nthposition online magazine

Conversations with a continent

by Ron Singer

[ politics | places - february 10 ]

From 2007-2009, the Museum for African Art and the 92nd Street Y in New York City hosted two series of panel discussions on African history, economics, politics, art and culture, as well as the realities of contemporary life. Each session, devoted to a specific country, was meant to foster a dialogue among audience members, scholars, artists, policy-makers and Africans living in the United States. The panels all took place at the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, USA.

Readers of individual country panel summaries will find a wealth of general information. They will also find perhaps surprising facts, ideas, and opinions, stemming from the work and interests of individual panelists: eg, an artist from the Ethiopian diaspora, on living in Harlem; a Kenyan historian, on Sudanese women refugees; a New York-based law-school professor, on the Ghanaian diaspora; and an American anthropologist, on Berber weddings.

 

Conversation #1: Algeria and Tunisia [and other Maghreb countries]

 

Barbara Nimri Aziz

Arab-American nationalist, originally from the Levant [area of the eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor]. A non-affiliated scholar, journalist, and anthropologist.

HISTORY AND POLITICS OF THE MAGHREB: In recent decades, the West (including Israel, Europe, and the US) has systematically tried to peel off North Africa from the Arab/Islamic world, in order to weaken Arab nationalism. To this end, the US has tried to promote a Maghreb union (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). New alliances are also promoted between southern Europe and North Africa. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) is also an instrument through which to separate the Maghreb from the Arab world. Consider, for example, Qaddafi's promotion of African union, which coincides with his shift from Arab nationalism into the western fold. Of course, black Africa sees a continuing pattern of Arab oppression and dominance. Darfur is a construct to make people believe in the Arab oppression of black Africa. [cf, the Sudan panel, infra - a very controversial idea.] The majority of the world's Arabs live in North Africa.

[But the speaker counts all Sudanese, 40 million, as Arabs. She also counts all Arabic speakers, including Jews and Black Africans, who have been forcibly made to learn Arabic in, for example, Sudan].

ALGERIA: Algerians and Egyptians live in Africa, "but that may not be their primary identity." Little news from Algeria appears in our press. The US and Algeria have had a long and positive relationship. Up to 2,000 of our soldiers were killed in Algeria by Vichy forces, when we participated in the Libyan campaign against Rommel. After Independence in 1962, President Kennedy quickly recognized Algeria, and, after Morocco, Algeria was the second newly independent nation to recognize the US. Algerian diplomats were instrumental in obtaining the release of US hostages in Iran in 1980. Today, there is military and intelligence cooperation (eg, in the United States African Command, or AFRICOM), although this cooperation is kept quiet. We also buy Algerian gas and oil. Still, unlike Tunisia and Morocco, Algeria has a negative reputation. Few tourists go there, and not much is done to promote tourism. Fear of terrorism in Algeria is overblown, left over from the Algerian "terror war" against radical Islam in the 1990s.

The speaker went on to describe her own safe, enjoyable travels in Algeria. [Cf Speaker #2, some of whose friends were killed by terrorists.] The US would like a military base in southern Algeria. No African nation has agreed to host a new American base. The only existing one is in Djibouti. The OAU has to be united and purposive in resisting US attentions. Exaggerated reports of rebel activities are used to de-stabilize the area so that the US has an excuse for a military presence. Examples are the talk of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and skirmishes on the southern Algerian border with Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. The smaller countries do call in outsiders - eg, France, to Chad. Smuggling and trafficking in the area are used as pretexts for outsiders to offer "help."

On April 9th, Algeria held a Presidential election. It was rigged for the incumbent, Bouteflika [Abdelazziz Bouteflika, b 1937, President since 1999]. But these abuses were ignored in the West, because we want them to play ball with us. Thus, there was no news coverage in the US. [A quick Google search confirms this assertion: there does not appear to have been any US coverage other than on blogs and the websites of NGOs.] Algeria is governed by a corrupt junta. The nation's problems are not caused only by Islamists, either.

Algeria is an important country, big and strategically located. Ninety-one per cent of the people live in the littoral [coastal region], but the government must also control the huge empty space that comprises the rest of the country. Algeria supports the independence of Southern Sahara, ruled by Morocco (a US ally). Algeria also supports Palestinian statehood and is critical of Israel. They are right. Unlike Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania, Algeria has refused to recognize Israel. So there are big problems with the West.

At Independence in 1962, a socialist system was installed by the FLN [ie, National Liberation Front], and that system and party have been in power ever since. They have established and maintained communes, pensions, free medical facilities, and so on. But Algeria is privatizing now, giving in to globalization pressures from the US Algeria has paid down almost all debt from "the terror war" and currently has one-hundred and US$10bn in foreign reserves. Yes, the terror continues, but on a much smaller scale than, say, the almost weakly massacres in the US, "which I consider terror attacks." [What does she mean? when an insane person shoots up a school or nursing home?]

Many more Algerians die in boats trying to flee to opportunity in Europe than from terrorism. Economic prospects, especially for the young, are hopeless in Algeria. The grip of France on the Algerian economy remains a "stranglehold" that extends to culture and politics. A French-Arab linguistic, cultural and ideological divide persists in Algeria. The French know how to co-opt Algerians. Many issues divide pro-French elements, along the coast, and Arab-centric Algerians. This divide weakens the government, fostering corruption and suspicion.

 

Azzedine Layachi

Algerian-born Associate Professor of Politics at St John's University, New York, specializing in the Middle East and North Africa. Born in Eastern Algeria, she grew up in Algiers.

[Speaker #2 goes over much the same ground as Speaker #1. But the differences in perspective illuminate the region's political divisions.]

WHAT IS THE MAGHREB? The region is now getting increased attention. Its location was always important, but now resources are becoming increasingly important. Morocco is #1 in the world for phosphates; Algeria, the #4 exporter of natural gas. Natural gas lines have been built to Spain and Italy, and the US gets liquified gas (not that much). A search for new energy reserves is going on in the Maghreb today.

Security also makes the region important. The Straits of Gibraltar are a choke point, and Tunis is 55 miles from Sicily, so the West wants no opposition from North Africa. Qaddafi has been pacified. Europe fears a huge invasion of immigrants if there is a political and economic collapse in the Maghreb. Although illegal, boatloads of people try to cross the Straits every day.

Besides referring to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, "Maghreb" is the Arabic name for "Morocco," meaning, "where the sun sets," or "the west." How do we define this entity? According to Tunisia's former President Bourguiba [1903-2000, ruled from 1956-87], it is the places where couscous, not rice, is eaten. The Maghreb also refers more broadly to North Africa: Mauritania, Spanish Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and possibly Libya. Mauritania [like Sudan] is divided into north and south, Arab and African. In 1989, the Arab Maghreb was originated to create a common market and other common enterprises, but nothing happened. Egypt? It looks east, so it is part of the Middle East (though in North Africa). Regarded internationally as neither African nor Middle-Eastern, the Maghreb tends to be lost in the consciousness of the rest of the world. The region has a very mixed history, which makes it hard to see it as an entity. It is home to a Europeanized elite, but also has strong Arab identity and ethnic militants, notably the Berbers. So Algeria has had the terror war. Berbers say they have been here 4,000 years and that the Arabs are invaders. The fight has become mostly political in Algeria. In Morocco. Berber is now recognized as a national language. They have their own schools, and so forth.

SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES AMONG THE MAHGREB NATIONS: The North African region has an identity based on several common elements:
- history: after a period under the Islamic empire, Islamic North Africans themselves ruled Spain and parts of Italy for some centuries [almost nine centuries in Spain, and less than one in Italy].
- geography: limited arable land, concentrated along the coast; the remainder, desert.
- culture: the Arabic language, official and colloquial, is comprehensible from country to country. This language, with its variants, is very different from eastern Arabic. There are also shared customs. The region includes very few Christians or Jews. Until the 1960s, there were 250,000 Jews in Morocco, but most have left. However, even now, a close advisor to Morocco's kings is Jewish.

Since Independence, the political and economic evolution of these countries has been totally different:
- MOROCCO (1956): a monarchy [sultans]. Conservative, but partly a market-driven economy. Of the 33 million people, 60 per cent speak Berber.
- LIBYA (1951): the monarchy was destroyed by Qaddafi. Libya had been ruled by Arabs, then Ottomans, then Italians. With only six million people, very rich (oil, etc).
- TUNISIA (1956): Ruled by Arabs, then Ottomans, then French. The monarchy was destroyed right after Independence. Nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba ruled for a long time. He was well regarded, a modernizer, and a champion of woman's rights. He drank orange juice on TV during Ramadan to suggest that fasting hurt progress: "We cannot advance... with an empty stomach." Islamic militants would not forgive him for doing and saying this. After trying socialism, he went to capitalism in the 1970s. When he became senile, he was peacefully removed. In 1987, the Interior minister walked him from his office: "Come on, Daddy, it's the end." The current President, Ben Ali [b., 1936], then took over. The nation continues to enjoy a good growth rate (5-6 per cent), and to remain a prosperous nation. Small, peaceful, and beautiful, Tunisia is a tourist destination. For a while, Algerian problems spread to Tunisia, and Libya tried to conquer the country, in the name of pan-Arabism, but both incursions were stopped by the French and Americans. The population is only 10m; there is a low birth rate. Literacy (74 per cent) and life expectancy (75+) are high. The number of Berber speakers is kept secret. Like the other Maghreb countries, the population is about 98 per cent Islamic. The remainder is evenly divided between Europeans and "other." French is the language of business; Arabic, the common language.
- ALGERIA (1962): never had a monarch. Ruled by Arabs, then Ottomans, then the French. Independent Algeria practiced socialism until the 1980s, then also shifted. The population is 34 million, 70 per cent of which speaks Berber.

 

Q & A

What is the role of Qaddafi today?

He is the absolute ruler of purportedly democratic Libya, and currently practices "the third way," a mix of Communism, Islam, and liberal democracy - but he is in real, absolute control. By now, he has given up hopes of becoming Nasser's successor. In the years since his invasions of neighboring countries in the name of unity failed, he has become very idiosyncratic. When he travels to conferences, he wears gloves, so he won't have to touch or shake the hands of other Arab leaders, and he carries a tent (no hotels) and camel (to drink the milk, instead of eating the food on offer) in his own plane. Currently the Head of the OAU, he gives a great deal of money to African charities and keeps his borders open to migrant laborers, but has no jobs to offer them.

What sunk Algerian socialism, which was doing so well for a while?

The failure to build an industrial base meant no jobs, so a giant welfare state evolved in which the government employed too many to do too little. The country is very dependent (98 per cent) on oil and gas revenues. When prices fell in 1986, they turned to the World Bank and IMF, and that was the end of Algerian socialism.

Has Islam emerged as a rallying cry and successor to Arab nationalism in the Maghreb?

Speaker #1:Aziz, yes; Speaker #2: Layachi, no.

 

Conversation #2: The Republic of Angola

Moderator: Jerry Vogel, Special Advisor to the President, Museum for African Art.

Linda Heywood Professor of History and African-American Studies, Boston University. Co-author, with John Thornton, of Central Africans, Creoles, and The Foundation of the Americas, Cambridge University Press, 2007. Inspired as a young woman by the Independence struggle in Angola, she has visited the country often and watched it go through three phases: from colonialism, to civil war, to reconstruction and the beginnings of democracy. This year is the 200th anniversary of the end of the Atlantic slave trade, a good year to look back.

Recent research reveals hitherto unsuspected ties between Angola and the United States. The first group of slaves in Virginia, for instance, came from Angola. A new database is about to be put on line that identifies 34,000 slave ships, and lists their destinations and origins, including the ethnicity of some of the captives. From the 1580s-90s to the 1640s, 90 per cent of the known slave ships bound for the Americas came from "West Central Africa" - ie, what is now Angola and the two Congos.

This trade was called the asiento trade, named for a contract the Spanish/ Portuguese rulers made with slave traders. The European governors in Luanda (now the capital of Angola) fomented war with native populations, leading to massive displacement and capture of both the defeated and displaced peoples. On the [small] other hand, the Portuguese brought some foods, such as cassava, to Africa. They may also have brought tobacco, or it may have been cultivated indigenously.

Meanwhile, English and Dutch pirates robbed some of the slavers of their cargo and carried off these people to captivity in places such as Delaware, New York and New England.

This period was marked by intense conflict in Angola, some started by the Portuguese, some internal - eg, the civil wars between the kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo. (The modern name of the country, Angola, comes from the ruler's title in Ndongo.) Kongo had already been Catholicized, so the Kongo were allies of the Portuguese in these wars. Many Kongo rulers had been babtized. From 1618-22 alone, about 50,000 residents of Ndongo became refugees or slaves. In Kongo, the Prince of Soyo sold slaves to the Dutch and British. Westernized people in West Central Africa, mostly Kongo, became known as "Atlantic Creoles."

From the 1660s on, the wars spread to Lunda, in eastern Kongo, a new source of slaves. The British and Dutch shipped slaves from Cabinda [now a northern exclave of Angola]. During the middle passage, 35-40 per cent of Angolan captives died. The degradation and sufferings were awful, yet when they got to North America the captives kept their sense of identity, reconstituting their communities. The later influx of West Africans (Ibos, Ghanaians, etc) was much larger than the Angolan one. Identities became diluted, and slavery became a less flexible institution.

Many of the slaves from West Central Africa wound up in the mid-Atlantic and southern states. Some came to New York State, including what is now Westchester. Some of these slaves, Christianized and literate, obtained their freedom, married indentured servants, and even became landowners. Many retained their sense of origin, naming themselves "de Angola." Towns in several states (New York, Florida, e.g.) are still named Angola, after these people.

The Battle of Mbwila (1665) eroded the power of Kongo's rulers, leading to the kingdom's division and even more slave-taking. The jagas were young men enlisted by the Europeans who brutalized the population, at various times fighting both for and against the Portuguese. Their depredations accelerated the total destruction of order in Kongo.

