look at the job our General Erskine did on those bloody savages” thundered the chancellor.

In attendance was Kenya’s slightly befuddled Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, who nevertheless applauded enthusiastically. He reminded Brown that even though the rains had come this year and there was plenty of food, there was a possibility that they would fail in 2006 meaning that more food aid was needed now. He also lamented the British government’s inefficient delivery of sexual health aids to Kenyans: “How am I supposed to utilise my right to sleep with my wife without getting her pregnant if you do not deliver those condoms?”

Brown was apoplectic with rage that the African right to having safe sex was being betrayed by a callous, consumption obsessed and racist western society. He assured the minister that condoms would be had by all as would all the food, roads, schools, social halls, sports stadiums and clothes required by the deserving poor of Africa.

Launch of Kwani? III – The Funkiest Literary Journal This Side of Heaven

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On Thursday 14th July, Kwani? III was launched at the Carnivore’s Simba Salon. It is available for sale online, in Nairobi and assorted bookstores abroad. I think that it is the most exciting and innovative literary journal anywhere in the world. But I must admit to some bias since my piece – Blood & 100% Human Hair – is in this issue. In any case, visit the Kwani? site and take a look at some excerpts so that you can make up your own mind. If you know of a bookstore in your area that would like to carry some for sale, please write to me or use the address on the Kwani site.

Africa Needs More Millionares – Not AID Workers

Africans should get off the AID band wagon.

What we need is for Africans leaving school to make profits. We don’t need more NON-Profit organisations!

Imagine how crazy it is for poor nations to have almost everyone getting educated rubbing their hands in excitement at the prospect of spending their lives doing NON-Profit work, when in all rich economies, people clamour to get into business for PROFIT, INNOVATION and ENTERPRISE.

They frantically look for goods or services that people might need, and fight for venture capital financing by proving that their idea will use the least money and produce the most profit!

We on the other hand have such gaping holes in our markets for all sorts of goods and services and yet the NOT-for -Profit route is what appeals to many of us. Call it intellectual sloth, or perhaps it is just being rational to choose the perks of NGO employment. But if the primary unit of economic activity and growth is individual economic growth, then we need as many people making profits (i.e. trying to find the most efficient way of spending our country’s savings to create more wealth) for our economy to grow.

We have to reject AID and encourage entrepreneurship and provide incentives for business in our countries.

In non-profit work and in government ventures the measure of success is how much money has been spent on a project (you often hear politicians bragging about the size of the project in terms of spending as they doll out taxpayers’ money – it is never their personal money).

On the other hand, the measure of success in a for-profit venture is invariably the size of the difference between what was made and what was spent, and the expectations of future profits when people buy company shares. The aspiration is to increase efficiency, find better ways to do things – faster, easier, cheaper – so that customers remain dedicated to their products. (There are benefits for everyone: owner, employees and customers)

We need to regard our problems as profit making opportunities rather than angles with which to beg from the West. That means getting off the paternalism of Western charity so that we can own and solve our problems.

Martin Luther King and Hope

I have just watched a BBC program called ‘Days That Shook the World’ which today explored the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Whenever I have encountered MLK in the media, I have always come away newly struck by his power and the hope that he faced the world with. I was not born when he was killed, and am far too prone to indulge in a kind of cynical politics that never survives a single sentence he uttered. I went looking for what I think was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, which was made the night before he was murdered by James Earl Ray. Listening to it, I am left to wonder about what place hope has the collective of individuals and communities that are Kenya. It makes me ponder what social spaces we own that allow us to create transcendent communities in the sense that they can exist in a spirit of fairness and justice despite all the obstacles in our paths. It is quite soppy to write in this fashion but as always, after listening to MLK I felt deeply the suffering and hope that attended black people in their awful march through American history. It gave me a sense of the scale of the revolutionary triumph that the Civil Rights Movement represented. And the extent to which in those years – and perhaps even in these – black people became a community made holy by its being larger than the sum of its oppressions and disadvantages. If only I could dare hope that Kenya too is marching in similar fashion through its dark days but toward brightness and with hope a constant companion. I suspect this is the case or at the very least I pray it is.

Listen to Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

The Indian Shopkeeper

This morning, I went to my local corner store here in London which is run by a family of Indian immigrants. Since it closes at 2pm every Sunday, I asked whether it was because of some government regulation. ‘No’, came the answer,’ I work everyday of the week and take Sunday afternoons off to relax’. He has been following the same routine for the past 15 years he added. Other than being awed at the level of commitment and persistence this implied, I was struck by the fact that most of the shop’s clients live in a large council estate nearby. I asked what he thought of working so hard to serve people who in the main do not work and are taken care of by the state. His answer was very brief and all the more profound because of it: ‘People here have been destroyed, there are druggies in here all the time shouting and abusing me. But we just ignore them, agree with them and continue working’. That is the difference between people owning themselves and building their lives on that understanding and those who are owned by the state.

Andrew Mwenda on the Impact of Foreign Aid on Uganda

I recently watched a documentary on the BBC by Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan radio journalist and Museveni opponent, which analysed Uganda’s relationship with aid. Uganda has been presented as an aid success story by donors and its government, and has even had its debt cancelled in the past. Half of its budget comes from foreign aid and President Museveni was famously announced by Thabo Mbeki and Bill Clinton to be part of an African renaissance in good governance. Read on for the reality…

Andrew Mwenda:

“I was excited when I heard that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had set up a commission to research solutions to the problems afflicting Africa – I felt it was an opportunity to breathe new ideas into the debate on Africa’s backwardness.

However I was disappointed.

After months of work they came up with the same old mantras: doubling aid, cancelling debt and reducing trade tariffs and subsidies.

They’re ignoring reality. For the last 40 years, Africa’s been getting more, not less, aid – we’ve received more than $500bn. But we are getting poorer not richer.

Let me show you, through the experience of my homeland Uganda how these recommendations don’t – and won’t – work.

Donor support

Uganda is considered one of Africa’s economic success stories. Yet we rely on foreign aid for nearly half the country’s budget.

You would assume that Uganda cannot fund its own development. But that’s not the case.

The government has got money, but chooses to spend it on political patronage and its army. It doesn’t even collect the taxes it is owed.

Allen Kagina, the Commissioner General of Uganda’s tax authority, acknowledges that Uganda collects only a fraction of the tax it could.

Uganda was forgiven its debts… as a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure… and invaded Congo and Sudan

She does believe the URA could fund the national budget – it would be “difficult but it is achievable.” And she also said that Uganda should aim to reduce donor support.

But Tony Blair is talking of doubling aid to Africa. Yet some African economies are so small that the amount of aid they’re getting is already skewing the economy.

Foreign aid enriches politicians, bureaucrats and aid workers, whose consumption fuels inflation.

The Ugandan government is receiving so much foreign aid that the economy is unable to absorb it. Treasury bills have to be used to suck the money out of the system. As a result, the Central Bank is holding $700m in treasury bills, and the interest on that per annum is $120m – which is incurred by the tax payer.

All in all, a very expensive exercise.

Fair trade

Uganda’s Finance Minister Dr Ezra Suruma said the country does consider finding better ways of managing aid to be “very important”.

“The problem is what we do with it – whether we invest or consume it,” she added.

“We need to invest more in equipment, technology, infrastructure and so on. Aid must be properly used to increase our capacity to produce more income.”

And what of Blair’s other proposal, fair trade?

Changing tariffs and subsidies in Europe and the USA will not lift Africa’s business out of the doldrums.

Again, why don’t we learn our lesson? This has been tried already and hasn’t worked.
Under the Cotounou Agreement for preferential trade with Europe, for example, Uganda has a quota to export 50,000 metric tons of sugar to the European Union – duty free.

But it’s never been fulfilled. In fact, not even one kilogram of Ugandan sugar has been exported to the EU. We can’t even grow enough sugar in Uganda to satisfy the domestic market.

It’s the domestic environment that holds trade expansion back.

At Ugachick – which produces 400,000 chicks each month and produces meat which it sells both in Uganda and surrounding countries – managing director Aga Sekalala wants to expand – but he needs affordable credit, and with interest rates up to 18% this is not available.

Then there’s the physical infrastructure.

Last week someone stole the electric cable linking Ugachick to the grid. It took five days to fix it, and it only happened then because Ugachick provided the manpower to carry the poles.

“The infrastructure, the roads, power – all of this is our headache, when it should be the government’s,” he said.

Entrepreneurs like Aga should be the engines for creating wealth in Uganda.

If he expanded, so would his contributions to the revenue. He’s energetic and ready to move forward.

But there is no imperative for the government to help him. Any financial gap in the budget, and they only need to turn to the international donors to fill it.

Unsustainable debt

If only foreign aid could be shifted from lining corrupt politicians’ and bureaucrats’ pockets to developing private enterprise, then Africa would have hope.

And what of the third of the Blair Commission proposals – debt cancellation? Many people think that debt cancellation is a clear cut solution to Africa’s indebtedness.

But think again. Common sense tells you it’s wrong to reward bad economic behaviour.

My friend Ben Kavuya, a money lender here in Kampala, deals with bad debtors by taking their property, their collateral.

He believes if you forgive bad debts it teaches bad lessons, creating a culture of defaulting. That’s certainly exactly what happened with Uganda.

In 1998 Uganda was forgiven its debts through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

As a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure – increasing the size of Parliament – and invaded Congo and Sudan.

And not only that, it went on a renewed borrowing spree and today, seven years later, Uganda’s debt has more than doubled and now it is unsustainable.

Parliament is so foreign aid-dependent that even the chairs and desks are funded by Denmark.

And worse, with so much of our country’s budget in the hands of the foreign aid donors, the power of Ugandan voters to hold our government to account has been usurped by international creditors – precisely because he who pays the piper calls the tune.

In this way, foreign aid undermines democracy.

Foreign aid does not help the poor out of their misery – it exacerbates their problems and prolongs their agony.

Taxpayers in the west should not be asked to pay to keep corrupt and incompetent governments in power.”

Story from BBC NEWS

7/7/2005: London’s Terrorist Attacks

The city is at a virtual standstill and is eerily calm in light of the multiple bombings this morning. I was on the way into the city centre by bus when we were ordered to disembark and told that there had been an explosion on a similar double-decker bus and several on the underground.

Sirens have been wailing all day and the police presence is overwhelming. Word is that there have been at least 45 fatalities and hundreds more injured – this after the euphoria that gripped Londoners after yesterday’s new that the city had won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games. The sidewalks are littered with a slow moving crowd trying to get home on foot since there is no public transport available. Once in a while I am coming across a person sobbing but otherwise calm reigns.

I have the sense of a place with a very intact cultural memory of violence, whether from World War 2 or from the IRA campaigns I cannot tell. However, I sense that the public mood will become less calm tomorrow after the initial shock has worn off.

It is strange the effect politicised violence has on people. If this had been a particularly bad train or bus crash that left a similar number dead, the institutional reaction – whether by the media or the state – would be far more muted. But now there is the urgency of a political community attacked. Everyone here feels targeted. Everyone I have spoken to has commented about their distance from the bombing sites, the extent to which their daily routine might have exposed them to a violent death had they not done a little something differently at the last instant.

Violence creates a public intimacy, a coming together and those responsible for waging it draw an ire multiplied by its group character. Everyone I have spoken to, and I have spent much of the day chattering away, has been saddened by the loss of life and limb but I have also detected an unmistakable euphoria. This latter feeling is natural. It is the knowledge that you are in the middle of great events, no matter how terrible they are. An ordinary day had been made extraordinary by the violence of the bombs and their intention. For the day, you are not one individual in a featureless mass of millions, but rather a part of one heaving, injured, self conscious organism.

Having said all that, I am sad that ordinary folks had to die today. Whenever I think about the scale and importance of the lives of people I love, and then consider those who were killed today, I am forced to conclude that a single human life is far more important than the ideas and hatreds that lead to such violence.

Choking on Aid Money in Africa

I just had to share these two links:

Choking on Aid Money in Africa
By Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke
DER SPIEGEL 27/2005 – July 4, 2005
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html

Does aid work? Yes – for Britain
By Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1072-1675882,00.html

Handy Advice if You Are About to Apply For a Food Aid Job

A few years ago, I read Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity and it fundamentally changed my attitude to aid. The book should be required reading for every literate person and I highly recommend it. Peter Uvin’s Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda is just as important a read. Uvin demonstrates how NGOs and other aid organisations contributed to the strength and survival of a Rwandan regime that turned genocidal in 1994. Last, but certainly not least, is Graham Hancock’s Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business which is the classic in this small, but critical genre. Below is a speech by Michael Maren delivered to a group of Cornell University graduate students who were preparing to work in international development during the early 1990s.

The Food-Aid Racket

by Michael Maren

As you prepare for and look forward to careers in international development, I am compelled to issue a warning. With the hindsight of someone who spent five years in the development business, I’m going to tell you that the development industry hurts people in the developing world. Its greatest success has been to provide good jobs for Westerners with graduate degrees from institutions like this one. I don’t expect that any of you will take my advice and start looking for careers elsewhere. AndI’m in no position to criticize you for going ahead and working in development even after you hear me out. You see, I had a pretty wonderful career in the aid business. I can’t remember ever having more fun. In fact, I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to stop, even after I realized that our programs were hurting the very people they were supposed to help.

In 1980, when I was twenty-five years old, I was hired by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to administer food-for-work programs–programs that feed people in exchange for their work on local development projects–in Kenya. I was given a beautiful garden apartment in a nice neighborhood in Nairobi, a brand-new Land Cruiser, a great office, and almost a million dollars in a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) grant to oversee the programs. As I began the job, shiploads of U.S. government surplus rice were leaving a port in Texas and heading to Mombasa. Meanwhile, CRS notified the country’s parish priests and government officials that this rice was available. All they had to do to receive it was fill out a one-page application describing their proposed project and specifying the number of “recipients”–the number of the project’s workers who would receive sacks of rice in exchange for their labor. Thousands of applications were submitted.

I took some of the U.S. AID money and customized the Land Cruiser, adding extra-large fuel tanks and a really nice stereo system, and then I set off across Kenya to inspect the proposed projects. It was a dream come true. I was driving absolutely free across one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. I was so awestruck by my own good luck that sometimes I’d stop in the middle of a huge empty wilderness, or beside a herd of giraffes or elephants, and just yelp with delight.

I was having so much fun running around starting food-for-work projects–water projects, agriculture projects, forestry projects–that I completely overlooked the most obvious problem: I knew nothing about agriculture, forestry, road building, well digging, dam building, or any of the projects I was approving. But nobody seemed to care. Only once did anyone in authority at CRS ever go and look at a project. When I’d return to Nairobi every few weeks, my boss, who let me work completely unsupervised, had only one question: How many more recipients did you sign on? More recipients meant more government grant money, which meant we could buy more vehicles and hire more assistants.

When I slowed down for a moment to consider what was happening, it became clear: aid distribution is just another big, private business that relies on government contracts. Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) such as CRS are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers. The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts. Since the securing of grant money is the primary goal, PVOs rarely meet a development project they don’t like.

Of all the aid programs, those involving food delivery are especially prized by PVOs because they generate income, are easy to administer, and are warmly received by the public. Yet most food aid has little to do with need and everything to do with getting rid of surplus food. Kenya was not a country facing starvation when I worked there. Many of the projects I started were in the rich agricultural land of the central and western parts of the country. In fact, around the world, only about 10 percent of food aid is targeted at emergency situations. PVOs publicize situations such as the one in Somalia in order to raise money from the public, but most of their work is done in areas where there is plenty to eat, because there are simply not enough starving people to absorb all of our surplus food. Also, it’s easier to distribute large quantities of food in more developed areas.

Harmless as this might at first sound, sending food to areas where there is already food creates serious problems. It decreases demand for locally produced commodities, subsidizes the production of cash crops, and fosters dependence among those who receive the aid. Since PVOs can only operate with the approval of the host government, they typically end up supporting the government leaders’ political goals, rewarding the government’s friends, punishing its enemies, and providing fodder for a vast system of political patronage.

That’s exactly what happened in Somalia, where the government and the generals had been playing games with food aid for more than a decade before the Marines arrived. I was working for U.S. AID in Somalia in 1981, when we started pumping food into that country. It was clear to many of us, even then, that the program was working to prop up a corrupt dictator and turn nomads into relief junkies. Refugees poured over the borders and into camps, where they were fed day after day, year after year, by PVOs, while little effort was made to break their growing dependence. In 1987 a World Food Program report stated that Somalia had actually produced a surplus of food that year, yet PVOs continue to distribute free food and collect U.S. government money for administering the delivery. Inevitably, indigenous food-distribution networks withered and died. The country’s economy adapted to foreign aid–not to production. Meanwhile, the PVOs and corrupt government officials got fat and rich.

No one questions private voluntary organizations. Not the U.S. government, which needs to get rid of the food and wants to keep its aid bureaucracy functioning. Not the host government, whose officials often profit from the aid racket. Not the public, which sees aid workers as so many Mother Teresas. And not the press–especially not the press–which has, in recent years, become an integral part of the aid system.

The press’s role in that system is to convey to the West the PVOs’ view of Africa. And because the distribution of food aid is first and foremost a business, it is not surprising that the priorities of aid organizations dominate the West’s image of the continent–an image of helpless nations in need of our support.

This is not a new phenomenon. Aid workers are simply the latest in a series of recent western vanguards in Africa, each of whom put forward the image of Africa that best suited its own interests. The first Europeans to form a vanguard in Africa were the naturalists. Because of them, early European views of Africa emphasized the continent’s natural history. Later, as missionaries began to outnumber explorers, Europe began to see the continent through the eyes of those who were out to save its soul. And as Europe developed political and mercantile interests in Africa, merchants and traders were at the vanguard. At that time, Europeans were concerned with turning Africans into loyal subjects, workers, producers, and citizens of empires. No one really worried about feeding them.

Historically, the press has been willing to uncritically accept whatever image of Africa the western vanguard has been selling. In the case of the PVOs, the press has bought their line because reporters are as dependent on aid organizations as the organizations are on them. It would have been impossible, for example, for the press to cover Somalia without the assistance of PVOs. There’s no Hertz counter at the Mogadishu airport, and no road maps available at gas stations. If a journalist arrives in Africa from Europe or the United States and needs to get to the interior of the country, PVOs are the only ticket. journalists sleep and eat with PVO workers. When they want history and facts and figures, they turn to the PVOs. In press coverage of Somalia or almost any other crisis in Africa, it is always the PVOs who are most often quoted and are regarded as the neutral and authoritative sources–as if they have no vested interest in anything but the truth.

A typical example of the connection between journalism and the aid system is this analysis from a February 22, 1993, story about Africa in the New York Times:

The greatest danger now to Mozambique’s tranquillity, almost everyone agrees, is Mozambique’s tranquillity.

Lacking scenes of carnage and starvation to disturb Western television audiences, Mozambique is having trouble competing for attention with Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

The article goes on to quote numerous CARE officials whose primary concern is to raise more money to give more aid to Mozambique. The article never considers any alternatives to aid. No aid worker raises the possibility, for example, that Mozambique’s economy might improve if the country focused on exporting goods. No one mentions that in the absence of carnage, Mozambique might be a good place to invest. No one is talking about creating permanent employment for Africans. The only discussion is about raising more money to send experts there and preserve the jobs of expatriates and create more jobs for graduate students from programs like this one. The people who are called upon to diagnose and comment on Africa’s problems are the very people who stand to profit from the diagnoses.

I know that you don’t want to be part of this problem. You’ll tell me that you can change all of this, that you want to work within the bureaucracy to reform the bureaucracy. But in a couple of years you’re going to be in Ouagadougou or Gaborone making a very good salary. The years will pass and you’ll find yourself with two kids in an expensive private school in New England, and you’re going to have perfected skills that aren’t very useful outside of the Third World. You’re going to think about quitting, about raising hell, but you won’t be able to. Because by then you, too, will have become part of the never-ending cycle of aid.

Harper’s Magazine Foundation 1993
Harper’s Magazine
August, 1993


Go to http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html to read Choking on Aid Money in Africa by Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke in Der Spiegel.

The Ritualistic Cynicism of African Bullets & Honey Navel Gazers

There is a certain Anonymous who has been peppering the comments section with a wake-up-you-navel-gazers message. Below are his or her latest reactions to my cynical take on Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anonymous said…
You forgot to mention that all this was inspired by Jeffery Sachs’ report to the UN (he’s the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals)?

…but then it’s only generally accepted that he’s the world’s foremost expert on such things as poverty in Africa.

Of course you guys know better than him…

I’m sure he & Kofi Annan are really secretly planning to take over the world…

No more excuses…

Anonymous said…
While academic armchair revolutionaries like some on this thread try to out do each other on a new cynical take on the debt effort people are actually dying. Look closely and there is no difference between the politicians and their tired begging and the navel gazers ritualistic cynicism.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I am struggling to understand what you have against a little navel gazing or even being an armchair-bound academic – in fact I dare say that it is usually the best place for academics. But I do understand that you are moved by the urgency of the situation, “people are dying” and here I am dithering, questioning, doubting and opposing those like Jeffrey Sachs and Kofi Annan who daily express their concern and outline the latest plan to save Africa. The situation is urgent, but not for increased aid. The urgent task is for Africans to face their governments and demand the kind of leadership we need. The priority is for us to fight for rules of the game that allow us to create more wealth outside the purview of overly centralised governments that keep bulking up at the expense of the citizen due to the constant flow of aid monies into them. For me to argue that Kenya’s leaders – for instance – should stop begging is no excuse. It reflects my conviction that the present course amounts to a kill-me-slowly agenda. For the past few decades – not to even speak of the period since the late nineteenth century – matters have gotten steadily worse in many parts of the continent despite the relentless talk of aid and foreign salvation.

Even your helpful outlining of Jeffrey Sachs resume, meant I suppose to shut me up through the sheer weight of title and prestige, leaves me totally unshaken in my position. If anything it convinces me even more that our destiny left in his hands and of those like him will lead to nothing but more pain. Sachs is that self involved, spotlight seeking creature that Africa has had its fill of; the kind that one writer described as “revolutionaries with a return ticket home”. This is the messiah who ‘saved’ Bolivia, Poland and Russia and has now decided that he will do the same for Africa and the environment – even Jesus would have balked at the work rate. He represents a rent-seeking agenda: issuing from his mouth will always be demands for more foreign aid and more western involvement in Africa because he knows this is what keeps him in the game. The aid business is just that, a business.

Look carefully, and just behind Bono and Geldof are the aid agencies – such as those run by Kofi Annan – and NGOs all promoting new solutions for Africa and playing up the guilt game for all its worth. Africa crises have become the perfect fundraiser. From a few hundred 4×4 driving, high earning aid expats in the 60s to over 25,000 today, the size of the effort keeps growing in direct proportion to the size of African poverty. In May, the World Bank reported that 40% of aid budgets are spent on consultants alone. Of the $50 billion in overseas development aid, consultants make off with $20 billion. Just add to that the cost of running offices and hiring permanent staff, not to mention the five-star hotels, constant travel to exotic locales for conferences and other lavish perks. Action Aid weighed in as well, reporting that almost half of aid is spent before the money even gets to Africa.

You are correct Anonymous: the time for excuses is past. Excuses that there is not enough aid; that our people are too ignorant and unproductive to help themselves; and that without the help of the Sachs and Geldofs of the world we are doomed. They are poor excuses, made too often by the very people who benefit from us remaining mired in poverty and at war. If only that starving kid with the snotty nose and the distended belly knew how many people depend on him for their careers and much needed moral uplift. If he only knew how many westerners he has lifted out of poverty and the multitudes he has supplied a cause. I wish he would feel the awesome swell of the ego that is felt by every passing rock star and Hollywood actress who uses him as a photo op so that he can know that they may be feeding him but that he too is giving them something that they crave.

Finally Anonymous, what is the price and place of pride? Pride in the sense of confidence in one’s innate capacity to be independent and able to thrive. Surely it is this feeling that underlies all achievement, all survival and every demand for justice. Where it has collapsed, the cause has been human – often governmental. It therefore seems to me that the recovery of this sense of independence, this pride, will by necessity involve a showdown between people and their leaders. But the latter would rather direct their people’s attention to outsiders, offering the alternate hope that there is no need to become independent since the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General is on the case anyway.

Some Combative Comments On ‘Those Who Would Steal African Humanity’ Post

I thought that some of the comments made about my last post, Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity, were provocative and fun. It proved to be quite unpopular with some readers, which is all good but I am anxious to hear what Africa means to you.

It seems to me that Africa is more an idea than a place for Africans and non-Africans alike. It has never really been a place as much as it has been a type of darkness, a nightmare, a project and a cause. Of course there are many in Africa who are poor or starving or are the victims of horrific political violence, but these afflictions only confirm what has been thought of Africa since the period of slavery and colonialism. When King Leopold II of Belgium murdered over 10 million Congolese between 1880 and 1920, effectively halving the population, he claimed to be saving them from their wretchedness and poverty. I mention this not to claim that this is the goal today, but rather to emphasize that Africa as a hell has been an old idea that was used enthusiastically to dominate and exploit its occupants. Now it is an idea being trotted out in the very countries that just a few decades ago ruled it: this time to save us.

See I did not grow up in Africa. I grew up in very specific places: Ngummo Estate, Mombasa, Lenana School, Kibera and Westlands. I became African only at specific moments, most very rhetorical and sentimentalised. The Nairobi I consider my home town is full of poverty, but that is only one aspect of it. In the worst slums are flexible, assertive and innovative people. The demands of life are too urgent for anyone to seat around and wait for Geldof’s consciousness raising. Nairobi, outside of its growing NGO aid junkies, is not waiting for Geldof’s or the West’s attentions. Everyone is trading, making use of every shred of skill and effort that they possess. Trading, dealing, morphing into whatever ethnic, religious, sexual, national being that will confer the most advantage at particular moments. Nairobi, I find despite its crime and poverty, is innately a hopeful place. So many of my relatives have migrated there with nothing but an address and are now working and producing wealth for themselves. They would appear to be poor, and believe themselves to be so, but they are building lives and their hopes rest on their own abilities and not the government or the donors. If anything, the government is their constant roadblock: they encounter it at every turn with its corruptions, red tapes and oppressions.

