Category Archives: World Affairs

A brief summary of African Ideology: the pub version

Yesterday, I had a very strange exchange with a fellow on the Twitter, who posted an article by that loony scientist Dr Richard Lynn (of the black women are ugly because of too much testosterone fame) claiming that atheists are more intelligent than the average Bible thumping, Jesus loving uneducated cretins running loose in our streets.

I told him that  using this man’s research to prove a point is a slippery slope that leads to weird Nazi like arguments about race, intelligence and the value of human beings. Stuff that you really don’t want to get into.

Somehow, the argument descended into a flurry of links with information about the colonized African mind and misinformation about the great black race, with lots of references to the Egyptian civilization thrown in for good measure.

These things reminded me a lot of myself when I was in my late teens- obsessed with Bob Marley, slavery and finally discovering the truth about Africa. With the obligatory shaggy ‘fro, questionable sources of information and lots of beaded jewelry. (We all deal with teen angst in different ways, okay?)

This got me thinking of the debate about Africa, the different forms it has taken over the years, and my changing opinions about African identity, nationhood and other ways we try to make sense of a world so hell bent on proving that we are doomed for eternity.

And since I love lists so much, here is my list of  philosophies that you are bound to come across in bars around the continent:

1. The ones living in the Past before the Past

I’m talking about the past before the past here. Before pre-colonial times to that space where information is scant and fantasy rules. These are the people who like to argue about whether or not Ancient Egypt was ruled by black Pharaohs, and in that way, shielding themselves against anyone who thinks  that Africa was a bush-land populated by people a few degrees smarter than monkeys.

The fact is, there are no known written languages originating in Sub-Saharan Africa, so we will never really know what went on before international trade began (8th Century?) All our information therefore comes from traders, missionaries and slavers, so yes, the objectivity of their reports can be questioned.

The past before the past philosophers use this lack of information to lay fantastic claims like ‘Africans discovered science but rejected it because they realized it was evil’.

But why this obsession with Egypt, when there are plenty of other examples across the continent? Is it just a way to hide an inferiority complex by clinging on to an example that fits the  ideal of a classical empire considered to be powerful and civilized?

This is dangerous territory because it makes you look like a nut and eventually people will avoid you.

2. The Pan- Africans

I blame this one squarely on those books we were forced to study in high school. As much as I respect our post-colonial writers, I don’t think we should be feeding this narrative to impressionable young people 50 years after the end of foreign rule.

I’m talking about the people who think that colonialism in to blame for absolutely everything. That, before the 1800s, we lived in a utopia where men and women were equal, everyone lived in harmony and died peacefully in their sleep after a life well lived.

This is often followed by an idolization of leaders such as good old Bob in Zim and the late, flamboyant Gaddaffi because they are supposedly finally kicking out the evil colonialists and freeing their people from oppression.

Once again, it is difficult to tell fact from fantasy and colonial propaganda because we were not doing any recording of information ourselves.

Sadly, whether or not the Pan Africans are right, it is virtually impossible to go back to this kind of life. I suspect that the damage done to our cultures and values by the violence, humiliation and subjugation that came with colonialism means that what we have today is a mangled culture that is doing more damage for us than good.

And of course, playing the blame game means that taking responsibility is conveniently avoided.

3. The Afro-politans

The source of this term is an article about life in the diaspora for young, educated and well off Africans. Despite it’s playful and entertaining tone, it provoked some measure of outrage from the kind of people who concern themselves with these debates.

I’m not sure I can be objective about this one, because I do check many of the boxes here. However, as some people have pointed out, ‘Afro-politanism’ looks more like cultural commodification (think chic leather bags and handmade jewelry), rather than an actual identity.

It is also useful for people navigating different cultures,  and suits the ‘Africa is rising’  crew because it makes us look a little bit more glamorous and cool and civilized.