There was a notable exception to the acquiescence of Kongo rulers. The heroic Queen Njinga, whose name has passed into folklore in Africa and Brazil, was a most interesting and independent woman whom the Portuguese could neither subdue nor outsmart. The sister of the King of Ndongo, she would accept Christian ornaments from the Portuguese, then discard them in favor of her own amulets. Saying that only slaves paid tribute, she refused Portuguese entreaties and ignored their threats. Often pictured as a woman warrior with a battle ax and bow and arrows, Njinga fought to free illegally taken slaves, and maintained an independent kingdom within the Portuguese domains.

Much later, the Angolan Independence fighters and leaders were educated by missionaries, some of them Black Americans returned to their home continent.

 

Nelson Da Costa

This visual artist is about to receive an MFA from Boston University. (To see his work, go to www.gallerynaga.com. Then go to Artists, then to Nelson Da Costa.)

Born in Angola in 1970, Da Costa's work is based on his youth in that country during the tumultuous years of the Independence struggle, which was followed by the civil war between UNITA, backed by South Africa and the US, and the ultimately triumphant MPLA, backed by the USSR and Cuba. To the common people, both forces spelled displacement and death. Da Costa states that the purpose of his art is an effort to interpret these years in ways that open the way to a better future.

During the Independence struggle, his entire family was killed, and he was himself badly injured. Several of his images depict amputation. UNITA, principally, sowed land mines, to punish enemies and to destroy the land so no food could be grown. Today, Angola has the second-most unexploded land mines in the world. [Cambodia is first. According to a UN report, over 110 million land mines remain unexploded in Angola.]

DaCosta uses traditional images and forms (masks, figure carvings) with contemporary themes. For instance, some images depict starvation and poverty, ubiquitous in Africa today He also incorporates traditional Angolan motifs, especially ones that are universally recognized, such as mothers attempting to protect and support their children during war. Ancestor veneration is another theme, which sees people through current horrors by giving them a sense of connection with a loving past. When he was badly injured as a child, Da Costa welcomed death, which would have meant being reunited with his parents and siblings. The world imagined in his art owes a lot to the stories his grandfather told him. Now he sees the fact that he survived as an opportunity for him to try to create this, his transformative, political art.

Some of the work is about memory and thought, itself. Imagery depicts physical memory, synapses and neurons in the brain as it reflects upon the themes of his early life. There is a portrait of Njinga that celebrates her agile mind. Two other images, 'Africanathinker' and 'Eurothinker', depict contrasting mental landscapes. These 'mind' pictures also speak to the ways in which lost memories live on in the brain. A lot has been lost: DaCosta has only one photo of his father; none, of his mother.

[DaCosta's work can be characterized as agitprop completely embedded in a coherent, semi-abstract pattern of images.]

In Angola, the richest artistic tradition is among the Tchokwe. [See http://www.rrtraders.com/Masks/chokwesd.htm for a supremely beautiful mask.] Today, the visual arts are flourishing in Angola.

[Much of Africa today appears to be in the midst of a great artistic flowering that comprises visual art, music, and literature.]

After medical treatment in Rwanda and Cuba, he remained in Cuba. He attributes the exuberance and color of his work to his youth in this Caribbean nation. Since his family had been coffee-growing land owners (they were murdered for their land), and since he was sent to Cuba under the auspices of the side that prevailed in the war, the Marxist MPLA, he kept his history and identity quiet. When children were sent letters and money from their parents, he wrote himself a letter from his father. (There was, of course, no money.) It was a doctor from Medecins sans Frontieres who first gave him paper and crayons.

By the time of Hurricane Katrina, he was living with his wife and children in Boston. That event prompted him to create images of Angolan displacement. No one except Catholic priests and nuns helped the Angolan displaced.

 

Q & A

Jerry Vogel: the war for Angolan independence was so long because small, weak Portugal, under dictator Salazar, clung to Angola and its other African colony, Mozambique. In 1974, when the Socialists drove Salazar from office, Independence quickly followed. Rich in diamonds and oil, Angola became the site of a surrogate Cold War conflict. During the Clinton presidency, the US announced that it would not give any aid to countries at war. This edict finally helped end the Angolan civil war. But the MPLA was did not kill/execute UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, at first because they feared US repercussions, and later, because they feared being brought before an international tribunal. [Savimbi (1934-2002) ultimately died in battle.]

Professor Heywood: At Independence, one per cent of Angolans were literate.

Mr Da Costa: A lot of education under the MPLA was really just indoctrination, make-believe history and mythology.

During the 80s, scholars in Portugal and elsewhere began to describe Angolan history more realistically, but there were still far too few teachers and other educated people in Angola, itself. Deterred by misgovernment, including massive corruption, Angolans in the Diaspora rarely return home.

Today, Angola belongs to OPEC and is a major oil producer, probably China's greatest supplier. The cash-rich Chinese have now pushed the IMF [International Monetary Fund] aside in places like Angola because the Chinese trade infrastructure for oil. instead of proferring strings-attached loans and grants. Angola suffers from what is called "the oil curse": immense corruption and economic inequality.[For Angola's oil boom, see, for example, 'Nowadays, Angola is Oil's Topic A', The New York Times, March 20, 2007, ppC1, C4.]

 

Conversation #3: The Democratic Republic of Congo

Professor Herbert F Weiss

Professor Weiss is a Woodrow Wilson Center Senior Policy Scholar, and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York.

In the last 12 years, Congo has suffered the greatest loss of life from conflict-related death (mostly ancillary, not killed) since World War Two: five million plus. As was the case during the Belgian era, the events of this period constitute a tale of cynicism and perfidy in which it is hard to find heroes.

What made Congolese leadership so weak and thin at Independence in 1960? The Catholic Church had emphasized primary education, so few Congolese had any higher education. The Church had also weakened traditional rulers, regarding them as cultural and religious foes

Belgium acceded to demands for Independence very fast (1958-60), thinking to 'retain' good will. Not only did this plan fail woefully, but the lack of resistance to Independence meant there was no forging of even temporary unity within the disparate groups that comprised the Independence movement. At Independence, the army mutinied, Belgian officers fled, the whole army collapsed, and Belgian civil servants and business leaders fled.

Within the Independence movement was a very radical element, eg, Patrice Lumumba, 31, a fiery leader with no international experience other than having (skilfully) played off various Belgian factions against each other during the Independence drive. As soon as he was elected, Lumumba tried this tactic with the US and USSR/China. The effect was disastrous, because the US under President Eisenhower didn't countenance neutrality. So our covert agencies went after him, not actively trying to assassinate him, but assisting (as did Belgium) the Katangan secession that ultimately led to his murder. Katanga and Kasai, in eastern Congo, have 60 per cent of the nation's mineral wealth, and this region has remained the center of chaos in Congo since the 60s.

After he realized that the US would not back him, and that the UN (which did have troops on the ground) would not actively oppose the secession (because of the "no meddling in internal affairs" policy then in effect), Lumumba turned to the USSR. Ironically, JFK would very likely have backed him, but JFK's was not elected until two days after Lumumba's murder.

The next round of violence in Congo came in 1963, when USSR- and China-connected revolutionaries rose against the central Kinshasa government and their European and American allies. This revolt was crushed by US-backed mercenaries and secret air force units. One million died, and we put Lumumba's erstwhile lieutenant, (then Joseph) Mobutu, into power, where, over the next thirty-two years, he ruined the country.

[As part of his Africanization campaign, Mobutu re-styled himself "Mobutu Sese Seko" (short form for "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake").]

Throughout his long reign, there was very little vigorous opposition to Mobutu, whose principal talents proved to be massive theft and adroit retention of power. Opponents correctly saw him as the West's man, and, as such, they felt that he was impossible to bring down. From 1960-90, the people of Congo suffered a 95 per cent loss of income. After stealing many millions, Mobutu finally fell, pushed out by the Clinton administration only when his fall became inevitable, and when we were getting into bed with a new regime in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

[In reaction to the cynical role of the Clinton administration in these events, at this point there was a bitter anti-Hillary Clinton interjection by panelist Lubangi Muniania. For our relations with African governments, see French, Howard W, A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope for Africa (Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2004. 280pp, $25).]

In 1996, after the genocide, the government of Rwanda formed by Tutsi exiles back from Uganda, together with several African allies (Uganda, Burundi and Angola), attacked still-armed elements among the one million Hutu refugees in UN camps in eastern Congo, who had been raiding into Rwanda. To make this invasion seem a war of liberation, invaders put Laurent Kabila into power, an old Congolese revolutionary leader left from the 60s who quickly became a divisive presidential dictator.

The unpopular Kabila was seen (correctly) as a puppet of foreign armies. Boldly, however, as soon as he felt secure, he kicked these armies out. In reaction, Rwanda re-invaded from the east, leading to another round of war, this time against Kabila, who was now supported by Angola, Zimbabwe and others. This invasion led to a stalemate by which Congo essentially became two countries, the East and the rest. Initial carnage was followed by a treaty and elections - and then a new war. [Kabila was murdered, reportedly by a bodyguard, in 2001.]

In the East, resentment of Rwanda and its Congolese allies led to popular uprisings, principally by the newly created Mai-Mai militia, who began by fighting "the invaders" - and gradually switched over to anyone they could catch. The Mai-Mai are now random murderers and rapists. This last round of violence is the worst yet. Once again, UN "peacekeepers" are impotent. The Rwandans have left, succeeded by rampaging, non-ideological chaos. Meanwhile, a fairly democratic election in 2006 gave 58 per cent to the party of Kabila's son and successor, Joseph, the US and EU's current client, who is currently consolidating a new democratic dictatorship.

 

Godé Iwelé

A Catholic Priest who was tortured by Mobutu, Father Iwelé is Executive Director, Lamala Center, Kinshasa, Congo. Ordained in Belgium and educated in philosophy and ęsthetics at American universities, Father Iwelé is on his way back to Kinshasa to start up the Lamala Center, which will draw children from the streets into a school that will care for them and teach them arts and philosophy.

[This sounds like a Jesuit mission.]

Exchanges such as this panel need to be deeper than just "conversations" if their central goal, for outsiders to learn about Africa, is to be met.

Congo is a society of artists: the arts give this multi-national colonial construct its common identity. The arts also keep hope alive: if the politicians ever got their act together, Congo, rich and creative, could lead the world.

From their formative influence on modern European painting and sculpture, to the beautiful poetry of writers like the great Lutumba Simaro, to their place at the center of world music today, Congolese art and artists are worthy of the greatest pride. True Congolese art represents a stark contrast with the ersatz, bogus, self-serving 'Congo-ness' formulated by Mobutu. Compare, for instance, his 'native' dress with the gorgeous traditional wraparound of a Congolese woman.

African artists find meaning in the continent's "dark night." Christians in Africa, especially after Rwanda, seriously questioned their belief, and are now engaged in their own quest for meaning. Traditional Congolese art thus has in common with Catholicism the depiction of life struggling within the coils of death. The shared, central goal is to keep the old gods alive. Too often, however, as Congo suffered, art has stood aloof from both church and state, limiting the transformative power of the church. A central goal of the Lamala Center will be to forge this natural, potent alliance.

[Thus, Iwelé, ordained in Belgium, sees a radically different relationship between Catholicism and traditional culture than did the old Belgian priests, just described by Weiss as having tried to quash that culture. It is no wonder African artists feel alienated from the Catholic church, and it promises to be a hard task that Father Iwele has set for himself, in effect to undo a big part of Congolese history.]

 

Lubangi Muniania

Art critic and educator, Muniania is a longtime associate of the Museum for African Art. The son and grandson of soldiers who served in the two World Wars. he runs a cultural arts center in Kinshasa.

It was the Congolese soldiers who served in the World Wars that initially brought the tribes together. Lingala, the national language, began as an army language. Traditional music in Congo was ethnic, connected with specific tribes, or nationalities, such as the Kongo and Mongo. Rather than an entertainment, this music was a cultural form, defining the worldview of a nationality - not a nation.

For those who wished to live in cities under the Belgians, passes were needed, and these were only given to the western educated. So urban life became detribalized. Under the Belgians, in response to the endangerment of cultures, a new form of music called agwaya evolved. Music became a second wellspring of national cultural unity.

International elements soon joined in - eg, Congolese musicians felt a cultural kinship with the Cubans, and it was a Greek and a Belgian who first started recording non-ethnic Congo music in the 1940s and 50s. Right before Independence, the new Congo music was brought to Belgium, and the Belgians were amazed at the sophistication and appeal of what these "savages" had wrought. It became another great source of Congolese pride when their national music evolved, merging with other musics from all over Africa.

Since Independence, Congolese musicians have continued trying to meld the various tribal musics. In the 1980s, with the Congo collapsing politically and economically, musicians once again went to Europe, only to find their music passé. They adapted by creating another new music known as soukous, which ascended to become the African music throughout Europe.

Today, music is the soul of Congo, and (as Father Iwelé said) the center of its identity, the basis for this UN of nationalities. Side by side with soukous, traditional music has resurfaced in Kinshasa, where it is now a popular art form admired across tribal lines. People dance to bands outside bars, give the musicians money, and buy drinks from vendors. By now soukous has merged with several newer trends. But some of these trends, such as rap, have not really caught on in Congo.

[Watch a video of Lutumba Simaro on YouTube and you'll see how little the vital music of Congo is influenced by rap, hip hop, etc. Lubangi Muniania recommends as the best book on Congo music: Gary Stewart, Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos (Verso 2001). In answer to my question, he said that, yes, the nationalities in Kinshasa now dance to each others' traditional music.

The overarching theme of this panel, as articulated in his Introduction by moderator Jerry Vogel: the arts and religion of Congo have acted as a counterbalance to its terrible history. These cultural elements both keep the people going and keep the outside world's attention - such as it is. Congo is seriously underreported in the world's press. Compare the loss of life in, and newspaper column inches for, the Congo and Darfur. [But recently Congo is being covered more than before.]

 

Conversation #4:The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Abebe Zegeye

Primedia Chair of Holocaust Studies in the Graduate School, University of South Africa; 2008-09 Visiting Professor, Yale University; Editor, African and Black Diaspora. Specialist in genocide, and in socio-political trends and the role of art in society, in the Horn of Africa.