Anonymous said…
While we wait for the revolution to be televised, what harm is there in getting a few dollars that we would never have seen anyway?

MMK said…
Ah yes, why not indeed get the aid cash and run? Because there is nothing for free. An entire generation of Africans has grown up begging and I think this has killed much greatness and potential. Aid is pennies on the dollar when compared to the money that a people with a sense of ownership over their lives would make. Just look at the flow of remittances by Africans outside the continent and those sending money from the cities to the rural areas for instance, it dwarfs aid flows by several factors.

Anonymous said…
An interesting perspective. Would it be better if the west just left Africa to its own devices? I thought part of the G8 aims is to enable fair trade by lifting the west’s imposed restrictions and opening the markets for African produce.

Not Glossy said…
Insightful commentary, thank you. It would appear though that celebrities have all the answers for us (everyone)… and thus we have no need for thought or even true debate.

Fred said…
MMK, I’ve read some of your stuff and watched your BBC debate today with the other Martin of Save the Children. Yes, you have a point. Of course we have to live with the fact of life, that there is no such thing as free lunch. Yes, it’s about music, exhibitionism and megalomania – but it is also about harnessing non-official Western resources and tapping on what they love best (e.g. music) for a good cause. They might as well do the same for gay rights, gender parity, and climate change so if they choose to do it for Africa, why is it a problem? It may be a simplistic approach, but it is welcome. It should be part of a concerted effort. It would be foolish to consider this as a panacea. Africans should also put pressure locally on their politicians like Biwott and Uhuru to give up part of their ill-gotten and unfairly acquired wealth, including cash stashed abroad in banks and investments not to mentions the thousands of acres owned by the Kenyatta family and generations of white settlers like the Delamares. OFM, Lecturer, CU.

andy said…
This is wonderful writing. It reminds me of the people who I met when I went to Africa in 1989. They were (and are) people of wisdom and immense capability that we in the west should learn from. They were they kind of people who could face and solve problems. At the time they were standing up against apartheid (and for a new future). Now they are leaders in the new South Africa. I just wish I could get on a plane and go spend more time with them. I think I visited your blog once before and didn’t make it back. This time I’ll mark the spot and be sure to return again.

el pupo said…
just a note to say I *love* your blogging.

owukori said…
The West has appropriated everything African for the past 500 years – now as you say even Africa’s problems. Excellent post and look forward to more

Anonymous said…
Am I missing something here? Pennies on the dollar are better than no pennies at all?
Arguably it would be better if Africans took control of their own affairs and created great potential. Newsflash – they have failed to do so for the past 30-40 years! So while we wait for the revolution, we will gladly accept the few pennies that your revolution has failed to supply. Who has chosen to get the fish instead of learning to fish?

Anonymous said…
Africans do not hold the exclusive rights and monopoly suffering and exploitation. It is interesting to see Africans argue for their place in this category given the fact that they have failed spectacularly to address their economic, social and political status in the past 30-40 years.

andy said…
Interesting anonymous comments…
1. The “failure” that you speak of really involves a relatively short period of time, considering that it took the Western world centuries to develop the political economies that you see today.
2. The “failure” dates back to just after the end of the colonial period. Are you thinking, “Look what a great and wonderful boost that colonialism gave to Africa? Why didn’t you make more of it?” Perhaps you don’t understand African history, or you just think African history is a subset of Western history (sort of a poor, handicapped version that is embarrassing the rest)?
3. You say Africans have failed to take control of their own affairs but ignore the point: that the West has never released control to Africans. That’s the point here (the control is tightening further).
4. You speak of spectacular failures, but in fact there are many spectacular successes in Africa. Those should be brought to light, though people who wallow in ignorance seldom learn anything that is uncomfortable or truly new.

dt said…
Great article!
Reading the comments thus far, perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the continent both from within and without is the tendency to lump all the countries together rather than address each country in its individuality. Even when Africans themselves speak, they speak as though they are a whole. You don’t hear such grouping coming from other continents. Singaporeans refer to themselves as Singaporeans not as Asians or South East Asians. Same goes for a British. He/she refers to him/herself as a Brit not as a European, or an indigene of the European continent. Last I checked not ALL African nations are poverty stricken with children dropping dead from the commonest causes. People talk of the ‘African problem’ the solution seekers in turn mouth its corollary the ‘African solution’. Africans themselves commit the same error in judgement; Africa is not one country for crying out loud! Perhaps what we really need is a great lesson on the axiom ‘every man to himself/every country to herself’ Perhaps if each man was left to his demise, he would think up the best means for his survival. With regards to your insightful piece, may I add that no one has stolen Africa’s humanity. It is us who handed it to them on a silver platter by the vice of not understanding the why’s of our very own existence. After all, like the old saying goes, “When you fail to think, someone else will do it for you”

MMK said…
It was a lot of fun going on the BBC and I offered up a much harder position that I usually adopt because I felt that a sceptical African voice was needed on the day. When I arrived at the studio, I met with Wangari Maathai – the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who is a wonderful person but who sadly was mouthing the same old begging sounds that every prominent African seems to make automatically.

DT – You could not be more correct. Africa is not a single country. But it is taken to be a blank slate on which anyone can write whatever they wish. The aid mongers, the West and our governments have mostly preferred to treat Africa as a space of unceasing suffering and helplessness. This is what keeps the monies flowing.

Andy – Ah, yes, the historical perspective is crucial. Just reading history, of whatever region, it becomes clear that war and corruption have been the rule rather than the exception and that the development of prosperity and peace has been a lengthy road.

Anonymous said…
Let get real, spheres of control are multifaceted; those spheres were most African governments have the ability to affect the have failed in a spectacular manner. You know the classic comparison case, the one between Ghana and Malaysia; you know the one about them being practically identical in all economic/health indicators in 1958 when they acquired independence from the same British government. The same economic/health indicators are not remotely comparable now 40 years later. One country has made huge economic gains while the other is still wallowing in abject poverty and is considered a success case when compared with its neighbours. I will let you guess which country is which. Maybe while you’re at it you can explain how the English never let go of the reigns of power and that is why Mugabe is busy laying millions of his fellow country men destitute by flattening their homes, the Zimbabwean form of ethic cleansing, perhaps those evil colonialists have been running round the country side in Darfur killing and raping. The Belgians are the ones that run amok in Rwanda and murder close to a million folks. Hey, it was those evil westerners that emptied the state coffers of most countries in Africa in the tune of billions of dollars. Those animals, they just gave Museveni the right to go over the Ugandan constitution and give himself one more term as president. These animals they are relentless, they made Mswati of Swaziland want to spend money on a presidential plane that was more than the countries budget on education. See, you understand that these Africans are innocent hapless children who despite their best efforts can not make any positive decisions, the west has robbed and beaten them into murderous, thieving but well meaning people. Like Children who have no understating of consequences of their actions these Africans can not be held responsible for failing to make any positive change in those little things they could change.

lex said…
Your argument is nothing but a string of eloquent self pity. Whilst it is obvious that Live8 or a decision to abolish debt will not make Africa’s plight disappear, the Western attempt should not go unwelcomed. Yes, there is no such thing as a free meal, but this constant banter about the thievery of ‘African humanity’ clearly reeks of a wounded pride. Whatever the West may have done in the past, its current attempts with Live8 can only be seen as a positive. Allowance for support nurtures the path to recovery – your desperate grip on all the suffering and struggle that has happened only adds to its suffocation. And all for what? To fulfil some arrogant self indulgent fantasy about overcoming the apparent ‘inverse inferiority’?

MMK said…
Lex – Methinks you misunderstand what I am trying to say. If anything, I am railing against the self pity of those in Africa who come to the West cap in hand attempting to parlay African poverty into an opportunity to gain Western charity. Their efforts are mirrored by a self serving aid industry and the appetite to turn the African into a cause and nothing more by a growing stable of rock stars and politicians. I am not about wounded pride, but I also know that pride is an absolute requirement if Africans are to triumph over their problems. I see this pride everytime I am home and I see it compromised and attacked daily by the beggary of our leaders. Surely Lex, you can join me in recognising that at the end of the day Africa’s march to wealth and stability will come from African effort. Live8 and similar efforts are an attempt to get around this fact. What recovery is this that you speak of? Aid has been in the card for decades, always with new strategies for “accountability, transparency and results” but this has never worked. The only wealth that has been built by aid has been among aid workers and local political elites. The poor, if anything have grown in number. So should I be grateful for this latest effort?

Critical Mass Vancouver said…
I think “Make Poverty History” is a pretty arrogant catchphrase. But there is so free lunch, and idealism is not stupid. All energy is of the sun, literally, and it never stops. I don’t think that honour is really such a wonderful thing. I don’t think that we do much useful by speaking of people in anti-democratic situations as a ‘nation’. I don’t know much about Africa except imperial history and genocide history. My part of the world, in Vancouver unceded Coast Salish Territory, the Aboriginal people were very rich because it is very green and rains a lot. I don’t think that Africa is really such a poor place. So much wealth flows from there and many believe it is the cradle of humankind. But it is a truism from the TV that there are starving babies in Africa which everybody already knows about OR nobody can do anything about it anyway. I wish your criticism was less about a media personality of this single unified/disunified entity called Africa whose honour and ownership of the problems have been besmirched. I think it should say that this is another straightforward attack under the deception of aid. It is about disempowering billions of people. Or it should be more positive and say that we should not be so simplistic and not assume the stupid things the Rock Stars say for the cameras, but every bit counts and lets make work what we have. Get specific and get less media spectacle more community. Anyway I just worry that while you are speaking truth to power you are not contradicting the worst part: that nothing can change. They kill optimism by overusing it and invoking it in a way that, beyond the shallowest sense, will evaporate under the weight of reality. You kill optimism by mostly being critical of their naive idealism. Let’s focus more on the Fair/Free Trade issues rather than the charity. Debt cancellation is not Charity but legally required in the case of onerous debt [that debt, which is in many cases the type of debt in Africa, where a dictator or other unaccountable ran up the bill and now the majority are expected to pay for what wasn’t their will]. I think it would be great to be more critical of specific western colonial nations and get them to change their policy. Like American Drug companies or European Manufacturers that suck out raw materials and keep the value added activity in Europe. But I know almost nothing about this stuff, solidarity is a good thing but a locals need to lead. I think that the rock stars can perhaps be reformed to see this. There are no limits to their ignorance because of how they are sheltered on a pedestal. But mostly they are just trying to help and if someone with a more thoughtful program asked them they would prefer to help with that. It seems that the Live 8 is somewhat ‘better’ than the 1980s version which was only about aid, not the debt and fair trade. Those are facts that are already known in the television sphere. Why not pin that tail. Is it really such ‘progress’? Or is the assumption still about a kind of charity superiority racism as you contend. Anyway, good to see a thoughtful blog, keep it up!

Z said…
How can you condemn people for trying to create a fairer world? This isn’t about charity, it isn’t about ‘saving Africa’ it’s about extending a hand of friendship, not laying claim to Africans problems but recognising them and saying you’re not alone. People are tired of giving aid, seeing that it makes no permanent change, Live 8 is about changing trade laws to help, instead of hindering African economic growth, not just aid and debt relief. From where I was standing, I thought the point was to tell the world the truth, educating people, showing them just how complicated the whole situation is, am I wrong? There are people who want to give money for their own sense of moral self-righteousness, that’s true. There are also people who just want to help, people who’ve done their share of soul searching, triumphed over their own demons, and in the end just want the people of, not just Africa, but anyone else who’s ever suffered for whatever reason, to know that whatever you think of the rest of the world, some people in it actually give a shit. Stop being so damn cynical and realise that some people just want to help, even if they can’t or don’t know how, when something like this happens they go along with it and they do whatever they can to support it, just because it can be interpreted as ‘an exercise in white, Western megalomania’ doesn’t mean every person in that crowd is there for their own self gratification, like I said, some might just happen to give a crap as well.

Anonymous said…
A quick reminder for our Anglo-Saxon musicians and politicians: HISTORY MAKES POVERTY, union jackasses-

http://www.philosophyfootball.com/view_item.php?pid=262

Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity

Word on the street is that Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer will march with protestors in the ‘Long Walk to Justice’. So who and what precisely will they be marching against? Poverty?

This is simply an exercise in white, Western megalomania. Now that the age of empire has passed for these British Isles, now that the economic consensus will brook no extremes of the right or left variety, now that there are no great foes to contend with, there are only two extreme conditions that remain in a world that has moved to the ‘middle’: Western self aggrandizement and African suffering. To the liberals and assorted ‘put Africa right’ brigades, they exist at the centre of the moral universe. Africans shall live or die according to their wishes. Now we are to be saved, but it could be just the opposite as it has been in times past.

They will be marching to display the rude health of their souls and to confirm their power and magnanimity over the huddled, miserable wretches of Africa. The monies that they give, no doubt in the billions of dollars, will be used to maintain and extend a vast system of spiritual and material privilege. Every dollar shall confirm their superiority and the inverse inferiority of the African. And of course because they are a pragmatic people, each dollar shall be used to employ that army of aid workers who would otherwise be flipping burgers or working in retail. Statistics will be thrown about with wild abandon. Eyes will get misty at the thought of ‘30,000 children dying everyday of extreme poverty’. Pledges will be made by mouths set grimly in the emotion of the moment. The rhetoric will be high flown and every speech will include words like Humanity, Universal, We, Justice, Suffering, History, Community, Brotherhood…

These words will be used to strip Africans of their problems in the name of brotherhood. Geldof and company will lay claim to the very last thing so many Africans own: our problems. And it will be terrible and evil beyond imagining for owning your problem is at the heart of what it is to be human. It is when we wrestle and suffer and triumph over our problems that we are most human, but this alas is not to be if the soul stealers on show succeed. I do not want anyone to suffer needlessly. I would prefer everyone to live in a democratic, prosperous community that knows no war or want. But these are conditions that must be battled and struggled for; they have never arrived as a gift from a stranger. And all those who promise them have always turned out to be thieves or murderers if not both. Geldof and the Live8, the G8, these governments and the eager little, statistic spouting NGO types are thieves of African humanity.

Live8 and Emmanuel Jal

On Saturday July 2nd, Live8 concerts will be held in ten cities around the world. They will feature the biggest and most famous names in pop. Performing in London, at Hyde Park, will be the African Children’s Choir, Annie Lennox, Bob Geldof, Coldplay, Dido, Elton John, Joss Stone, Keane, The Killers, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Ms. Dynamite, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Razorlight, REM, Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters, Snoop Dogg, Snow Patrol, Stereophonics, Sting, Travis, U2, UB40, Velvet Revolver. What jumps out at me instantly is that none of these artists is African. On Wednesday night, I happened to catch up with Emmanuel Jal – a young Sudanese rapper and currently the hottest act in East Africa – who was performing at the Ritzy. It turns out that he was publicly invited by Fran Healy, the lead singer for Travis, who had been in Sudan to “see the plight of Africans for himself”. Healy, who has stoutly defended Bob Geldorf against charges that the Live8 is nothing more than a careerist prop, promised Emmanuel that he would be part of the line up at Hyde Park tomorrow night. But this will not be the case. Emmanuel told me that Geldorf had informed him in no uncertain terms that he could not participate. Only artists who had “sold more than 4 million records” would get on stage Sir Bob informed young Emmanuel.

A former child soldier in war-torn Sudan, and a strong talent, Emmanuel should be what Live8 is all about. His debut album, Gua (‘Peace’ in his native Nuer language), ‘fuses staccato rapping in Arabic, English, Kiswahili and Nuer’, and is an incredible piece of work.

This is what Live8 has to say about itself:

“This is not Live Aid 2. These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison. This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty. The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if tens of thousands of people show them that enough is enough. By doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children.”

But of course the concerts or the Long Walk to Justice or the pledges of aid or debt cancellation have nothing to do with Africans and poverty. This is all about a self obsessed, cynical use of suffering to prop up fledgling pop careers for those like Geldorf; cynical political machinations by the Blair types who understand that there is much mileage to be made from ‘helping Africa’ when they are deeply unpopular on other fronts; and an aid industry that has become hopelessly addicted to living high off the proceeds of suffering. If only that snot nosed boy with a Kwashiorkor-distended belly and perhaps a couple of bullet wounds knew how many people he feeds, clothes and houses in luxury. If only he knew how much aid he has given to the washed out, mediocre types who clamour to help him.

In all the major concerts, there will be few if any Africans on stage. The closest thing to one in London will be Snoop Dogg who was brought in at the last instant to add a dash of colour to the proceedings. Then there will be the African Children’s Choir. These are kids from the nKomazi region on the northern border of South Africa. We are told by their founder, Ray Barnett, that AIDS is devastating their villages, that they are all orphans and that “their story is that of so many children in sub-Sahara Africa.” The purpose of their attendance will be to show the world the plight and hope of all African children.

I have no doubt that they are quite talented and all that, but they are not going to be on stage as artists. They are a project. Just like Africa and Africans are projects. We have long since shed any vestiges of human independence and ability and have become walking sores, diseases and killing machines according to our ‘friends’. Emmanuel or any other African musician must not be allowed to perform in front of the hundreds of millions who will be tuned into the concert broadcasts. For that to happen, it would be revealed that in fact Africa has minds, opinions and a life outside the beggary and misery that is the staple food of the Geldof types.

Back From St. Petersburg

Indeed I am back, back to the land of boiled cabbage and queues. In the White Night of St. Petersburg’s summer, blogging, surfing and generally keeping up with the world receded in importance. The hangovers did not help for that is a land where beer is considered a soft drink and seeing some dude taking delicious little sips of ‘Russian Standard’ vodka at … well at, breakfast. But for the first time I was living in an idea, a conceit that killed millions, a city built by the will of a single man. Russia, and particularly St. Petersburg, I found, is a place that has been cut, ploughed, planted and whipped by a ruling class that has been determined to turn national life into an expression of philosophical ideas. It has, as M. Epstein says, been treated as a tabula rosa on which foreign ideas can be writ with all the necessary violence. Being in St. Petersburg, taking in my favourite building, Kazansky Cathedral, I knew that its beauty – and indeed greatness – reflected the relentless succession of projects that has blighted the lives of millions and destroyed lives past count. Projects, national projects kill. When the determination of Peter the Great to Europeanise Russia is considered, then the soviet period is soon understood to have merely been a version of this project. Russia, for we of 5-year development plans and nationalist aspirations, serves as a warning beacon. I will come back to this in the coming weeks, once I have gotten my feet under me.

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Putin and His African Cannibalism Take

Being in St Petersburg and only now learning that Putin said that Africans had a history of cannibalism made me laugh till the tears rolled. Not because what he said was really funny, but because of the knee jerk outrage that poured out of my own folks over the statement and not the promise of aid he made. Here is a guy who on one hand calls you a cannibal and on the other promises you money, and you accept! That is so hilarious because the only other thing it could be is tragic enough to make me cry for days. This is what Trevor Phillips, the UK’s government-appointed commisar of racial equality, had to say: “What a preposterous thing to say. He is at best insensitive and at worst a downright racist”. Insensitive? How hopeless. The brother is trying to spin some poltical correctness game in the midst of madness. Putin knows perfectly well that he doesn’t give a shit about Africans but needs to play ‘the game’ which over the years has come to include merciful gestures for the doomed Africans. For the last week, I have been staying in the city where he was born. It was here that almost a million people died so that I could take admiring photos of the city and in this country that Stalin killed at least 20 million Russians not to even mention the millions that Lenin and Trotsky murdered. There is no need for outrage from the usual coterie of African guilt mongers. Who the hell cares that Putin says Africans are cannibals when he comes from the cruelest place on earth? I think he was joking and actually really didn’t give a damn how it came out. Two minutes in St. Petersburg will show you that political correctness here is absurd.

The Vodka Haze and Related Matters in St Petersburg

Never ever try and blog as a Kenyan in St Petersburg, Russia. It is not possible; it is beyond the bounds of credulity and possibility. They have this clear, tasteless substance called Russian Standard Vodka and it really has been sad for this particular African. The toasts don’t stop, or the misplaced sense that you are in a familiar space when you are actually in the strangest city that was ever built. Throughout my life Russia has been a constant: its politics and, most importantly for me, its literature. After a week here, despite the haze, I have come to realise the self indulgence of my politics. Russians must be the toughest most stubborn people on earth because the cruelties leveled on them – by the Peters and Stalins – had to be a response to the size of their spirits. I want to live here and learn Russian and how to be a writer because this place speaks to so many things that I have never consciously articulated. I went to Kutuzov’s tomb yesterday. It is in Kazansky Cathedral and was my best moment in Russia. A country that prays while displaying the captured standards of Napoleon who brought death here and did not understand that Russians could endure more than he could wield. When I am reborn, I hope it is as a melancholic Russian writer who used to be a soldier.

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Graffiti outside the flat that Raskolnikov supposedly lived in. Raskolnikov is the most famous of Dostoevsky’s characters. The dude basically offs old ladies believing that he is beyond the bounds of good or evil, and of course this has made him madly popular among angst-hungry western intellectuals.

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This is a picture of an African scalp outside Kazansky Cathedral in St. Petersburg. I am living just up the street and have spent an inordinate amount of time seating in a small park next to the cathedral. It was, I am told, built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alexander I. It was during one of the Russian-Turkish wars thus the decision to build a large duplicate of St. Peter’s in Rome to prove that Russia was a serious superpower that Turkey shouldn’t mess with. It amazes me how notions spring up in a Czar’s head and they are brought to life at such horrific costs. One look at the huge looking mass with its dark stones is enough to let you know that folks done died putting it up. Anyway, word is that the project succeeded though I cannot really understand how. The Turks surrendered before the cathedral’s completion and therefore it was decided to not build a southern colonnade to match the northern one facing Nevsky (the main avenue where to be a woman not wearing high heels earns you an instant mob beating).

Now I quote and will put up more pictures the moment I am recovered from my lack of sleep:

In socialist times the cathedral housed the ideologically-slanted Museum of Religion and Atheism and had a graphic Spanish Inquisition exhibition in the basement, complete with a pair of legs jutting out of a cauldron. The current exhibition has a small section (in Russian only) on the history of Catholicism and a larger section on Orthodoxy which includes church art, historical paintings, and various religious knick-knacks.

Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, hero of the Napoleonic War, is buried in the cathedral and there are monuments to him and to General Mikhail Barclay de Tolli in Kazan Square, facing Nevsky. From a certain angle, General Barclay de Tolli seems to be doing something that he shouldn’t be doing in public; this is revenge on the randy general for sleeping with the sculptor’s wife.

An African in St. Petersburg: The Arrival

From today, I will try and keep a kind of diary of my two-week trip to St. Petersburg. Hopefully I will be able to find a computer that I can use to upload the pictures that I am taking.

The Arrival

I flew into St. Petersburg yesterday evening on a flight from Vienna. I have always wanted to put those cities in a sentence that involves me. As is the usual case for The African, immigration was a complex matter. It never ceases to amaze me how suddenly, when you are in an immigration queue, the crushing power of the State makes itself felt. While aloft, I was an international traveler, a privileged being that has taken flight. My troubles were behind and below me; ahead was possibility and optimism. When I landed, it was like being in a Toyland. The rows of planes, the terminal building and the little trucks zipping here and there all appeared a bit unreal, like a kind of children’s Lego set.

It is the immigration form that brought me to earth. It made no apologies for its demand of information: when was I born; where was I going; why was I going there; for how long; where did I come from; what was I carrying, weapons, acids, sharp objects, animals, plants…; citizenship; residence; date of birth; maiden name; address; passport number and date of issue and expiry; other? It is ‘other’ that gets my goat. What else could I tell? That I was carrying drugs or planning acts of terrorism? That I may have left behind heartbreak and that I hoped to one day win the lottery and that the expiry of my life, not just that of my passport, was a constant worry? Well, I filled the form. It is habit. I have been categorized, measured, weighed and credentialed so often that it now feels normal to squeeze my life into forms. And I also filled it because not doing so always has unpleasant consequences. 98.5% of all forms are a way of avoiding punishment, pleading and justifying. So I filled mine and got in line to speak to the most important individual in my life at that moment, the immigration officer.

By the time I inched up to the desk behind which sat, as always, a grim faced official my happy feelings of having been magically transported had dissipated. I was gripped by an inexplicable guilt, that I had committed some crime that the official would spot instantly. This is why I clutched my passport a little too tightly, and glanced repeatedly at the page with the visa to make sure that it was actually there and has the correct dates. Also in hand were my ticket, insurance form and the schedule of the writing conference that had brought me to Russia. I half expected that I would have to re-apply all over again for permission to enter. My overly active imagination started making up scenarios of the official ordering a search of my baggage and a joint of marijuana being found. I worried whether the friends I have lent my suitcase in the past could have left such damning evidence in it.

The Russians and Europeans ahead of me briskly stepped up to the official and were processed quickly and efficiently. She barely looked at their passports, seeming to be satisfied on the basis of the country that had issued them. The Austrian that I spent part of the flight conversing with kept up a lively chatter that I could not concentrate on. He had few worries; this for him was just a small irksome procedure. And that it is how it appears to Africans as well, after they have been successfully admitted. Before then, you can tell who they are by the silence that envelops them in the queue and their solemn expressions.

Finally it was my turn and as is my wont, I brightly said hullo taking special care to pronounce the ‘hi’ with a distinctly American accent. It was better, I calculated, to say ‘hi’ instead of hello or habari or niatia. Such greetings may mark me for some kind of rent seeking, asylum declaring African. The dirty little secret of the African in line is that he attempts to reduce his Africanness in every possible way. The passport from Kenya or Uganda and, heaven forbid, Nigeria, is trouble enough. Thus my chirpy ‘hi’ which evidently had been tried before since it was met with silence and a searching glance.