4. The ones who just don’t care

Thank God for pragmatic people. Thank God for people who are more interested in working and living and not endless naval gazing. Thank God for people who don’t live in their heads but face life for what it is without making excuses.

These people probably never even finished reading a single book by Ngugi. They aren’t interested in the dusty past and whether or not Egypt was ruled by black people.

They want things to work, but they don’t really care how.

They have a point though,  I mean, is this kind of debate even useful anymore?

Objectively digging into the past is useful in order to understand the present. But doing it in order to find excuses and avoid responsibility? Not so much.

India: A Reading List

A lot of the time, I prefer the company of books to that of real people. I’m not ashamed to admit it because I know I’m not the only one.

I especially like reading books about the places that I am in – its fun to see stuff that you read about in the book, or to have things that you did not understand explained to you by your friendly, non judgemental author.

Here are my favourite books about India:

1. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)

I ‘discovered’  this guy by accident last year (in the way you discover someone who has a Fatwa on him, has won the Booker Prize at least once, been knighted by the Queen and generally stays in the limelight by trying to go visit Pakistan and India every couple of years.)

Salman is not the easiest author to read, and he has a tendency to  go off on a tangent that shows his absolute mastery of the English language but also leaves the reader hopelessly confused. But Midnight’s Children, I think, is one of his easiest books to read. (It’s also the one that won him the Booker Prize.)

It tells the story of India from Independence, covering India’s most important events after the British left.(But with a LOT of poetic licence.) Apart from vivid descriptions of Mumbai and Amritsar, the book gives a general understanding of India’s thorny issues (Looking at you, Pakistan…) This is how I learnt that Indira Ghandi is not related to Mahatma Ghandi decades after the rest of the world. And also why she was assassinated by her body guards.

He kept me laughing out loud through out the book by mercilessly poking fun at Indian cultural quirks and oddities.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure that ‘Heroes’ ripped off on his plot and characters.

2. Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)

Lots of Westerners go to India to ‘find‘ themselves. Some of them end up writing nauseating, self indulgent books that are then adapted into embarrassingly clichéd movies.

Not Greg. He lands in Mumbai on a fake passport after breaking out of an Australian jail. When his money runs out and his visa expires, he moves into the slum with his Indian friends. Life happens to him and he finds himself working for the Mumbai Mafia, after almost dying in an Indian jail.

As a wanted man, Greg doesn’t have the time or the luxury to be condescending towards India.  You don’t get that weird attitude that spoils many books about the developing world by Westerners who have decided to settle there.

(Binyavanga explains this kind of rubbish very well here and  an Indian guy vents here.  Also this insane woman’s story.)

He is busy navigating the Indian underworld, and his book is full of interesting characters that smash the stereotype of Indians as peace loving zen masters who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Despite too many annoying bits of wisdom and pseudo-philosophy to justify his bad life decisions, I thought this book was a really clear view of Indian culture, language and society.

3. The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)

This one also won a Booker Prize. It’s based in Kerela, a state in the South of India.  It follows two kids growing up in the 1960s, their terrifyingly dysfunctional family and how rapidly their lives completely go to shit.

This book is pretty heavy – its set in the 1960s, and she really goes into how messed up and nasty the caste system was. It also deals with ‘inappropriate’ love. I was pretty depressed by the end of the book.

Apart from that, it was the first, and only book I have read that describes south Indian history, culture and politics. (Kerela has a communist government.)

4. The Liquid Refuses to Ignite (Dave Besseling)

Dave thought he wrote a book about spiritual enlightenment, but it’s really just a log of his life as a long-term traveller. (Yes, that’s a thing and I met one in real life too!)

He writes about sniffing coke in Japan, getting trashed in Budapest, bar hopping in Thailand (complete with a ladyboy story) and supposedly finding spiritual enlightenment and food poisoning in Varanasi, before supposedly having a life shattering epiphany in Kathmandu/Nepal.