ETHIOPIAN ART, CULTURE, AND HISTORY: Abebe Zegeye says art is therapy for him, a relief from studying genocide all over Africa. He came from a dominant northern ethnic group and grew up in Addis [Addis Ababa, the capital]. Many educated Ethiopians have fled the country, especially since the era of the Derg, or Dergue [ie, "committee," or "council," Marxist military dictatorship, 1974-91].

Zegeye spoke on the preeminent E. artist, ZERIHUN YETMEGETA (ZY, b 1940). Ethiopian art comes out of its 4000 year history, dating back to "pre-historic rock art of 2000 B.C." and using both religious (Christian, Islamic, and Jewish) and mythological symbolism, such as images of earth and sky brought by Semitic peoples from the Arabian peninsula in the pre-Axumite period [before 400 B.C.]. You can see similar symbolism in surviving ruins in the country's ancient capital, Axum. Eclectic, pre-Christian influences on Ethiopian art came from Egypt, ancient Judaism, Persia and Mesopotamia. ZY also incorporates ancient, indigenous textile patterns. By combining all these motifs, he and his teachers freed art from the exclusive control of the church and elevated the role of artists.

Although Ethiopia is an ancient Christian country, there has always been a strong superstitious element stemming from enduring folk beliefs (eg, the evil eye and demons). Zegeye illustrates this point when he says that ZY's mother named him, "let this seed be..." as if she knew he would become famous. Church functionaries still make scrolls with magical healing elements to combat "pagan" demons. These scrolls are the same height as the "unfortunate beneficiary." ZY's art is in the magic scroll tradition.

Recently, ZY has painted on parchment glued over bamboo strips, which have traditionally been used for textile manufacture; he also makes his own wooden frames. One famous painting by ZY, "History of Love," depicts the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon in Jerusalem, and the birth of their son, Menelek I. This is the foundation myth for Haile Selassie's dynasty, said to be the divine rulers of Ethiopia. In "Queen of Sheba" (2006), he portrays her as a beautiful African woman.

When Haile Selassie turned to modernization after World War Two, he became a great ally of the arts, encouraging modernism in art, as in other spheres. He fostered the work of many European-educated artists, including ZY. As his empire showed signs of dying, during the coups of the 1960s, this modernizing impulse became more urgent. The backdrop for Selassie's demise was the post-colonial era in much of the rest of Africa.

The only recognized castes in feudal northern Ethiopian ethnic groups, such as the Amhara, were peasants, priests, and warriors. Like Jews and other minorities, artists were looked down upon in traditional society, as mere craftsmen. From the sixth century onward, Jews were thought of as carriers of the evil eye, lost their land, and were otherwise persecuted. By the 19th century, only they could do much of the work of both war and peace in rural Ethiopia. Since they were also seen as carriers of the evil eye, the kings protected them. Under Selassie, the group became essential to modernizing Addis Ababa.

In 1974 came the popular revolution, "evidence that the Ethiopian masses were sickened by top-heavy monarchical rule." But the revolution was hijacked by the Derg, a junta. Although they redressed the anti-northern bias of the masses, carried out radical land reform, and encouraged oppressed nationalities (precipitating the Eritrean break-away of 1991), they also seized church property, slaughtered opponents, and "brought the cultural revolution to an abrupt end." "Art" became strictly censored, and artists were made to produce posters, banners, and portraits of leaders like Mengistu [Mengistu Haile Mariam, b 1937, currently in exile in Zimbabwe].

After 1974, ZY was just about the only artist who remained in the country, except for those who were "re-educated" in Eastern Europe and became propagandists. "People were standing back to back, afraid to face one another." In reaction, "not creatively cowed by the new social forces," Z. painted "Life on Jupiter," implying there was no life in Ethiopia, and other metaphorical works. He stayed in the country even when his reputation became international, because Ethiopia and Africa "had always been the source of his artistic energy and creativity." His art since 1974 can be described as "leftovers, or the surplus, that dominance in discourse cannot succeed in silencing... as a way of interrogating social reality."

Ethiopia has close historical tie to Armenia, another early Christian kingdom. In Jerusalem, Selassie met Armenian musicians who had survived the Turkish genocide, and he settled them in Ethiopia. He was never receptive to Catholicism, though, which he associated with Portugal and colonialism.

 

Tesfaye Tessema

Widely shown Ethiopian visual artist who has lived in the US for almost three decades. Included in many international surveys, such as "Project Rolywholyobei -Circus from the museum by John Cage," Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1994.

AN ETHIOPIAN ARTIST IN THE DIASPORA: Selassie was the last good thing that happened to Ethiopian artists. Art is the best thing humans have ever found. A diaspora artist, Tesfaye looks for common forms in different world cultures, but he also looks for Afro-centric themes.

From northern Ethiopia, he lost many relatives in the war with Italy [Second Italo-Abyssinian War, 1935-36]. Raised in Addis, he heard Duke Ellington at a US Information Agency event. He now lives - happily - in Harlem, taking the actual A train. In the late 1960s, Ethiopian artists discovered modern art - Picasso & Co - but he also resisted these foreign influences.

In 1973, he came to the US, drawn by art and music (in which he is not educated). He has lived here since, and has been home only twice. There is nothing there for him, anymore. Very sad. The zweikampf [ie, Cold War] and then the Communist ascendancy ruined the country. He has done abstract colorful, geometric paintings of the horrors of drought, Derg slaughters, etc. A whole generation of Ethiopians was lost. Ethiopia used to be a green country. [I think this refers to environmental degradation.] Artists like Zerihun and him (Tessema) endure. Yes, socialism, sharing, is good, but not the rigid leftist tyranny Ethiopia experienced.

Sources of his art include the beauty he gazed at during long church services in Addis and elements of his life in Harlem (since 1987). "Harlem is real." People call him "sweetie, baby, honey." Sunday morning, he watches the hats, the people walking to church. "Every bus goes uptown." He is happy that, with Obama's election, New Yorkers will now run the US government! Currently, he is doing what he calls his "comb series," which are attempts to paint sound. He shows and sells a lot of work.

 

Q & A

Relation of art to politics?

Zegeye: Suffering, bad countries sometimes produce great art. An example is literature in Zimbabwe today. In Ethiopia, a new artistic vitality is growing from the ashes of the Derg. Trying to come to terms with recent history, these artists are pan-African. The older artists who were trained in Eastern Europe must now make a living, too, and they are moving in new ways, including the manufacture of crafts to sell to tourists and to countrymen in the diaspora.

Tessema: Yeah, right! Making furniture isn't art!

Politics today?

Politically, this is a period of uncertainty and of adaptation to the radical changes the Derg brought in. Will multi-culturalism splinter the country (just as Eritrea broke away)? There is a lot of negative history to overcome, including slavery and religious discrimination. What is needed is consensus pluralism, not imposed, "a voluntary union." Ethiopia is in a period of flux and uncertainty.

Somalia?

After 9/11, Ethiopia went into Somalia with US backing, but with local, historical motives, as well. Stung, they have now left [and, since the time of this panel discussion, January, 2009, have returned and left again].

Audience member: The incursion was sponsored by the EU and the UN,and was not an invasion. They did leave with the lawful government in power.

[Not exactly: at the time of the panel, a free-for-all among Islamic factions was expected any day. By the end of 2009, Somalia had a very weak central government, under siege by radical Islamists, and supported by the US and Ethiopia. Not to mention the chaos created by pirates!]

[The writer also noted a reluctance on the part of Zegeye to speak about Ethiopia today, until I specifically asked him to. People from the Ethiopian Consulate were present, defending the incursion and other current policies. My sense of the situation was later confirmed by further reading and by means of an interview I did with Abiye Teklemariam, a member of the dissident Ethiopian press. People are still scarred, afraid of the government. I asked Zegeye about human rights activists, Wolde-Marriam and Melaku. "They survived two regimes, heroes!" But he also backtracked about the Derg, doing some hemming and hawing about how they unlocked things, about today's being a period of transition, etc. For the writer's interview with Abiye, go to:

thefastertimes.com/... /politics-and-the-press-in-ethiopia-an-interview-with-journalist-abiye-teklemariam/]

Another audience member: One reason for Ethiopia's recent historical troubles is their lack of colonial history, so, for better and worse, the country lacks many of the institutions and traditions of governance found in most other African countries. [Hmm, an interesting idea.]

 

Conversation #5: The Republic of Ghana

Muhamed Ali

A writer and musician

ART: A lot of Ghanaian art is functional. Take what you can see in the city of Kumasi. It takes three or four hours to drive from Accra, the capital, to Kumasi, seat of the Ashanti kingdom. Education in the city has always featured "art to touch." Traditionally, students were taught to make things: craft and art were inseparable. Sign painters today are heroes who produce banners on lorries, including portraits of Jesus and Mandela. Signs commonly seen on lorries: "God is great" and "King Pain" (transliteration from Ashanti for someone who is jealous). City streets are splashed with paintings. Beads, gold, and other metals are worked. Huge coffins are carved in the form of cars, some from Tilapia wood. Here is art you "can bury yourself in." Ghana is also rich in art produced with solely aesthetic goals: Ben Agbe, James Kujo, Rikki Wemega-Kwawu, Benjamin Offei-Nyako, Kojo Ani, Wisdom Edinam Kudowor, and George Hughes. The other artists, the craft types, tend to be anonymous.

CULTURES: Ghana comprises several major groups and many others. There has long been a big outside influence. For instance, the speaker's great-grandfather, a Hausa, migrated on horseback from Sokoto, Nigeria. Some Ghanaians don't consider Hausas to be Ghanaians. Many other immigrants, from many other countries, settled, especially in Kumasi. See People of the Zongo, by Enid Schildkraut of the Museum for African Art (Cambridge University Press, Sept 2007).

So what is Ghanaian culture? "I am nothing like Nigerian Hausas. I speak fluent Ashanti and some Ga." [spoken around Accra]. In some African countries, such as Cote d'Ivoire, long-time migrants have recently been in peril, their nationality questioned. In Ghana, so far so good. The nation is primary for us, not ethnicity.

TOURISM: Rawlings [Jerry Rawlings, b1947, ruled Ghana from 1981-2001[ and the current government both made a good effort to bring African-Americans and others to Ghana. But why are all these tourism-related businesses staffed by (except for the servants) and patronized by, non-Ghanaians?

 

Victor Essien

International Law Librarian and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law, Fordham Law School, Professor Essien came to the US in 1981.

THE BRAIN DRAIN (BD): "My own intention was to return home to Ghana or to Nigeria (where I worked). My family has come over here (my wife, children, siblings, etc)." African migration is often from south to north, but also south to south, in which case it is called "Brain Circulation" (BC). "I went to Nigeria from Ghana during the oil boom of the 1970s." But BC is often very temporary, because of xenophobic policies and wild economic swings. Thus, he spent only four years in Nigeria. BD lasts longer, is more insidious. In 1968, UN Resolution 2417 noted with concern the growing BD of 1960-1972. From 1960-1972, 300,000 Africans moved to developed countries. By 1990, 2.5 million were in the US alone. By now, there are 10 million in the developed world. Reasons include both push factors and pull factors. Push: poor socioeconomic conditions in much of Africa, poor job policies, corruption, discrimination, etc. Pull: $$, better job and living conditions, the chance to get a very good education, and active recruitment of the brightest.

BD has terrible effects on the economies of countries of origin - eg, it becomes harder to generate capital investment. In Ghana, the health sector has been hit hardest. In recent years, 70 per cent of people trained in Ghana for health professions have left. By 2003, the number of nurses was - what it had been in 1988. The benefits of BD go much more to the rich countries. By now, Africa has lost 1/3 of its "human capital," and the rate of loss is increasing, now 20,000 a year. Meanwhile, Africa spends 25 per cent of its aid budget to employ western experts to do the same jobs as BD people do. In Ghana, there is one doctor per 23,000 people; in Europe, one per 314. Certainly, big remittances are sent back to Africa -in 2006: over 100 billion - which comprises the biggest source of foreign investment in Africa. But since most of this money goes to families and communities, it is not put to optimal national use. For every dollar remitted, $40 is pumped into the host country economy.

So can BD be reversed? Not really. Unless inequities in conditions between host countries and origin countries are reversed, who would want to go back? Government and non-government initiatives are studying this subject, proposing measures to reverse BD Some government policies have these goals: to encourage BC instead of BD.; to make it attractive to work in home countries; to foster exchange of technical and other useful knowledge between host and home countries; to link BD people with counterparts in home countries so knowledge can filter to home countries. NGOs also have ideas, fostering policies that send BD people home to perform critical surgeries, etc. What is still needed is a comprehensive policy that addresses the total problem. Ultimately, however many organizations work on this problem, it falls both to African (and Ghanaian, in particular) governments, to host governments, and to the private sector to do what it takes to reverse BD, to limit the push factor. Instead of diatribes against the emigr@eacute;s and occasional conferences, African leaders need to initiate specific, useful policies.

 

Abena Busia

Associate Professor of African and African-American Literature, Rutgers, Co-Director, Women Writing Africa project, poet, feminist, and scholar.

CLOTHING AND CULTURE: This speaker gave a demonstration of how her clothes, including accessories, reflect Ghanaian diversity. She spoke of the need to adapt traditional African culture to new needs. For example, a dress was designed for a wedding in England. It was made from (warm) furniture upholstery material, yet it looks like lightweight wool. Ghanaian women are expected to be culture bearers, to represent who they are and where they are from, to express a sort of cultural purity, regardless of how modern and educated they are. The men on the panel were all wearing western suits. Costume dolls from around the world are almost all female.

GHANAIAN/AFRICAN WOMEN: In terms of percentages, twice as many Africans live in New Jersey (5.2 per cent of immigrants) as in the US as a whole. African women here are highly educated, their lives at odds with the stereotype. Back in Ghana, women also have real power and are often very well-educated, which facts also contrast with the stereotype: barefoot, pregnant, babies, subservient to men, and a farmer feeding her family. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana is a woman [Georgina Theodora Wood, appointed June 15, 2007]. Ghana had a woman Justice 12 years before Sandra Day O'Connor. [I could not confirm this statement because I could not find a complete, historical list of Ghana's Justices. The first woman Justice I found was Joyce Adeline Bamford Addo, who served from 1988-2004, but Justice O'Connor served from 1981-2006.]