OK, have to run and meet the group for dinner. The Petersburg diary shall continue later.

The Lazy and Shadowy Blogger

The Lazy and Shadowy Blogger on the way to meet research supervisor, thus in a state of anxiety, insecurity and passive-aggressiveness. Since my newest chapter makes theoretical claims that in London read suspiciously like Frenchie hot air, the strategy was to dress in subdued tones meant to reassure my solidly anglo-pragmatic supervisor that my work was still on track. Long story short: it did not work. Tomorrow the Lazy One flies to St. Petersburg, Russia for two weeks with the vague hope of posting a photo journal of the trip on this blog. Posted by Hello

419 Scam: The Lawyer Prepares to Enter the Fray

This is a picture of Naomi Bangura, she of the $14 million Ivory Coast bank account. She sent it in response to my lonely roofer englishman character who it now turns out is in search of love having married a Croation mail-order bride who treated him badly. I had also created another character, Dick Ramahda II, who was going to be my lawyer meant to confirm that Naomi is for real but has instead decided to seduce her and get hold of her $14 million. I wanted the story to be filled with back stabbing, stupidity and loneliness.

dear naomi,
i am going through a lot with my employee accident and divorce. I maried a very bad woman naomi, she is from croatia and has treated me very badly. but you have been so nice to me even when we have never met, I wish you were here. I like your picture. do you think maybe when the money comes in we can go to brighton beach and maybe even become closer than close friends? I will make sure dick acts quickly for you. I thin you are nice.
with great love,
martin

I have blacked out her features since I am sure that this is not really Naomi. Notice the mansion in the background… Posted by Hello

See below for the continuation of ‘Can you find romance in a 419 scam?’ series. I post this with the usual sense of shame because if Naomi Bangura is a con artist, then I must be the idlest, nothing-to-do character alive to have engaged in this dialogue with her. This is just prior to the final series of emails when I introduce a lawyer called Dick Ramahda II who is meant to be representing me but actually wants to rip me off and take Naomi for himself. I wanted to see how the 419 crew would respond to such treachery…
To read the background to the series of exchanges below, please go to the following links:

Can a 419 Scam Letter Lead to Romance?
The 419 Scam Letter Romance Continues
419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Photo
419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Certificate of Deposit
The 419 Scam Letter Chapter 3

MMK,
Beloved Mr MMK am very glad to have a person like you on my way and i am sure is not a mistake because before i got your contact i prayed and fasted for 3 good days and this is divinely made by the power of Jesus christ.
And i will not stop praying for you and all the members of your family in Jesus name.
Please,sir i will you to contact me as soon as you contact the bank.
Have you received my picture and bank document?
God bless you is my prayer.
yours naomi.

MMK,
Sir,how are you today?am afraid because i have not been hearing from you for a long time,after sending my picture and bank document and contacts i want to ask you wheather you have received them or not;Have you contacted the bank?
Frankly,speaking i am worried for not hearing from you,remember you promised to help me,this money is all my hope and life you know there is political problem here in ivory coast for confirmation check this (WWW.ABIDJAN.NET).Being a young girl of my age i need your help and direction and if you cannot help me is better you let me know now so that i can look for another person that can help me.
I know that you might be busy of one thing or the other but you have to remember that am a young girl and human being and i see you as my father.
My greetings to your family and may GOD bless you
all amen.
Am waiting for your message.
Naomi.

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.
MMK

Dear Mr MMK.

I thank you so much for your letter at last. And I am sorry for what heppened to your worker.

Please, I will want you to be serious about my case and help me.

Here is the website of the bank,where my father depoisted the money (www.boahq.com) you can contact them for the transfer of this fund,so that I will leave here now that the political problems has not gotten worse.

For the person that contacted you.I do not know him in person,But there are many people here who lost their parents in the cause of the war.If your spirit direct
you to help him as well, I will not stop you.

I am looking forward to hear from you.

Thanks,

Miss Naomi Bangura.

MMK,
How are you sir?i see it neccesary to write you once again,i hope you are coping with the problem your company had in dead of your worker,i hope the situation is coming down.
I know the Lord is in control and i have been praying day and night to see that the lord see us through for this transaction,i still beleive that the lord brought you to be a help and it shall not be invain,you know am a young girl and don’t know much about business and i know with you everything shall go smoothly when i come to your country to work with you.Have you contacted the bank? i went to the bank to confirm if you have contacted them and i was told that you have not contacted them,pls sir don’t waist time remember you promised me,and they are still waiting for your lawyers to call them.
Sir, there is one thing i noticed from the bank director, he seems not to be much happy because i want to send this money abroad and he told me that he has a
friend in toronto canada who deals in diamond and he will contact him for me but i said no that i trust you and i cannot do business with anybody except you,tuesday last week i went to consult a lawyer concerning what the bank director told me,when two of us got to the bank my lawyer asked the bank director that as long as your name is in the bank file that he has no legal right to contact anybody who is not my
choice or desire,so my lawyer is with us here to ensure every thing go well and he is worried and he said you should do quick so that after the tranfer of this money i can come to meet you.
Please,sir call the bank director so that they can tell you what to do for the transfer of this money.
Thanks and GOD bless you and your family.
yours Naomi

dear naomi,

as always I am happy to hear from you. but worrid. i talked to my lawyer and he seemd a bit hesitant because he said my busines is very in debt. but then i told him that you seemed very nice and showed him the certificate of deposit. i hope that he makes a conection with the bank because he promised. how are you? tell me quickly when my lawyer contacts bank.
bye
MMK

Babylon System is the Vampire!

Why OGs and mababi, two generations of the African elite, are under attack

When I attended primary school in Pumwani in the early 1980s, babi was a teasing term for a softie: a spoiled kid who couldn’t hang. In the intervening decades, a babi has become a detested and shunned individual who cannot participate in most public spaces in Nairobi. His presence is experienced by most as an imposition, an invasion by a Babylon system that dirties all it touches with its contempt, sense of entitlement, foreign airs and corruption. To put it simply, a babi is a child of the OGs: the original gangsters who took over the reins of the colonial state in the 1960s and their hangers-on. While crime is widespread, to be identified as a babi marks you as a target for hyper-violent criminality; the failings of the political system that gave birth to him shall be visited on his flesh.

The Kibaki administration, the Official Opposition and the foreign-funded civil society are all mababi. While they are busy arguing about corruption, the constitution and speeches by Edward Clay, they have not noticed that they are speaking to themselves. People are hearing the political chatter, but listening is an act of faith that would be naïve given what has happened in the last two years not to mention the preceding forty. Many are realizing that the system has never worked for them. In fact, the problem is not that it has failed but that it was never designed to deliver. Those occupying the higher reaches of the state have not noticed that politics are moving out of the political arena. The people – that featureless mass perpetually invoked by the babi system as the recipient of its political efforts – have checked out of the building. But in many African countries, they have only been inside the national building for brief periods of postcolonial history.

Mababi cradle their drinks in expensive restaurants, often discussing, amid the sounds of tinkling glasses, mwa-mwa-mwa kisses and modulated Spanish music, politics. They tend to demand a return to a clean, green, criminal-free capital city – an Eden that only they, and the colonial settlers before them, ever occupied. Their concerns are reminiscent of colonial settlers who sipped sundowners during Empire’s high noon and complained that the city had gone to hell, that the Africans were becoming more criminal by the day. Can it not be asked whether the mababi are the colonialists of the 21st Century?

Their parents’, the OGs’, takeover of the colonial reins was a cosmetic change – the barest mention of words like revolution or struggle produces an uncomfortable shuffling of feet, clearing of throats – never meant to address the state’s toxic relationships to the many publics of the newly independent colony. The mode of OG governance was classically colonial: divide and rule, patronage, brutality and relentless speeches urging the ignorant rural folk to modernize and develop. They took over and whitewashed the colonisers civilizing mission: a confused, racist attempt to subjugate the ‘savages’ presumably in order to save us from ourselves.

Modernization and development in the OG dictionary have meant ‘come with me on a merry run-around where I pretend to do stuff for you while I pad my bank account with your taxes’.

It is true that the nationalists in their heyday captured the imagination of many people. Unfortunately many of them secretly aspired to be like the White dude they saw during a Speech Day in school. And so many of them became not the connecting voices of their different peoples, but the bridge between the village and the European metropolis, the commodity brokers who sold their people short. They turned their faces to London, Havana, Moscow or Washington; anywhere, provided it was not the smoky huts in which they were born. But they still sought to brandish those poor, church-attending relatives as a political base in order to get hold of the Governor’s Mansion or State House as it is now known.

The initial strategy was to shout down imperialism, flirt with socialism and declare that as panafricanists, they now represented all Africans. Simultaneously, switching from the language of revolution, they used their smooth talk to assure the colonial powers that it would be business as usual after independence. They were everything to everyone: fellow revolutionaries to Fidel Castro and Malcolm X; visionary leaders to many Africans; and business partners to colonialists.

The OGs in the next twenty years after independence engaged in an orgy of thievery. Its dire public cost was only relieved by infusions of Western aid, commodity exports and the fading memory of colonial administrative know-how. It is during these years that they gave birth to the mababi. Though OGs remain in control of the higher terraces of the state, their babi children are attempting the second inheritance. Where the former used nationalism and panafricanism to satisfy a hunger for power, the latter are using ideas from conferences held in Beijing, Davos and Monterrey. The cry is no longer yesteryear’s Viva La Revolución; it is now the Western liberalism of the UN’s Millennium goals, NEPAD, Feminism, Human Rights and Environmentalism. To mababi, the state is theirs to inherit. They are already working hard to create the impression that they are the representatives of – you guessed right – the people. They point an accusing finger at the OGs for bad governance – as if the opposite has ever been true in most of Africa – and conveniently forget that it is a sin to disrespect their parents. The citizen’s role in this plan: help the mababi clean up the OG system.

As the African publics endure insult heaped on injury, the numbers who still believe that forming legal parties, voting and raising kids to do well in exams can change the rules of the game shrinks. Increasingly, the view that it is not the rules of the game that are wrong but rather the entire class of people who dominate it is gaining a foothold. It is those who hold this conviction and have turned to crime that should concern everyone whose lifestyle seems babi-like even if they are not well connected members of this small tribe.

Adherents of the growing outlaw culture in Nairobi have a code that utilises violence above and beyond the call of criminal duty. When a babi is targeted, he commonly experience the whack of the pistol butt across the face, a humiliating undressing after a car jacking and unprovoked stabbings or shootings. The victim is held in such scorn that the assailants believe he deserve no humane consideration. Many innocents have been victimized and even the babi is often not personally guilty of any crime. But because so many have turned their back on the political process, and on the laws it is meant to create and enforce, they regard those on the wrong side of the babi divide as fair game.

To those who experience the quiet desperation of trying to survive in Africa – despite some personnel changes at State House – further talk of reform is a mockery. The only way out of this impasse is to ruthlessly limit the state’s functions and resources. Its reach should be shrunk to the point that there is little incentive for the OGs and mababi to control its coffers. The only institutions we need as people of initiative and industry are the judiciary, the legislature and law enforcement. Demands for privatization, decentralization, low taxes and the retreat of the state from the economy will not be bywords of a neo-liberal agenda set in Washington. Rather, they will be the start of a much needed and long-awaited process of decolonization. Africans do not want promises of better governance by the same old crowd or its anti-corruption rhetoric or seminars lecturing us about sustainable development. We want to be left alone by a vampire state and its little vampire children who never saw a con they didn’t like, a donor they could not kneel before and a poor person they couldn’t pity, hate or fear.

Bob Geldof lets out the strange mix of profanity and plea making that has become his signature tune. Whenever I catch these so called Africa saviours on TV, the urgency of their appeals and the faux concern they exude always leaves me enraged. They use African poverty and suffering like a prop for already over-large egos. We are helpless beings who cannot survive without the concern of an Elton John (in the background) or a Geldof who has not written a hit song in a decade and yet can save Africa.  Posted by Hello

If Bob Geldof Cannot Even Write a Hit Song, How Can He Save Africa?

I was just about to comment on the upcoming G8 Summit and the hypocrisy of Bob Geldof who has been filling the air waves with his inane pleas for more aid to Africa. Then I came across the op-ed below, by Simon Jenkins, which says exactly what I had been hoping to express about the issue.

Aid sounds mighty nice, but it’s trade that feeds Africa
simon jenkins (In London’s Sunday Times)

To use the language of the “new” G8, I cannot get my head round next month’s summit at Gleneagles. Ostensibly it is running true to form. G8 summits have become a cynic’s byword for extravagance, platitude and glitz. But since Tony Blair unofficially signed up Bob Geldof as “G9”, the summit’s objective seems to have changed.

It is no longer to combat world poverty directly but to “raise awareness”. Since this can be defined in terms of airtime and column inches, a summit succeeds by doing what it anyway does best. The more it spends on itself, the more likely the target is met. The G8 is the New G8, with built-in cynicism deflection.

These gatherings are 30 years old this year. They were founded by the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, in 1975 as “library chats” between the heads of rich first-world governments. There would be no aides present and agendas would be ad hoc. By keeping meetings small and informal the exalted could commune “above the level of petty bureaucratic concerns”. Like Giscard’s doomed exercise in European constitution-building, things soon got out of hand. The group of five became eight. Canada was included but China, India and anyone black or brown were out.

Today the G8 outstrips Henry VIII’s Field of the Cloth of Gold in extravagance and posturing. Informality has vanished. Host nations spend lavishly on hospitality and call it “showcasing”. Officials are told to draft statements of stupefying emptiness. Favoured topics include free trade, energy conservation, climate change and, from some sense of shame, poverty. The last has predominated, as George W Bush curtly remarks, “as long as I have been president”.

Locations have been made ever more inaccessible to protect delegates from infuriated demonstrators. In 2000 the Japanese held a summit “to discuss world poverty” at a cost of £500m on Okinawa. The same theme was proposed for the most outrageous summit, Genoa in 2001, when Silvio Berlusconi regaled delegates with submarine protection, athletic masseurs, three tenors and £10m of security per head. The mob howled on the quayside and were beaten up by the carabinieri.

This so terrified the Canadians that in 2002 they decided to discuss world poverty deep in the Rocky Mountains. It was there that Blair felt the “hand of history” upon him. He had decided to “halve world poverty within a decade” and would start with Africa. When Blair talks about poverty today we should remember that this is his sixth successive bite at the cherry. The exploitation of global misery to justify a politico/celebrity extravaganza is global diplomacy at its most obscene.

Gleneagles is reportedly costing even more than Genoa, £12m a head in security. So paranoid are delegates that £50m is being spent on policing alone. Nine million pounds is going on moving, feeding and sleeping eight delegates “informally” for just three days. You need not be a rabid leftwinger to find these sums inexcusable.

This year’s gimmick is that the G8 will “incorporate its critics” by half-welcoming Bob Geldof’s music festival. Blair is now travelling the world on a pre-conference jaunt with celebrity endorsements from Madonna, Sting, Bono, Elton John, Ms Dynamite, Mariah Carey and a million wristbands. He has a backing track being rehearsed in London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Who says G8 is not reaching out? Nor does Geldof even mean to raise money, apart from the £1.6m he must give Prince Charles for evicting his charities from Hyde Park on July 2. He need only show airtime to meet his awareness target. Never say the British, led by the Irish, cannot do chutzpah.

The rich world has thus attained nirvana. The Good Samaritan need no longer cross the road. He need only be “aware” and cry, “Hey man, wow, right on!” The G8 and Geldof have accepted Margaret Thatcher’s exegesis: the real point of the biblical parable is that the Samaritan had to get rich first.

The meat in this beanfeast is supposedly supplied by Gordon Brown. His contribution is to repackage the familiar summit trio of aid, debt relief and trade preference. But which? The classic test of any discussion of world poverty is which takes centre stage.

Aid — Geldof’s “just give us the f****** money” — has become discredited, for reasons that run through Blair’s mostly admirable Commission for Africa report. The Americans have balked at offering more since they already give $7.5 billion and claim to prefer outcomes to inputs. I have some sympathy. The days are gone when the West sees any point in pouring money into Africa with no way of ensuring it is well spent. Blair’s pledge to “double aid in 10 years” is meaningless targetry. Nor have decades of bellyaching about corruption done any good. Why should an African leader promise elections in return for aid to his poor? Elections give someone else the Geneva bank account.

Debt relief is more complex. Brown’s idea of waiving it for tsunami states vanished when the states realised they might lose credit thereby. His pet international finance facility has been scaled down but remains debt by another name. Nor has anyone come up with a way of ensuring that relieving debt really helps Africa’s poor rather than its rich.

Debt certainly cripples the so-called Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, but Gleneagles is not needed to progress the existing British/American relief plan. The best way to help these states is not to press them into further debt, which is what Brown seems to propose. It is to help Africans repay their borrowing themselves.

Which brings us to trade. If the G8 really cares about world poverty, it will avoid Gleneagles and meet instead on a Glasgow dockside. There delegates will watch the unloading of a cargo of sugar, rice, fruit, cotton and coal from the Third World. Afterwards they will sail out into the Clyde and witness the ceremonial sinking of a ship crammed with their own surpluses, about to be dumped on African markets. That is not dumb awareness-raising. It is really tackling world poverty.

For the past six years the G8 has been preaching relief yet maintaining vicious trade sanctions against Africa and Asia. It has denied them markets for their produce and flooded them with surpluses. At this very moment, millions of tons of subsidised European and American sugar and cotton are being dumped on Africa, destroying local industries and impoverishing populations. This has nothing to do with corruption or lethargy or “ungovernable Africa”. It is economic warfare by the G8 against the poor.

The best thing Gleneagles could do is announce not another fancy aid package but a revival of Britain’s old imperial preference. This means more than debating the EU’s partnership agreements, promising to buy specific goods from specific poor countries and not dump on them in return. It means actually implementing such agreements. Yet I see from the spin that Britain is downplaying trade in favour of yet more aid and debt relief. The reason, I fear. is simple. Pledging taxpayers’ money costs politicians nothing. Since the pledge is seldom honoured, it also barely costs the taxpayer.

Trade is a different matter. It means confronting lobbies, upsetting producers, withdrawing subsidies. It means doing, not talking. Its benefits are seen not on western television but in the markets of Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam. That is why trade reform has no purchase on the White House, Brussels or the Blair/Geldof agenda. Aid is sexy. It makes its recipients dependent and its donors feel good. There is a neo-imperialist streak in the Make Poverty History movement. Trade is mercantile and often “unfair”. It is always scrutinised for a boycott.

If Blair is serious about “tackling world poverty” he should devote his present junketing to one objective, to a crash programme of preferential, bilateral trade deals with poor countries. This is the only action that offers a robust and lasting cure to world poverty. If, as seems certain, Blair finds all ears deaf to this demand, he has one recourse. He should cancel Gleneagles as pointless. He should send the £100m it will cost straight to Oxfam and present a urgent trade preference bill to parliament. If he and Geldof really need to bask in each other’s glory, they can stage an annual rally in Trafalgar Square naming and shaming the countries that refused at Gleneagles to take poverty seriously. All else is flam.

Fisticuffs, Bitterness and Fame

I have just got this sudden craving to watch black and white talkies; anything with Lauren Bacall or Elizabeth Taylor, who in case you were not schooled became a celluloid goddess after her performance in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. I dare you to consider going through with a marriage proposal after watching that train wreck of a film!

The other evening, while weighing whether to endure the guilt of procrastination or completing two overdue dissertation chapters, I decided on the former and turned to the TV in the hope of catching some good old Jerry Springer. If you have ever wanted to feel blessed, brilliant, loved and morally upright, I highly recommend an hour of Jerry ‘take care of yourself and each other’ Springer. Unfortunately, there was nothing to appeal to such base tastes. However, I did came across a late-night screening of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. And was soon riveted by the emotional disintegration of Jake La Motta the boxer character played by Robert De Niro. The film is two hours of cringe and is based on the true story of La Motta who was a middleweight fighter in the late-1940s and early-1950s.

From winning the world championship with the kind of ferocity that only comes from deep issues, La Motta starts throwing fights, brutalises his wife, sexually exploits minors, takes to heavy drink and finally ends up as a washed-up grossly overweight stand-up comic at an obscure nightclub. All the while De Niro is matching his character’s weight gain and you can see him literally falling apart physically and psychologically. The film has all the elements it takes to make the ab&h list of celluloid fame, fisticuffs, bitterness and fame. And of course it is about boxing, a subject that has long fascinated me to the point that I am in danger of being one of those old men whose constant refrain will be, “I couda been a contender son, then your momma done gon an gotten herself pregnant…”

So a few days later, I am doing my little pre-summer jogging routine and I start daydreaming that I am wearing a hoodie, running with a grim determination to win an upcoming title fight. Before you can say “snap out of it”, I am at my laptop doing a Google search for boxing gyms in the neighbourhood. And behold, there happens to be one a mile or so away. So what other option did I have but to inquire about joining in the hope that at 34, the gym owner would run his bleary eye down my library ravaged body and spot the savage beast within.

And that is exactly what the elderly and laid-back – to the point of unconsciousness – owner of the Fitzroy Lodge did. His sceptical eyes took me in, concentrating to my surprise not on my bulging with skin, bone and blood vessels biceps but on my ever so slightly protruding belly. With what I hoped was a tone implying that I had banged heads with the toughest of them but did not wish to call attention to a dark past, I announced that I was there to “work out.” He extended his hand in greeting and I shook his dry palm with what I hoped was a squeeze that would let him gauge a hidden strength that I imagine must be someplace in me even if its stayed well hidden all these years. And no, don’t you dare suggest that my hands gained their hard grip hanging out with five-fingered Betty in boarding school. But this is a digression that is not to my advantage.

The gym was tucked away behind a line of FedEx delivery trucks, under an unused rail-track giving it the slightly seedy, industrial atmosphere anyone who has watched Rocky associates with such ventures. Inside, the ubiquitous and much described in every boxing story was an overpowering smell of sweat, chalk and leather. I was in: the first step to a fight in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace ring!

The room was dominated by two boxing rings occupied by bouncing, jabbing, parrying, shuffling pairs. They looked clumsy to me, I could already tell that they were not going to match the athleticism that saw me into the Lenana School rugby team all of fifteen years ago. Heavy bags hung from the low ceiling like big, red fruits that had somehow managed to make a roomful of men angry enough to whack at them with varying degrees of violence. From all the boxing sagas I had read, and my lifelong fascination with the Kinshasa fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, I knew that ‘working the bag’, as the latter did so famously, is an art form of controlled aggression and playacting since you must visualise an appendage-less opponent who looks like a red, squat four-foot long sausage hanging from the ceiling.

Standing out from the crowd of young, mostly white males was a thin black woman who was bouncing clumsily from foot to foot with a kind of crazed energy as she tried to pummel the bag under the watchful eye of the whole room. You could tell right away that everyone was intensely conscious of her presence and I wondered whether I would come in for the same attention – perhaps even a challenge to spar with a brutal customer who would try and ‘blood’ me. These impressions were brief since our walk across the room to the office was all of thirty feet.

To be continued … my ego can take no more writing for now. I must save the triumph or the agony for later; my chapters are calling for some loving attention.

Anonymous Reacts to Africa’s Brain Drain With Uncommon Honesty and Courage

I just received the comment below to my recent post on Africa’s brain drain debate. The writer who chose not to reveal his/her identity had such a visceral and honest reaction that I wish I millions of people could read it. Anonymous, please reveal yourself and tell us more!

Survival first is the most real of all human existence.

Money, but not patriotism pays the bills.
What is often laughable is it is the same beggars in government that have the temerity to label acts of sacrifice by Kenyans …brain drain.

Some go as far as saying they don’t understand how someone will leave a good job in Kenya to go and wipe arse in America.

Well the answer is plain and simple.
Wiping arse in America pays me 10-fold what the paltry pennies in Kenya did.
Wiping arse in America has given me an opportunity that those beggars in government stole.
A chance to be somebody.
Wiping arse in America pays the bills and restores dignity to my family.
Wiping arse in America keeps my younger sibling well provided for so she doesn’t have to go the streets to get it.

While banking in Kenya what did I ever have?
Paltry wages, strained family relations, hopelessness and the list is endless.

Yes I wipe arse in America.
Yes I also don’t think the bank suffered very much when my behind left my position in the words of my boss … you leave, we hire someone else.

Well understood.

Unlike the people in the Kenya government I hate handouts. I hate pity. I hate pretending. I hate stealing from others to build myself.

I love to work with my hands, break my back and at the end of the day see the toils of my labour pay off.

Me and many like myself are the true patriots of Kenya.
We didn’t leave her or sit back and feel sorry for her.
We knew that we make her.
We knew that when we are better than she is better.
Unlike those taking comfort in appearing in infomercials about Kibera begging for food while there is plenty in Kenya to feed us for years to come.
The donations that are given go straight to that fat white woman’s pocket and that nasty funky looking meero who can’t wait for another summit on the brain drain being a bigger threat than AIDS in Africa.

We choose to hide Kenya’s nakedness by the little differences we make in our own way.
Kenya knows that and appreciates it.
That for me is enough.

If You Think Africa is Suffering From a Brain Drain, Your Brain is Drained

I am getting sick and tired of this knee-jerk, sanctimonious and yes, stupid Africa-is-suffering-from-a-brain-drain argument. Every week, on one newspaper or the other, I read of a conference to decry the movement of Africans to the West as the latest neo-imperial plot to bring down long-suffering Africa. When they are not after your gold, oil or cobalt, they are after your mind goes the plaintive wail of the unreasoning aid and development industry do-gooders.

I wish they would just shut up, start a business and get some real work done that increases the wealth and security of their countries. Instead, they prefer to play the old ‘White Guilt’ game of joining with the West’s liberals – who make up the bulk of the aid industry – to call for regulations to stop the flow of hopeful people who are trying to do right by their families and themselves. The argument goes something like this: African professionals have been costly to train and are now moving abroad to pursue their professions thus benefiting the West, rather than their home countries which are now suffering the consequences of this migration. What twaddle.