It’s a terrible book, full of fake philosophy and a disappointing ‘climax’. But I included it in my list because his booze soaked journey appeals to the drunk in me, and it has one chapter about Indian ball scratching styles that had me weeping with laughter.

So there you have it. Nothing too strenuous on the mind. Any suggestions?

Kony 2012: have I become an Uncle Tom?

The first time I learnt about Kony was through a special feature in the daily Nation sometime in 2008. The journalist went to town on the nutjob, calling him a megalomaniac that needs to be stopped in his tracks before he goes further in creating his demonic little empire.

Fast foward to 2012 and the internet pseudo-intellectuals are practically foaming at the mouth to criticize that video released by the slick well-meaning folk over at Invisible Children, who decided that the world will certainly end for Kony and his insane, drug fuelled, machete wielding ‘rebel group’ this year.

I have to be honest, I found most of the video rather uncomfortable to watch. The whole narrative of his son’s birth had a great message: we don’t choose where we are born, but we have the same rights as human beings was spot on. But, did it have to take so long? And the little montage at the end of all their awesome rallies and protests across the country set to rock music.? I was glancing behind my shoulder to make sure no-one was watching me….

Tasteful as ever

But I think that maybe the residents of the internet have become trigger happy. It’s cool to shoot down anything that becomes too popular, and ironically, shut down new solutions and propose old ones like they are something new.

After watching the video, I looked around to see what the naysayers had to say. And that is when I started feeling like an Uncle Tom. On the surface, they all sound like intelligent, well thought out arguments. But I call bullshit.  Here is why:

  • where are the voices of the Ugandans?: Why can’t we have more African voices in the international media? Mmmhmm… Bono, Angelina, Maddona..what horrible, horrible human beings, exploiting African misery to look good. Look, the world is an unfair place. Some kids are more popular than others. We know that Africans are not helpless. The Ugandans know that they have their own heroes: I tried Google to find some names I could use as an example, but of course nothing came up. Same thing with when we had the famine situation. No way in hell did anyone cover ‘Kenyans for Kenyans’ and those farmers who sent their surplus supplies to NEP. So…maybe some smart lobbyist somewhere could harness the power of these disaster loving bleeding heart celebrities instead of moaning about misrepresentation?
  • The war is complex: In fact, taking Kony down won’t change anything because others will replace him: Well…well…well…so since the war is so complex, should we then sit back, throw our hands up in the air and wait for salvation from our Lord Jesus and saviour?
  • No….what we need is governance and a way to end corruption: Hey Africans, you hear that? Your have problems because you are corrupt. We have found the magic bullet to all our problems! Thank you, well meaning internet trolls!
  • Why is he spending so much money looking like the Great White Hope coming to save the little savages? Why can’t they use more money to build stuff in Uganda?: They never really claimed to be an aid organisation (and we know what a GREAT success story that was!). The guy is a lobbyist. Lobbyists get their work done by irritating as many policy makers as possible in order to get the changes they want seen. Lobbyists don’t build toilets. They make noise.
  • LOLZ, anyone?

  • OIL!! It’s a conspiracy to invade Uganda and take all the OIL!!!: this is the most tempting one of all. But, do they really? If we want to rely on rumours, we can look no further than the fact that ‘closed’ deals are already being made…and everyone is holding their breath, hoping that things don’t go batshit crazy as soon as the pumps start working.

As a marketing campaign, this one set the new standards. I fear what will come next. I hope that his intentions are good. And I’m sorry that for years to come, Ugandans will be asked what it was like being a child soldier.

But the film also got people talking and researching on the truth and discussing solutions. Hopefully an indication that global citizenship is a possibility. And that  you can get your voice heard by the people in power.

I truly hope that we stop parroting the same tired nonsense, imagining ourselves as some cynical, intelligent warrior race responsible for truth and enlightenment on the internet. Where, obviously, your opinion counts for absolutely nothing.

Here is one other person who sort of agrees with me.


Chuckle chuckle

Chuckle chuckle