In traditional ethnic communities, women had economic power, and they still do, but national institutional structures inherited from Victorian colonials also continue to hold women back. So they have proud places in rituals today, but not enough national and economic positions of power. Also, Ghanaian women are empowered in some sectors of society, but not in others. The pattern is not the same, however, as it was 100 years ago, or even at Independence [1957].

 

Mohammed Marda

Executive Director of the National Council of Ghanaian Associations. Raised in Ghana, came to college in New York City, and lives here now.

MORE ON THE DIASPORA IN THE US: 1986 marked the founding of the National Council of Ghanaian Associations (NCGA): www.ncoga. This is our organization, an umbrella group for all Ghanaian ethnic groups in the US The NGGA tries to work with churches, etc, but desertion by professional organizations has weakened us since our early years. We'd like to provide social services (job, housing, and counseling) to new Ghanaian immigrants, but we don't even have an office now, so we use space at the Consulate, and we only have that, only once a month.

 

Yaw Nyarko

Economic Historian of Ghana, Professor Of Economics at New York University, Vice-Provost In Charge of NYU's International Campuses and Programs.

(BTW, "We have a campus in Ghana and Africa House at NYU. We can help NCGA.")

INTRO: An Ashanti born in Ghana, "Yaw" means "man born on Thursday. (The popular name "Kofi" means "man born on Friday.") [There were jokes among the panelists about whose town is better]. The Ashanti have very powerful roles for women. After his dad died, Yaw was raised by women.

GHANA'S COLONIAL LEGACY/ECONOMIC HISTORY: First came wars with the British, then the colonial era. Some English leaders - eg, Gordon Guggisberg [Canadian-born Brigadier-General Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, 1869-1930]] - fostered progress and economic development. He built the northern railroad and the first port, Takoradi harbor [completed in 1930].

In the 1880s, Tetteh Quarshie [1842-1892] brought a cocoa plant to Ghana from Fernando Po [a colonial trading center off the coast of West Africa]. Ghana remains one of the largest cocoa-producing areas in the world [2004: Ghana second to Cote d'Ivoire].

J K Aggrey was another founder of modern Ghana.

[Sir James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875-1927) studied in the US In 1927, in conjunction with Guggisberg and Rev. Alexander Gordon Fraser (1873-1962), Aggrey founded Achimota, Ghana's first co-ed secondary school, the formal name of which was The Prince of Wales' College and School. Robert Mugabe and Jerry Rawlings are among those who have attended Achimota.]

Many of Africa's Independence leaders studied in the US & U.K., including Kwame Nkrumah [1909-1972, attended Lincoln University & The University of Pennsylvania]

NKRUMAH'S ECONOMIC POLICY: At Independence, in 1957, Ghana had almost no industry. Nkrumah wanted fast industrialization in order to meet the country's own needs without imports and to make the new nation into a competitive exporter. By decree, he produced what is called a "shopping list," ie, to make all things then imported, such as toothpaste, soap, etc. He built huge hydroelectric dams, roads, an aluminum smelter (which used Jamaican bauxite, so there was little economic benefit), factory towns, harbors, and even a nuclear reactor.

The debate about Nkrumah's policies continues to this day: too fast? slow? Ghana's GDP per capita in 1957 was equal to New Zealand's. So did Nkrumah squander the wealth of the nation in order to industrialize so fast?

GHANAIAN ECONOMIC HISTORY AFTER NKRUMAH: By 1965, the economy was already slipping, leading to the first military coup. Did the US sponsor this coup (since Nkrumah was a leader of the left-wing, non-aligned nations movement)? Then Busia [Kofi Busia, 1913-1978, Prime Minister from 1969-72] led a civilian administration that developed Ghana's rural areas. This regime was followed by another coup, prompted by devaluation of the cedi. (Exchange rates are very important to countries like Ghana. They have been stable now for eight or nine years.) More military administrations followed in the 1970s. The currency was pegged, and it was too high in relation to the dollar, causing inflationary, bad times. In fact, there was a black market in dollars, and the politically connected made fortunes. Commodity prices were high, then, so Ghana did well, but... The situation was similar to the present, when it is a mistake to make too much of 2007's 5-6 per cent growth rates across much of Africa.

On December 31, 1981, there was yet another military coup, by Jerry ("JJ") Rawlings [b.1947, ruled 1981-2001, a real character! Half- Scottish, Rawlings vowed to end corruption and executed five or six people. Ghana became socially polarized, for the Rawlings regime started as left-wing, then adopted "structural adjustments" - ie, privatization - allowing the currency to float. Ghana then became favored by the World Bank, leading to a boom. Rawlings won elections, then lost and gave up power peacefully.

THE BRAIN DRAIN, A SECOND PERSPECTIVE: In Ghana today, BD is a big problem. Sixty per cent of university-educated Ghanaians live abroad. The BD phenomenon started when Britain lost talented people to the US Africa's population today is 600-700 million, about the same as western Europe's. But African population is scheduled to double by 2060 (while the European population is projected to decrease a tiny bit). Europe will also get older, and African youth will be looking for jobs - in Europe. A lot of Ghanaian dynamism today is partly owing to returnees. There is also a lot of Brain Circulation, in a sense other than intra-African migration: return of resources. For example, Ghana's best university [?The University of Ghana] was founded with money made by a Ghanaian from Microsoft stock options. The NYU in Ghana Program was created by African professors at NYU.

FINALLY: Oil was just discovered, prompting a mixed reaction. Nigeria today is as rich as it was before it had oil [starting in the 1970s], and might be richer without it.

 

Q & A

How many Ghanaians are there in the US?

Officially, 50,000; unofficially, 300-400,000.

How peaceful a country is Ghana?

Yes, a peaceful country. Very little loss of life in coups, almost no ethnic killing. Lately, there has been a little ethnic conflict in northern Ghana, and ethnic slurs have been turning up on the Internet. Our peacefulness has been a saving grace for us. But we must be careful: no one expected ethnic war in Cote d'Ivoire.

Inequality in Ghana?

There are inequities, a big north-south divide, with southerners much better off. Northerners go south, where they get menial jobs. Northern Ghana just had serious floods [September 2007], which called the government's attention to the need for economic development in the North.

Gender inequities in education?

Ghana has had formal education of women for as long as it has for men. As education has become more widespread, however, gender inequities have grown. This has to do with education's becoming less exclusive to the elite. One reason for gender inequities in education is that the concept of a new nation state assumed the citizen was male. Theoretically, "compulsory education for all" became law, but implementation has been very uneven.

The language question in education?

There is a big language debate. English is the official language of education, accepted as such in secondary and university education. But primary? Although English is used in primary schools, debate continues. The political and economic costs of change would, however, be enormous.

Views of African unity in Ghana today? [Nkrumah was one of the inventors of the idea of African union.]

At the African Union summit in Accra a few months ago [June, 2007], only two heads of state got a big ovation from Ghanaians at the airport: Qaddafi and Mugabe. [laughter] Ghanaians in the US hate Mugabe. Many African intellectuals today say African countries are too small, that we need larger unity - Qaddafi says exactly this. [For more about Qaddafi as a pan-African, see the panel on Algeria and Tunisia, infra.] But practically? Well, the colonial legacy means that contiguous countries in West Africa speak different languages.

Ghana as a tourist destination?
Ghana is trying to promote heritage pilgrimage. But some Ghanaians resist tourism by any name. Most tourists to Ghana are repeats. Shouldn't locals be able to afford at least off-season tourism? We don't want to become like Jamaica. The same problem applies to appreciation of local art by locals: the paintings are too expensive. New York is the headquarters of the African Travel Association, Eddie Bergman, Executive Director. Some US travel agents have offices in Accra, Kumasi, etc. Ghana is a good place in which to travel.

 

Conversation #6: The Republic of Kenya

Introduction: The Republic of Kenya, though known for animals and tourism, is a varied land, and the most economically developed in East Africa. As a result of the disputed elections [2007], Kenya's political problems have been very much in the news. More than forty ethnic groups reside in Kenya, with the largest being the Kikuyu. and the next most important, the Luo.

 

Jacqueline Klopp

Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

POLITICS AND CULTURE: Kenya's move to democracy in the 1980s has led to violence, especially over land. The population is now about thirty million. Kenya experienced a very big struggle for Independence [1963]. In the 1600s, Muslim dynasties ruled parts of Kenya, leading to an enduring Muslim, Arab-influenced culture, including the Swahili language. In the modern colonial era [1885-1963], diverse cultures were brought together by the British, creating a fragile nation. Kenya was a settler colony, and the British took a lot of African land and denigrated indigenous cultures. Especially the Kikuyu lost land. Many became laborers, leading to the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s. After Jomo Kenyatta [1894-1978] came to power at Independence, he became repressive and distanced himself from the land struggle. A brilliant politician, Kenyatta kept a lot of the colonial structures in place. Writers like Ngugi wa Thiong'o [b 1938] have criticized "big man" politics.

Kenyatta's Vice-President and successor was the equally repressive Daniel Arap Moi [b 1924; President, 1978-2002]. In the 1980s, there were big pro-democracy protests in Kenya, as democracy swept the post-Soviet world. The US and Europe pushed democracy in Kenya. The era saw new political parties, divisive and destructive politics, ethnic clashes, and politicians pushing people out of their constituencies in order to gerrymander. Moi used this political tumult as an excuse for repression. Even today, Kenya is home to huge economic disparities, with 55 per cent of the population below the poverty level (less than US$1 per day). Kenyans have had to fight for the right to get into schools. Now the nation has very high literacy rates. But there is a big brain drain, because there are no jobs for university graduates. The economy features tourism and cash crops. The election of 2002 led to more democracy and economic progress. Kenya is still a new country.

An important figure in contemporary Kenya is Wangari Maathai, political and social leader, and environmental activist [b 1940, Founder of the Green Belt Movement, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate]. When Moi began seizing public property, Maathai took him on, successfully resisting his attempt to grab and develop the land occupied by Uhuru Park [a famous park in Nairobi, the capital]. The fragile Kenyan environment is used as political capital by the elite.

The ongoing uhuru [freedom] struggle has produced a vibrant popular culture. Most notable is Kenya's wonderful music about the plight of the poor, which is circulated on illegal cassettes. Eric Wainaina is one of the best-known protest musicians; his song, "Country of Small Things," is about poverty. Meja Nwangi is a fiction writer whose central theme is also poverty. Violence as a political tool is recurrent in modern Kenyan history. Barack Obama is a symbol of hope and change in Kenya. Songs about him circulate in slums all over the country.

 

John Kiarie Wa'njogu

Lector in Kiswahili [language], Yale University.

EDUCATION: Kenya comprises eight provinces, including Nairobi (a la Washington DC). The Central province is home to the Kikuyu, but the largest province [Rift Valley province] is the one from which the Kikuyu were chased after the elections. Kenya's political leaders also come from the other provinces. Kenya has suffered many disputes over censuses, which determine the distribution of power.

The educational system was inherited from the British. After Independence, education was expanded to fill new government and administrative posts. The Ominde Commission [1964] called for more educational opportunity, Africanization of the curriculum, and improved faculties. Free primary education was first called for in the 1960s, but, as Kenya struggled to implement the policy, fees crept into the system. The government soon found that it could not afford universal education, leading to Harambee schools, groupings of villages to form local schools. There were 891,000 students in 1963; 4.3 million, in 1983. By 1983, 84 per cent of Kenyan children were in school, and gender parity had been achieved. In 1993, free universal primary education was decreed, leading to huge enrollments, with eighty students per class. World Bank and IMF caps on spending have meant too few teachers.

Even today, there is a great deal of babysitting in the name of education. There are also free secondary schools, but they may well prove too expensive to sustain. Ex-British schools, now called "national" schools, are elite secondary schools that take in the best students. "Private" schools have traditionally been less good, since they are driven by profit, instead of educational goals. University enrollment has gone up more slowly than primary and secondary education, leading many to go abroad to college.

In 1985, the 7-4-2-3 system, which prepared students for white-collar jobs that did not exist, changed to 8-4-4, which is more vocational and practical. But the practical skills that have been taught have found no business outlets, producing, for instance, too many carpenters. Kenya has a big educational bureaucracy: ministers, permanent secretaries, local boards, and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC). The TSC is headquartered in Nairobi, where teachers from all over the country descend with their large and small complaints. The TSC should be de-centralized, but this would cut down bribe opportunities.

The Kenyan National Examinations Council administers all exams. This [November] is exam season in Kenya. All exams are meant to be taken during one specified time frame. Sick students have their exams delivered to homes or hospitals. The strikes in secondary schools last year were, in part, protests against these exams, which can negate years of work if, say, a student has an off-day. Many subjects are examined, the exams are tough, and teachers are imperfectly prepared.

Both the British educational legacy and traditional cultural beliefs impede gender equality. In some sections of Kenyan society, pastoralists marry girls off early, precluding education. School girls must also do chores, so they lack time to study properly. A pregnant girl loses her educational opportunity, usually winding up as something like a petty vendor. Especially at the university level, women do less well than men, but some universities (such as Kenyatta University) do have affirmative action policies. Kenya also has special education programs, but only for the physically handicapped.

What should be done? Politics must become less of a factor in educational policy. Kenya needs new sources for funding and could find some of this money by lowering the salaries of ministers and senators (which are now very high). There is also a need for both new curriculum and reformed management to reflect local needs. Finally, it would be a good idea to institute ongoing, piecemeal assessment, instead of the annual uniform exams.

 

Serah Shani

PhD candidate in Anthropology and Education, Columbia University

MASAI HISTORY AND CULTURE: The Masai have stubbornly resisted change. They live in southwest Kenya and northeast Tanzania, and have remained isolated, in part because the railroad was built elsewhere where more resources were located. Their homeland is semi-arid. Cattle-dependent, they don't eat wild game or birds. Originally, they came from the lower Nile, and they once dominated East Africa. Then, the emutai of 1883-1892 decimated their population by two-thirds.