In 2004, Kenyans abroad, just as an example, conservatively remitted at least $600 million to their friends and relatives through official channels such as Western Union. This is only the tip of the ice-berg as a lot more dollars are sent home through other channels. In 2003, the World Bank estimates that remittances by migrants to their (overwhelmingly poorer) countries exceeded $93 billion, twice the level of worldwide official development assistance. There are other estimates trying to account for informal remittance networks that put the figure at $120-$180 billion per annum.

Unlike development assistance transfers – a large proportion of which pays for luxurious NGO lifestyles and lines corrupt politicians’ pockets – migrant remittances go directly to family members. They are available to the recipients to use according to their own priorities and are used to finance basic consumption, education, health, purchasing or building homes, starting businesses and funding retirement.

My mother was a nurse in the UK for nine years before she returned to Kenya last year. She had initially trained as a nurse in the early 1970s, worked at a succession of government hospitals paradoxically managing to get poorer with every year as the cost of living got more expensive and her professional opportunities shrunk. After a decade of this grind, she went into business for herself and eventually ended up competing for small government tenders – a dirty, corrupt business. Every procedure was fraught with either red tape or dishonesty, and she again ended up almost financially insolvent when the government would not pay her for services she had provided.

Her decision to migrate to the UK was a difficult one: she was broke, in debt and two young children, not to mention my grandmother and a sickly sibling, were dependent on her. She moved to Kent in her mid-forties with kids in tow; having to re-qualify as a nurse by starting at the very bottom of the rung; and not knowing how to drive and unable to even afford a car, had to walk 6-7miles each way to her first £6 per hour nursing home job.

She was forced to often work 80-hour weeks, while meals tended toward baked beans and curry deliveries punctuated by intense worrying about Britain’s youth culture destroying her children. Few were the moments that were not stressful. Opening the post was a nightmarish affair; it was always a bill demanding more money and too rarely a cheque in her name. I can remember her calling me once almost in tears when she realised that she owed the BBC £100 for its compulsory license fee even though she could not remember the last time she had managed to put up her feet to watch ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. But through these travails, she scrimped and saved, and took some advanced nursing courses to qualify for better paying work. Eventually, having been offered a part-time postgraduate place at one of the better universities, she was finally able to come into her own.

The hours remained long but in the final three years before she happily returned to Kenya, they had become far more lucrative. She was now earning £20-30 per hour by working for nursing agencies. This enabled her to buy a property to rent, paid down her mortgage in Kenya and put my brother and sister through university. The former studying astrophysics with the dare-you-doubt-me intention of being the first Kenyan to go to space, while the latter reads international relations with giddy plans to change our country’s political landscape. But my mother’s achievements were not limited to Britain’s shores. She invested her money in Kenya by buying land, supported her mother and brother and provided financial assistance to dozens of friends and relatives during her nine years away. This, we are supposed to believe, represents a brain drain and a sort of imperialist plot. If it does, then I am all for brains draining with all speed and would love to hug imperialism.

The alternative discussed in the ever ongoing conferences bemoaning the brain drain is that my mother had remained in Kenya, getting poorer and perhaps eventually being one of those trades-people that the government treats like criminals when it is not taxing them punitively. Headlines and distinguished dignitaries in the all-knowing aid industry call for the governments that made my mother’s hopes untenable in Kenya and forced her to seek greener pastures abroad to be responsible for regulating and “encouraging” less brain drain. Every such pronouncement draws a bitter laugh from me.

The Kenyan state has routinely devalued and destroyed the aspirations of its citizens with its high taxes, over centralisation, arrogance and criminal conduct. It is akin to the colonial state that we supposedly got rid of 41 years ago though now staffed with black faces whose mouths spout a hypocritical nationalism that enriches them at the expense of those like my mother.

I am weary of the brain drain argument. It belongs to donor and NGO conferences, not to the real lives of those who must live by their wits and effort as opposed to a cheque from Western taxpayers. Those who bandy the argument are relentlessly statist and even now have their eye on remittances that they believe can be directed better by government and development organisations than by the people who earn them. It is an argument beloved by middle class paternalists in hock to donor money and who believe that without those who have left, everything at home will fall apart – it is nonsense of the worst kind.

They make the case not because they believe it, but because they are paid to. Most have been abroad and even worse, make the argument while in London or Washington or Paris. Not for my mother the benefit of migration, but for them who are in the United Nations or Oxfam, being abroad to pursue their vulturous careers based on beggardom is just fine. Ultimately, they choose to not appreciate that people own their own lives and the fruits of their labour belong to them to utilise as they wish provided it does not harm others.

The obvious response to the sentiments I have expressed is that African governments paid for the training of (health) professionals so people such as my mother owe something to the system. This argument, which infuriates me whenever it is made, ignores the fact that most professional who leave their countries do so after years of trying to make a go at home while paying their taxes the whole time. My mother had been a taxpayer for a quarter century before she left. And finally, shocking news to the brain-drained developmentalists: you have failed.

Four decades of your hot air, smugness, arrogance, paternalism and poverty of ideas have only built on equally vacuous colonial legacies to leave many people in Kenya and Africa reduced to a brutish existence that does not reflect their effort, flexibility and hope. Stop bemoaning the brain drain and start thinking of how to use your brain better.

(c) MMK

Blam! And You Thought You Knew Architecture (I.M. Pei)

One of my best friends, Roland, recently sent me a response to a cocky little email I had sent him awhile ago just after I had visited Paris for the first time. On seeing I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid in the Louvre, I pronounced it Mitterrand and Republican France’s middle finger to the monarchism of Louis XIV. Roland’s eye saw more, so much more that I have been driven to sharing his email below. I think it is the most illuminating, learned and madly enjoyable critique of an architect’s work that I have ever read.

ab&h,

I’m in the middle of writing another little ditty to you and then I see that you are (or were) in Paris. I didn’t know you were going and if I did I would have written this for you before you left. Actually this is over two years old. I should have given it to you before I saw you in March 2004.

You wrote me an e-mail long ago with your observations on French culture and particularly I.M. Pei’s (pronounced “Pay”) the Louvre. You saw this stark modernist thing sitting right there and it caught your attention. You thought it was Chirac’s gigantic F___ you to France’s past. Not quite. Please be seated for the following lecture on modern architecture of I.M. Pei presented by noted architectural historian Dr. Roland. Exams will be on Tuesday.

Good afternoon. (ab&h, if you continue to throw those spitballs, I will be forced to send you to the headmaster’s office!) Today’s lecture is about the modernism of I.M. Pei. First we will discuss Pei’s use of modernism in the pyramid in front of the Louvre. Contrary to what one would think of at first glance, his pyramid is not an affront to the 2nd Empire style architecture of that portion of the Louvre. What is going on here is what you may have heard in art called “comparison and contrast.”

Let us look at form and break it down. This area of the Louvre is an interior courtyard surrounding the pyramid. What is the characteristic of the style of the buildings? They are all 19th century additions in a very ornate style, very richly and heavily decorated. What is the characteristic of the pyramid? It is a modernist style of steel and glass whose lack of texture suggests smoothness. You see? Highly textured versus smooth. This is the type of thing that is done to highlight the differences and bring out the uniqueness of both qualities. One contrasts with the other, not for the purposes of embarrassing the other or to say F.U., but to bring each other into greater relief. Next, we can see that the older building, being built of stone, is opaque. In contrast, the pyramid is made of glass. This highlights a juxtaposing of solidity, weight, permanence against transparency and light. The old buildings stand proudly on the ground pronouncing their import. The pyramid introduces a new subterranean level, which we must consider. The old buildings invite us to go up into them, but create clogged traffic flows that mess up the vista of the plaza and make it less appealing. (I can remember being accosted by little ragamuffin Gypsies constantly running up to me trying to sell/steal something, which took away something from the experience. Please excuse any bourgeois condescension here.)

The pyramid invites us to acknowledge the previously unconsidered subterranean and directs traffic flows down into it. Here the pyramid provides an accent to the composition that forces us to look at the old buildings again and concentrate on what their architectural statement actually is. In turn, the old buildings force us to look at the pyramid and ask more questions about it. Never does the pyramid function by itself, or overshadow the older buildings. As I said before, it “accents” them. It doesn’t call attention to itself for its own purpose, but only in serving the purpose of the composition as a whole. Now that the contrast between the old and the new has forced us to look at the pyramid more closely, even as we have just looked at the Louvre itself more closely, we delve to a different level of analysis.

We notice that the pyramid is built in a modernist style. But wait a minute, the pyramid is a very ancient form, in fact, the most ancient form of architecture. So we have an old form in a new style—again, contrast. Now let’s add the Louvre to the mix. Isn’t the Louvre supposed to the old building? But wait, again! The pyramid is harkening back to a form that’s older than the building that’s supposed to be the “old” one! Once again we have contrast. That which is really an old form is actually the newer form in this composition. That which is the newer form is, in many respects, the older form in the composition. In this way the two forms dance back and forth, never really allowing us to rest—never allowing us to take them for granted and constantly creating the slight tension that provokes passion, thought and interest.

Now for the coup-de-grace—context. Ask yourself which civilization does the pyramid bring to mind. Egypt, of course. Who in the modern world brought Egypt to Europe? That’s right, the French. One might say that they brought Egypt into their ongoing conversation about civilization, mankind and his origins known as European thought. But Pei asks us to think about this one minute. Is France really bringing Egypt to Europe or has Egypt brought civilization to the world? Who’s old? Who’s new? So is the Louvre really introducing the pyramid to us, or is the pyramid introducing the Louvre to us? Who’s the Daddy here?

Now look at the above and see all the different ideas. Note how they juxtapose—jumping back and forth. The “old” building is really the newer form. The old form is in a newer style. One is solid, the other opaque. One is above ground, the other primarily below. The “old” buildings, facing the pyramid, are really the newest additions to the Louvre. Once again, we are not allowed to rest, get complacent and be comfortable.

Now let’s look at two other places where Pei has used the same tricks. And you should know both of them because they both are in Boston! You’ve seen them a million times. One of these you (should) know very well!

The first is the John Hancock building in the Back Bay section of Boston. (Feel free at this time to do a Yahoo image search for “John Hancock Building” and “Boston.” Find a pic of the building plus Trinity Church at various angles (more). The John Hancock building is also a design of I.M. Pei where he had to deal with the relationship of a modern structure to an old one. The square footage requirements for the design were great, making the building outsized for the neighborhood. How did Pei handle this? First look at the site plan. He made the floorplan into a rectangle instead of the usual square (or something like a square). He then took his rectangular floorplan and turned it sideways to the neighborhood that might be most offended by its size, Back Bay. In so doing, he turned the skinniest side to them making the building almost disappear. Think of a person turning sideways instead of being seen straight on from the front. This works so well that you don’t even feel the presence of the building when walking in the square. (Normally buildings of this size hover over you and make you feel as if they are about to fall on you.)

This, of course, leaves us with a flat, broad side on the other two sides doesn’t it? Its mass couldn’t be avoided right? Well, what he does, instead of trying to hide its mass, is to use the whole side like a huge mirror. What does the mirror reflect? Trinity Church. Trinity Church is the main attraction in the square. That church was designed by H.H. Richardson and is a very important work that exemplified the now famous “Richardson Romanesque” style. Pei knew that this is the very thing tradition-conscious Back Bay people would want to protect. He knew that their first fear was that this new monstrosity would overshadow their precious church. So he made the entire building defer to the older church. He mirrored the whole building. It was quite fortunate for him that this style was “in” at the time. This allowed the building to step itself back in importance (Size usually conveys importance. This is why so many artists paint large paintings. A small painting of the exact same subject would not fetch proportionately as much. But I digress…)

Anytime anyone looked at the building, all they would see is the church, despite the building being hundreds of feet taller and thousands of square feet larger than the church. Which direction does the huge mirror face? It faces downtown, where a large number of people who would be interested could see it. Do you see the same contrast used at the Louvre? Something large and important must not be large while something small is to be made all he larger because of how it is handled. There’s that juxtaposition again. By deliberately not calling attention to itself, it, by turns, calls attention to how well placed it actually is and how well it works within the environment, which just might call more attention to it!

Next consider texture. Once again, the new building is smooth and the old building is ornamented. One building is highly textured and the other is like several sheets of smooth glass.

The church is heavy in its Neo-Romanesque styling yet the larger building seems as light as air. Now look at a picture taken from the base of the Hancock. Notice that the mirror now, no longer reflects the church, but the sky. One really has to look carefully to see whether you are looking at the sky or the reflection of the sky in the uppermost mirrors. The fact that it is 800 feet tall and mirrored makes the top of the tower virtually disappear. This also makes the tower seem much lighter and less likely to feel that it is oppressively leaning over you.

See the same contrasts? Light/dark, big/small, stone/glass, heavy/light. Now criss-cross them. Make the heavy thing seem lighter than the smaller thing, which should seem lighter by comparison, etc. Use that to highlight the differences, not obscure them.

What’s the next example, which as I said, you should know well? Any guesses? IT’S The Christian Science Plaza in Boston! Pei also designed this and it was the first thing I thought of. I know that you didn’t pay to much attention to CS and all that stuff pertaining to it, but I thought that you would at least catch that. Yes, Pei did the church plaza and he used the same tricks here as you saw in Paris and at the Hancock building aforementioned. (Please open picture now) If you can see the old Mother Church is in the Neo-Romanesque style and the Extension is Neo-Classical, you have identified the two “old” elements of the design. Can you find the contrasting new element? It’s not just the new buildings—it’s the pool. Yes, the pool functions as the same type of element in the design as the Hancock tower does a few blocks over.

While interesting in and of itself, it creates a soft reverse image of the “hard” and formal buildings on the plaza. I’m sure you will find a number of pictures of the plaza at night with its pool shimmering and all the lights lit. Notice the columns in the formerly named “Colonnade” building. Notice the repetition used to create a rhythm, drawing the eye all the way down the plaza. Note that the newer buildings could overwhelm the older ones but they never do. They are brought down a couple of notches on the grandiosity scale so as to allow the churches to continue to capture the center of interest. Please look for the same ideas and their various uses in other areas in this design.

This concludes our lecture for today. Remember, you exam is Tuesday. I think you now can supply your own critique from here on as it is 2am and I’m getting tired.

Dr. Roland

Professor of Pencil Sharpening

The beautiful sights one is likely to see in the Louvre Gardens. Posted by Hello

Fit bastards. You will notice the woman in the yellow T-shirt who was also a Capoeirista, but in terrible shape. Yet there she was doing these crazy somersaults and twisting every which way. I was aghast, it has been years since I could be flexible enough to fold a fist! Posted by Hello

Capoeira on the streets just outside the huge and madly expensive Printemps. It was right about this moment when I decided that I indeed need to get my lazy self fit. Posted by Hello

Lazy blogger after an afternoon feeling badly dressed compared to sleek Parisians, decides to spend scarce funds to purchase pimp suit. Posted by Hello

Lazy blogger hanging about Paris playing at being a tourist while worrying about his dissertation the whole time… Posted by Hello

Kenyan soldiers, part of the 14th Army, with a seized Japanese flag, after their capture of Seikpyu, 18 February 1945. A lot of Kenyans who are abroad imagine that they are the pioneers in their family when their grandpa’s might ‘have been there and done that’.
 Posted by Hello

Jonana Mungai of the Kings African Rifles, writing home. Burma,
January 1945.

 Posted by Hello

On the road to Kalewa to face the Japanese army in January 1945 Posted by Hello

Where Does African Heroism Reside?

I just received a text message from a friend in Nairobi who let me know that the authorities are bulldozing all the temporary structures built to house small businesses: kiosks, hawkers and mitumba dealers. All this is being done to supposedly get ‘rid of thugs’. I have been saying it for a while now, the Kenyan government is at war with its own people. Now small business people are thugs; wardens shot dead by British aristocrats get no justice, journalists slapped by the First Lady and Maasai people agitating for a return of their land in Laikipia. It all adds up to the criminalisation of being poor. But I have gone into all these matters in the past and frankly speaking, they are driving me to rage and great sadness. Let me use this post, not to be escapist, but to ponder on the nature of heroism, whether courage is a political virtue. And to ask where Kenyan or African heroism exists. In my last post, I mentioned my grandpa who went to Burma to fight with the King’s African Rifles during WW2. I have wondered what experiences he had there and have decided to post some pictures before I can get a story out. I enjoyed these pictures and hope that I am able to upload them.

My Granpa Went to Burma and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Have you ever wondered why the British have so much concern for Africa and Africans that they would launch commissions of inquiry into the continent’s troubles? Well so have I, which is why an upcoming Oral History conference on ‘changing memories of World War Two’ offered me a glimpse into the heart of British charity. This is the advertisement for the conference:

A range of presentations from across Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Latin and North America will address the War’s consequences and legacy in the memories of participants and for successive generations. These presentations are organized into two major themes which reflect the ways in which the War continues in many countries to play a part in historical consciousness and everyday life. ‘Remembering, forgetting and silences’ explores individual memories in relation to dominant discourses, identity, myth and intergenerational transmission. The second of the two themes, ‘Using memories of war’, includes reminiscence as a therapeutic intervention and the ways in which the media has shaped recollections of the War.

That is right. Africa and Africans were somehow not a part of that war’s consequences and legacies. Yet the King’s African Rifles suffered many thousands of dead and maimed in the Burma, Abyssinia and Somalia campaigns. Then there were the taxes and other privations that Africans had to suffer as their colonial rulers fought a total war. This is not a rant to demand ‘inclusion’, a term that I detest with every cell in my body, it is to note that even as the British establishment crows about 2005 being the ‘Year of Africa’, they nevertheless maintain boundaries between the native and the master in their national myths. There is plenty of print and conferencing available when you die of hunger, HIV or just plain old atrocity, but not when you take a bullet for King Georgie. The thanks must flow in one direction only: Africans must kneel before the British in gratitude at Blair’s Commission and Bob Geldof’s pronouncements. But they, oh no, they will not acknowledge that at the hour of their greatest weakness, some darkies stepped in and did a job.

Pity is the worst thing in the world. When you are pitied and helped out of pity, your life is often taken off your hands. Pity degrades and kills everything it touches. And that is what we have become, a pitied people who come on hands and knees begging for more pity, nay actually, it is worse than that, we now demand pity as a human right!

I have fired off a deceptively ‘calm’ email to the organisers and hope that they will fall for the trap before I launch some brimstone their way.

Having said all that, I am embarrassed at how poor my education in history was in Kenya. I did not for example know that almost every Kamba male who was not handicapped was recruited into WW1 service; or that so many died and suffered (45,000 officially and 200,000 unofficially); or that many campaigns were won through the tenacity and courage of African soldiers. They may have been fighting in an absurd war given that they were the colonised fighting to keep others from being colonised, but courage should be acknowledged and applauded wherever it rears its head. The recruitment of the King’s African rifles who numbered over 120,000 in WW2 brought many people from incredibly diverse backgrounds together. They took to speaking English, Lingala, and Swahili as common languages, creating the templates for the nationalist politics that followed and led to the formation of the continent’s governments. The salaries they were paid sparked an economic boom after the war and tied a large proportion of the people to the cash economy. The war also radically changed the colonial notions of the African person. After the high fatality rate of WW1, recruiters had a tough time trying to attract Africans to join up. Few now know that the colour bar was dropped in 1939 to enable readier military recruitment.

Growing up, I was always taken with the bronze three-man statue on Kenyatta Avenue – can you picture it? The guy with a stick is a carrier, in the middle is a KAR rifleman flanked by an Arab rifleman. They appeared so strong and firm, which I suppose is the whole point of the thing. And the stories from the wars are gripping. Kenyan and Tanzanian beef for example fed the million men on the allied side stationed in the Middle East. Then here comes the King’s Africans Rifles, who when they were not putting down rebellious types on home soil, found time to ship to Burma and face down Japan’s crack troops – called the white tigers – in the ‘valley of death’. Then there are characters like Color-Sergeant Kumani of the 1st Battalion, King’s African Rifles who on October 7, 1914 won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in a battle at Gazi for his bravery ‘in leading his company in a charge after all his officers had been shot down, and drawing off the enemy’. Why did he do it? Why did he run into enemy fire when his white officers fell?

My late grandfather was a medical officer during World War 2 and I remember him being called daktari by everyone in Wida, Kiambu. I wonder what he experienced in Burma. What he felt travelling so far, treating gaping wounds and doses of the clap, losing friends to an early death for a cause that was not theirs. He was such a bunch of contradictions: charismatic, kind to me, brutal to those he did not like, clever, seductive, funny… He was a full person, but I regret that I was too young to talk to him about the things that I have since learned about his time ‘over there’. Beyond these personal asides, I am as always struck by the power of learning history. And have developed a conviction that to be ignorant about history is to be an intellectual cripple: driven only by the demands of the present and yet unable to understand from whence they come, and therefore ultimately meeting the future unarmed and more naked than need be.

Maybe I am wrong and my high school history education was superior. But I was too sleepy to care during those hellish afternoon double lessons with this teacher we called Rook. He would stand in front of the class like a peacock, chin up, hands on hips, and would authoritatively repeat the textbook on your desk to a letter. The moment I set eyes on him, a wave of sleep would overcome me. I always thought he should have come with one of those ‘do not operate machinery after ingestion’ warning signs. Yes, perhaps it was all Rooks’ fault.

Mass of Appetites: A Nairobi Bar Horror Story II

Below is a slightly different and longer version of Mass of Appetites. I hope you enjoy it, despite it being quite rough, and that you feel driven to add a paragraph, a photo, whatever, in the comments section. I will look through any such contributions and consider how to work them in. I like the idea of monster stories occurring in familiar spaces where people behave unexceptionally yet co-exist with horror.

Mass of appetites
It always buys rounds
Eating, guffawing
Patting the distension, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks
gorging
Holding forth, fat soft paws gesturing
They reach for the girl
who imagines she will survive the eating
you are a ngood gaw
the appetites breath is hot and wet
eyes: beady, sunken, gleeful
happy
I may nget this one

The Mass of Appetites is always on the make, out on the town most nights of the week, like a shark that cannot stop swimming and hunting for a single moment lest it drown. His German automobile turns into the bar parking lot slowly, ponderously, with the drivers behind him hooting their exasperation. Appetites drives carefully and his car is always very clean. It has one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from the back mirror alongside a small smiling green troll doll bought on a trip to Dubai last year. The inside of the car is immaculate and the outside polished to a dull sheen.

He looks for the parking space that will afford the most people a look at his car and is willing to wait interminably for one to free up. He crouches in his seat, taking in the sights, with his soft paw-like hands holding onto the velvet-bound steering wheel. When the watchman informs him there are open parking spaces further down, he chooses his response carefully from his two-item menu: threaten or cajole.

He takes in the other cars in the lot which are mostly Toyota Corollas bought from Dubai, the unmistakable mark of the striving classes. In the old days the ladder’s steps were: servant quarter in Golf Course, house in Buru Buru, a plot in Githurai, house in Plains View and the final move to Kileleshwa. Now it is about modes of transport: mathrees for a few years, the Shuttle, a used Nissan Sunny, new Corolla, used BMW then finally the Mercedes Kompressor. They will never rebel he thinks with an amusement laced with contempt, they will only keep switching their modes of trajectory to account for every national failure. Finally parked, he heaves his distended belly out of the car by first putting both small feet on the ground then with a grunt rising. He maintains surreptitious glances at the car, nervous that it will be stolen and also curious what everyone thinks of it.

Appetites ambles into the bar, beady eyes darting in all directions as he seeks friends and targets. His eyes take in the girls barely out of school, judging the firmness of thigh, the weight of buttock and most importantly the state of finance. He can guess within a few hundred shillings how much everyone has in their purse or wallet. Pocketing, he fingers a wad of notes with one finger and then subtly rubs it against his penis which is already semi-engorged with possibility.

As he walks toward fellow appetites with whom he’s done ‘Tender business’ in the past and who he calls his friends but secretly loathes, he notices a girl, dressed in a tight black dress that hugs a curvaceous body, who is eyeing him with what she imagines is a knowing eye. A frission of excitement runs down his sweaty back. She is the best kind – the ones who imagine that they KNOW, who want to eat into his wad, to use him. He chuckles inwardly knowing that he is unusable and cannot be lied to because he has achieved the exalted state of decadence which is the truest form of freedom. It does not matter that she has coupled hundreds of times or has a boy she loves and comes to this bar only for the money, he can smell the remaining strands of innocence woven into her firm youthful flesh. She will not know that when he heaves his hairy thighs off the bed with his fang dripping semen, he will have pulled them out of her and transformed her into the undead.

He calls for a triple shot of Johnny Walker Black and three kilos of roast meat – fuel for the hunt – while loudly ordering a round of drinks for the table. Miming conversation with his fellow Appetites, who do not mind since they too are busy, he sweeps his eyes across the room taking in the men this time. He wonders whether they present any competition for his mission. He casts around seeking those that appear to be in love wanting to watch them for little lapses that betray the futility of their attempt to find happiness. Spotting one such couple seated with the girl in black he notes the boy’s eyes occasionally glazing over as they covertly take in the sight of strangers’ thighs and arses. Soon the girl will be ready for Appetites when she finds out that her beloved, but slightly disappointing boyfriend is pawing her sister or sleeping with her best friend. He has seen betrayal a thousand times, but gets a delicious charge each time.

The girl in black gets up to go to the bathroom and Appetites, now in full Nosferatu mode, eyes her proud back which tapers to a point before her hips and buttocks explode outward and then settle onto thick hard thighs and thin calves. She walks slowly, uncomfortable in heels that are a bit too high for her, tottering and parting her way through the crowd with a subtle caress here and a hip nudge there. She will do, oh yes, there will be a feeding tonight. But first he must seek that dark, strong thing deep inside him that attracts his prey as surely a flame draws a fly to its destruction. He has never put a name to it, but knows that it emerges in the presence of Black Label, a wad of money, noise, low lights and innocence.

The meat arrives and he reluctantly invites the other Appetites to partake as well. They fall to it with unembarrassed relish. Tearing, guffawing mirthlessly, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks and holding forth on “prots in Dadora”. Appetite matches them bite for bite, caressing his pot belly to summon the confidence monster who must emerge soon if the girl is not to fall to one of his companions. Here she comes.

She is heading for her table but her eyes are fixed on the table of Appetites, aware that they are rich and on a hunt. She thinks herself their equal in worldliness, confident that her beauty which she has used to toy with many men could see her through an encounter with any of them. Appetite watches her amused glance and snickers inwardly knowing that like everyone uprooted and thrown into the thousand universes that are Nairobi she belongs to many and yet to none – she longs for anchor and is seeking it without recognizing her desperate need. She has one of those new fangled rasta hairstyles which at first puzzled Appetite who had only ever seen them in pictures of Bob Marley and Dedan Kimathi. He has since come to associate them not with political struggle but with a process of self manufacturing that is a response to any one of a thousand traumas of an upper-middle class family tumbled to genteel poverty.

Such girls always tell teary tales of the mistakes Daddy and Mummy made as the to-be-rasta attended some fancy private school and then went abroad to find Me, he feels a surge of hatred. They make for the easiest prey. He knows how to lay a trap that allows them to feel the greatest degree of freedom even as the noose tightens – it is how they prefer to be ambushed. His first move must confirm her opinion of him and then there will be nowhere to go but up, all the while borne by her pleasant surprise.
‘I’ve been looking for you, Needs, do you know why?’
‘Yes, you seek flesh. You want to love me and you resent me for that.’
‘But there are also other things that lie beneath the flesh that are desirable,’ he breathes underneath his words. He is playing with the flame, trying to get as close to the edge as possible. The eating will be sweeter if he has voiced his true intentions and she, already caught in the web of the undead, freely offers herself.

A passing waiter with a tray of samosas and sausages walks by. Appetites motions to him and orders five of each. He watches Needs nibble at her sausage fastidiously, careful that she should not ruin her carefully applied makeup. Her face is round with wide eyes that are extraordinarily far apart so that she wears an expression of permanent surprise. Her smile is an attempt to communicate certainty where there is none; it twitches slightly at its widest point. The skin on her neck is darker than that on her face due to the use of Ambi skin lightening cream, her body not as youthful as it seemed at a distance. Appetites notes the careful disguise with distress, perhaps she has no strands, maybe she is empty of the sweet marrow. He falls to the remaining snacks, shoving them into his mouth and swallowing without chewing. Needs recoils inwardly, suddenly aware that she is in the presence of a great hunger.
‘What is it that you do for a living?’ she asks.
‘You are curious? I am an in-between; I exist in the cracks to smooth them over. I detect needs and fill them while keeping a few of them for myself. And you?’
‘I told you that I was the daughter of Fallen Success. That means that I spend my time caressing entitlement, in expectation of victory.’
As they have been talking, her hand has been inside her large leather purse stroking the spine of a book as if a genie will fly out of it and rescue her.
‘Which book is that you are reading?’ he asks. The dark thing always wants to know such details, there is no better way to divine the state of the inside.
‘The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho,’ she answers.
He shudders with excitement, she is his. It is the final proof that she is desperately trying to hold onto a moral universe – she is ready for the nail.

Appetites and Needs are in the German automobile heading to his lair. They are silent, listening to a CD of sighs and moans that Appetites is playing at a high volume. The lights of other cars do not seem to reach into the cab and he is driving very slowly. Needs looks around the interior and notices little carnations strewn carefully about, the kind used for funeral wreaths.

They drive on a dark road winding through a forest, past a great housing estate that now lies empty and silent, past vast horticultural farms, coffee and tea plantations, herds of emaciated cattle with no minders and beach hotels whose windows are giant Trojan condoms – they have not seen a single car or human being for the past hour. The music this time is a steady murmuring that is getting louder with every passing mile. She notices that the road is widening and is running downhill.
‘Where do you live?’
‘At the end of this artery.’
They drive past dark silent mansions whose large gates – on which symbols in a strange language are wrought in grey steel – have been half torn off their hinges.
‘Where are we, who lives in these houses?’ she asks with trepidation, she is realizing that there exist paths whose existence she had never even guessed at.
‘Mimicry used to live here behind gates of nihilism that as you can see were no match for absurdity when it came to take them to the end of the road.’
Needs is starting to listen to the voice beneath his words, feeling the presence of the dark thing. She glances sideway at Appetites and sees that he appears bigger than he did when they left the bar. He is sunken into the leather seat and his stomach has grown so large that it is pressed hard against the steering wheel which he clutches loosely with hands sprouting rough black hairs. His eyes are shut not looking at the road ahead and she can no longer feel the motion of the car.

‘I’ve changed my mind about visiting the end of the road, please take me back home.’ Her voice trembles. He does not reply for long minutes, but instead fiddles with the radio which starts emitting a low keening noise that steadily rises in intensity.

The road has by now become a steep decline and the trees bordering it rustle agitatedly. The moon, so prominent when they got in the car, is nowhere to be seen and yet there is an eerie light that seems to emanate from the earth itself.

Appetites is in a trance, knowing that the dark thing is now in full control, the hour of feeding is well nigh. It caresses his sex, stilling him, burrowing deep into the folds of his stomach and emptying it in preparation. The trees outside the car are now in frenzy, bending over the road almost as if they wish to peer into the car. The radio is now emitting a wailing noise.

Needs is whimpering.

They approach a large black gate decorated with naked steel statues that spell out ‘Etats house’. It opens with a great creaking sound that can be heard over the radio’s deafening wail. Appetites has expanded even more and is now pressed hard against Needs side.

‘We are here: the end of the road.’

Appetites puts both his feet on the black gravel and with a heavy grunt of effort heaves his bulk out of the automobile motioning to Needs to follow him. They are outside a large mansion with every light blazing. Fused within its granite walls is wet blonde hair that emanates a strong smell that seeps into Need’s every pore. She staggers into Appetites’ arms knowing that in them lies certain destruction, but it is the only place that appears familiar and therefore comforting.

They descend a winding staircase, the steps illuminated by a milky, glowing substance. On the walls are a thousand portraits of old men in Makerere graduation gowns. Their faces wear expressions of heavy resignation battling pride; their fingers clutch their diplomas tightly like a drowning man clutches at a straw. Fallen Success. Needs is in the house that she has been trying so desperately to run from, she was always headed here. She feels an enormous weariness.

Appetites savors these moments before the feeding when he sees the target face-to-face with itself. He is fully engorged, but cannot remember when he has ever felt hungrier. If only the other Appetites could see him now, descending lower than they have ever dared.

A low keening sound fills the hallway through which they are walking. It breaks into song, a disjointed rap tune issuing from a child’s throat.

Ahhhhhhhhh, squat, squaating, birthing.
Prowl, sprawling
I am a savage
Spear chucker
Right inside you
Chucker chuckling
Position clear
No instrument required by law to be stamped
Can be accepted
Unless it is stamped with the required
Sufficient stamps under the stamp oathing
Roader roading
Insides chuckling
Spear hurting
Savagery ceasing

Needs lies on the bed watching the ceiling on which fat snakes in pinstripes, red shirts and green ties wriggle as if in a pit of pain. They are hissing at her … hissing her name over and over. ‘Needs, Needs, Needs daughter of Fallen Success,’ they say. They are celebrating her homecoming to the end of it all; to that place the ordinary world pretends does not exist.

Appetites is asleep on his feet. The dark think unfurls, its one unblinking eye fixed on Needs. From this eye comes a drop of a bloody liquid whose scent is like rich, wet loam soil.

Needs watches the fang approach flanked by two thin hairy thighs above which swings swollenness containing filaments of writhing, suffering innocence. She parts her legs already feeling her filaments struggling to get out, to free her of their tenuous hold. Appetites does as instructed and perches above her directing the fang between her legs, its breath against Needs thick thighs is hot and moist. It writhes towards her. She screams.

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene IV

The preceding Matrix Redux posts are in the April archive: Scene I, II, and III.

I really dug the movie. Especially the party scene in Zion which was a real kick and reminded me of the overly conscious cool of Brooklyn, New York.

I lived in Brooklyn for a few years and loved the Fort Green neighbourhood before it was taken over by mousy types from the backwaters of Iowa. In the good old days, it was filled with the kind of deliciously pretentious and yet cool kind of black person that I have come to refer to as an RRRR: Range Rover (driving) Rasta Revolutionary. This is a very particular type of young black person who has often done quite well professionally and yet is profoundly uncomfortable with his/her privileges and as a result tries to project a kind of progressive, left, revolutionary, mystical – you get the meaning – identity.

By day he works in an investment bank and by night soulfully spouts Sufi poetry. He can often be heard in coffee shops and funky lounges holding forth in angry tones on the subject of the ‘Man’ and the ‘System’. As the rare beers from Fiji – bottled in fair trade wooden bottles – flow, he is often to be heard making a never-to-be-achieved plan to become the next Malcolm X.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate such contradictions and loved my neighbourhood all the more for them. RRRRs, for those who do not know, are also known as The Senegalese. They are not actually people from Senegal though they are likely to speak of Goree Island with a painful catch in their voice; will have gone to FESPACO in Burkina (if you don’t know what that is, you are not Senegalese) and have a CD collection full of Youssou N’dour even though they do not understand a lick of what he is singing. Dreadlocks are preferable, yoga sessions compulsory, deep I-am-trying-to-find-me vibes seep out of every pore, while a trip to Salvador da Bahia in Brazil is always on the cards.

The Matrix post below is bit short, but I just run out of steam as I was going along. To return later, I hope.

Scene IV

Tree-Hugger Smith: The great Mzee. We meet at last.

Mzee: And you are?

Tree-Hugger Smith: Smith, Tree-Hugger Smith.

Mzee: You all look the same to me.

Tree-Hugger Smith: Why are you so angry? Have you ever paused to consider aid’s beauty, its genius? It converts poverty and death into wealth and purpose. I remember when you were a young Boi; you could have been The One.
Hear me, Mzee, I’m going to be honest with you. We seek title over African wretchedness. Your problems are now ours; they became so the moment we started solving them for you, which is of course what this is all about. Ownership, Mzee, ownership. All power emanates from contestation, from crisis: your problems, our power. Look out that window. You had your time. The future is our world, Mzee. The future is our time.

Mzee: You’re empty.

Tree-Hugger Smith: I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This Africa, this reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the futility, the misery. I feel saturated by it and scared of it and yet it calls to me. Everytime I stop at a traffic light, I cannot help but wonder if one of them will ‘jack’ me. Whenever I pick one up at Gypsy’s, I cannot stand the clash of my desire to grind them into my bedsprings and the fear that their diseases will grind me six feet under. I can taste your misery and every time I do, I fear that you shall somehow take it away from me. I hate you and I owe you nothing, NOTHING!

Mzee: Quick Boi, re-read Fanon and Conrad – with courage this time. Smith is Mr. Kurtz re-made for our age. He is ‘… an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what else.”

Tree-Hugger Smith: Boi, are you listening to his ravings? I warned them, I told them over and over again, but they would not listen: never send a black man to do a white man’s job.

Mzee, left arm held rigidly at his side and the right pointing ahead so that it appears like a sword, charges toward Tree-Hugger Smith. His left arm makes a ponderous upward stab toward the already-dodging torso of Smith who focuses his attention to it. Smith is a blur of speed, head toward the offending arm, his face a rictus of fury. For a split second, his attention drifts from Mzee’s right arm which now starts a fast chopping motion to Smith’s vulnerable neck. The impact makes a heavy, meaty sound and Mzee’s arms cross, momentarily making the sign of the cross. It is the classic movement that accompanies the killing stroke that the matador applies to the bull in the corrida. Mzee’s momentum keeps him travelling forward and he slips behind and away from Smith. First blood has been drawn; Tree Hugger Smith now feels the measure of Mzee’s resources of anger and skill. But inside the red mist of his pain and rage he has detected a frailty in Mzee, a weakness disguised under layers of a righteous anger that cannot be sustained for lengthy periods.

Without Boi, Mzee will lose and so it is that both foes almost simultaneously turn toward him.

More coming up …

(c) MMK

The African and his Dangerous Loins

The piece below was published in the East African in the Fall of 2004. It is about a London conference that featured all the hypocrisies that I have been ranting about for the past week. It will be followed by a return to the The Matrix Redux: The African Version – stuff that is a bit lighter once this rant on donors and the aid-consuming elites leaves me, to return soon no doubt.

You’ve been hoodwinked. You’ve been had. You’ve been took. You’ve been led astray, run amuck. You’ve been bamboozled. — Malcolm X

African loins are dangerous to their owners and to society at large, especially when they pair up. At a late 2004 UN conference on reproductive health held in London – with the ominous sounding title of Countdown 2015 – African sex came under the spotlight for its almost unmitigated dangers. Speakers held forth on its unfortunate tendency to transmit lethal infections and failing that, to result in numerous babies who, contrary to popular belief, are actually destructive beings that impoverish their parents and undermine national economic aspirations. Countdown 2015 ended with the unanimous recommendation that Africans should make capacity building efforts empowering them to sheath their weapons of mass destruction in latex. Outrage was expressed that while facing the twin dangers of disease and babies, Africans are faced with the disadvantages dealt them by a destructive colonial legacy and the continuing neo-colonial attentions of the West. It was thus confusing in the extreme when this august body of scholars, reproductive health professionals and officials from African governments and NGOs concluded that Africans had a right to free condoms and healthcare paid for by those same Western nations.

The overarching goal of the conference was how to provide free sexual healthcare to the world’s poor by 2015. Its various motions lived up to the worst stereotypes of NGO-speak: impenetrable, pedantic and cursed with a hopeless idealism. Participants argued that unless all women and men have access to free contraception of their choice, it would be impossible for hunger, war and pestilence to be eliminated in Africa. The pressure civil society, which many attendees claimed to belong to, exerted on local governments and donors would result in funding being made available for contraceptives that would then be delivered by NGOs. The small talk back at the delegates’ $300 per night hotels was all about empowerment and the possibility of getting invited to the next conference at some exotic locale. Uplifting stories of poor folks’ ability to cope with privation were shared by our learned friends who spoke in hushed tones accompanied by furious little nods acknowledging the dignity of ‘the people’. I wondered whether the irony-free demand that rich nations were obligated to pay for the care of poor Africans was made in cruel jest or was evidence of an astonishing naivety. It also made me curious about the wider role that donors and NGOs and the so-called civil society play in Kenya.

Most of those attending the conference were united in the opinion that the industrialized West has an obligation to provide contraception and health for the African poor. In numerous speeches, the recipients of this aid were tagged as partners or even clients – in the case of NGO service provision – but there was little doubt that they exist downstream from the expertise and the money. They were relegated to a helpless, but dignified victim-hood beyond their ability to relieve save when their capacity receives attention from the NGO-donor crowd. So it was that speaker after speaker asserted the right to free condoms to be as fundamental as that of free speech.

Of course the glaring difference between the two is that while you can fight your government for the license to vote or speak your mind, you cannot marshal much of an argument if faraway governments do not safeguard your loins. Can Africans really enjoy rights based on Western charity? Is it possible that donor states are generous enough to provide free health and contraception to billions outside their boundaries? Common sense would provide answers that are resoundingly negative. But such conferences are not exercises in common sense, they are attempts to de-politicize African poverty so that it can be managed by a section of the upper class sustained on donor patronage and with no popular mandate.

It calls itself civil society. Even when it employs political language, for instance in railing against what it asserts is neo-colonialism or the devastating legacy of colonialism, the higher aim is to engender guilt in the liberal West and ensure the continued flow of donor money. Sections of this civil society – many who were present at Countdown 2015 – periodically make headlines for holding lively demonstrations against multinationals, regarding them to be at the forefront of a homogenizing globalization of capital and Anglo-American culture. The language employed is that of a class war whose European frontlines have since been abandoned by its originators – the revolutionary left. The paradoxical result is that NGOs funded by pro-globalization agencies such as USAID and DFID end up lauding poor Africans for being the ‘resistors’ of an ‘evil’ capitalism. Some are clever enough to spot the irony in this arrangement and usually extol themselves for being transgressive: ‘we take their money and then work against them…’ being a typical argument. One of the major reasons for these tortured exercise, which I will return to later, is the need to argue the need for social welfare programs. By identifying the source of the deepest structural problems to be Western, and thus making the case for where responsibility lies, they ensure that monies to apply band-aids will be available. Concurrently, they (rightly) assail African governments for lacking the capacity to implement these programs thus opening the path to their taking the lead in administering aid.

Countdown 2015 was billed as a follow up to a similar effort in Cairo a decade ago. Before then, population control was the rage in development circles. Policymakers regarded the birth rate in Africa – rapid compared to that of industrialized nations – as a leading cause of poverty. Kenya, if you will cast your mind back to the 1980s, had the distinction of being the world’s leading baby factory. Aid experts and the organizations they supported locally made strident efforts to communicate the dangers of the birth rate outstripping economic growth, which they concluded would inevitably lead to national destitution. In the two decades prior to the Cairo meeting, a top priority of international development organizations was to drastically slow population growth.

But the connection, whether real or imagined, between such a Malthusian outlook and the policies of countries that pursue forced sterilizations and compulsory abortions to control population growth proved to be a public relations disaster. It required a shift in tack. After Cairo, and prominently so in London a few weeks ago, the old population control ideas have now been repositioned as a human rights issue. This is partly for PR value, but is also an acknowledgement of new possibilities for expanding their domain introduced by the willingness of the donors to now countenance democratization with the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Cold War was underway – with Moi as a valued client of the West and thus above criticism on his human rights record – NGOs had been forced to steer clear of ‘political’ issues.

In the 1980s, the fight against KANU’s dictatorship democracy was mostly led by clandestine movements like Mwakenya together with a small scattering of individuals and aboveground groups such as the Law Society of Kenya. By the early 1990s, as Western patronage for the regime retreated, the political space available to the opposition broadened. It now stretched beyond covert efforts and developed into a broadbased pro-democracy movement that enjoyed the support of a majority. So much so that the American ambassador, Smith Hempstone, now became a proud member of an opposition that only a few years earlier he would have demanded to be dispersed violently if need be. With this momentous shift, donor money was soon funding the now-familiar civil society programs in democratization, voter education etc.

Considered in hindsight, it would seem that the focus on babies was only incidental just as the present one has little to do with creating a vibrant democracy. The problems addressed by the local development enterprise must accord to donor priorities just as its programs must take the shape of the available funding. Ideally, it keeps its language abreast of political developments to the extent that its aforementioned limitations allow. The more it succeeds in taking the rhetorical lead in solving or framing local problems, the greater the legitimacy won; this is valuable currency in the world of conferences and proposal writing. Possessing radical bona fides helps, especially when earned by stances that are no longer perceived as a threat to donor interests.

If they cannot get their hands on a hero, it suffices to reach for legitimacy with a garbled radicalism characterized by vague leftist terms and positions. Success in this exercise confers a two-fold advantage. First, it sells better to those remnants of the Western left who regularly staff donor agencies. Secondly, it accords the particular NGO or individual a good position from which to challenge the government’s adequacy thus ensuring that donor funds are increasingly directed away from it and to NGOs that are by leaps and bounds taking over the governance of the country.

Kenya’s self-identified civil society, like other sections of the country’s elite, has arrived at its lofty position by being a go-between. Its A-game is to scrap for the right to represent the public to foreign interests and vice versa. The public has problems – big ones, while the foreigners have a guilty conscience to assuage or geo-political goals to achieve by dishing out cash. That is why it is not surprising when civil society’s members join the Cabinet and effortlessly abandon the positions they fought for in the past. To either camp, ordinary Kenyans are the bait that provides a house in Lavington, cocktails in Westlands and air-tickets abroad for these bigwigs.

According to one of the reports handed out by the conference organizers, participants decided on a worldwide program to guide national-level policy making for the next 20 years in all countries that signed up. Given that many African governments have abdicated a substantial part of their mandates to NGOs and donors, after years of being browbeaten and allowed a sense of entitlement to foreign aid, they will surely sign up. Once they do, and with their policies ‘guided’ by external actors, will there be any need for democracy as citizens are relegated to passive charity recipients and not the ultimate guides of national policy?

But it is not only the paternalism evident at the conference that was so objectionable, it was also the poverty of the idea that reducing our birth rate is a necessary step to building a prosperous society. Once in a while, I inadvertently have a conversation with a Western layperson that imagines Africa is overpopulated, and that this is one of the causes of its extreme poverty. Their solution often goes something like this: if you have fewer babies, there will be better schools, a less burdened health system, more food to go around…etc. Save the Children adverts of starving children begging for a Westerner to ‘adopt’ them for $12 per month would then cease according to this view. I was surprised that the learned and supposedly informed health professionals at the conference shared this outlook.

The reason they ignore the growing body of statistical and anecdotal evidence that contradicts Malthusian policies toward the poor is that they must keep up a relentless drumbeat of negativity to keep their programs going. It does not matter that over a dozen studies, including one by Nobel prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets, oppose the overpopulation consensus so evident at the conference. Rarely do findings demonstrating that faster population growth is not associated with slower economic expansion make their way into conference speeches. Africa actually needs more people and a higher population density. For example, Hong Kong, though it has forty times the density of China, has still managed to build a vibrant enough economy to provide a comfortable existence for most of its citizens despite most of them having been dirt poor fifty years ago. This is repeated in all of the Asian Tiger economies. Even the NGO outcry about the growth of slums, brought on by rapid urbanization, rather than being a universal evil has been a crucial factor in the growth of capital and wealth in every industrialized country during the last century.

Limiting the number of babies, or having more capacity building conferences, will not make for more wealth or less misery. The solution lies in stopping government from its perpetual beggardom and from having its policies guided by donors and the civil society NGOs they fund. That the government is the biggest employer, spender and consumer of national resources, while it prostrates itself to the donors, means that its bankruptcy of ideas and lack of sovereign will is communicated to an inordinately large percentage of the social and economic life of the country. At present, this state of affairs faces little opposition. The very rich who it would be thought have an intrinsic interest in limiting the role of government in socio-economic affairs do no such thing despite such oversight usually resulting in higher business taxation and regulation. It is because that 50-year old guy with a Pajero is too often the one who, as part of the political elite, has made money on fraudulent deals in the ministries. Reducing the reach of government would reduce his ‘opportunities’. Thus his sense of relief now that donors are back to providing government with budget support after they had turned to the NGO sector as the preferred deliverer of services during the late 1990s. Alas, this state of affairs had even forced him to ponder dropping the businessman moniker and writing up a proposal to launch a charity. For their part NGOs welcome donor funding, but try and make the argument that government is too corrupt to take a lead in delivering aid.

The fight against corruption has only incidentally to do with its effects to these two groups, rhetoric notwithstanding. It is just another way that civil society haves wage war against the political elite have-mores. Both groups will deliver Kenyans to the bidders, and will continue doing so by fighting turf battles that the public assumes represent their interests – if these are served, it will only be incidentally.

What is not accounted for so far in this essay is the game on the donor side. Are the monies promised for condoms or commissions launched to investigate yet another African crisis motivated solely by liberal guilt or traditional geo-political goals such as that of expanding the donor country’s sphere of influence? Toward what are Kenyans being guided? The briefest answer is thus: to a world where democracy is good only for making limited service choices and the public has scant chance of fundamentally re-orienting its political sphere. Keenly awaited political goals such as most of those included under the human rights banner will, by virtue of the depoliticised approach to them and their spearheading by foreign funded bodies, replace an organic political dispensation with a global one. FGM will be eliminated, women freed from patriarchy and older people from ageism by agents drinking from the same fount, many who do not understand the grand vision that will be realised should their particular campaign reach fruition.

The result will be a legal and moral code that is everywhere similar, one characterised by its contempt and enmity to the political life of the multitude of publics around the world. The only difference between Missouri and Nyanza will in be their menus and traditional dances. Culture will be robbed of its animating power, robbed ultimately of the dynamism arising from difference and expressed as political opposition. An ostensibly neutral body of law which will be nothing but an enthronement of the powers that be will hold politics at bay for it is only in that domain that the public can express its will. But is it so bad to have this project succeed is the obvious challenge to the negative tone of this article. Would not a universal human rights regime and a technocratic management of social welfare be preferable to the deluge of crises that is our lot? Perhaps so, but this vision will never be realised.

We are caught in the march of history without being its beneficiaries. The donor monies from up north will always be too scant to fundamentally solve our poverty-induced problems. Funding will actually shrink with time, as it has been doing since the end of the Cold War. Yet our ability to generate entrepreneurial capital remains stunted by the statist instincts of civil society and the political elites whose hold on the levers of government – or their NGO alternates – are the key to their sustenance. What is being created is a new management system. The old one managed the war against communism. This one must cap the violence that may emanate from disparate and opposed political voices, which could threaten the security of the West – whether via increased illegal immigration or the creation of environments that generate anti-western terrorism. The system should appear to have all the working parts of a democratic polity: government, opposition and civil society. The rhetoric issuing from it will be stridently pro-people, while its proponents will wax lyrical about the universal goals and responsibilities of Humanity; anything to keep you engaged with the donor world and away from thinking or acting parochially, tribally, by sex.

Kenya, and countries like it, will remain in a state of suspension between implosion and sputtering progress, between crippling poverty and an over-taxed, over-managed petty capitalism. Being suspended in this miserly, degenerate state will be an invaluable benchmark for those other parts of the world whose production of capital is increasing rapidly. We shall comfort the despairing in those places for we are incalculably worse off. Our role is to be the other, except not a threatening other thanks to the management system. We will be pitied, provided with charity and used as the backdrop for societies whose nihilism has grown apace with its riches, and that is now in need of moral crusades that will not upset its applecart. We are consigned to be the blackspot that must be stopped from spoiling everyone else’s party and that allows for the modest appeasement of Western conscience.