[The emutai: "Severe disturbance events and rapid environmental change tend to occur infrequently, but can have a lasting effect on both environment and society" says Dr Gillson. This was no-where more evident than in the case of the Masai "Emutai". The period 1883-1902 was marked by epidemics of bovine pleuropneumonia, rinderpest and small pox. The rains failed completely in 1897 and 1898." -"The Impact of Climate Change in South Africa," Nov. 25, 2006, http://www.physorg.com/news83678030.html]

The Masai practice communal ownership of land and are scornful of farming, Men are warriors, protecting cattle and land. This is a patriarchal society, in which elders rule, law is oral, and disputes are settled, and crimes compensated for, by payment of cattle. (Executions are rare). The male life cycle comprises circumcision at fourteen, herding until 22, then marriage and the achievement of warrior status. Women (also circumcised) do the heavy domestic jobs, like carrying water and building houses. To do the latter, they use what resources they have, such as small sticks and mud. Wealth is measured in terms of both children and cattle. They believe that God gave them all the cattle on earth, so they rustle cattle from other groups with impunity.

The Masai are monotheistic, worshipping a God called Enkai. Shamans, or healers, known as the laibon, use divination to promote wealth, rain and health. It is hard to bury people in tough soil, so only important elders are buried; the rest of the dead are simply left outdoors. Beadwork is important, colors symbolic. Working communally, women do the beadwork and make jewelry with the beads and other materials, including leather from the cattle. Marriage of girls occurs at nine or ten. Parents don't want to educate girls because, if they then marry, the benefits of their education will go to another family.

It is increasingly dfficult for the Masai to keep to their traditions. Game parks take land; migration and government authority mean that respect for elders declines; some Masai now live "out" and work at occupations other than pastoralism. They have been reined into reserves, so there is no longer enough land for nomadic cattle-herding. Education also take respect from the elders, and the hidden cost of education requires the sale of cattle. These days, the Masai also eat things like maize, so they have started to farm. They used to trade with the Kikuyu, cattle products for farm produce, but there are now too few cattle to allow any bartering. Even some new Masai art is related to farming. Individual land ownership policies also polarize the Masai. Some take advantage, grabbing land, and making it harder for the majority to maintain self-sufficiency.

Demand for beadwork by tourists gives women more scope and freedom than in the past. But middle-men have stepped in, buying wholesale, and re-selling in, for example, South Africa.

 

Q& A

Are there educated Masai agitating for the preservation of traditional life?

Serah Shani is exactly that!

How did Wangari Maathai help broker the peace after the post-election ethnic killings?

She has run into trouble lately. A parliamentarian, she lost her seat because she would not play ethnic politics. Like President Mwai Kibaki [b.1931], she's a Kikuyu. Her attempt to be an honest broker (rather than an ethnic partisan) in the post-election violence led to threats that frightened her and made her soft-pedal, to a degree. Her environmentalism has also made her a target of the landless. Land reform is a big issue in Kenya, and like violence, it is used politically -cynically. None of this obscures Wangari's great achievements, such as saving Uhuru Park from politically-motivated development.

[NB: Maathai has written an autobiography, Unbowed, and a documentary about her has been made (but the release is being delayed because it would endanger her), plus a children's book, etc.]

To what extent are the shortcomings of Kenyan education a matter of too few jobs?

To a great extent. Early post-Independence education prepared too many students for white-collar jobs that did not exist. After the switch to 8-4-4, too many students were prepared for blue-collar jobs that did not exist. What we need to do is educate students in useful disciplines and trades, and give them the idea that they should start their own businesses and the know-how to do so.

 

Conversation #7: The Republic of Liberia

The present population of Liberia comprises 19th-century immigrants, the Americo-Liberians, and indigenes (16 or so groups). In December, 1989, Charles Taylor [1989-96, 1999-2003] led a rebellion that turned into a long, horrific civil war. Liberia is still trying to recover from the war, grappling with the obstacles of poverty and inadequate infrastructure.

 

Xerxes Malik

post-doctoral fellow in African Studies, St Ann's College, Oxford University.

HISTORY, INCLUDING SIERRA LEONE: The Berlin Conference of 1885 [1884-85] carved Africa into "shares." Remarkably, although most nations achieved independence half a century or so ago, the borders have held, "a testament to the durability of the colonial project, on one level" -not to say that the project was a good or bad thing. Like Ethiopia, Liberia has an almost unique history. [These two countries were exempt from the Conference's provisions.]

Liberia's is the story of emancipated American slaves. The origins of Sierra Leone, a British colony, are intertwined with those of Liberia. The original area of settlement in Liberia was around today's Monrovia [the capital, named for James Monroe]. Nowadays, a mixture of ethnicities, including most of the Amero-Liberians, populates this area.

In 1807, Great Britain abolished the slave trade (from idealism? as a casus belli vs. other colonial powers?) They signed treaties with the Portuguese, the dominant slave traders. (eg, Brazilian slaves, growing sugar, comprised half, or more, of the transatlantic slave population.) There was a big debate in the US over slavery and whether slaves were humans. After 1783, most Northern states freed their slaves, leading to a debate about what to do with them. In 1816, the American Colonization Society was founded by, among others, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Should the slaves be resettled in Africa, "their natural home"? Was this compassionate or racist? Both!

In 1821, the first settlement was founded at Cape Mesurato, near Monrovia. This resettlement was called "colonization." In 1822, internal European slavery was abolished. Colonization settlers came first from individual American states. In 1847, all the original settlements were amalgamated into the single colony of Liberia, which thus became the first independent Black African nation. (Ethiopia had been "independent" for a millennium.) US motives for the amalgamationwere to avoid ruling Liberia as a colony, and simultaneously to fend off anticipated British encroachment. The slow process of emancipation in the US culminated in 1867. Most repatriation occurred after that. In 1878, there was an international ban on shipping of slaves, led by the British.

Sierra Leone was the British analogue to the American resettlement of slaves in Liberia. During our War of Independence (1776-83), the British offered freedom to American slaves who fought for them. Many took the offer, and were temporarily sent to Nova Scotia. Many of these then proceeded to London, where they became press-ganged Merchant Marine seamen, forming a class referred to as "The Black Poor." Shortly after the Cape Mesurato settlement, Paul Cuffee, part African-American, part Native-American, and a Quaker ship owner, contracted with ACS to return slaves to Sierra Leone. Led by abolitionists, many of these people settled in the area that became known as Freetown. They were then known as "Creole" or "krio." Sierra Leone remained a British colony until 1960.

Krios and Amero-Liberians were acculturated to British and American ways. For example, they did not speak African languages. As the two settler states, ruled by their immigrant elites, expanded inland, there were soon serious clashes with the indigenes. Today, Amero-Liberians comprise no more than 2.5 per cent of the population, but they have historically wielded disproportionate power, and even post-Taylor, they continue to be an important element in Liberia's ruling class. Another group, the "Congo," who came from the Caribbean, are also among the elite.

Firestone (now owned by the Japanese company, Bridgestone) still runs the biggest rubber plantation in the world. This company remains one of the bases for the US's special relationship with Liberia. Firestone properties amount to 156,000 square miles, almost as big as New York City. Although there are issues of child labor and exploitation of indigenes, the company is crucial to the Liberian economy.

 

Dr John Singler

Professor of Linguistics, New York University. A sociolinguist famous for his work on Pidgin [a simplified language derived from two or more languages] and Creole [a mature pidgin that has evolved and acquired native speakers].

CULTURE(S) AND HISTORY: The current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf [JS, b1938] is not Amero-Liberian, but her life and views have been influenced by Amero-Liberian culture.

LIBERIA'S THREE "CULTURAL SPHERES":

1. MANDE-ATLANTIC, known as MANDE: This culture has "sacred societies" for long ritual passage into adulthood (separated by gender). The Mande are ruled by a gerontocracy, with small governmental units, and live in the rain forest. "Atlantic" refers to a set of languages, hence to a set of ethnolinguistic groups. In Greenberg's classification of African languages [Joseph Greenberg, 1963, a genetic classification system], Atlantic is one of the branches of Niger-Congo [a large sub-Saharan African language family]. The two Atlantic languages in Liberia are Gola and Kisi. Culturally, the Mande-Atlantic - at least in Liberia and neighboring countries to the west and north - can be said to form a large single entity.

2. KRU (includes several groups): The Kru also have very small units of government. Their language has no word for "chief." In the last twenty years, there has been a lot of interethnic rivalry in Liberia, but historically, rivalries have been intraethnic, among up to twenty "Kru" groups with separate languages.

3. SETTLER [ie, Amero-Liberian and Congo]: Prior to European maritime expansion, the Atlantic Coast was regarded by outsiders as the "end" of West Africa, the centers for which region were the empires of the Sahel. When the Europeans came, first a pidginized Portuguese was used, then a pidginized English (starting in the first half of the 18th century).

The term "Congo" is not used for those slaves taken off ships intercepted by the British Navy, only for those intercepted by the US Navy and deposited in Liberia. All of these labeling terms - Amero-Liberian, Congo, settler - are fraught.

[The Congo became the lower stratum of settler society, and today the term has two meanings: the narrow historical meaning that JS uses, and the broader sense, all of settler society, which is how the Rev. Enders - see below - uses it.]

Liberia was "an American solution to an American problem." There are two main ways to look at the American Colonization Society's establishment of the nation:

1. a place where African-Americans would not be second-class citizens

2. the money came mostly from slave owners, who saw the freed slaves as a threat. Before the Civil War, many freed slaves opposed "repatriation" to Africa. Those at the bottom of the social order felt that they had no choice, so they were mainly the ones who went back. Mortality rates were terrible. Sixteen thousand went to Liberia in the 19th century, the largest group from 1847-54, fewer after the Civil War. Those on big US plantations became sharecroppers and stayed. A lot from smaller plantations came to Liberia after the Civil War, after they had been cast loose economically and gravely threatened by Ku Klux Klan violence.

1847: Liberia was given independence by the US (to stop the British and French from grabbing its territory). The Kru, who were mariners, were recruited for coastal ships by the French. After Independence, there was little American support for Liberia. The settlers saw themselves as literate Christian Americans who were entitled to rule, despite their small numbers.

How did they control the country from 1847 until the military coup of 1980, which ended settler hegemony? At crucial moments, US warships would appear, in a gesture of support for the settlers, again in order to keep the British and French at bay. In the early twentieth century, the settlers took charge of all of Liberia, moved inland and sent soldiers, enforcing labor and levying a hut tax that drove people to work for Firestone. Labor conditions were bad, but it was a job.

The settlers also initiated a wardship system: They took in indigenous children and either exploited/mistreated them as servants, or provided them with education, and hence a gateway to power. In indigenous ethnic groups, the grandmother often raised children, which was itself a sort of proto-wardship system.

Johnson Sirleaf's mother was raised like this. She was the child of a German merchant and a young Kru woman whom he deserted during World War One. The wardship system was "kind of a controlled integration" between indigenes and settlers.

MODERN HISTORY OF LIBERIA: William Tubman [1895-1971, President, 1944-71] carefully and slowly increased education for indigenes. When he died, his Vice President, William Tolbert [1913-1980, President, 1971-1980], took over, continuing this policy. But education led to discontent over settler hegemony. In 1980, there came a coup led by young enlisted men. They ended civilian rule and settler dominance, as well as dominance by the educated and the ethnic gerontocracies. By then, the settlers had become semi-acculturated.

Sergeant Samuel Doe [1951-1990, a Krahn trained by US Special Forces] was adept at playing Cold War politics. With the settlers removed, inter-ethnic rivalries erupted. Doe was pressured by the US to hold free and fair elections [1985]. Despite cheating, we endorsed the results. He also repressed ethnic groups, and when the Cold War ended, so did our support for him, eventually leading, in 1989 (possibly with our support, as well), to Charles Taylor (b.1948). Thus were loosed the dogs of civil war. With ethnicity the rallying cry (Taylor led ethnic groups opposed to Doe), the real agenda became access to gold, diamonds, etc. An unpredictable, horrific disaster ensued. Chaos reigned as three groups fought for Monrovia. The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) sent in troops, mainly from Nigeria, to protect Monrovia.

ECOMOG came into the Liberian civil war fairly early - anti-Doe troops entered Liberia in June, 1990, and ECOMOG was there by the end of August, 1990. Pro-Nigerian sentiment (observed during a visit in 1994) was confined to Monrovia; down the coast in Sinoe County, the sentiment was strongly anti-Nigerian. Ostensibly peacekeepers, Nigerian troops were actively anti-Taylor and bombed Greenville, the county seat of Sinoe. [There was a BBC reporter in Greenville at the time, so this bombing was in the press.] In 1997, elections were held under the auspices of ECOMOG [and UN peacekeepers, UNIMIL] -Taylor won. The sentiment of the electorate was, "He messed the country up, it's his job to fix it."

1997-2003: With Taylor in power, the situation deteriorated even further. In 2003, new warlords were moving on Monrovia. In 2005, there were new elections, representing the start of real efforts for Liberian democracy. Johnson Sirleaf made it into a run-off (having finished a distant second, with 19.8 per cent), then promoted herself as the experienced candidate (with 30 years in Liberian politics) and the education candidate. Also, for the first time in Liberian history, she also used the tactic, "men have messed up, it's a woman's turn," which became a successful rallying cry. Furthermore, she wooed those who had lost in the first round. Ruling since 2006, JS is still widely admired, but she is facing a huge job: the infrastructure (roads, electricity, etc) was ruined, and there is no money to fix it. During the years of violent chaos, all of the qualified people were run out of the government. They are only now slowly coming back into Johnson Sirleaf's administration.

 

Reverend Samuel R Enders

Executive Director, Liberian Dream Academy. This NGO is trying to rehabilitate the lives of youths orphaned by the civil war by means of educational, social, and medical programs.

Rev Enders spoke of Liberia's complex land ownership system, how land was successively seized from indigenes by all groups in power. George W. Bush is regarded as a hero in Liberia for orchestrating the arrest of Taylor and sending him to Nigeria. Rev Enders appealed for money for his group. A second person, from the audience, also asked for money, for a women's group that supports the President's reform efforts.

 

Q & A

Is the diaspora returning?

Enticing qualified diasporans to return is hard, because Johnson Sirleaf has no money to pay them. She spends a lot of time fundraising, traveling all over the world. [She sounds like an admirable leader facing a sisyphaean task.]

 

Conversation #8: Republic of Madagascar

Moderator: Nathaniel Johnson III, Associate Director of Education, Museum for African Art.

Genese M Sodikoff

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Rutgers, the State University (Newark). Professor Sodikoff has done fieldwork in Cultural Anthropology among the Malagasy (people of Madagascar).

Before the Europeans arrived, Madagascar had been settled, in waves, by East Africans, Arabs, and Austronesians. The Malagasy encountered by early Europeans, which group comprised French proto-eco-tourists, as well as pirates and Portuguese slave traders, were a mixture of these earlier settlement populations. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Dutch, French and English traded there. In 1896, France jumped the queue, past old-time English merchant traders, and annexed Madagascar -this, despite the additional fact that the English already had an alliance with the most powerful monarch on the Island, the center of whose kingdom was the site of the current capital, Antananarivo.

Since the advent of colonization, Mozambique has been known in the western world for its unique natural history. HG Wells's story, 'Aepyornis Island' (1894), allegorizes the protective-exploitative relationship between Europe and the Island by describing what happens when a European visitor discovers that three of the giant birds (the aepyornis), previously thought to be extinct are still alive. As early as the 1660s, French naturalists and Utopianists visited Madagascar to collect and categorize its flora and fauna. By1896, Europe was at the dawn of paleontology. The rage for collecting, drawing, and keeping journals about the natural world found passionate expression among European visitors to the Island, which came to be regarded (especially by missionaries) as Edenic, as a strange lost world, and as a land outside of time.

Nineteenth-century European visitors traveled in palanquins carried by Malagasy porters, and succumbed frequently to disease. For instance, a well-known traveler, the Austrian Ida Pfeiffer, visited in 1857 and was dead of malaria the next year.). Europeans decried slash-and-burn agriculture ("tavy" or "jjinja") It seems ironic that, carried about in their palanquins, some Europeans would also decry the laziness of Malagasy agriculturalists. Besides, some of the ecological problems were caused by European exploitation of Madagascar's natural wealth (timber, bauxite, etc. When, in 1897, the French began to legislate conservation, their motives were primarily economic. Ever since that year, on and off, nature reserves have been established.

Thanks to geographical isolation, very many plant and animal species are unique to Madagascar, including the celebrated lemur. (There are no monkeys or apes.) Perhaps 80 per cent-90 per cent of all species found on the Island are found nowhere else. But 200 years ago, as European outsiders began to arrive in numbers, the charismatic megafauna (ie, very large animals) disappeared. And, even far before that, in the pre-human period, a giant tsunami constituted a major extinction event. As early as the late 19th century, the entire habitat was threatened, and today, thanks to mining, timbering, and, especially, tavy, the threat is dire.

By the 1980s, two-thirds of the forests on Madagascar had been destroyed. By 2025, at the current rate, the only forests remaining will be on the slopes of the highest mountains. But the people are poor, so they continue to practice tavy. There are nascent attempts to turn the forests into centers of ecotourism. But, for some animal species, these attempts are too late. There are species today whose numbers are so small that their fate is sealed: one big fire, and they would be gone. These species are sometimes referred to as "the living dead," which makes them the opposite of Wells' aepyornis.

 

Razia Said

musician and environmental activist

Autobiographical: Ms Said was born in Antalaha in northeast Madagascar (the home of world-famous Bourbon vanilla), where she lived until the age of 10. She next went to Gabon, in West Africa, then on to France, and, finally, in 1987, to New York, where she now lives. She grew up in a large family of agriculturalists who raised vanilla, spices (including cloves), rice (the island staple), and coffee. The family lived together in a single large wooden house, where she often played music with her numerous uncles.

Ms Said recently returned from a musical tour of the Island. This evening, she introduced Zebu Nation, a music and travel video/album that will help develop environmental awareness both among the Malagasy and around the world. A second goal is to preserve the Island's indigenous music. Zebu Nation calls on everyone to mifoaza, or "wake up!"

Malagasy, whatever their particular ethnic group, live in veneration of the ancestors, whose blessings are sought for any major endeavor, and who are ritually thanked for any major success. These ceremonial expressions of gratitude feature the sacrifice of the zebu (water buffalo), which are felt to embody the ancestral spirits. Big, joyous parties marked by feasting, music and dance accompany the sacrifices. Since zebu are expensive, however, chickens are used for lesser events.

Returning to the Island's ecological wealth and problems...

There are 74 sub-species of lemur, no apes or gorillas, on Madagascar, and 223 of the world's 226 varieties of frog live on the Island. Why have species survived as well as they have? No big predators [except us].

The ecological problems seem intractable because of political weakness and economic stresses (poverty and inflation). Erosion is also a major threat.

Madagascar [the world's fourth largest island, twice the size of Arizona, population c19 million] has 18 to 20 ethnic groups. There are many dialects of Malagasy [the name of the language, too], most of which are pretty much mutually intelligible. French and a widely spoken dialect of Malagasy are both taught in the schools. Some ethnic groups, however, resist speaking dialects other than their own.

The video Zebu Nation shows energetic children, numerous water buffalo, and scenes of Razia and her group, traveling around recording and encountering musicians and farmers in the fields, often in the act of practicing tavy. At each stop, there is different, often wonderful, music and dance. There is singing in harmony, a capella singing, and solo singing to instruments (accordion, drums, home made guitars, or kabosy, and indigenous guitar-and-violin-like instruments: the locanga and the marovany). Zebu Nation hopes to play an important role in getting the environmental message across in an involving and personal way. In its depiction of Razia and her musicians journeying back to the Island to discover their roots and to jam with local musicians, Zebu Nation recalls Wim Wenders' film, The Buena Vista Social Club.

 

Q & A

The politicians, led by a President and Prime Minister, are having a tough time coping with basic problems, such as how to stop tavy and still feed the population. There is an idea of getting farmers to turn to cash crops, but where would their food come from? Imports? And, if so, the switch would exacerbate the island's already terrible waste disposal problem. There is no system in place to deal with this problem, not a single land fill on the whole Island, for instance.

When zebu are about to be killed, they are thanked, and their heads pointed toward the East, where the sun rises. Today, sadly, because the population is rising and food is often scarce, zebu are becoming an ordinary food source, which could, over time, dilute their ceremonial power.

Zebu Nation (highlights from the video):

"Even though developing countries like Madagascar have only contributed a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, they are going to bear the brunt of these impacts.

"As a result, sea level rise, emerging infectious diseases and diseases of natural systems will take a toll on Madagascar's coastline, forests and people. Even tougher to deal with, long-established land use patterns such as slash-and-burn agriculture have gone from well adapted to the country's needs to wildly dysfunctional in a short time. The country must move quickly to preserve its forests and keep the ecosystems services that play such a vital role in its culture and economy.

"In the climate change business, optimism can wear thin in the face of all these challenges. It's easy to lose heart. That's why Zebu Nation is important - it mobilizes the cultural riches of Madagascar to strengthen its resilience.

"Foreign money and international agencies have a role to play in developing countries like Madagascar, and sometimes they are quite important. But cultural survival and climate survival aren't a matter of outsiders coming to the rescue. A nation can save itself by recognizing what it has and who it is. Zebu Nation kindles a vital hope... that the musicians of Madagascar may do more to save the country and its forests than any other single group." - Brian Thomas, www.carbon-based-ghg.com

 

Conversation #9: the Kingdom of Morocco

This whole panel was about Berbers (ie, Amazigh, their term for themselves): "Scratch a Moroccan, find a Berber" - Daniel Hart, 2000. "Berber" is Latin for "barbarian."

[According to Wikipedia: Morocco is the third most populous Arab country, after Egypt and Sudan.[26]. Most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of Berber, Arab or mixed Arab-Berber stock. There is no significant genetic difference between Moroccan Arabs and Moroccan non-Arabs (ie, Berbers). Thus, it is likely that Arabization was mainly a cultural process without significant genetic replacement.[27] However, according to the European Journal of Human Genetics, North-Western Africans are genetically closer to Iberians and to other Europeans than to Sub-Saharan Africans.[28]]

Introduction: Tourism - not just beaches, but cultural tourism - is a major part of the Moroccan economy. Morocco does not belong to the OAU [though a co-founder in 1963, they withdrew in 1984], but they are in the Arab League and France's nascent Mediterranean group. They are an important US ally.

 

CYNTHIA BECKER

Assistant Professor of Art History, Boston University. Did research in the South, along the Algerian border.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN BERBER CULTURE: Berbers are indigenes of North Africa, there since 6000 B.C., currently comprising forty to sixty per cent of Morocco's population. The Tuareg are the Berbers of the Sahara (Mali, Niger, Bourkina Faso, Algeria, and Libya).

The Independence of Maghreb countries in the 1950s and 1960s led to emphasis on Arabism and Islam, with the Berber component downplayed in the name of unity. In the 80s and 90s came Berber protests and uprisings, especially in Algeria. By now, Berberism has become international.

Berber culture is based mostly on women, who create and use the art. Since the 1960s, Berber art has been declining. They used to make painted, hand-coiled pottery, with designs on both the pots and on textiles that were the same as their tattoos, turning their art into an extension of their bodies. The symbolism, too, was designed to enhance and control fertility, in part by keeping off the evil eye. Use of local materials for color - sap, for instance - has now been replaced by chemical paints. Imported metal and plastic containers are also used now. Traditional woolen garments have been replaced by both local cotton and other fabrics, and by ready-mades. Hand-woven textiles are still made for the tourist market.

Berber women used to wear silver jewelry, including heavy bracelets and pendants, "a walking savings account." They also used amber and coral in their jewelry. Jewelry embodies an aesthetic of movement, since women wore it as they worked and moved. Berber silver is whitish, and was therefore seen traditionally as blessed. White equals Islam, and thus it equals piety, so silver was thought of even more highly than gold. Men, including itinerant Jews, traditionally made the jewelry. But now the Jews have gone to Israel. A few Arabs and Berber silversmiths remain, but gold is now preferred.

Women wore heavy jewelry to display their physical strength, and they may even have used the horned silver bracelets as weapons when they needed to fight. Tattooing is no longer practiced. It used to be part of a girl's coming of age, a social custom passed through generations of women, but it is now thought to violate Islam (by altering God's creation). Styles of tattooing differentiated Berber groups.

Weaving has also been regarded as holy. A woman who makes 40 carpets in her lifetime is guaranteed heaven. Women weave life into the material, giving it its soul/form. The weaving process is said to encompass youth, maturity, and age. Cutting the textile from the loom is said to kill it, so the weaver says a prayer for it. The weaving process also mirrors women's reproductive/creative powers. The weavers sit behind the loom and know the patterns by heart. Symbols in weaving/tattooing are ubiquitous in North Africa: zig-zag = sickle, scissors or stalk, which is believed to pop or burst the evil eye, as is the "X" motif; the diamond and triangle = a mirror to "deflect the negative gaze of the evil eye"; diamonds in series are spiders, frogs, chameleons, or plowed fields; and the triangle = the hand, in both weaving and jewelry. In Arabic, five is a protective number, the number of daily prayers in Islam.

The evil eye governs a great deal of Berber behavior. To compliment someone, for instance, is to curse them, since it expresses envy or jealousy. The wearer of symbolic textiles and tattoos is protected. Textiles also reflect wealth, indicating that you possess a number of sheep. Today, cotton is mixed in, purchased cloth is used for dresses, and veils are worn by many.

Weddings are still elaborate cultural displays, one of the main ways to maintain the culture, as are funerals. Key wedding objects and rituals include saffron face-painting, a horned headdress (= fertility), and woven shawls. Berber men dress like Arabs, even at weddings. Four-day weddings are still common. The bride's face is totally covered for the first three days, to protect her, and her waist is bound to indicate that her fertility/sexuality is controlled by the group, which then let it out on Day Four. Similar strictures apply to the groom.

 

Habibi Boumlik

Lecturer in French, Language and Culture Program, Department of Liberal Studies and Continuing Education, State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase.

B. LANGUAGE: In 2001: King Mohamed Vl made a speech creating the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture, which, after factional fighting among the Berbers, has become the main center of Berber culture. The Institute has a mandate to bring Berber into the classroom. So glossaries, dictionaries, and textbooks have been written. Tamazight, the language, is actually a collective term for several Berber languages: [Wikipedia: there are three different dialects: Tarifit, Tashelhiyt, and (confusingly) Tamazhight.]

Language is the most agreed-upon defining characteristic of Berberism. Tamazight was an old, spoken language that had vanished (like their original religion), but it has been brought back to serve as a written language, since no other choices were acceptable to the Berbers (Latin? Colonialism; Arabic? Present oppressors). Morocco's official language is Arabic, but the Arabs came as invaders, and the new king. Mohammed Vl, has pushed Berberism. Since his edict of 1999, students can take Berber as a second language. French Is still the language of business, but it is declining. When the Saudis invested in many countries of the region in the late 1970s (during the Lebanon war), they pushed Arabization, so now even the universities are full of Arab professors, and more and more subjects are taught in Arabic. In the late 80s, Morocco tried to make Arabic the language used for all education, which created a mess. Press and radio stations are still bilingual, but French is declining in the popular media, and Arabic, rising. Since religion is Morocco's primary identity ["God, nation, and king" is the motto], there's no getting away from Arabic.

The primarily cultural Berber movement has now shifted to politics, since the activists have seen cultural activism as limited. In March, 2000, two-thousand intellectuals signed the Berber Manifesto, which asks for a universal declaration of Berber rights. But Moroccan Berbers don't ask for their own country (as Berbers do elsewhere in the Maghreb). Since the Berbers in M. are a majority, they already have a country!