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness

This should be required reading for every single African because it says it all. It was first published in 1959 and is prophetic to say the least. Read on and see the course of your country foretold … Replace bourgeoisie with babi and see how it reads

The Wretched of the Earth
by Frantz Fanon

Chapter 3

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness (excerpts)

HISTORY teaches us clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism. For a very long time the native devotes his energies to ending certain definite abuses: forced labour, corporal punishment, inequality of salaries, limitation of political rights, etc. This fight for democracy against the oppression of mankind will slowly leave the confusion of neo-liberal universalism to emerge, sometimes laboriously, as a claim to nationhood. It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.

National consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been. The faults that we find in it are quite sufficient explanation of the facility with which, when dealing with young and independent nations, the nation is passed over for the race, and the tribe is preferred to the state. These are the cracks in the edifice which show the process of retrogression that is so harmful and prejudicial to national effort and national unity. We shall see that such retrograde steps with all the weaknesses and serious dangers that they entail are the historical result of the incapacity of the national middle class to rationalize popular action, that is to say their incapacity to see into the reasons for that action.

This traditional weakness, which is almost congenital to the national consciousness of under-developed countries, is not solely the result of the mutilation of the colonized people by the colonial regime. It is also the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle class, of its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mould that its mind is set in.

The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an under-developed middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace. In its wilful narcissism, the national middle class is easily convinced that it can advantageously replace the middle class of the mother country. But that same independence which literally drives it into a comer will give rise within its ranks to catastrophic reactions, and will oblige it to send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother country. The university and merchant classes which make up the most enlightened section of the new state are in fact characterized by the smallness of their number and their being concentrated in the capital, and the type of activities in which they are engaged: business, agriculture and the liberal professions. Neither financiers nor industrial magnates are to be found within this national middle class. The national bourgeoisie of under-developed countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry; and it is only too true that the greed of the settlers and the system of embargoes set up by colonialism has hardly left them any other choice.

Under the colonial system, a middle class which accumulates capital is an impossible phenomenon.

The objective of nationalist parties as from a certain given period is, we have seen, strictly national. They mobilize the people with slogans of independence, and for the rest leave it to future events. When such parties are questioned on the economic programme of the state that they are clamouring for, or on the nature of the regime which they propose to install, they are incapable of replying, because, precisely, they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country.

This economy has always developed outside the limits of their knowledge. They have nothing more than an approximate, bookish acquaintance with the actual and potential resources of their country’s soil and mineral deposits; and therefore they can only speak of these resources on a general and abstract plane.

The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the ground-nut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe’s small farmers who specialize in unfinished products.

Yet the national middle class constantly demands the nationalization of the economy and of the trading sectors. This is because, from their point of view, nationalization does not mean placing the whole economy at the service of the nation and deciding to satisfy the needs of the nation. For them, nationalization does not mean governing the state with regard to the new social relations whose growth it has been decided to encourage. To them, nationalization quite simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period.

Since the middle class has neither sufficient material nor intellectual resources (by intellectual resources we mean engineers and technicians) it limits its claims to the taking over of business offices and commercial houses formerly occupied by the settlers. The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement: doctors, barristers, traders, commercial travellers, general agents and transport agents. It considers that the dignity of the country and its own welfare require that it should occupy all these posts. From now on it will insist that all the big foreign companies should pass through its hands, whether these companies wish to keep on their connexions with the country, or to open it up. The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of intermediary.

Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation … The national bourgeoisie will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner. But this same lucrative role, this cheap-jack’s function, this meanness of outlook and this absence of all ambition symbolize the incapability of the national middle class to fulfil its historic role of bourgeoisie. Here, the dynamic, pioneer aspect, the characteristics of the inventor and of the discoverer of new worlds which are found in all national bourgeoisies are lamentably absent …

It follows the Western bourgeoisie along its path of negation and decadence without ever having emulated it in its first stages of exploration and invention, stages which are an acquisition of that Western bourgeoisie whatever the circumstances. In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth.

The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way towards decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big-game hunting and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organizes centres of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry …

Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.

The behaviour of the national landed proprietors is practically identical with that of the middle classes of the towns. The big farmers have, as soon as independence was proclaimed, demanded the nationalization of agricultural production. Through manifold scheming practices they manage to make a clean sweep of the farms formerly owned by settlers, thus reinforcing their hold on the district. But they do not try to introduce new agricultural methods, nor to farm more intensively, nor to integrate their farming systems into a genuinely national economy.

In fact, the landed proprietors will insist that the state should give them a hundred times more facilities and privileges than were enjoyed by the foreign settlers in former times …

The landed bourgeoisie refuses to take the slightest risk, and remains opposed to any venture and to any hazard. It has no intention of building upon sand; it demands solid investments and quick returns. The enormous profits which it pockets, enormous if we take into account the national revenue, are never reinvested. The money-in-the-stocking mentality is dominant in the psychology of these landed proprietors. Sometimes, especially in the years immediately following independence, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to invest in foreign banks the profits that it makes out of its native soil.

On the other hand large sums are spent on display: on cars, country houses, and on all those things which have been justly described by economists as characterizing an under-developed bourgeoisie.

It is from this view-point that we must interpret the fact that in young, independent countries, here and there federalism triumphs. We know that colonial domination has marked certain regions out for privilege. The colony’s economy is not integrated into that of the nation as a whole …

Immediately after independence, the nationals who live in the more prosperous regions realize their good luck, and show a primary and profound reaction in refusing to feed the other nationals. The districts which are rich in ‘ground-nuts, in cocoa and in diamonds come to the forefront, and dominate the empty panorama which the rest of the nation presents. The nationals of these rich regions look upon the others with hatred, and find in them envy and covetousness, and homicidal impulses. Old rivalries which were there before colonialism, old inter-racial hatred come to the surface …

African unity, that vague formula, yet one to which the men and women of Africa were passionately attached, and whose operative value served to bring immense pressure to bear on colonialism, African unity takes off the mask, and crumbles into regionalism inside the hollow shell of nationality itself. The national bourgeoisie, since it is strung up to defend its immediate interests, and sees no farther than the end of its nose, reveals itself incapable of simply bringing national unity into being, or of building up the nation on a stable and productive basis. The national front which has forced colonialism to withdraw cracks up, and wastes the victory it has gained.

As we see it, the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie is not apparent in the economic field only. They have come to power in the name of a narrow nationalism and representing a race; they will prove themselves incapable of triumphantly putting into practice a programme with even a minimum humanist content, in spite of fine-sounding declarations which are devoid of meaning since the speakers bandy about in irresponsible fashion phrases that come straight out of European treatises on morals and political philosophy. When the bourgeoisie is strong, when it can arrange everything and everybody to serve its power, it does not hesitate to affirm positively certain democratic ideas which claim to be universally applicable. There must be very exceptional circumstances if such a bourgeoisie, solidly based economically, is forced into denying its own humanist ideology. The Western bourgeoisie, though fundamentally racist, most often manages to mask this racism by a multiplicity of nuances which allow it to preserve intact its proclamation of mankind’s outstanding dignity.

As regards internal affairs and in the sphere of institutions, the national bourgeoisie will give equal proof of its incapacity. In a certain number of under-developed countries the parliamentary game is faked from the beginning. Powerless economically, unable to bring about the existence of coherent social relations, and standing on the principle of its domination as a class, the bourgeoisie chooses the solution that seems to it the easiest, that of the single party. It does not yet have the quiet conscience and the cairn that economic power and the control of the state machine alone can give. It does not create a state that reassures the ordinary citizen, but rather one that rouses his anxiety

The state, which by its strength and discretion ought to inspire confidence and disarm and lull everybody to sleep, on the contrary seeks to impose itself in spectacular fashion. It makes a display, it jostles people and bullies them, thus intimating to the citizen that he is in continual danger. The single party is the modem form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, unmasked, unpainted, unscrupulous and cynical.

It is true that such a dictatorship does not go very far. It cannot halt the processes of its own contradictions. Since the bourgeoisie has not the economic means to ensure its domination and to throw a few crumbs to the rest of the country; since, moreover, it is preoccupied with filling its pockets as rapidly as possible but also as prosaically as possible, the country sinks all the more deeply into stagnation. And in order to hide this stagnation and to mask this regression, to reassure itself and to give itself something to boast about, the bourgeoisie can find nothing better to do than to erect grandiose buildings in the capital and to lay out money on what are called prestige expenses.

The national bourgeoisie turns its back more and more on the interior and on the real facts of its undeveloped country, and tends to look towards the former mother country and the foreign capitalists who count on its obliging compliance. As it does not share its profits with the people and in no way allows them to enjoy any of the dues that are paid to it by the big foreign companies, it will discover the need for a popular leader to whom will fall the dual role of stabilizing the regime and of perpetuating the domination of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois dictatorship of under-developed countries draws its strength from the existence of a leader. We know that in the well-developed countries the bourgeois dictatorship is the result of the economic power of the bourgeoisie. In the under-developed countries on the contrary the leader stands for moral power, in whose shelter the thin and poverty-stricken bourgeoisie of the young nation decides to get rich.

The people who for years on end have seen this leader and heard him speak, who from a distance in a kind of dream have followed his contests with the colonial power, spontaneously put their trust in this patriot. Before independence, the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty and national dignity. But as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie.

There exists inside the new (postcolonial) regime, however, an inequality in the acquisition of wealth and in monopolization. Some have a double source of income and demonstrate that they are specialized in opportunism. Privileges multiply and corruption triumphs, while morality declines. Today the vultures are too numerous and too voracious in proportion to the lean spoils of the national wealth. The party, a true instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, reinforces the machine, and ensures that the people are hemmed in and immobilized. The party helps the government to hold the people down. It becomes more and more clearly anti-democratic, an implement of coercion …

In these poor, under-developed countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty, the army and the police constitute the pillars of the regime; an army and a police force (another rule which must not be forgotten) which are advised by foreign experts. The strength of the police force and the power of the army are proportionate to the stagnation in which the rest of the nation is sunk …

The observations that we have been able to make about the national bourgeoisie bring us to a conclusion which should cause no surprise. In under-developed countries, the bourgeoisie should not be allowed to find the conditions necessary for its existence and its growth.

A bourgeoisie similar to that which developed in Europe is able to elaborate an ideology and at the same time strengthen its own power. Such a bourgeoisie, dynamic, educated and secular, has fully succeeded in its undertaking of the accumulation of capital and has given to the nation a minimum of prosperity. In under-developed countries, we have seen that no true bourgeoisie exists; there is only a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it. This get-rich-quick middle class shows itself incapable of great ideas or of inventiveness. It remembers what it has read in European textbooks and imperceptibly it becomes not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature.

Frantz Fanon

The Weekend I spent in the Queen’s Compound at Windsor

By the time sixty University of London postgraduates finished squeezing into buses rented to ferry them on a two-day retreat, I sensed significant events were in the offing. The prospect of guesting at a former game lodge on the grounds of Windsor Castle had frankly excited me, but I was trying to keep it bottled up by adopting a weary I-have-seen-this-type-of-thing attitude.

In the hour that it took to drive from London to Berkshire, I had abandoned all efforts at being cool and was experiencing an expectant glow. Cumberland Lodge, set in the tranquil landscape of Great Park (formerly known as the ‘King’s woodland at Windsor’), is a massive brown brick mansion surrounded by gardens in which nature’s untidy ways have been quietly subdued. After checking in, we were immediately ushered into a lecture on the history of the lodge.

Later, upon a brief investigation, I discovered that the Duke of Cumberland was better known as Butcher Bill in Scotland on account of his enthusiastic embrace of murder. Somewhat understandably given the English penchant for keeping up polite facades, the 30-minute talk on the lodge’s history had failed to mention this little fact. The woman who had made the presentation got rather thin-lipped when hours later, in a burst of drunken inspiration, I joined an otherwise dignified Swede postgraduate in accosting her and loudly demanding that they change the name of the place to Butcher Bill’s lodge. The whole business got slightly more annoying for this dear lady when we decided to chase the deer peacefully lurking about, thus breaking the air of royal tranquillity if only briefly. They could be killed, but only by the royals and so their being scared by a commoner, especially an African one, appeared to her, I suppose, highly inappropriate. Remembering these incidents now, I can supply no strong argument in my defence except to suggest that they were a childishly expressed desire to dig below the surface.

But let me return to Cumberland and how he came by that sobriquet – we were after all his guests in some fashion. It bears getting into some (irrelevant) detail for though in certain quarters Cumberland was known as Butcher Bill, he was also referred to as Stinking Bill and Sweet Bill. He even had a flower named after him. Whence the discrepancy in names, why would he boast of a mansion in the King’s Woodland, and how to explain the presence of Africans (joined with the Scots in feeling the colonial boot) in this residence so many years after his (in)famous acts? You must admit that these are mysteries, perhaps useless ones to understand, but they are interesting nevertheless.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Cumberland, after suffering a defeat at the hands of the French as the commander of an Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian alliance known as the Pragmatic army, was recalled to England to put the threatening Scots in their place. Charles Edward Stuart, called the Young Pretender by those ill-disposed toward him, grandson of the deposed king James II, had invaded England. After several engagements, with the Highlanders at his command using guerrilla tactics, matters came to a head in the Battle of Culloden where Cumberland’s army inflicted a crashing defeat and killed at least a thousand brave Scots. The Young Pretender eventually settled in France after having unsuccessfully tried to raise another effort against the English and used feminine disguises to escape the Royal Army. But that is a story for another occasion. Suffice it to say that Cumberland had carried the day.

After the battle, when our noble duke was asked for orders, he reputedly wrote, ‘No quarter’, on the back of a playing card. You can easily imagine the airiness of the gesture as Billy took in a game of cribbage with a brandy and a cigar in hand. What followed was the cold-blooded murder of all the Scottish survivors, many who had left the field wounded and hidden in peasant huts. He remained in Scotland for three months, captured three thousand prisoners and executed just over a hundred of them. His actions were met with great acclaim in England where he was given a generous pension and a flower named after him to mark his success. This blossom is known as the Sweet William in England, but in Scotland is called the Stinking Billy.

Knowing these details, consider the raison d’être of Cumberland Lodge given these two hundred and fifty years later: ‘to encourage an interchange of thought between students, especially those from the University of London and from the Commonwealth…to encourage the investigation and discussion of the nature of Man and Society’. As I return to the unimportant events that transpired on my weekend stay, consider what role time and intention play in transforming the violent and domineering into the charitable and democratic.

In the interest of honesty, I must report that on our first night at the lodge, students, who perhaps should have known better, stole a bottle of wine from the kitchens seeing that the bar would be closed by 11pm and that there was a strict injunction against providing your own liquor. Word is that they were acting out of a drunken desire for adventure. One of them, a sweet tempered and once removed conspirator in the wine lift, was dispatched to procure a corkscrew from a youngish bartender who seemed to have the eye for her. Unfortunately, the fellow turned out to be less horny and more principled on matters of theft, which I admit threw me. He steadfastly refused to yield the corkscrew and insisted on knowing why she needed it. Feeling that the game was up, this young lady came running to her compatriots in a panic at the dire consequences of robbery on the Queen’s own grounds.

Now this created a dilemma for the guilty parties who will remain unnamed for the moment. While this young woman had been a cheerful member of the planning group, she had not, in a manner of speaking, put her fingers in the cookie jar. If anything, she had been assigned the less morally compromised task of procuring the corkscrew. Being English, and thus possibly clued into the dire punishments that attend petty thefts in the land of Queens and dungeons, she was bubbling over with fear and trepidation. But, as she assured us, chin awobble and in quivering tones, she would take this on the chin without giving up the guiltier parties.

This of course was received not so much with relief, but with the faint beginnings of panic as we sensed that her nerves did not seem strong enough to withstand steady interrogation. And from the look of things, what I suspect was the faint memory of Butcher Bill in his former home, it was clear that the interrogation would prove to be brutal in the extreme.

I tried assuring her that it was an insignificant prank that would amount to nothing, not believing myself as I considered her tear-swollen features. I attempted summoning what I imagined was a rousing speech, deriding the bartender and suggesting that he would not, and indeed could not, take the matter any further on account of its pettiness and the lack of fingerprint proof. After all, I concluded, they did not even know a bottle had been stolen yet.

Having strengthened her backbone enough to reduce the tears into sniffles, I decided to investigate how much information the other side had. Approaching the bartender and his elderly, ladylike assistant – who had earlier refused to serve me drinks because of my inability to accompany the request with a ‘please’. After some friendly banter, it emerged that they suspected our young woman and a companion of stealing a bottle of wine and hiding it under the staircase. Punishment was going to levelled at the whole group by closing the bar a full hour early. Now this was serious stuff given the carefully laid plan to binge drink during that crucial hour. They were determined, like the former owner of the house, to giving no quarter. It came to me in a flash that the downstairs – the servants – in such a home would never ever forgive the transgressions of the upstairs if they had the power to exact punishment. These two had been thrown a bone, a reason to gnaw on it and they were not going to let go.

A well considered discussion now got underway as I dug deep, trying to find a sober set of ideas. With surprising ease, out came a rant on man’s innate corruption and the temptations that, alas, are too often the pitfalls of badly raised youth. Joined in an outraged chorus by the not-so-horny bartender and the please lady, it soon became clear THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF TODAY. ‘But surely, if we are in a crisis here in England on account of declining moral standards, what are we the decent people who have worked hard and lived honestly to do about it all?’ I demanded to know in the midst of this moral love-fest.

I had actually started to feel stabs of great anger against youth crime and a steady sympathy for these two good souls found in their peaceful lair by insidious wine thieves. But I still had a job to do. ‘Are we to depend on collective punishment; on the idea that the sins of the few can be visited on the many; is the message of the New Testament to be disregarded?’ I asked brightly. This was now too much for Mr. Principle and Lady Please; the African was right and deserved a free pint. And then several more. To my credit, I tried refusing these offers suggesting that somewhere in my foggy, largely conscience-free mind, there remained a hint of guilt. But what the hell, I was not going to refuse another pint of London Pride with so much riding on it.

(c) MMK

Stop Moaning: The English Response to Years of Defeat

To keep up with the British theme now that their elections have come and gone with nary a ripple anywhere outside Westminster, I am going to re-run an article that I wrote in 2003 after a particularly frustrating day in London. Truth be told, I am trying to find a clear way to describe the English and have in mind a story about the little accountant with his triplicate forms who lives at the centre of the Englishman’s soul. I have been promising myself to get it down, but alas.

Stop Moaning: The English Response to Years of Defeat

How did the English ever manage to conquer such a large swath of the world? London can barely run itself much less entire continents, I should know because I live here.

Train tracks are held in place by blocks of wood, rusty nails and a brick. The train system, like virtually every other public service is in a state of acute crisis. Thankfully the operator apologises with reasonable sounding phrases that would have you imagine delays are a rarity.

The time on the tube is mostly spent wondering how you will afford David Beckham’s life, which is splashed on every headline and that you are a loser for not emulating. By the time you extricate yourself from your fellow, habitually unsmiling passengers, you slouch outside to cold, grey skies, and incessant rain.

Thank God you have lunch to look forward to. Will it be the fried candy, fried chicken, soggy vegetables or the fried tomatoes? Whatever you choose to eat, be prepared to pay dearly for it – if not financially, then surely with blocked arteries. And remember you only have an hour to wolf it down before you return to your badly paid job.

You might be lucky enough to survive without depression therapy into the evening. Then you can anticipate a few hours at your local pub, surrounded by the same unsmiling train passengers you thought you had left behind forever. If this is not good enough for you, try one of the three TV documentaries on the First World War playing on any given night.

Actually don’t bother, they all say pretty much the same thing: “We are a plucky lot blessed with a good moral compass and able to sacrifice for jolly old England,” all correct sentiments, I suppose, with the exception of the ‘jolly’. When it comes to you poor devils who were colonised, there is a grudging admission that it was wrong to oppress you. But hurry, it’s time to move back to happily reminiscing about the greatness of old England.

There are few people whose self-perception is so painfully contorted to ignore reality as the British. The famous stiff upper lip for instance, disguises a complete inability to connect with others and a shyness that borders on phobia – it’s a case of the shy guy who pretends to hate women.

It also helps when you are being screwed by painfully high taxes, late trains, bad food, high rents, traffic jams and trying to digest the cultural significance of the latest story on the thong Kylie was spotted wearing at Lord Elton’s party.

The importance of sacrifice keeps cropping up, but much of it amounts to putting up with privations brought on by mediocre government and enduring yet another Royal scandal (“I wish I was your tampon Camilla,” Prince Charles once muttered thickly on the phone) The obsession with a glorious past gives testimony to this being an age of British decline and it’s not a pretty thing.

Living with such a storied history has made many here insecure. A widespread dislike of foreigners might once have resulted from imagining that they were all a sorry bunch, but now it springs from the fear that associating with them will expose one’s inadequacy.

You see, for the British, identity is competitive: “I am better than you because I once ruled you. But since I don’t any more, I am better because, ah, well, my great grandfather was mowed down as he walked slowly towards a German machine gun nest at the Somme after his officers thought him too stupid to run in correct formation.”

In case this is sounding like the rant of some disaffected ex-colonial subject, it is. The fact that I am from Kenya, a country that was ruled for more than half a century by people so dentally challenged, rankles.

The British are many things and most of them, if not really wrong or evil, are boring and slightly pathetic. One example suffices to tell you everything you need to know about the country: Tim Henman.

Here is the great hope of British tennis who in his own words states that “winning is everything,” a sentiment that is widely accepted across Britain.

However, like the rest of this country’s athletes, businesses, dentists, train operators and health service administrators, he has not had much actual practice winning. There are those 11 titles won in a decade of professional tennis in places like Tashkent, Brighton and Reunion.

Now, this would be fine if he were just some minor talent, but remember this is a man who has made fans weep when he was bundled out of yet another Wimbledon (reaching the semi-finals on four occasions amounts to cruelly teasing the British public’s fevered expectations.)

As he sportingly accepts defeat after defeat he is frequently referred to as a gentleman, a status many Britons aspire to as they surreptitiously take in the naked breasts of the page three girl.

For the British, defeat has come to define the past 50 years of their national life to such a large extent that putting up a fight as you get gutted is now the only recourse. Henman’s game reflects his country’s approach to everything.

It is careful, yet mediocre, and shows few flashes of creativity. I must admit though that his pronouncements of future victory do bear bleak testimony to his possession of a vivid imagination disconnected from reality.

Above all, his demeanour on the court is dignified. There is little panic in evidence as he gets blasted away and treated with obvious disrespect by his opponents. You might deal with him like a calf in a slaughterhouse, but don’t expect him to beg for mercy. Here I have to stop and acknowledge that there is something perversely admirable about this attitude.

If the British have anything to show the poor Asians or poorer Africans they once ruled it is this: stop moaning so much about your problems, show some pluck, for God’s sake, and never let them see you sweat.

419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Certificate of Deposit

Naomi Bangura’s certificate of deposit to prove how much money she has in Ivory Coast and needs my help to move offshore. For the rest of the story, read the posts on the 419 Scam Letter.  Posted by Hello

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.
MMK

Dear Mr MMKs.

I thank you so much for your letter at last. And I am
sorry for what heppened to your worker.

Please, I will want you to be serious about my case
and help me.

Here is the website of the bank,where my father
depoisted the money (www.boahq.com) you can contact
them for the transfer of this fund,so that I will
leave here now that the political problems has not
gotten worse.

For the person that contacted you.I do not know him in
person,But there are many people here who lost their
parents in the cause of the war.If your spirit direct
you to help him as well, I will not stop you.

I am looking forward to hear from you.

Thanks,
Miss Naomi Bangura.

MMK
How are you sir?i see it neccesary to write you
once again,i hope you are coping with the problem your
company had in dead of your worker,i hope the
situation is coming down.
I know the Lord is in control and i have been
praying day and night to see that the lord see us
through for this transaction,i still beleive that the
lord brought you to be a help and it shall not be
invain,you know am a young girl and don’t know much
about business and i know with you everything shall go
smoothly when i come to your country to work with
you.Have you contacted the bank? i went to the bank to
confirm if you have contacted them and i was told that
you have not contacted them,pls sir don’t waist time
remember you promised me,and they are still waiting
for your lawyers to call them.
Sir, there is one thing i noticed from the bank
director, he seems not to be much happy because i want
to send this money abroad and he told me that he has a
friend in toronto canada who deals in diamond and he
will contact him for me but i said no that i trust you
and i cannot do business with anybody except
you,tuesday last week i went to consult a lawyer
concerning what the bank director told me,when two of
us got to the bank my lawyer asked the bank director
that as long as your name is in the bank file that he
has no legal right to contact anybody who is not my
choice or desire,so my lawyer is with us here to
ensure every thing go well and he is worried and he
said you should do quick so that after the tranfer of
this money i can come to meet you.
Please,sir call the bank director so that they
can tell you what to do for the transfer of this
money.
Thanks and GOD bless you and your family.
yours Naomi

dear naomi, as always I am happy to hear from you. but worrid. i talked to my lawyer and he seemd a bit hesitant because he said my busines is very in debt. but then i told him that you seemed very nice and showed him the certificate of deposit. i hope that he makes a conection with the bank because he promised. how are you? tell me quickly when my lawyer contacts bank.
bye
matin

Dear MMK,

I thank you for your letter and I appreciade your
continued efforts.

Please, you have to force your lawyer to contact the
bank as soon as possible,so that this money will be
transferred to your account.

You are in a better position,to inform me when your
lawyer contacted the bank,because where I am staying
is very far from the bank,and some times I do not
have enough money for transport.

Please, psuh your lawyer to hasten up, I am very
worried.