WHAT IS A BERBER? Moroccans use religion to define themselves so Islam is part of Berber identity. They live all over the country, but are mostly rural and poor, which hampers the language project. In the 1930s, France's Berber Decree sought to divide Morocco by ethnicity. In that historical light, Berber activism can be seen as reactionary. Until the 70s, "Berber" widely meant "backward." And there are divides within the Berbers. Like the country, itself, Berbers are divided into Northern (specializing in hashish and marijuana cultivation), Central (farming), and Southern (remittances from the diaspora, especially France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany). And all over Morocco, of course, tourism is big.

To the Berber cause, Islam is double-edged, for it includes both a strong message of equality and undemocratic, hierarchical principles. The leader of the Islamist party in Morocco is a Berber. It is so hard to tease out Berberism from Islam that the Berber cultural movement struggles to create, as well as to preserve, the culture. But costumes and other customs that were widespread are now relegated to weddings and funerals. Even arranged marriages are ceding to marriage brokering (involving the young people's input). Marriage between Berbers and Arabs is limited, because the Berber partner would not bring the big trousseau Arab culture demands.

There is also a new internationalization in Berberism. Even though the agenda is fraught, internationalism and the King's championship have brought some economic progress to the Berbers and have made peace among Berber groups in the poorest region, the North. Berbers, per se, are not for or against Morocco's contentious occupation of Western Sahara.

 

Q & A

What languages do you speak?

Habibi Boumlik: Berber was the speaker's first language, then Arabic (street, then formal), French, and, finally, English. Like so many Berbers, her family moved from the countryside to the city for economic reasons (overpopulation and desertification).

How many Jews remain in Morocco?

1900: 250,000

(emigration to Israel in 1948; second wave after the '67 war)

by the late 80s: 6,000

now: 3,000.

 

Conversation #10: The Republic of South Africa

Sean Jacobs

Professor Jacobs, originally from Capetown, resides in Brooklyn, NY, and is Assistant Professor of African Studies and Communication Studies at the University of Michigan.

SOUTH AFRICA SINCE THE END OF APARTHEID

The opening in 2007 of a four-star hotel in Soweto is emblematic of South African history since the end of apartheid in 1994. The hotel is in the center of the district in which occurred the rallies of the 1950s that marked the dawn of the Independence movement. The cheapest room costs $210, the average weekly wage of South Africans today.

Fourteen years after the election of Nelson Mandela as President, it is not easy to assess change in South Africa. There are three main schools of thought regarding the question of whether democracy has or has not delivered.

1. Liberal journalists and political scientists rate the period as a qualified success. They applaud the extremely liberal South African constitution and the uniquely productive Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

[The Commission brought together thousands of victims of apartheid (1948-1994) and their victimizers in an attempt to wipe the slate clean - as clean as possible, anyway.]

In 1999, power passed democratically to Thabo Mbeki. A black economic elite has already been created, including the world's first black billionaire, and there has been a reduction - slight - in economic disparity by race.

2. Left-wing elements, including trade unionists, answer the question negatively. Since 1994, there has been only three per cent per annum economic growth. There are actually fewer jobs today and more poverty. Unemployment is probably about 40 per cent. Crime and AIDS are rampant. The new guard has too often gotten into bed with the old.

3. Social and cultural researchers centered around the University of Wittswatersrand see progress in the structural and cultural arenas. They point to kwaito music as one example of the healthy, extensive self-fashioning of new identities by young South Africans.

Johannesburg may be said to encapsulate modern South Africa's struggles. By now, the population is 8-10 million, depending whether you include the suburbs. What is life like for these millions?

The municipal government has thus far privileged economic growth over redistribution. A black middle-class is thriving in 'Jo'berg'. The city's 13 districts have also been unified. There has been some movement away from the heavy industries (especially steel and mining) dominant in the old economy to services (tourism, information services, etc.).

The results of social policies are spotty. New housing is going up in the inner-city, but for the middle classes, not the poor. There are more ersatz slums and gated communities than ever. New housing for the poor is very scarce all over the country, and what there is around Jo'Berg is 20-30 miles out of the city. Even in those new low-cost housing developments, no services exist.

As in the old days, public transport still exits mainly to move the poor to and from their jobs and to and from shopping centers. A very unreliable mini-bus system runs only during the day. Among the newly enfranchised, only the small black middle-class can get where they need to get easily. (They have cars.) Improving the infrastructure is a big issue.

Public spaces (parks etc) are very important to public order in Jo'Berg. Public space is very scarce. Bridges, a court building, and luxury apartment buildings have gone up, and, in a few cases, the poor do benefit from these changes. For instance, what housing there is for the poor includes parks. However, the principal public spaces open to everyone are casinos and mega-malls.

The result of the slow, uneven pace of change in South Africa has been a new groundswell of dissent, including both legal and extra-legal activities. In response to government failure to address the HIV crisis, for instance, there have been massive protests, as there have been regarding economic and housing inequality. Illegal means have been used to protest poor availability of utilities. For instance, Trevor Ngwane, leader of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, turned off the Mayor's electricity.

In December, 2007, using protest movement tactics, in an internal party vote Jacob Zuma defeated Mbeki, who had become very unpopular, and took over ANC leadership.

People compare South Africa's problems with Zimbabwe's. A big difference: Zimbabweans have been very slow to protest; South Africa averages 16 protests a day! The people of SA insist on the progress and rights promised by the ANC.

 

Yvette Christianse

Having emigrated from South Africa at age eighteen, and come to the US via Swaziland and Australia, she is a poet, novelist (Unconfessed, 2007), and Associate Professor of English at Fordham University, in New York City.

SOUTH AFRICAN WRITERS TODAY

For South Africa's writers, Independence brought jubilation and panic. A very interesting account of the changeover, from the Afrikaner perspective, is Antjie Krog's A Change of Tongue (2003).

During the 1970s, the contravening of the 1967 agreement to use dual languages in schools, in favor of an Afrikaans only policy, sparked the massive protests leading to the end of apartheid. There are now 13 official languages in South Africa; these were the 'unofficial' languages people used before 1994.

Books of historical influence:
Sol Plaatje, Nhudi (1913)
RRR Dhlomo, An African Tragedy (1928)
Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (1946)

Fort Hare was a Quaker university. Its educational philosophy was based on that of Booker T Washington. Fort Hare was tolerated during the apartheid era. Today, this University is the keeper of the nation's literary archives, and a center of new approaches to education, especially writing. Fort Hare now sponsors a nationwide undergraduate writing network in English, which the ANC originally accepted on the grounds that "English is the language we have to speak."

The archive, mostly in English, includes the narratives of slave women never before heard. Unlike American slave narratives, which tend to follow the form of the sentimental novel, and to be modeled after European forms, these are new, unfamiliar kinds of writing that may provide models for a future South-African literature which could be based in English, but could include passages in other, native languages, without glossaries.

[This sounds like the current Kwani literary movement in Kenya.]

By banning books and plays, the apartheid regime tried to control the stories that defined their nation, and to suppress narratives of how people really lived. The extremes to which the regime went are exemplified by the apocryphal banning of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty - for its title. (This may or may not have happened.)

Silencing never worked. From the first decades of apartheid, there was considerable protest writing. Among protest books/writers from the onset of apartheid to today are:
Bessie Head
Dennis Brutus
K Sello Duiker, The Quiet Violence of Dreams
Zakes Mda, Thirteen Cents.

 

Gary van Wyk

Having participated in the visual arts' protest movement, then emigrated to the US via Zimbabwe, he is an art historian and curator of South-African art at the Axis Gallery, in New York City.

SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEMPORARY AND HISTORICAL VISUAL AND PLASTIC ART

South African art history can be divided into five major periods:
1. from pre-history through the pre-colonial (to 1650)
2. African art through the colonial era (19th and 20th century)
3. 20th century art and photography
4. anti-apartheid resistance art (mainly 1980s)
5. contemporary art (since 1991).

The earliest extant human art, 80,000 years old, comes from South Africa, a small fragment of engraved ochre from Blombos Cave. There are ostrich-shell beads from 30,000 years ago that are similar to those of the San [bushmen] today. Even where San people have disappeared from South Africa, their ancient rock art survives. This art is shamanistic, not (as previously thought) simply descriptive, of hunting scenes and such. Bushmen art traditions have been revived in San communities in Botswana and South Africa. During the Iron age, from around 500-700 CE on, terracotta heads were sculpted in the Lydenburg area of South Africa. These have inspired contemporary artists, including Malcolm Payne. From circa 900 CE comes a famous little gold-foil coated rhino and other gold art from Mapungubwe, a settlement connected to the culture of Great Zimbabwe, which, from around 1200-1450, produced magnificent art and architecture centered around sacred kingship.

Sanctions against South Africa [1986-1993] meant outside ignorance and neglect of South African art. The small size of many pieces and the absence of a mask-making tradition meant this art did not conform to stereotypes of African art, which also made SA art slow to spread.

From the colonial period until today, ethnic (ie, "tribal") art has combined function, spirit, and decoration: eg, a sleep headrest in the shape of a bull, made by a culture in which cattle are regarded as the group's connection with ancestors.

Among many groups, such as the Zulu, there was no figurative art before the 20th century. Instead, there were beautiful pots, again linked to the ancestors, and items of personal use. Extravagant costumes distinguished Zulu regiments in pre-colonial times. After European beads were imported, beadwork costuming became an important indigenous art among the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, and other South African peoples. (See axisgallery.com/). With the release of Nelson Mandela and the introduction of democracy in South Africa, there has been a resurgence of pride in the African past, expressed through the incorporation of traditional beadwork into the pageantry of gala occasions, among other things.

South Africa has gorgeous architecture. On Basotho houses, symbolic architecture and design, including murals, are connected to fertility rites and to the ancestors.

Photography has forged a remarkable record of modern South-African history, including iconic photos of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the Soweto Uprising of 1976, and the mid-1980s state of emergency and resistance thereto. Outstanding photographers include Ian Berry, Jurgen Schadeberg, Sam Nzima, Peter Magubane, Paul Weinberg, Gideon Mendel, and Greg Marinovich. (see axisgallery.com)

Fine arts played a major role in the Independence struggle, beginning in the 1970s with such works as Paul Stopforth's figures of torture victims in South African prisons. The 1982 Culture and Resistance Symposium in Gaberone, Botswana, played a formative role in the resistance art movement. There has been a great deal of propaganda poster-making, street art and graffiti, and painting. In the mid-1980s, the government banned from newspapers photos and writing about resistance. The papers left blank spaces, which made a point until the government banned the spaces. An especially great political painting is Sfiso ka Mkame's 'Postcards to God'. William Kentridge, the South African artist now globally famous, emerged from this period as a printmaker influenced by German Expressionist artists from the Weimar period.

Beginning in the 1990s, there was a burst of interest in defining self-identity that drew upon repressed black self-images from history. For instance, the Cape of Good Hope was initially occupied for the spice trade that inaugurated the age of capitalism. Berni Searle, who recently had a one-person show at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), has created a work depicting her own body in relation to spices (see www.axisgallery.com/).South African art is now firmly on the world map.

 

Some notes from the Q & A

Recently, there has been renewed interest in writers like Fugard and Gordimer from the agitprop era of the 80s.

Post-apartheid art has struggled to find subjects as dramatic as those of the Independence struggle.

Mbeki still adheres to "quiet diplomacy" with Mugabe; Zuma has called for Mugabe to step down. Zuma was the default anti-Mbeki candidate in the December 2007 elections. Zuma is himself ethically compromised.

"Why do so many African leaders refuse to surrender power?" asked an audience member.

1. cultural patterns - eg, sacred kingship.

2. you can't generalize about "democracy" in Africa.

The absence of public space and transport in South Africa is a major impediment to democratization.

The area around the University of Wittswatersrand, already a very well-integrated area in terms of race and class, offers a model for all of South Africa.

For an excellent play on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that goes beyond agitprop, read/see the actor John Kanés Nothing But The Truth.

 

Conversation #11: the Republic of Sudan

[Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this panel mirrored the extremely contentious situation in Sudan today.]

 

Mohamed Babiker Ibrahim

Assistant Professor of Geography, Hunter College and Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)

HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY, ECONOMICS, AND THE QUESTION OF GENOCIDE:

From Darfur, himself, Professor Ibrahim kept reiterating, insisting, that what has happened in Darfur is not a genocide because, technically, it isn't one ethnic group, or religion, etc. wiping out another. The UN doesn't call it a genocide, and neither the UN nor any NGO's have discovered mass graves.

[Nor did the international Criminal Court, in issuing their arrest warrant of May 4, 2009 for Sudanese President Bashir, call the Darfur situation a genocide. The warrant stipulates "crimes against humanity."]

War crimes? Of course. In southern Sudan, there may have been genocide: Muslim/Arab soldiers killed Christian/ African residents, and one million people died. Government policies cause the Darfur tragedy. Since Independence on Jan 1, 1956, Sudan has experienced mostly military rule. The north-south war began as a southern rebellion in 1955, in anticipation of Independence. In 1972 came the first peace agreement. "Politics" in Sudanese history has essentially been a scramble for mineral wealth [and, to anticipate, according to Speaker #2, Zeinab Eyega, for humans - the Eastern slave trade]. The government is called an Islamic government, but its violent one-party tyranny contradicts real Islam.

A Sudanese diaspora has been caused by the policy of no jobs for non-party members (including the speaker). Neither in the North nor the South does this government represent the people. It steals foreign aid, so no economic development occurs in the South or anywhere else except central Sudan. Despite the discovery of oil in 1990 in the North-South border area, the nation has a 90 per cent poverty rate. Currently, oil provides 90 per cent of Sudanese revenues.

[According to Zeinab Eyega, the oil discovery is the reason the government is trying to redraw north-south boundaries. Does the issue of oil politics along the North-South divide make Sudan sound like Nigeria? In much of Africa, ethnicity is harnessed by politicians to gain and to keep power. This is true of Bashir. But in Sudan, the North-South rift was always huge.]