Thanks and God bless you.

Naomi.

Cucu’s Farm

Just thought I would put up one of my favourite images. This is one of the the oldest structure on my grandmother’s farm: the boy’s hut. It is where I would stay whenever I went to visit her during the holidays. The walls on the inside are covered with old newspapers and pictures from ‘laddie’ magazines collected in the 1970s. Isn’t it beautiful? Posted by Hello

A Quick Note From An African in Paris

I have just returned to London from a long weekend in Paris. Ah, Paris – all the clichés are true: the waiters are abrupt, the women sophisticated and the city is pathetically beautiful. There was such a relaxed atmosphere, which was especially noticeable among Africans when compared to their London or even New York counterparts. But then there were many who looked like they had bleached their skins, leaving them with blotchy – albeit it relaxed – faces and super dark elbows. It was a strange juxtaposition: the sense of home many of them exuded and the depths of self-doubt implied by a bleached visage. As for the hair styles… I can now say that Paris should be a UN-level International Emergency on the same level as Iraq and Darfur. If you really want to make a Bill Gates Sized fortune, start a hair salon in Paris. I usually cannot identify a weave if it was whipped into my face, but on the streets of Paris it was a choice between noticing the Arc de Triomphe or the reddish, tangled bushes many sisters were walking beneath. The weaves called attention to themselves, looking like a cross between the Medusa’s snakes and a small wet poodle lying atop a head. I worried that a cigarette butt would be flicked too high, sparking an immediate conflagration, an agonizing death and a flood of lawsuits against the Chinese manufacturers of hair pieces.

Folks in Paris are friendly though, engaged with what is going on around them. They do not hunch their shoulders and look into the middle distance like their Anglo counterparts. And though the place takes bureaucratic procedure to heights that Stalin’s Russia would have quaked at, it is all so smooth and well thought out. At least that was my touristy impression. As for being a tourist, this time in Paris, I was unabashed about it. There is something of consuming another culture that I find quite surreal as an African whose country is usually on the receiving end. It was like being in a shop with peoples’ lives on sale. Everything felt available, subject to the whims expressed through my credit card. Of course I knew that the truth is different: Paris is a city interested first in itself and not the outsider. But still that sense of ownership persisted as a tiny, intense feeling of power. I liked it. And so in a bid to capture the European tourist’s perpetual desire to capture an ‘authentic’ African on film, I tried to do the same by seeking out stereotypical beret wearing, red wine drinking, Marxist spouting French men and their clad-in-black female counterparts. I found very few and actually felt surrounded at all times by people who were from everywhere except Paris. More later. I have two stories of women that I saw: one at the Gare du Nord train station, waiting, I thought, for an inconsiderate lover and the other walking toward the Louvre museum holding a bunch of tulips with the cocksure step of a happy lover. Coming up later …

Can a 419 Scam Letter Lead to Romance?

I received a 419 email letter a year ago and on the spur of the moment decided to begin a dialogue with the writer, a Miss Naomi Bangura whose father “lost his life in the course of the crisis in Seira loene.” Fortunately for her, he had willed her $14.3 million in a Cote D’Ivoire bank account. Now she just needed my help in getting it out of the country. And of course in return for this help I would make my fortune. This is how the relationship got underway. My replies to her first two (un-edited) letters are in italics; please read from top going down, there will be future posts continuing this weird exchange.

From
Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire

Dearest,MMK

I love your profile and i have Decided to get in touch
with you,to see if you can help me solve my problem.

My name is naomi bangura. My father had lost his life in
the course of the crisis in Seira loene .My father
willed in cash, the sum of $14.3M USD which he
deposited in a bank here in Cote D’ivoire in suspence
account.in Abidjan west Africa, with enabling
conditionalities for the release of the fund which are
as follows:

(1) That I must be 24 years or above.(2) That upon
request for the release of the fund, there must be
evidence of investment intentions especially outside
the west africa, I contact you therefore to confirm if
you can absorb me in partnership in your company or
possibly advise me on any investment opportunity in
your country.

When I reach agreement with you, the bank will release
my fund into an account that you shall nominate and I
will come over to you to commence business partnership
with you with the fund.

I expect your urgent response including your
addresses, your telephone and fax number.

Thanks for expected cooperation.

My regards,

miss naomi bangura.

dear naomi,
I am so sorry for your los. I have heard of Sierra leone on tv and know that it is having lots of problems. You appear to be ver young and I hope you can be helped. have you tried save the children? I give them money every year. my business is in tiling residential houses here in croydon in london so i do not know if that is the kind of business tjat the bank would accept. but if it is, write me an email and maybe you can do some business with us. I look forward to hearing from you and may the lord bless you.
MMK

From
Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire

Dearest,MMKiam happy to read from you today and i know,
that God will use you to bless me. Firstly, i want to assure you of the safety of this transaction and i will invest it in your business venture as soon you claim this fund from the local bank in abidjan. i will also give you the deposit certificate my late father use to deposit the fund with the bank for proof. I will like you to enter into an agreement with me so that the business will be legal. I will go to the bank later today to ask the president of the bank if they will accept you you.I know that they will accept you, i will like you to send me your telephone number and fax number for me to submit to the bank to enable the bank to contact you for further directives regarding this fund that is still in their fix suspense account.

I am tired of staying in this country because of the political problems and the safety of my life. i want to meet you soonest so that i continue my education. God bless you and the family.

Mr MMK, I want you to re-assure me that you will not betray me immediately you confirm this fund to your account, i want to make it known that this fund is my last hope and i will not live to loose it.Awaiting your prompt response.

Yours Naomi Bangura

SIR
HOPE YOU ARE ALRIGHT IN HEALTH. IAM WONDERING WHY YOU HAVE NOT RESPONSE TO MY MAIL.

I WANT LET YOU KNOW THAT I HAVE GONE TO THE BANK AND THEY HAS ACCEPTED YOUR OFFER. YOU SHOULD FORWARD THE REQUIRED INFORMATION TO ME IMMEDIATELY SO THAT I WILL SUBMIT TO THE BANK LATEST MONDAY.

THANKS AND GOD BLESS.

YOURS FAITHFULLY,
NAOMI

Dear Naomi,
i am sorry that I hgave been out of touch for the last week, one of our employees died in a tragic accident faling of the roof of a building when fixing a leak. anyway, i am glad that the bank has accepted my offer of us doing busines together. but our lawyers need to be in contact with the bank directly so could you please send us the details and we can take it from there. also could you send a picture of yourself to me?
Take care.

This continues the curious correspondence that I had with a one Naomi Bangura who ‘loved my profile’ and decided to ask for my help securing a fortune her father left her in Ivory Coast. Since the letter found me while I was conducting research in Kigali’s jails last year, I was bored enough to seek entertainment wherever I could find it. So I adopted the persona of a working class Englishman who owns a roofing company in the London suburb of Croydon and has recently had an employee killed on the job. My replies are in italics and the first few exchanges can be found in an earlier posting on April 28th.


Dear Mr MMK,

I thank you for your letter,as I regret of the death
of your fellow employees. I pray for his soul to rest
in perfect peace.

I think I welcome your idea of involving your
lawyers,at least it will help to speed up this,so that
this money will be transferred without any delay.

Please here is the contact of the bank.

Bank of Africa,Abidjan
Tel:22507753535
Fax:22521341457
E-mail:info_boahq@financier.com

The contact person is Dr Kevin Idris,the director of
remittance department.

Please, I will appreciate if you contact the bank
immediately,and request them to transfer this money,so
that I will leave here as soon as possible,to live a
better life and continue my education.

I have attached the certificate of deposit and my
picture for you,and will be glad to see yours.

Thanks you and God bless you.

Naomi Bangura.

Dear MMK,
Beloved Mr MMK am very glad to have a person
like you on my way and i am sure is not a mistake
because before i got your contact i prayed and fasted
for 3 good days and this is divinely made by the power
of Jesus christ.
And i will not stop praying for you and all the
members of your family in Jesus name.
Please,sir i will you to contact me as soon as
you contact the bank.
Have you received my picture and bank document?
God bless you is my prayer.
yours naomi.

MMK,
Sir,how are you today?am afraid because i have
not been hearing from you for a long time,after
sending my picture and bank document and contacts i
want to ask you wheather you have received them or
not;Have you contacted the bank?
Frankly,speaking i am worried for not hearing from
you,remember you promised to help me,this money is all
my hope and life you know there is political problem
here in ivory coast for confirmation check this
(WWW.ABIDJAN.NET).Being a young girl of my age i need
your help and direction and if you cannot help me is
better you let me know now so that i can look for
another person that can help me.
I know that you might be busy of one thing or the
other but you have to remember that am a young girl
and human being and i see you as my father.
My greetings to your family and may GOD bless you
all amen.
Am waiting for your message.
Naomi.

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.
mmk

Mass of Appetites: A Nairobi Bar Horror Story

I was wondering what to post and then thought of Buffet Park in Nairobi, which is a collection of bars and nyama choma joints in posh Hurlingham. I spent a number of entertaining evenings there this past December and was struck by a sense of being in a space built to accommodate appetites: intense longings and ambitions for position and power. You could tell from the way everyone’s eyes constantly scanned the room rating, dismissing, pleading and dissecting all. Whatever you had done during the day established your position in Buffet Park at night, and perhaps the reverse is true as well. Daytime victories in business, government or politics were reflected in nighttime winnings of sex, food and attention. Two sides of a coin. So I started thinking of a man who has been at this for a while, whose spirit is corrupt during the daytime and how he would behave at night. I called the guy Mass of Appetites and wrote this very short horror story about him. Enjoy the experiment, if you can.
MMK

The Mass of Appetites is always on the make, out on the town most nights of the week, like a shark that cannot stop swimming and hunting for a single moment lest it drown. His German automobile turns into the bar parking lot slowly, ponderously, with the drivers behind him hooting their exasperation. Appetites drives carefully and his car is always very clean. It has one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from the back mirror alongside a small smiling green troll doll bought on a trip to Dubai last year. The inside of the car is immaculately cleaned and the outside polished to a dull sheen. He looks for the parking space that will afford the most people a look at his car and is willing to wait interminably for one to free up. He crouches in his seat, taking in the sights, with his soft paw-like hands holding onto the velvet-bound steering wheel. When the watchman informs him there are open parking spaces further down, he chooses his response carefully from his two-item menu: threaten or cajole.

He takes in the other cars in the lot, which are mostly Toyota Corollas bought from Dubai – the unmistakable mark of the striving classes. In the old days the ladder’s steps were: servant quarter in Golf Course, house in Buru Buru, a plot in Githurai, house in Plains View and the final move to Kileleshwa. Now it is about modes of transport: mathrees for a few years, the Shuttle, a used Nissan Sunny, new Corolla, used BMW then finally the Mercedes Kompressor. They will never rebel he thinks with an amusement laced with contempt, they will only keep switching their modes of trajectory to account for every national failure. Finally parked, he heaves his distended belly out of the car by first putting both feet on the ground then with a heavy grunt rising. He maintains surreptitious glances at the car, nervous that it will be stolen and also curious what everyone thinks of it.

Appetites ambles into the bar, beady eyes darting in all directions as he seeks friends and targets. His eyes take in the girls barely out of school, judging the firmness of thigh, the weight of buttock and most importantly the state of finance. He can guess within a few hundred shillings how much everyone has in their purse or wallet. Pocketing, he fingers a wad of notes with one finger and then subtly rubs it against his penis which is already semi-engorged with possibility. As he walks toward fellow appetites with whom he’s done ‘Tender business’ in the past and who he calls his friends but secretly loathes, he notices a girl, dressed in a tight black dress that hugs a curvaceous body, who is eyeing him with what she imagines is a knowing eye. A frission of excitement runs down his sweaty back. She is the best kind – the ones who imagine that they KNOW, who want to eat into his wad, to use him. He chuckles inwardly knowing that he is unusable and cannot be lied to because he has achieved the exalted state of decadence which is the truest form of freedom. It does not matter that she has coupled hundreds of times or has a boy she loves and comes to this bar only for the money, he can smell the remaining strands of innocence woven into her firm youthful flesh. He likes to be the final nail in the coffin. She will not know that when he heaves his hairy thighs off the bed with his fang dripping semen, he will have pulled the last bits of innocence out of her and transformed her into the undead.

He calls for a triple shot of Johnny Walker Black and three kilos of roast meat – fuel for the hunt – while loudly ordering a round of drinks for the table. Miming conversation with his fellow Appetites, who do not mind since they too are busy, he sweeps his eyes across the room taking in the men this time. He wonders whether they present any competition for his mission. He casts around seeking those that appear to be in love, wanting to watch them for little lapses that betray the futility of their attempt to find happiness. Spotting one such couple seated with the girl in black he notes the boy’s eyes occasionally glazing over as they covertly take in the sight of strangers’ thighs and arses. Soon the girl will be ready for Appetites when she finds out that her beloved, but slightly disappointing boyfriend is pawing her sister or sleeping with her best friend. He has seen betrayal a thousand times, but gets a delicious charge each time.

The girl in black gets up to go to the bathroom and Appetites, now in full Nosferatu mode, eyes her proud back which tapers to a point before her hips and buttocks explode outward and then settle onto thick hard thighs and thin calves. She walks slowly, uncomfortable in heels that are a bit too high for her, tottering and parting her way through the crowd with a subtle caress here and a hip nudge there. She will do, oh yes, there will be a feeding tonight. But first he must seek that dark, strong thing deep inside him that attracts his prey as surely a flame draws a fly to its destruction. He has never put a name to it, but knows that it emerges in the presence of Black Label, a wad of money, noise, low lights and innocence.

The meat arrives and he reluctantly invites the other Appetites to partake. They fall to it with unembarrassed relish. Tearing, guffawing mirthlessly, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks and holding forth on “prots in Dadora”. Appetite matches them bite for bite, caressing his pot belly to summon the confidence monster who must emerge soon if the girl is not to fall to one of his companions. Here she comes.

She is heading for her table but her eyes are fixed on the table of Appetites, aware that they are rich and on a hunt. She thinks herself their equal in worldliness, confident that her beauty, which she has used to toy with many men, will see her through an encounter with any of them. Appetite watches her amused glance and snickers inwardly knowing that like everyone uprooted and thrown into the thousand universes that are Nairobi she belongs to many and yet to none – she longs for anchor and is seeking it without recognizing her desperate need. She has one of those new fangled Rasta hairstyles made of artificial hair. This strange combination at first puzzled Appetite who had only ever seen locks in pictures of Bob Marley and Dedan Kimathi. He has since come to realize that they have nothing to do with political struggle. They are a flag for a painful process of self-remanufacturing, a response to any one of a thousand traumas faced by the child of a middle or upper-middle class family that has tumbled to genteel poverty. Such girls always tell teary tales of the mistakes Daddy and Mummy made as the to-be-Rasta attended some fancy private school and then went abroad to find Me, he feels a surge of hatred. They make for the easiest prey. He knows how to lay a trap that allows them to feel the greatest degree of freedom even as the noose tightens – it is how they prefer to be ambushed. His first move must confirm her opinion of him and then there will be nowhere to go but up, all the while borne by her pleasant surprise.

‘You are a ngao and you need to imbibe liquids’
‘Yes, I need absorption because I am fleeing from the center – centrifugal as they say’
‘I do not know you, but I think that you are more centripetal – that you are seeking the center’
‘I guess so but what do you intend to achieve by these means of disturbance, surely not twinning?’
Ah, she has moved too fast, resisting even before he attacks. Vulnerability. Appetite is listening beneath her words, seeking food for the dark thing. And it is stirring, detecting that as confident as she sounds and looks there is a wistful undertone that betrays a need of something soon to be determined.
‘In the beginning was nursery and the sound of gasps and grunts when your Mummy left the house, then came primary school when you heard the impact of hand-cheek collisions. You need to know you were the critical element in the causation, it was your fault,’ he breathes as he opens his legs slightly wider so that she is standing between them.
‘What is your name and why are you here seeking to still your misery?’ Her question betrays her ignorance; does she not know she is conversing with desire?
‘I am Appetites son of Starvation.’
‘And I am Needs daughter of Fallen Success.’
‘You seek a port and slavery’
‘Perhaps I do, though I dare say that I believe it to be open sea and freedom’ she retorts with spirit. He feels a surge in his loins as the dark thing arrives in its full magnificence, it has not been this excited in months!

He loudly orders a round of drinks. And then slowly, as a hunter will part the reeds before delivering buckshot, he brushes a sweaty hand against her hip awaiting her reaction. She eyes him, eyes full of questions and suddenly turns to walk away leaving appetites staring at her receding back, the excitement in him battling with hatred. His companions are in full stride talking of plots and deals, and fat man versus fat man politics. They feed on so little he thinks; money to them is the thing. They want prestige and to be feared. How petty when there are souls to be taken and broken, do they not know how much energy there is in a human body that is expended at the moment of death? Appetite has learnt over millennia that there are many deaths and that he can draw succor from all of them. He ambles towards her, using his belly to push his way through the crowd.

‘I’ve been looking for you, Needs, do you know why?’
‘Yes, you seek flesh and what lies underneath it. You want to love me, and you resent me for that.’
‘I know exactly what you mean, you are perhaps wise.’
Appetites likes the way it is going.

(c) MMK 2005

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene III

Tree-Hugger Smith: As you can see, we’ve had our eye on you for some time now. It seems that you’ve been living two lives. In one life, you’re (Peter) Kamau wa Njogu, program officer in a respectable human rights NGO that is considering getting into the Maasai land thing. You fly to conferences monthly and write frequent proposals to the Swedes. The other life is lived in sullen resentment, where you go by the alias “Range Rover Driving Rasta Revolutionary”, or Boi.

Boi: How dare you, who are you to talk to me this way? I care, I really do…

Tree-Hugger Smith: Be patient, listen. You are exhausted with the futility of it all; the savages just won’t listen. They are so power hungry and corrupt and act in such bad faith, and they are so tribalistic. You have decided that there will be no global revolution, so you instead make grand personal gestures: a kind word to the security guard, and extra dollar or two to the gardener, “keep the change” to the waiter, and yoga on Saturdays. Does anyone understand how draining it is to make a $70,000 per year while partying in Porto Allegre and reading all that postcolonial theory to spout (impressively) at parties? Both of these lives have a bright future, Boi, they sustain my work here.

Boi: You can’t scare me with this Du Bois double consciousness stuff, by implying you know me or even worse by suggesting in your snide way that I am that part of Fanon’s post-independence bourgeoisie, which “…is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor.” I know what’s up; I know that I am a part of a global progressive movement. Besides, who are you to question me when we are supposed to be in this fight together?

Spoon boy: Do not try and justify aid. That is impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no aid.

Boi: There is no aid?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the aid that’s bad, it is only yourself.

Tree-Hugger Smith: Did you know that the aid conferences held every week in a different city are meant to design a perfectly sustainable way to reduce African suffering to acceptable levels? Where none suffers to the point of extinction? Why don’t Africans get in line with NEPAD, agree to our dream for them? Frankly, it has been a disaster. They do not accept the programs in their entirety. Decades of development have been lost. Perhaps we lack the programming language to describe the world we are building for you: sustainable indigence. But I must admit that as Europeans, and here I include my African schoolmates at Harvard who are colleagues, we define our reality through African suffering.

Cypher: Jesus. What a mind-job. It just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man.

Mzee: Boi, you should be listening to Smith. I’ve seen a white aid worker burst into tears at the sight of a dead elephant and a winner of the Nobel Prize literally hug a tree… I’ve seen plenty that would boggle your African mind if it were free. People working for the aid industry have imbibed entire libraries and yet refuse to recognise the prison they guard. Men have expended entire intellectual and moral clips at them and hit nothing but hot air, yet their greed and blindness is still based on a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never solve your problems or own your victory.

Boi: For real Mzee, you’re starting to scare me.

Mzee: What is real. How do you define real? Are your little activist campaigns drawn from the African’s political body or are they impositions that even when positive ultimately rob him of his ability to shape his universe? Are you spouting global revolution only to rob the African of his revolutions? There is the world that you know and then there is the one that will one day exist. You will not birth the real, Boi, the world of tomorrow; you are merely a shadow, unreality, and a farce. Africa is to be delivered to her independence by that crude, tribalist, ignorant, poor, hustling, reactionary person who exists within a multitude of political communities that will burst into a thousand instances of violence and cooperation as they seek primacy and purchase. You will be swept away by this process because the anchor of aid that makes you so powerful today will make you irrelevant tomorrow.

Boi: AI? You mean my role in aid is artificial and doomed to failure?

Mzee: You are part of a consciousness that spawned an entire race of African servants: western liberalism of the right and left kind. We don’t know which of the two are winning. But we know that they are born of the same parent, that they would have Africans at the receiving end of their wisdom and would have us build our world in their image. At present, the left types, like Smith, are far more dependent on our misery and it is believed that they would be unable to survive the pouting and posturing that Africa’s allows them to adopt as they pretend to continue the revolutionary traditions of socialism. Since the world wars, when their brethren chose nationalism over revolution, they have been content to yoke us with their lifeless dreams – provided they are in charge.

Boi: No. No, Mzee. Don’t.

Mzee: There are conferences, Boi, endless conferences where Africans no longer think. For a long time I wouldn’t believe it, but then I attended a few aid meetings, engaged in cocktail chatter and considered how you came to this juncture. I listened as dead political categories were brought to life, heard the excitement caused by a post-modern political philosophy that chooses to obfuscate where clarity of thought and expression is required to inspire political action. I realised that they had lost their faith but none of their childish self-indulgence. Smith is part of a Western generation that is determined to thumb its nose at its parental authority (corporations and old white men: The Man) and uses our misery as its proxy and paycheck. Boi, I must tell you the truth: your attraction to ‘power to the people’ rhetoric, love of Bob Marley, Sartre and your vacations in Senegal are part of a new phenomenon: African flower power.

Scene IV coming up soon, watch this space…

Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans

Franklin Cudjoe, a friend of mine from Ghana who I met in London last year, recently wrote an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph whose sentiments and analysis matched mine so closely that I begged him for a copy to put on this blog. The absurdity, nay madness, of rock stars holding forth on Africa’s crises has driven me to distraction. Not only are the solutions they advocate – increased centralisation of governance and begging – completely futile, but the fact that I am supposed to get teary eyed with gratitude sickens me. Poor Africa, isn’t it enough that you must endure war and poverty without being subjected to mediocre, over-the-hill rockers come to save you?

I think Franklin says it effectively enough though. Read on.

Personal view: Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans
By Franklin Cudjoe (Filed: 18/04/2005)

Have you purchased your obligatory white band? Did Sir Bob Geldof send you an e-mail recently, reminding you to ogle his celebrity colleagues “clicking” away on television? Did you join the all-night vigil at Westminster Abbey to shiver in the cold and “wake up the government” about the need to “make poverty history”?

This year, the UK’s “development” charities have joined hands for a high profile campaign which claims that politicians have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate poverty in the run-up to the G-8 meeting in July.

Rock stars and charities can be powerful advocates for good causes, and they generally have good intentions – but in many cases their lyrics do not genuinely rhyme with the silent hum of the very poor they seek to protect. Their economics are just plain wrong. They ignore history, peddling the misguided belief that poverty, famine and corruption can be solved with foreign aid, debt relief and other policies that have already failed Africa.

One pillar of their current campaign is to eliminate farm subsidies in western countries, a noble goal which indeed would help to achieve a level playing field for agricultural producers around the world. Yet this view is rife with hypocrisy: the same organisations promote subsidies (what they call “fair trade”) for farmers and businesses in poor countries to shield them from the effects of competition.

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has said that Ghana’s rice, tomato and poultry farmers need to be protected from cheap imports. Yet the problems of Ghana’s farmers lie elsewhere: they and other entrepreneurs are stifled by punitive tax regimes and the high cost of capital, not to mention our disarrayed land tenure systems which lead to low crop production.

Neither Mr Martin nor fellow celebrities have mentioned these problems: they claim that the world’s trade regime is “rigged” in the name of “free trade”, harming poor countries like Ghana and benefiting interest groups in wealthy countries. The only solution, they say, is to protect local economic interests.

If we did ban rice and tomato imports, just how would we feed ourselves? Ghanaians depend on rice as a major staple in our diets, yet local production caters for only 30pc of the rice we consume.

Subsidies to local producers also mean fewer choices for consumers. The average Ghanaian has suffered because of shoddy goods made locally by protected industries that do not face any competition. Who can blame consumers for buying higher quality and less-expensive foreign goods?

Indeed, some savvy Ghanaian businessmen have helped both local farmers and consumers, for instance by providing locally produced rice in packages that ensure the rice isn’t stale when it reaches the consumer. Similarly, other Ghanaian entrepreneurs now collaborate with their Italian counterparts to produce tomato paste brands with Akan names, Ghana’s widely spoken language.

Protection for local producers also means that African countries trade very little with each other, as illustrated by the World Trade Organisation’s 2001 statistics. Africa’s share of intra- and inter-regional trade flows to western Europe alone was 51.8pc, while it was a paltry 7.8pc within Africa.

Development charities loathe international agencies such as the IMF and World Bank – many people would agree though that dealing with these agencies is like playing with loaded dice. They have empowered our politicians to engage in shady liberalisation deals, where international contracts are rigged to favour their cohorts with fat kickbacks.

Such agencies have often advocated ill-conceived policies in the name of market liberalisation – while they simultaneously push foreign aid and flawed development strategies onto us. Even the average Ghanaian knows that these “reform” programmes have achieved nothing other than to enable our bureaucrats to procure gold-plated Mercedes for themselves and their cronies.

But the real problem is not the IMF, World Bank or “rigged” trade rules. The problem lies with us as Africans and especially our leaders, to improve our own wellbeing, and to encourage economic growth through political and institutional reforms.

The solution to all that ails us is not aid, debt relief or “fair trade”. It is to adopt institutions to harness the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every African country, to enable Africans to trade with each other and anyone else in the world.