Agriculture used to be 60-70 per cent of exports. Since 1990, Sudan has experienced 7-8 per cent annual economic growth. The South has rain, and hence, arable land; the North mostly comprises encroaching desert. Three-quarters of Sudan's population are farmers or nomads. The Darfur conflict is essentially economic and geographical: water rights, nomads vs. farmers [as in the Middle Belt of Nigeria]. Both the Northern and Southern populations are mostly Islamic, and mixed racially. [According to the CIA Factbook, Sudan also has a lot of natural gas, 89.2 b. cubic meters, almost none of which is developed yet. And water is the new wealth for which countries of the Sahel are scrambling.]

The opposition has forced the government to include non-Muslim, non-party members. The attempt to inflict sharia ]Islamic law] on the South caused the 1983-2005 war, as did the plan to build a canal to send water from the South to Egypt. The 2005 peace agreement was forced on Sudan by the US and EU. The National Unity Government, a coalition of 13 parties, is fragile. In 2009, there will be elections, and, in 2011, a referendum for Southern independence. Traditionally, conflict resolution in Sudan was based on mediation, reparations, but the government has ruined this system. [In 2009, internal violence once again erupted in South Sudan. As of December 2009, it continues.]

Consider, as well, the ethnic complexity of Sudan: 597 nationalities, 100 in the South alone, and Sudan abuts nine countries (Arab and African). Despite conflict, racial mixing and homogenization of cultures are going forward. Everyone speaks Arabic now, which creates some basis for unity. Four-and-a-half million Southerners live in Khartoum. How bad could it be if they all choose to live there? The government spends ninety per cent of its budget on peace-keeping. The government is trying to unite a country split in half by the British colonial masters.

[These apologetics are very interesting, coming as they do from a man who says the government wiped out much of his own family, and drove him into exile. He is now a US citizen.]

 

Zeinab Eyega

From South Sudan, Women's Rights advocate, Executive Director and Founder of Sauti Yetu ("Our Voices," in Swahili), graduate degree in Health Policy from The New School, studies women in Afro-Arab border lands.

A REFUTATION OF THE FIRST SPEAKER'S POINTS: "What you just heard was propaganda! To say there is no genocide in Darfur, no discrimination/brutality against Southerners/Christians/other non-Muslims nationally and in Khartoum is propaganda... Had I and Mohamed been in Sudan, he would never have acknowledged that he was ... 40 per cent black." [Professor Ibrahim had so stated.]

Sudan is seen in the world as an Arab country, and there is vicious internal racism. To be an Arab in Sudan carries the privileges of being white in the US The "Arabization ideology" and "Islamization policy" -religious and linguistic - are forced attempts to extirpate other cultures. The "racial mingling" [which, for Ibrahim, is a basis of unity] most often goes back to rape or concubinage, often from the era of the massive slave trade, and is today being carried on with vicious intent by the Janjaweed [violent equestrian militias which are at least tolerated by the Sudanese government, operating in Darfur and eastern Chad in support of nomadic herders and against sedentary farmers]. In 2007, a UN study documented 11,000 women and children who are still enslaved in Sudan. "Let's talk about fact. It's just us in this room, so we can talk, correct?" [CIA Factbook: Sudan today is a Tier 3 human trafficking nation: ie, widespread practice, no government effort to curb it.]

"Ninety per cent of the budget is spent on peace-keeping"? On war! "Four-and-a-half million Southerners in Khartoum?" English speakers, they are forced to speak Arabic to survive. They live miserably there, in shanty towns with high infant mortality rates and not enough water. They are also pushed into the desert outside the city, with no food or jobs. These victims are not Arabs, they are black. And Sudan has the most street children in the world. [This last claim is understandably difficult to confirm or refute.]

The money from oil does not get to the poor, to the South, where there is no infrastructure and there are no refineries. Pipelines cross the Red Sea and to Saudi Arabia. Why was Kosovo called genocide, and not Darfur? Darfur is genocide. What have the South and Darfur in common? Both are places where the central government extracts resources. For two centuries, Sudan has been the center of a huge slave trade, and the legacy and practice continue to this day. When we talk about slavery, we forget the Eastern slave trade.

These are the causes of Sudanese civil war since 1955. Why did the British split the country? To stop the slave trade, which could not be stopped in any other way. And now the border is constantly redrawn, to wrest the resources of oil and water from Southern control. The 2005 North-South peace agreement included revenue allocation provisions - for the oil money - but they have not been implemented.

Darfurians completely lack access to higher education, and even though many are, indeed, Muslims, their imams are imported -Arabs. Two-and-a-half million died in the Southern war, 500,000 in Darfur. And there is also war in other Sudanese regions.

"Sudan is an entry point of Arab domination into Africa." After 9/11, Sudan sheltered bin Laden and provided land for Al Qaeda training camps - "this country of mine that I love so dearly." Then, in 1999, Sudan joined the anti-terror network, providing intelligence about Al Qaeda. Where did they get this information? What did they get for it? Bush relaxed sanctions and relaxed the pressure to have Sudanese leaders tried for the Darfur genocide. The International Court has evidence against Bashir for complicity in the Darfur genocide. [But they stop short of calling it that. See supra.] His government provides the backup, helicopters, etc. for the militia. Last year, he was finally indicted. "At last! Never again!"

[Why did the British really rule the two halves separately?

Eyewgu: to stop the slave trade. Ibrahim: This separation caused the whole North-South problem.

Wikipedia : "From 1924, it was illegal for people living above the 10th parallel to go further south and for people below the 8th parallel to go further north. The law was ostensibly enacted to prevent the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases that had ravaged British troops, as well as to facilitate spreading Christianity among the predominantly Animist population while stopping the Arabic and Islamic influence from advancing south. The result was increased isolation between the already distinct north and south and arguably laid the seeds of conflict in the years to come."]

 

Godriver Odhiambo

A Kenyan, Africanist historian, Ph.d. student, and graduate instructor, University of West Virginia, she has studied the emigration of Southern Sudan women to Nairobi.

EMIGRATION, ESPECIALLY OF WOMEN, AND ESPECIALLY TO KENYA: The British were pro-North because of Sudanese help in World War 1. They basically gave power to, and built all the infrastructure in, the North.

Consider the hardships of women trying to survive, to keep their children alive, both in Sudan and as exiles. They have no homes or jobs in Kenya, so why do they leave Sudan?

Causes for emigration include economic, religious, social, and even linguistic. Government policies of forced Islamization and Arabization (language) constitute a new incarnation of colonialism. Southern women are persecuted in Khartoum, so they flee. Their ways of getting a livelihood are not allowed in Khartoum - eg, brewing local drinks. They are even blamed when they are raped and go to the authorities. In the South, there is educational discrimination and no economic development. Even national exams are marked in the North. Factories are built in, and moved to, the North, often to process Southern products, such as sugar. And, given the oriental slave trade, why would Southern women choose to remain under the new, Northern domination? In war, both sides use food as a weapon and use women and children as shields. Sudanese Independence was rushed, and the North-South problem was not even addressed.

Kenya has been a magnet for refugees from all over the region. They come for basic services not available at home, and for the relative peace. A Dinka woman [South Sudanese ethnic group] delivers a baby on my mother's doorstep: "I had no money," she says. "Because you are Kenyans, I knew you were going to take me in." Kenya was peaceful and kept its own ethnic divisions in check until 2007 [when politicians fanned them, after the stolen election]. Thus, Kenya has long been a haven for refugees from all its troubled neighbors. [See "Weight of Whispers," Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor's excellent story of Rwandan refugees in Nairobi, which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004.]

Refugees cause big problems in Kenya. For example, their only source of money, in many cases, is to sell firewood, which leads to ecological damage. [See the Kenya panel summary, especially the references to Wangari Mathai.]

 

Q & A

What do you think about the 2011 referendum?

Zeinab Egeye: "If you're in a marriage that doesn't work..." The idea of an Islamic state will never be abandoned so... If this government had wanted peace, they would have built oil refineries and infrastructure in the South. Instead, they built pipeline and moved boundaries. "The mentality had always been: 'These outer regions are for resource extraction, either human or other...'"

Could the split happen peacefully, given the oil?

If the referendum is fair and universal, yes. Otherwise, if the political leadership wants to preserve unity and cheats to get it ... that's what happened in 1955. "The South is not afraid to go back to war... I'm terribly afraid of what will happen in 2011."

Hope for the future?

Mohamed Ibrahim: Much of it died with John Garang. Ibrahim cries when he thinks of him. An inclusive government is the hope.

[BBC Obit for John Garang (1945-2005), Aug 3, 2005: Holding a Ph.d. in Agricultural Economics from the US, he had been a military leader sent to fight in the south, but he stayed and formed the rebellion, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (which became a political movement, the SPLM. He then joined the unity government in 2005, becoming First VP, then died in a helicopter crash three weeks later. A Dinka, a survivor, a "difficult man caught up in a complicated war... He was one of the few senior southerners who really believed in the concept of a united Sudan" (Peter Moszynski). Garang's death strengthens the call for secession via the 2011 referendum.]

Eyega: "The terrible history suggests a terrible future" - and she fears that the 2011 referendum will only lead to more war.

Odhiambo: Democratic elections in 2009 and a good new President will help unity. But since Garang died... [These elections have now been postponed until 2010. What will this mean to the 2011 referendum?]

Moderator Jerry Vogel: It all goes back to bad colonial polices, maps, doesn't it?

Odhiambo replies with a ringing speech about the defeatism of blaming old history for current problems. Some countries are overcoming bad histories, so why can't others?

Question/comment by panelist Ibrahim:

If things are so bad in the North, why have three million Southerners gone North, and why have only 88,000 emigrated? [Answer: People always run to the big cities in their own countries - they try anything. Who wants to emigrate? It's one thing for an educated person with some financial resources.]

youth in that country during the tumultuous years of the Independence struggle, which was followed by the civil war between UNITA, backed by South Africa and the U.S., and the ultimately triumphant MPLA, backed by the USSR and Cuba. To the common people, both forces spelled displacement and death. Da Costa states that the purpose of his art is an effort to interpret these years in ways that open the way to a better future.

During the Independence struggle, his entire family was killed, and he was himself badly injured. Several of his images depict amputation. UNITA, principally, sowed land mines, to punish enemies and to destroy the land so no food could be grown. Today, Angola has the second-most unexploded land mines in the world. [Cambodia is first. According to a UN report, over 110 million land mines remain unexploded.]

DaCosta uses traditional images and forms (masks, figure carvings) with contemporary themes. For instance, some images depict starvation and poverty, ubiquitous in Africa today He also incorporates traditional Angolan motifs, especially ones that are universally recognized, such as mothers attempting to protect and support their children during war. Ancestor veneration is another theme, which sees people through current horrors by giving them a sense of connection with a loving past. When he was badly injured as a child, DaCosta welcomed death, which would have meant being reunited with his parents and siblings. The world imagined in his art owes a lot to the stories his grandfather told him. Now he sees the fact that he survived as an opportunity for him to try to create this, his transformative, political art.

Some of the work is about memory and thought, itself. Imagery depicts physical memory, synapses and neurons in the brain as it reflects upon the themes of his early life. There is a portrait of Njinga that celebrates her agile mind. Two other images, 'Africanathinker' and 'Eurothinker', depict contrasting mental landscapes. These 'mind' pictures also speak to the ways in which lost memories live on in the brain. A lot has been lost: DaCosta has only one photo of his father; none, of his mother.

[DaCosta's work can be characterized as agitprop completely embedded in a coherent, semi-abstract pattern of images.]

In Angola, the richest artistic tradition is among the Tchokwe. [See http://www.rrtraders.com/Masks/chokwesd.htm for a supremely beautiful mask.] Today, the visual arts are flourishing in Angola.

[Much of Africa today appears to be in the midst of a great artistic flowering that comprises visual art, music, and literature.]

After medical treatment in Rwanda and Cuba, he remained in Cuba. He attributes the exuberance and color of his work to his youth in this Caribbean nation. Since his family had been coffee-growing land owners (they were murdered for their land), and since he was sent to Cuba under the auspices of the side that prevailed in the war, the Marxist MPLA, he kept his history and identity quiet. When children were sent letters and money from their parents, he wrote himself a letter from his father. (There was, of course, no money.) It was a doctor from Medecins sans Frontieres who first gave him paper and crayons.

By the time of Hurricane Katrina, he was living with his wife and children in Boston. That event prompted him to create images of Angolan displacement. No one except Catholic priests and nuns helped the Angolan displaced.

 

Q & A

Jerry Vogel: the war for Angolan independence was so long because small, weak Portugal, under dictator Salazar, clung to Angola and its other African colony, Mozambique. In 1974, when the Socialists drove Salazar from office, Independence quickly followed. Rich in diamonds and oil, Angola became the site of a surrogate Cold War conflict. During the Clinton presidency, the US announced that it would not give any aid to countries at war. This edict finally helped end the Angolan civil war. But the MPLA was did not kill/execute UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, at first because they feared US repercussions, and later, because they feared being brought before an international tribunal. [Savimbi (1934-2002) ultimately died in battle.]

Professor Heywood: At Independence, one per cent of Angolans were literate.

Mr Da Costa: A lot of education under the MPLA was really just indoctrination, make-believe history and mythology.

During the 80s, scholars in Portugal and elsewhere began to describe Angolan history more realistically, but there were still far too few teachers and other educated people in Angola, itself. Deterred by misgovernment, including massive corruption, Angolans in the Diaspora rarely return home.

Today, Angola belongs to OPEC and is a major oil producer, probably China's greatest supplier. The cash-rich Chinese have now pushed the IMF [International Monetary Fund] aside in places like Angola because the Chinese trade infrastructure for oil. instead of proferring strings-attached loans and grants. Angola suffers from what is called "the oil curse": immense corruption and economic inequality.

[For Angola's oil boom, see, for example, 'Nowadays, Angola is Oil's Topic A', The New York Times, March 20, 2007, ppC1, C4.]