Establishing property rights would be an important first step; an effective, transparent and accountable legal system is another. Combined with respect for private property and the rule of law, these broad reforms would encourage entrepreneurship, trade, innovation and even environmental protection because they empower people – rather than the politicians.

As our economies grow and develop, people will be able to afford better technologies, clean water, superior energy sources, better healthcare, and insurance. But one is unlikely to hear such ideas from rock stars and development charities.

While these high-profile campaigns continue to blame western countries for our poverty, they simply give our own politicians more excuses to delay badly needed institutional reforms. Poor Africans would be far better off without rock-star economics.

• Franklin Cudjoe is director of Imani. He will speak at the Global Development Summit in London on June 28

Ryszard Kapuscinski: Bullets&honey says it is a storm in a teacup

Dear All,

I could keep silent no longer. This storm over Kapuscinski is occurring in a tea cup, and it is only right that it should be so for the man and his writing occupy no greater a space despite his book being folded into every Peace Corps do-gooder’s back-pack. The reason I say this is that Kapuscinski is only one of a vast Western army mining Africa for its misery like others do its oil and precious stones. He is therefore in the final reckoning a symptom, but one with a turn of phrase, a nerdy hey-look-at-me-courage and an audience of hungry journalists, aid workers and liberals hanging on his every morsel of misrepresentation to make their baby vulture selves feel just a little better.

Kapuscinski actually strikes me as more pathetic than dangerous for the dangers that many Africans face are of far greater magnitude than this man’s seat in an a little panel being held in New York City. I have often attended such panels for the visceral thrill of feeling wonderfully alive while observing unintentionally absurdist dramas. I am willing to bet many shillings that the panel droned, ponderously and self importantly on the IMPORTANCE OF THE WRITER and his place in making sense of evil and violence or laughter and resistance or poverty and music or HIV and film or the Girl-Child and Fela Kuti. It does not matter what they discussed because Kapuscinski and Soyinka or Rushdie, all of them, were performing: entertaining an audience that had paid good money and drank pre-wisdom wine and dressed in black – this after all is Manhattan. They held their chins, chewed on their spectacle stems, drunk some Evian water and generally held forth as they had on a thousand other panels to the very same spectators. Even the gasps of delight and outrage were scripted for everyone on the stage had been carefully selected for this purpose.

Meanwhile in Ituri, a brother was sharpening his machete, hitching up his trousers, cocking his much-used AK-47, getting ready for a bit of sport. This dude has nothing to do with Kapuscinski, and may even one day boil him when he fails to take the last flight out. That for sure would cement his reputation: he was soooo intimate with Africans, knew them inside and out actually, and now even resides inside the belly of one…

It has often struck me sadly that part of the reason that Kapuscinski survives his trips into war zones is that he is white. Were I to postpone my return ticket to ‘civilization’ in a bid to write a last-one-out-of-hell story alongside him, I would almost be guaranteed some steel and pain. Why this is so is puzzling to me, and feels like risky ground to explore. It is only one of the many issues that I think that our thought and energy can be devoted to productively. Kapuscinski, and his place or non-place in panels, is of little consequence. He is on them precisely because what he thinks of Africa dovetails quite well with its place as the hell that assures the west that it is heaven. Of course this does not mean he should not be challenged but one needs an awfully large amount of energy and time to do it with any consistence.

My suggestion: throw this stuff out there so that a few of his eager beaver fans can turn on him and with the time that liberals of all stripes seem to have now that they are consigned to the margins, they will hound him all over the world. I can see the pimply faces peeking above fair-trade T-shirts; accompanied perhaps even by a few earnest dreads huddled on the steps of a PEN event with little signs saying NO LIES KAPUSCINSKI. Perhaps even a radical or two taking up the call of No Justice, No Peace or some such slogan. The result of course would be that Kapuscinski’s speaking engagements would double as would his audience, this time drawn by the delicious prospect of controversy.

We live in a world that promises solutions for every ill. But there are few for Kapuscinski and his nonsense. You can neither speak truth to him or his audience for they are engaged in an act of eating and savoring his racism, without which the fruits of their wealth would be much diminished. Miserable Africa is needed desperately and Kapuscinski is actually an aid worker providing goodness and relief to the parched western soul. I am determined to offer no solutions for there can be no African response to Kapuscinski: the very concept of talking to him as an African I find to be a waste of time. It is a tug and pull over a place and a concept that makes little difference to individual life, notwithstanding the so-called Africa policies and initiatives which are nothing but grand delusions and Trojan horses for western aid liberalism and its little African servants. I want to deal with that brother with the AK, what does he want I would like to know and why does white skin, in my impression, seem to shield you from his machete? Ah, so many questions, such a short time, so much urgency, but not for Kapuscinski.

Regards,

ab&h

Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Debate Starts to Sound Academic

I have been fascinated and excited by the debate that Binyavanga Wainaina started with his letter protesting Ryszard Kapuscinski’s depiction of Africa and Africans throughout his career. His foil is Remi Raji of the Nigeria PEN Center who writes with erudition and intelligence, arguing that Ryzard’s participation in a PEN event in NYC should not be “muzzled”. The rest of the debate or discussion if you are a diplomatic type can be found on the sidebar and on this post – always reading from the bottom upward… Read on and let me know what you think.

Hi Binyavanga,

Let me take off from your other “confession” and say that it is necessary to look here, beyond the immediacy of the present affliction, that is the subject of our mutual but different concern, the cause of this unplanned dialogue: Kap? It is important to look beyond the Kap phenomenon and perhaps look inward and ask, where are “we” in the share of ideas of power, or rather, in the power of ideas. Here we tug at a very serious issue of the collective, that is the “African condition” (I am not sure if this is the forum to deliver so many pregnant worries, pains and aspirations); and I can only add that the current rule of such species as the likes of Kap, in the media/culture wars, and many others before him, is the unfortunate result of incapacitations, inflicted and self-inflicted, strewn all over the continent.

Saturday in New York has passed but many other Saturdays in America, Europe, and Australasia will come… We will continue to witness such viral claims of journalese pretending as great literature, at the expense of a race, the othered members of humanity whose nights are still inscrutable and mysterious to behold? We will continue to witness these and other ignominies because our own system of challenge is not coordinated, because the apparatuses of state are wont to turn the other eye, and because the continental intelligentsia has been isolated and denied any significant play in the course of the re-definition and redemption of the State; our skepticism will multiply but will not count if we fail to speak at the right fora and opportunities. What for instance is the African Union without its programmatic punch? And what is a Diaspora divided against itself? The inflation of such blighted imagination as Kap’s did not start in a day, and will not end, suddenly. It goes a long way. But if you don’t believe in “the free-flow of ideas”, how can we make sense to one another? I hope that this journey is not taken in vain. Sincerely,

Remi

Hi Remi,

I must say I am enjoying this conversation. Thank you for your insights, and willingness to take this journey with me… Another confession: the secret gagger in me wants him tied and bound, but I know this to be futile and unhelpful. Why does the instinct to gag rear its head?

Because any African knows the particular flavour and danger of his kind of language. It is responsible for many deaths. It is the language that seeks to justify your incapacity, to distance your humanity from his centre. Now, much of what he says, Remi, and this is where the threat of Kap is at its most dangerous: that even though a twelve year old African would laugh at some of his propositions, the very nature of his language is compelling to the exact person he wants as a readership: the liberal European, American who has never been to Africa, and who has deep inside him, built by the ideas of Conrad and Blixen and CNN and countless made for television Dramas, an idea that Yes the African is indeed a strange being, maybe even a child who needs a firm (but loving) hand.

Ryszard Kapuscinski is the intellectual leader of this community, who, sadly (and if his writings were only about affecting the minds of Europeans, I do not care) have a huge effect on our lives. Now. A large part of the history of Africa has been decided by a well-armed and powerful Europe, with a well-armed and compelling ‘way’ of seeing us that justified their actions. Talk to any Reuters or AP journalists based in Africa: Ryszard Kapuscinski is their guru. They put out news that dominates the coverage of the continent to the rest of the world….and their primary source to ‘understand our minds’ is Ryszard Kapuscinski.

So back to PEN. By asking why they invited him, I was not suggesting they gag him – his books are widely available in mainstream bookshops all over Europe and America. Penguin love him, and publish him. But, there are many great writers. What I ask is, Why Kapuscinski?

Is PEN America’s open-mindedness so open that they would invite a known and racist and bender of well-documented fact to their most important event? Where the ‘select’ are called?

How are we to read this? Am sorry. I find it hard to believe that the effect of PEN’s action will be an ‘exposure’ of his falsehoods. What they have done is to ‘validate’ his point of view: to say that there is Meaning and Good in his body of work…and any criticism that comes from such an event will simply show that there is another side to a writer who has already been certified as a “great truth teller’ by PEN themselves…

Whatever happens in New York, he will add to his CV, and get better and bigger book-deals, and have more ‘authority’ than he had before… I wish I believed in the inherent free-flow of ideas that would suggest that, as (you say) the Yoruba say: “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”.

In these days of spin and the power of one broadcast to reach a whole world, the truth is that it is those closest to the nerve centre of ‘the broadcast’ who will impose their truths on the rest of the world. This is how KAP got to his lofty perch. This is the method that will keep him there. Salman Rushdie, a man I thought had quite a good nose for bullshit says this about KAP:
“Kapuscinski’s writing, always wonderfully concrete and observant, conjures marvels of meaning out of minutiae.”

(Binyavanga Wainaina)

Hi Binyavanga,

I believe we are reaching an interesting point about the phenomenon I choose to abbreviate as Kap. And for that I will be brief. No, I have not suggested that we should not “protest” what others (including ourselves) write about “us”: on the contrary I am saying that when we do so, we should understand the difference between monologues and dialogues. I personally care less about what Granta and Mr. Harding have to say about their own “product”; and of course, I do not speak for PEN America but I do know that Pen’s charter does not approve of any intent to “gag” the other. Rather, it is in a forum as the one you’re attending that the truth can square up to lies and distortions. As the Yoruba say, “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”. The simple fact that a Wole Soyinka would “share” the same arena with Mr. Kap will tell you that the symbolic day is nigh…

So there, I read, I write, and I teach writing. And I will be delighted to read your novel about this new experience!

Remi (Raji)

Hi Remi,

Thank you for your response.

I write for a living. The question of representing the world I come from is, of course, uppermost in my mind. All I am saying is that I find it difficult to understand why Ryszard Kapuscinski should be speaking at Pen’s gathering this week. The truth is that Kapuscinski occupies a central role in the minds of many (including the PEN American centre). In their minds he is “one of the world leading writers”

It is this that has got him the invitation to New York, to share a strange with people like Wole Soyinka, and Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.

Of course we will continue to write. But are you suggesting avoiding protesting what others write about us, simply because our writing will ‘replace’ them? That is not true. Conrad is as influential now as he was then … and Ryder Haggard is still in print…is still available in AFRICAN libraries…

The very act of inviting him validates what he stands for and has written to readerships and literary communities who seem not to know better. Jeremy Harding is familiar with Africa, having lived there and he thinks Ryszard Kapuscinski is the ‘Greatest Intelligence to Bear Upon Africa Since Conrad.’

So here I am. In his writing the man insults me, the continent I live in; manufactures facts, and makes sweeping racists statements about the nature of ‘my mind’ – turning the African Mind into some sort of below-the-line not quite human (for a human to be of self-criticism makes him not human I think). He can publish this boldly, without editors cringing (in Granta!)

It is important for us to speak to falsehood and to speak loudly. I do not see the logic behind an argument that says that one’s only response should come from one’s writing.

This is all taking place in 2005, in a conference organised by a ‘culturally’ sensitive, progressive organisation supported by many open-minded and intelligent writers from around the world….

So I am maybe trying to understand PEN America’s reason for inviting him: that maybe everybody’s voice should be represented? Even the unreconstructed racists? His short and snappy sentences?

Or the larger truths he has brought out that make his Victorian attitude towards race somehow palatable?

Is there not, somewhere, a line drawn?

I am asking is it possible that now, a hundred years after Conrad, after years of Achebe and Soyinka, somebody can get away with saying:

“The European mind is willing to acknowledge its limitations, accept its limitations. It is a skeptical mind. The spirit of criticism does not exist in other cultures. They are proud, believing that what they have is perfect…”

Is this how PEN promotes ‘understanding between cultures?”

How very progressive!

I must write a novel about it!
(Binyavanga Wainaina)

(From Remi Raji)
“…Having ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Kapuscinski suggests that he has ‘lost’ something – is the ‘victim’ of something- whereas the truth is the victims are those he chooses to distort with his pen…”

Thank you for the response. This is exactly my point, if I must say it in another way. Mr. Kap has indeed “lost” something that all explorative writers should cherish: the ability to see a part of his own world in the prism of the world he tries to portray, and he’s in fact the victim of his own loss or inadequacy. And this is why many would not agree that the writer here is an expert on African issues.

Those he chooses to distort with his pen are not without their own writers and chroniclers, and therefore the point is for us to have the chance of contending with several perspectives (of facts and lies, naming and mis-naming, of fiction written as truths…) on the same subject. The same continent that fired the “truthful” imagination of Rider Haggard, Joyce Cary and Joseph Conrad is the same one which propelled the “fictional” world of Achebe, and of Ngugi, la Guma, Armah, Ba and the rest.

It is good to see through the media game and the wars are so contentious, but then, you can’t stop the subjectivities of some kind of writer by merely saying it; as a writer, you have to out-write him, the same way a generation of African writers has done with considerable success. Yes, I am not too skeptical about this bit, because I know for every one racist there are eleven anti-racists to give one hope, for now and for the future.

Remi Raji

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene II

Scene II

The continuation of Scene I of the Matrix; The African Version. The first scene can be found in the March archives. Enjoy and could someone please teach me how to link stuff!!

Mzee: The aid industry is everywhere. It is all around us. You can hear it every time words like sustainable, indigenous, governance, NEPAD, Humanity and wellness are used, or phrases such as fair trade, me-time, evils of globalisation and capacity enhancement. You can see it on every 4×4 with a logo on its door, in the raw tuna salad and the cocktail of diet coke with a dash of St. Petersburg vodka ordered by the healthiest looking person in the most expensive bar you know. Missing that, you can see it when you turn on your television: it is a declaration issued at a giant conference in Porto Allegre, Monterrey or Beijing; there, you are told, a consensus on your future has been reached. You can feel it when you go to work…just before you are downsized, when you listen to politicians now perfectly arrayed into government, opposition and civil society. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Mzee: That you are a slave, Boi. Like every African you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

Boi: Okey dokey… free my mind. Right, no problem, free my mind, free my mind, no problem, right…

Mzee: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You follow the baby-boomer flower leftists in their attempt to foist their failed revolutions on you: the story ends, you develop some African capacity, give micro-credit loans to gutsy women you admire, rage at Starbucks, and believe whatever Tree-Hugger Smith wants you to believe. Open your eyes and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

What is aid? Control. Aid is a liberal generated dream world built on the vision of an individuality that is universalised in the image of Smith. It is an attempt to extend a legal and moral code that is everywhere similar. It is contemptuous of the political life of the African, believing as it does that he does not possess one. In the final analysis, it is the vulture that uses African misery as an orientation of its identity: they must be seen and see themselves to be good. Distress is the balm on the wound of a liberal nihilism that everyday rots further as Smith battles to reach for goodness at no cost to his privilege. It seeks control in order to change an African into this.
[Holds up a Mojito cocktail and a picture of a laughing child in a refugee camp]

Boi: No way. No way. This is crazy. But I know Fanon by heart and I am down with the people.

Mzee: I didn’t say it would be easy, Boi. I just said it would be the truth.

Boi: But…listen, I have to think about it all. You’re heavy man. Besides, I have to rush; I am meeting Tree-Hugger Smith in a few minutes so I’ll ask him what the deal is.

Scene III coming up soon, watch this space…

The Honesty of Marathon Running: Paula Radcliffe Takes on Susan Chepkemei

I am just watching the London Marathon which unsurprisingly is entirely focused on Paula Radcliffe who has won after pulling away from the pack on mile 5 and relentlessly piling on the pressure since. Susan Chepkemei is trying to keep up and not being quite able to stay with it. Of course I am pulling for her as a Kenyan and also because I had the privilege of meeting her in August 2004.

She told me how she had broken the world half marathon record in Lisbon three years previously. She won that race by 30 seconds and told of how she had doubted she would even finish due to the fast start and her not feeling well! That she went on to destroy the field is a testament to her courage and to the combative spirit Kenyan runners possess. I had always thought that world beaters, winners and record holders start out their endeavors as winners. So it was a surprise when Susan related how much of the race had been run with nary a thought for the record – she just wanted to salvage her pride by not backing away from the challenge.

Running is war. A war that ruptures muscles, destroys pride, dissolves knees. It is a sweaty, smelly war: Radcliffe for instance squatted to empty her bladder mid-way through the race! Then, in a moment that is a priceless lampooning opportunity, this is what she said about the incident on a BBC interview: “I think I need to apologise to the nation for having to stop like that but I was losing 10 seconds every time my stomach cramped up.” “It was a similar problem to Athens but there was no danger of me being glycogen-defeated again. I knew if I stopped I would be able to get rid of the cramp and concentrate properly again.” Apart from the humor though, imagine the desire for victory it takes to squat for a pee with millions watching and a nation’s hope on your shoulders.

Running at a championship level comes down to honesty. When the pain is increasing with every step and your opponents rhythm hints at yet to be tapped reservoirs of strength, you must be honest about who you are. The pain and pressure strips away pretence and those that manage to hold onto them rarely become champions. If Kenyans like Susan have such honesty, where did it come from? It is certainly not drawn from the country’s elite of robber barons and their hangers on. It does not come from any aid or development policy. Nor from foreign knowledge. Sitting with Susan at the posh Java Coffee House in Adams Arcade, surrounded by mwa-mwa-mwa kissing Kenyans and expats, no one seemed to recognize her. She is probably better known in Europe than she is in Kenya, especially middle class Kenya. And I think this is because Kenyan runners are drawing on sources of inspiration and belief that are anathema to what the country has become. The runners are honest, disciplined, tough, organized and talented. The country’s leaders and the class they are drawn from (see my March essay: Babylon System is the Vampire!) are dishonest, brutal, disorganised and need no talent to maintain their mediocrity and robbery.

The results of the race: Radcliffe in 2.17:42 followed 5 minutes later by Romania’s Constantina Dita. Then came Kenyans Susan Chepkemei, third, and Margaret Okayo.

I will make another entry shortly on the men’s race and Martin Lel who won by running a personal best, meaning that he run the best he has ever done when the pressure was at its highest. Why is he not a hero in Kenya?

Stop Moaning: The English Response to Years of Defeat

How did the English ever manage to conquer such a large swath of the world? London can barely run itself much less entire continents, I should know because I live here.

Train tracks are held in place by blocks of wood, rusty nails and a brick. The train system, like virtually every other public service is in a state of acute crisis. Thankfully the operator apologises with reasonable sounding phrases that would have you imagine delays are a rarity.

The time on the tube is mostly spent wondering how you will afford David Beckham’s life, which is splashed on every headline and that you are a loser for not emulating. By the time you extricate yourself from your fellow, habitually unsmiling passengers, you slouch outside to cold, grey skies, and incessant rain.

Thank God you have lunch to look forward to. Will it be the fried candy, fried chicken, soggy vegetables or the fried tomatoes? Whatever you choose to eat, be prepared to pay dearly for it – if not financially, then surely with blocked arteries. And remember you only have an hour to wolf it down before you return to your badly paid job.

You might be lucky enough to survive without depression therapy into the evening. Then you can anticipate a few hours at your local pub, surrounded by the same unsmiling train passengers you thought you had left behind forever. If this is not good enough for you, try one of the three TV documentaries on the First World War playing on any given night.

Actually don’t bother, they all say pretty much the same thing: “We are a plucky lot blessed with a good moral compass and able to sacrifice for jolly old England,” all correct sentiments, I suppose, with the exception of the ‘jolly’. When it comes to you poor devils who were colonised, there is a grudging admission that it was wrong to oppress you. But hurry, it’s time to move back to happily reminiscing about the greatness of old England.

There are few people whose self-perception is so painfully contorted to ignore reality as the British. The famous stiff upper lip for instance, disguises a complete inability to connect with others and a shyness that borders on phobia – it’s a case of the shy guy who pretends to hate women.

It also helps when you are being screwed by painfully high taxes, late trains, bad food, high rents, traffic jams and trying to digest the cultural significance of the latest story on the thong Kylie was spotted wearing at Lord Elton’s party.

The importance of sacrifice keeps cropping up, but much of it amounts to putting up with privations brought on by mediocre government and enduring yet another Royal scandal (“I wish I was your tampon Camilla,” Prince Charles once muttered thickly on the phone) The obsession with a glorious past gives testimony to this being an age of British decline and it’s not a pretty thing.

Living with such a storied history has made many here insecure. A widespread dislike of foreigners might once have resulted from imagining that they were all a sorry bunch, but now it springs from the fear that associating with them will expose one’s inadequacy.

You see, for the British, identity is competitive: “I am better than you because I once ruled you. But since I don’t any more, I am better because, ah, well, my great grandfather was mowed down as he walked slowly towards a German machine gun nest at the Somme after his officers thought him too stupid to run in correct formation.”

In case this is sounding like the rant of some disaffected ex-colonial subject, it is. The fact that I am from Kenya, a country that was ruled for more than half a century by people so dentally challenged, rankles.

The British are many things and most of them, if not really wrong or evil, are boring and slightly pathetic. One example suffices to tell you everything you need to know about the country: Tim Henman.

Here is the great hope of British tennis who in his own words states that “winning is everything,” a sentiment that is widely accepted across Britain.

However, like the rest of this country’s athletes, businesses, dentists, train operators and health service administrators, he has not had much actual practice winning. There are those 11 titles won in a decade of professional tennis in places like Tashkent, Brighton and Reunion.

Now, this would be fine if he were just some minor talent, but remember this is a man who has made fans weep when he was bundled out of yet another Wimbledon (reaching the semi-finals on four occasions amounts to cruelly teasing the British public’s fevered expectations.)

As he sportingly accepts defeat after defeat he is frequently referred to as a gentleman, a status many Britons aspire to as they surreptitiously take in the naked breasts of the page three girl.

For the British, defeat has come to define the past 50 years of their national life to such a large extent that putting up a fight as you get gutted is now the only recourse. Henman’s game reflects his country’s approach to everything.

It is careful, yet mediocre, and shows few flashes of creativity. I must admit though that his pronouncements of future victory do bear bleak testimony to his possession of a vivid imagination disconnected from reality.

Above all, his demeanour on the court is dignified. There is little panic in evidence as he gets blasted away and treated with obvious disrespect by his opponents. You might deal with him like a calf in a slaughterhouse, but don’t expect him to beg for mercy. Here I have to stop and acknowledge that there is something perversely admirable about this attitude.

If the British have anything to show the poor Asians or poorer Africans they once ruled it is this: stop moaning so much about your problems, show some pluck, for God’s sake, and never let them see you sweat.

Ryszard Kapuscinski: Binyavanga Replies to Nigerian PEN Centre

(Binyavanga’s reply to Remi Raji of the Nigerian PEN Centre)
Hi,

I agree. Mr. Ryszard Kapuscinski has a right to believe and write what he wants; and so ‘gagging’ him makes no sense to me. What is important is making our own voices clear about how we see our world.

I am far more skeptical than you are about his motives, and have less sympathy. His frequent manipulation of generally acknowledged fact signals to me one who chooses to bend reality to suit his preconceived notions (or notions he wishes to perpetuate). I do not believe his distortions to be the well-meaning exoticisations of a ‘naive’. With each book his boldness has become more apparent…

It has become a great tradition in literature and in the media to make careers over reporting on the ‘unknown’ – mostly because one can avoid the kind of upfront criticism and scrutiny one gets from reporting from within one’s source country – to the same audience…

Having ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Kapuscinski suggests that he has ‘lost’ something – is the ‘victim’ of something – whereas the truth is the victims are those he chooses to distort with his pen. And those who buy into his ideas and perpetuate them, and decide how to see Africa, based on his eyes…

The pen is a powerful thing…

Many thanks,

Binyavanga Wainaina

Kapuscinski: Nigerian PEN Centre Replies to Binyavanga

Dear All:

Thank you for bringing this to specific attention. There is indeed reason to shudder at some of the statements credited to Mr. Kapuscinski about Africa and cultures “other” than European, but these things are not new. He has been pinned to the memory of Mr. Conrad but I doubt if his energies or talents are close to the name. However, the invitation extended to Kapuscinski should not be considered a great source of alarm or terror the way I understand it now: it is his writings that must be given equal space and challenge as the writings of other authors who are Africanists or Afrocentric. Of course, there are ranges of Afrophobia, Afropessimism, and Afrophilia which you can’t gag or sanction, but which we have to deal with for, I predict, another half of a century. This is why I consider the statement of Mr. Dickson Migiro to “gag him” (itself sounding as a Conradian quip in “Heart of Darkness”) unnecessary and out of tune with the real spirit of free expression.

I have scanned through one or two interviews granted by Mr. Kapuscinski, in search of references to Africa, and have come to some preliminary understanding of his mind-set. He was fascinated by an idea of an imagined, monolithic African eldorado; he had the rare opportunity of contact with moments and places in the real Africa, and soon the subjective fascination of the writer blurred the objective sense of the journalist in him. In short, he is a factionist and sensationalist. For this, we need not ask for the guillotine but sympathise (if not challenge) with his too-familiar colonial opportunism.

Asking for a “fatwah” is to invite cheap and further popularity to the reprehensible imagination. What’s left? Let the true Africanist with an informed view of Africa talk back to the likes of Mr. Kapuscinski wherever they are. Talk, not gag.

Sincerely,
Remi Raji
— Nigerian PEN Centre pennigeria@yahoo.com